The Doug Anthony Allstars are Trotsky the Baptist alias Paul McDermott, Elvis Kafka, really Tim Ferguson and Warren Peace (get it? War and Peace!), who's actually Richard Fidler incognito. They're the real brains behind the Allstars and I'm the brunt of their little joke. You see, Doug Anthony is really only one person, and if he's anything like the politician he was way back when, he's got nothing whatsoever to do with these three fellas!
Tim, 24, and Paul and Richard, both 25, hail originally from Canberra. For a while they pelted out punk to their fellow Canberrans. But eventually the clubs banned the group, forcing them to hit the street as buskers instead.
As Richard explains, "We found that just doing songs wasn't enough. You had to do something that was theatrical and funny to get people's attention. So one of the ways we got people to look at us was by walking out onto the street and stopping all the traffic."
For an even more dramatic effect, Paul took to shouting at the top of his voice that Joan of Arc was a hermaphrodite, then diving headfirst into a bin full of clothes and setting the whole lot on fire.
Before long, crowds gathered regularly every Saturday to watch the boys. The year was 1986, and things were looking good. So good that they decided to take their act to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, where they walked away winners of the Pick Of The Fringe Award. Needless to say, they haven't looked back since.
As well as heaps of tours around the country, the boys have been able to afford trips overseas, where they've succeeded in tickling American, British, Canadian and German funny-bones.
Maybe it doesn't sound funny on paper, but rallying 500 people together on a Montreal street, then getting them to repeatedly chant the word "emu" is the stuff that successful comedy is made of.
They also do a parody of "Jesus Christ Superstar", a mock eulogy for Elvis and occasionally a foray into the audience, where those seated in the first two rows have to endure kisses, comments about out- dated hippy hair-dos and the likes of Tim screaming in their face. It's frighteningly funny stuff, but don't for a minute write off these guys as shallow and tasteless. Paul explains: "We like to push people to the limit, and when it comes right down to it, people do laugh. If you're offended, don't laugh!"
Unfortunately, that's exactly what an audience didn't do in what was perhaps the Allstars biggest chance to make the big time. Last year, when the guys were in England, they were invited to perform at a benefit concert. Other acts included Boy George, Bananarama, Ziggy Marley, The Tom Tom Club, Robert Palmer and U2. But the guys never made it onto the stage. Tim almost weeps telling the story.
"We were the final comedy piece before U2 and all ready to go on. The show was running really late so we were told we only had 10 minutes. But just before we appeared onstage, part of the set fell down, and it took 10 minutes to clean it up, just in time for U2."
But if the present is any indication, The Doug Anthony Allstars are destined for fame. As well as a debut in the new Batman movie, playing Penguin's henchmen, the guys appear every Tuesday night in a new ABC series appropriately called "The Big Gig", featuring bands and comedians from all over the world. God help the studio audience!
Yet after the latest chat with Allstars champion full-forward Timmy Baby Ferguson (who strangely enough models his play on champion full-back Steven Silvagani,) it's now just as obvious the Premiership flag-holding Allstars combination has redeemed the Devil and packed away the candles, sacrificial alter, chooks, hatchets, and the vestal virgins (bummer!), along with the knuckle-dusters, flick-knives and nunchuckas (although I suspect the nunchuckas went around the time of James Reyne's motor's too fast. You know "Nunchucka, things are never quite as they seem" -good lyric, huh?!)
Anyway listeners, I take pride in announcing the redemption of the Allstars' souls and even enter the confessional once a week (albeit naked), all in preparation for their latest on-stage kiddies' pantomime, Sweetness and light, which hits Queensland Uni this Friday (April3) and the Rialto Theatre, West End, on Saturday (April 4). "This is a fresher and cleaner Doug Anthony Allstars," the champ announced, but not without the prior permission of the Big Man (Paul Keating). "We've thrown away the horror and the angst we've subjected our audiences to in the past and replaced it with warmth. We're reciting heart-warming platitudes. We're sick of being Mr Nasty Boys. We just wanna be loved!" (By the way, if you're buying any of this you DESERVE to be sacrificed to the Evil One).
