All Stars come home for comedy festival

Comedians Tim Ferguson, left, and Paul McDermott… “Canberra’s only the size of a large country town, which means you can be bad at what you do in Canberra without any real consequence,” says Ferguson.  Photo by Jim Lee

Comedians Tim Ferguson, left, and Paul McDermott… “Canberra’s only the size of a large country town, which means you can be bad at what you do in Canberra without any real consequence,” says Ferguson. Photo by Jim Lee

SOME will struggle to contain their excitement while others shudder at the thought. The Doug Anthony All Stars are getting back together for two special shows at the upcoming Canberra Comedy Festival for the 30th anniversary of the group’s formation.

For those too young or innocent to know, long before comedians Tim Ferguson and Paul McDermott had successful television careers, they hung around in Canberra singing songs with sick and twisted lyrics, together with Richard Fidler, who now hosts “Conversations” on ABC radio.

“It was out of the punk scene in Canberra in the mid ‘80s that the All Stars grew, so we had the same sensibility, which was to trust no-one, to like nothing, and to do it with full force,” says Ferguson, taking a break from editing a script to speak with “CityNews”.

To make it as entertainers the trio had to join the Melbourne comedy scene, but Ferguson says it helped to have “two solid years of being bad” before making the move.

“The best thing about Canberra is it’s a perfect stewing pot for creative people,” he says.

“You’ve got the theatres and the government funding that they give out, just to people on the street! There are people that walk around Canberra signing cheques and handing them out, saying: ‘There you go, go and put on a mime and interpretive dance act’. You’ve got everything that a city has but Canberra’s only the size of a large country town, which means you can be bad at what you do in Canberra without any real consequence.”

In their heyday… Doug Anthony All Stars’ Paul McDermott, left, and Tim Ferguson.

In their heyday… Doug Anthony All Stars’ Paul McDermott, left, and Tim Ferguson.

The group got on the UK TV show “Friday Night Live” on the back of a successful run at the 1987 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and played to packed houses in North America and Europe over the next year. But this overseas success went largely unnoticed in Australia, where their manic stage presence and extremely dark humour had not yet found its audience, and they came back in 1988 to relative obscurity.

“Nobody knew who we were!” says Ferguson. “We’d say: ‘We’re on TV in England, and we have fans!’ And people would laugh and say: ‘Oh, you boys, you’re always being funny,’ so we had to survive on busking again.”

In less than a year, the All Stars were picked for a new ABC comedy show, “The Big Gig” and in 1991 got their own show, “DAAS Kapital”.

He describes Flacco (comedian Paul Livingston) as the group’s “number one conspirator” and “virtually an All Star”, so he was a natural fit to play the part of Richard Fidler, who won’t be at the Canberra shows.

“Richard’s tied down by employment, which is something Paul [McDermott] and I have always managed to studiously avoid.”

The group broke up in 1994, due to Ferguson having Multiple Sclerosis, but in that brief decade, what did they achieve?

“Probably nothing,” he says.

Flacco, left, and Tim Ferguson… Flacco is the group’s “number one conspirator” and “virtually an All Star”.

Flacco, left, and Tim Ferguson… Flacco is the group’s “number one conspirator” and “virtually an All Star”.

“If you think of comedy as pushing boundaries, once we stopped, nobody stepped up to those boundaries. The guys who replaced the Doug Anthony All Stars were The Wiggles!”

The two critically-panned seasons of “DAAS Kapital” were recently released on DVD and launched last year at a special reunion show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Surprised to sell out the Melbourne Town Hall overnight, they decided to replicate the launch for us in Canberra.

“I spoke to Paul and said we should really do this again, if only because there are people out there who would like to see it,” says Ferguson. “It only seems fair to give people one last chance to come along and throw rocks, or buy merchandise.”

The Doug Anthony All Stars, Canberra Comedy Festival, March 5-6, and appearing at the opening night on March 4. More information at canberracomedyfestival.com.au

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