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INTRODUCTION

In Melbourne the decade spanning the seventies and the eighties saw a quantum leap in the “new wave” of Australian contemporary comedy. Viewed in a larger context, it helped bring about an end to Australia's dreaded “cultural cringe”. In the early 1970's Melbourne University was a fertile seeding ground for radical thought and general ratbaggery which is not at all surprising given the context of the times. Whitlam had swept into power and all the old rules about society and acceptable culture were being shaken up. It was a time to cook up new ideas and the challenge the paradigm (whatever that was). For reasons not fully explained, the Architecture faculty attracted a large number of potential naive theatre types and comedians who found their kindred spirits in the well known annual Archie Revues. It was here that I was fortunate to form long lasting friendships and began and actual career in comedy-something I never aimed for or expected. And so a band of young comedians went forth into the world and started mucking about for the time was ripe. It was an ideal time to avoid a real job. Australian rock music was blossoming and along with it grew the audacious notion that Australian comedy could also shout out to a younger and broader generation. It did eventually but it took a whole decade to get there. 

COMEDY IN MELBOURNE IN THE 1970'S

In the seventies, comedy belonged in musical comedies, or traditional vaudeville venues, the RSL, sports clubs or on the Bob Hope Show. Unlike today, comedians were the antithesis of rock stars. For the smaller alternative venues that popped up around the inner suburbs, European labels like “Brechtian”, Commedia dell’Arte, cabaret and circus attracted acceptable credibility but, no, comedy was not "cool". The notion of Australian comedy as contemporary and relevant was not existent in those days. I think this is what fired us to swim against the stream and as small group we enjoyed the kind of self belief that is difficult to maintain as an individual. There was a small community of Melbourne comedians that interacted creatively and socially but it was our "Gang of Four" (Quantock, Kenneally, Brooks and Blackburn) that first transitioned from the grungy inner-city venues to the untried realm of Australian television sketch comedy.

THE EIGHTIES COMEDY BOOM-FROM THEATRE RESTAURANT TO ABC TV

In 1978, our little band of four was to be propelled from Foibles theatre restaurant into the ABC’s Rippon Lea studios where a sketch comedy had never before been produced. Prior to this, an adventurous ABC producer of children's television called Noel Price ventured across the river and into the inner north of Melbourne. He could see the potential for us, became our champion and offered us acting work that would give us invaluable television experience. The Magic Bag and Words Fail Me showcased a cast of "alternative" young actors from Carlton and Fitzroy who brought a modern and distinctly Australian humour to what were effectively nascent sketch comedy shows for kids. His ultimate plan was to get our comedy onto the small screen but it took two pilot shows before this eventuated. By then, Tim and Debbie had regular a spot on the Radio National and had also appeared together with Rod Quantock on a Sydney TV Channel Ten production called Ratbags. By now the programmers at ABC television finally felt confident to give us a proper go. So in 1983 "Australia You're Standing In It" Series One was produced. It was called "startling", "brave", "hilarious" and also attracted the sort of fusty criticism we welcomed, all of which meant it had achieved “cult success”. Bearing in mind that the ABC's share of viewers was small compared to that of the commercial networks, our so-called "cult success" was the capture of a mainstream audience that was ready for something new. This was demonstrated in our dominance the entertainment pages for the next three or four years. Our cult popularity was not lost on our other colleagues in the comedy community and certainly not lost the commercial networks that were now open to experimenting with original Australian sketch comedy. The 80's Melbourne-lead comedy boom had begun. Thank you Noel Price!

NOTE;

For the newspaper clippings on this site I am grateful to Bill Blackburn (my late father) who in the 1970's and onwards scoured the local news agency for any mention of my show business exploits. 

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