"This time all we're doing is getting everyone to hold hands and sing 'Kum-Bai-Ya My Lord, Kum-Bai-Ya, Pump Away my Lord...' Oh no...You see! There it is again! No. none of that this time. "We want to do something different. We want to start doing good stuff like Barry Crocker, because he's a good guy and never says 'FUCK.' Sweetness and Light is OUR sellout." What a buncha crap Tim!
In other Allstars' news the lads recently performed once again at the Edinburgh Festival, hit Berlin and other Euro-spots and have been working on the DAAS Kapital 2 television series for the ABC and BBC, the latter in particular lapping it up. After Sweetness and Light, it's off to Europe again then add to all this another book, another album AND a visit to the new Commonwealth of Independent States (you know, what's left of the USSR). God help us all!
"Being provocative emerged out of busking, where you're always trying to grab people's attention," says Paul McDermott. "Even in the early days of playing clubs no-one knew who we were. Sometimes we have to do really ugly or horrendous things to get people's attention, and we're not afraid to do that. We'll hit someone if it gets a bit of discourse going."
"So much thearre and comedy involves no interaction between performer and audience. It's like television; there's no sense of tension or confrontation."
It's hard to imagine a more innocuous place than Canberra for the formation of the Doug Anthony Allstars, but it was there, in the gridlike streets of our nation's capital, that the trio met.
Ironically they were all there for education; Richard Fidler was attending the Australian National University, Paul McDermott was at art school and Tim Ferguson, The School of Music.
Drawn to Canberra's thriving early-Eighties underground music scene, the Doug Anthony Allstars found their prototypes in short-lived pink bands like the Fat Sluts, The Lone Reagans and Forbidden Mule. "Like all punk bands they were very fast and furious," recalls Ferguson. "We collaborated on various things before gravitating towards busking and eventually forming the Doug Anthonys."
For a time, the threesome even managed to share a house in the Canberra suburbs. "It was basically a complete failure," laughs Ferguson. "We couldn't resolve our roles. We couldn't figure out who was the screaming kid, who was the bored housewife and who was the tyrannical father. We also had no furniture and two beds, so if you wanted to do any rooting you had to roster it. Kind of rotating rooting. Basically, we learnt that you can't live and work together at the same time."
After congealing into the Doug Anthony Allstars in 1986, and with some months of busking in Canberra under the r belts, this unlikely ensemble packed itself off to Adelaide to perform at that year's Fringe Festival. They surprised themselves by winning the Pick Of The Fringe award and after more busking in Canberra they departed for England in 1987. ri;
"Travelling our of Australia confirmed to us that we were on the right track," says Richard Fidler. "At the time we first left Australia we had very little success here and the British were far more receptive to what we were doing. The whole thing exploded for us when we got there, it was quite incredible. Within a very short time we were doing national television appearances in front of millions of people and playing these enormous shows."
The northern hemisphere continued to provide the Allstars with their principal employment for another eighteen months. They played extensively in Canada, Germany, America and Britain, indeed their presence at the Ed'nburgh Festival had the likes of The Guardian and Time Out reaching for superlatives. "We came back at the end of 1988," recalls Tim Ferguson, to the reality of playing to thirty people again. It was a a big letdown."
Fortunes changed for the better when the Doug Anthony Allstars began making regular appearances on the ABC's weekly comedy program The Big Gig. Their fast, eclectic style of comedy - with its strong musical elements - fitted perfectly into the program's format, and along with Jean Kittson, the Allstars emerged as the major discoveries of the series.
"Their audacity is what immediately appealed to me," recalls Big Gig producer/director Ted Robinson. "They were brash and loud... I think basically a nice bunch of conservative kids who were prepared to get right out on the edge and take a chance. They're eclectic, wide-ranging and very original. I also suspect that a lot of what they do goes over the heads of their audience.
"They'll probably hate me for saying it, but they're amongst the most professional people I've dealt with. Their act seems to be full of anarchy but in fact their work is very structured. They know exactly what they're doing and where they're going - more so than any other group of young people I've ever worked with."
Robinson's comments are certainly borne out by the facts; not only have they built up a significant live audience in Australia and several other countries, the Doug Anthony Allstars have also written a film script, they're developing a TV show, they've begun recording their first album and, through publishers Allen And Unwin, recently published their first book - appropriately titled Book.
