One of the funniest people either side of the Tasman, John Clarke’s brand of droll wit (always delivered with a wickedly understated authenticity), has defined the high-water mark of Kiwi and Australian comedy for the past 30 years. Spawned in the early 70s, his gumboot-clad character Fred Dagg marked a defining moment in the development of New Zealand comedy.
In basic terms, Clarke invented humour in NZ … he came up with a comic language. Every attempt to be funny or real in a NZ way follows from here. Steve Braunias, Metro Magazine
Who Laughs Last profiles Roger Hall, New Zealand’s most successful playwright. Three decades after the opening of Hall's Middle Age Spread became a hit, the original cast return for 2006 follow up Spreading Out. The Shirley Horrocks doco explores the secrets behind Hall’s successful brand of comedy (25+ stage plays, plus TV series and musical comedies) andclosely explores the popularity of Middle Age Spread and Spreading Out. Among those interviewed are John Clarke, Ginette McDonald, the late Grant Tilly, and Hall himself.
This animated TV comedy series is a modern day fairytale following the adventures of five kids growing up in one of Auckland's grungier suburbs. With a fearless, un-PC wit and Simpsons-esque celebrity cameos, it managed to be primetime and family-friendly. The popular show was made by Firehorse Films, and developed from the brazen and poly-saturated comedy of theatre group Naked Samoans. Screening on TV3 for five series it won Best Comedy at the NZ Screen Awards three years running and a Qantas Award for Ant Sang's production design. "Morningside for life!"
Kim Hill interviews comic writer and performer John Clarke at his home in Melbourne. Clarke talks about the creation of his iconic Fred Dagg character in New Zealand some 30 years ago - with his black singlet, a hat given to Clarke by his sister and some torn-off trousers from the TVNZ wardrobe department. Clarke also discusses the NZ and Australian sense of humour, his work across the ditch on TV shows such as The Games and The 7.30 Report, and on films with his production company Huntaway Films (with friend and fellow Kiwi Sam Neill).
If a single word could sum up the free-wheeling flavour of alternative music and comedy in Aotearoa during the 1970s, that word would surely be ... Blerta. The 'Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition' encompassed foundation members of the NZ film and TV industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger, Martyn Sanderson) and many other merry pranksters and hippy freaks. Blerta Revisited is an anarchic collection of comedic skits, short films, and musical interludes culled from the Blerta archives.
A jandal-shod journey through Kiwi pop culture. Kiwiana takes a light-hearted look at the fashion, art, architecture, attitudes, and icons (Buzzy Bees, Edmonds, Swanndri, Pavlova etc) we call our own. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, and shot by Leon Narbey, it featured personalities Gary McCormick, Ginette McDonald, John Clarke, Peter Jackson, and others. Screening at a time (1996) when New Zealanders were just beginning to appreciate these neglected everyday objects as ‘collectibles,' it rated highly, and inspired a sequel, Kiwi As.
This 1995 documentary about New Zealand humour features classic TV comedy moments from Fred Dagg, Barry Crump, A Week of It, McPhail and Gadsby, Letter to Blanchy, Billy T James, Pete and Pio, the Topp Twins, Gliding On, Lyn of Tawa and Funny Business. Tom Scott, John Clarke, David McPhail and Jon Gadsby talk about the nature of New Zealand satire; Pio Terei, Peter Rowley, and Billy T James producer Tom Parkinson discuss the pros and cons of race-based humour; and the Topp Twins explain the art of sending people up rather than putting them down.
Indie production house Communicado made their name with a stable of television shows that celebrated Kiwi culture. After the success of late-80s show That’s Fairly Interesting, the company began work on Magic Kiwis, a show devoted to heroes of popular culture. Mostly the cavalcade of Kiwi celebs were stars of entertainment (Howard Morrison, Split Enz) and sports (Susan Devoy, John Walker), with the odd politician thrown in. Over three series, the half hour shows combined classic clips and interview footage, all tied together in trademark upbeat style.
After their house explodes and they bump into a gunman on Waiheke Island, journo Alf (Temuera Morrision) and Yank partner Melissa (Beverly Hills Cop’s Lisa Eilbacher) head to the West Coast, on the run from the cops and the crims. There’s a plot to blow up a plane of rugby players and a cola conspiracy, but mostly it’s an excuse for chases, capers and crashes galore, all imbued with plenty of pell-mell Pork Pie-style shenanigans (this time heading north in a red Ford Falcon) by director Geoff Murphy. This excerpt sees John Clarke cameo as a used car salesman.
This documentary backgrounds the process of turning Murray Ball's comic strip into an animated feature. Just who will voice the iconic Dog? Initiating producer Pat Cox stays off-screen; instead there are interviews with perfectionist Footrot creator Murray Ball, fellow Manawatu scribe Tom Scott and voice-man John Clarke, who argues he narrowly beat Meryl Streep to get the part of Wal. Amongst the making of footage, look out for priceless footage of a young Mike Hopkins (later to achieve Oscar glory on Lord of the Rings), lending his feet to the movie's sound effects.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The movie starred the characters from Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip; it was NZ's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer (above) doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song to smartly leverage both.
Wild Man is the missing link between early 70s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a man whose directing talents knew few bounds. The Blerta ensemble relocated to the mud-soaked West Coast to create this tale of pioneer con men and silent movie style pratfalls. Bruno Lawrence and Ian Watkin arrange a fight - and bets - in each town they arrive in, while Bruno channels his inner wild man from under a leopard skin. Wild Man was released in cinemas alongside John Clarke and Geoff Murphy’s Dagg Day Afternoon.
The airport interview with the visiting overseas celebrity was very much a staple of 70s New Zealand TV — but in this encounter the location looks suspiciously like NZBC's Avalon studios, and rock star Hiram W Violent bears more than a passing resemblance to John Clarke (of Fred Dagg fame). The wardrobe department has had a thorough ransacking and the question of Hiram's ability with the guitar remains thankfully moot. The interviewer is original Grunt Machine presenter and actor/musician Andy Anderson (who later starred in Gloss and The Sullivans).
Famous as New Zealand television's first ever sitcom, Buck House was a rollicking and relatively risqué series that centred on the comings and goings of uni students in a dilapidated flat in Wellington - the eponymous 'Buck House'. Stars of the show include now-veteran actors John Clarke, Tony Barry and Paul Holmes. Despite (or more likely because of) its bawdy humour, occasional coarse language and alcohol abuse, the pioneering comedy sated the needs of many Kiwi viewers desperate for TV with an identifiable local content and flavour.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after more than 40 years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.