"All of us had stories we wanted to write," explains Fidler. "A lot of it had been written as much as five years ago, before we even began performing. So basically we all wrote our own stories and pieced them together around the narrative."
The fresh and imaginative prose of Book may surprise fans raised on the Allstairs's crazed live performances or their appearances on The Big Gig. Apart from some neo-bruralist cartoons and artwork drawn by the group members, the book contains a densely written narrative. And while it certainly has its amusing moments much of the text is a parody of magical realism - it is categorically not a lightweight "comedy book".
"People have wrongly assumed that we're putting out a book to cash in on the fame of The Big Gig, says McDermott, "but this book was commission largely written before the show went to air.
"It would have been really easy for us to put out a book with all our song lyrics and comedy sketches, but our live work is quite different from the stuff we choose to write. The live work emerges from ad libbing; it's always changing and we never really written down. The book has nothing to do with any of that."
"With the book," concludes Ferguson, "we wanted to do something that people who had never seen us live would be able to pick up and enjoy... or be disturbted by. You don't have to be familiar with our "concept" to pick up the book. We wanted to do something that would stand alone."
The humour of the Doug Anthony Allstars, particularly live, is rooted in a deeply confrontation iconoclasm, that targets all manner of religious, artistic or political fanaticism. It's increasingly based in the development of performance characters and the relationships between them.
"It's something that's occurred organically over the past eighteen months," Ferguson says. "Once we started noticing it, we began to conscious develop it to the point where Paul's nasty and mean, Richard's really nice and caring and I'm... ah... gorgeous but stupid. I don't know how that reflects the truth of the matter. I think as people we're all fairly similar. Kind of boring and depressed really, just like everybody else."
way from the stage or screen, the personalities, and their conversation, do pan out evenly; all three are capable of speaking for the whole. Over a couple of bottles of Victoria Bitter in the Sydney office of Allen & Unwin, at the end of gruelling day of media prodding, the Allstars still manage to be polict, personable and highly articulate young men.
The sense of anarchy that permeates their act is mostly absent, until the conversation shifts to to the Australian media's non-coverage of contemporary comedy or to their just completed debut album and the recording music industry's sloth when it came to offering them a contract. Suddenly, their vitriol knows no limits.
"The recording industry is run by overweight, coke snorting pricks who wouldn't know what was hot if you shoved it in their face," spits Ferguson. "I find it astonishing that we could get up on national television every week, singing songs, but not one person has approached us to see whether we'd be interested in recording them. When our manager rang a couple of companies, to guage their interest, they wanted to know whether it would be like "Shaddup You Face". They needed a precedent for it.
"We might sound bitter about this but, in fact, the contrary is true: their sluggishness reminds us why we like to do everything ourselves. As soon as you start getting other people to do things for you, they start telling you what you can and can't do."
To look at the Doug Anthony Allstars one could be mistaken for thinking they were some kind of mutant rock band: they wear matching ourfits, they're young and good-looking, and they can sing and arrange music. Yet while they've recorded an album they're keen to distance themselves from any notion of rock & roll.
"We're categorically not a band and not involved in rock & roll," asserts Fidler. "As far as we're concerned rock & roll is pretty much dead and the most exciting, new and dangerous things are happening in comedy. And the great thing is that anyone can do it.
"It's like the whole punk ethic that said you didn't need to have a Fender Telecaster and 2 Marshall stack to get up there and make good music. It's a simple matter. If you've got something in your head you can get up in front of a microphone and do it. It's real live-or-die stuff"
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Allstars have their critics. Because so much of their humour is brutally confronting and potentially quite offensive, they've been variously accused of being Stalinists, Fascists, mysogynists and reactionaries. "We love nothing more than pushing people," admits Fidler cheerfully. "That's our idea of a party. We push and push until we get a response. We turn crowds into mobs."
Ultimately, however, one of the Allstars' most endearing qualities is their unique ability to change rack at the very moment when you think they've gone too far. This was brilliantly illustrated on a recent episode of The Big Gig, when the terrible trio saw fit to deliver one of their most obscene routines on national television. At the very point when even liberal viewers might have been reaching repulsion point at their graphic description of geriatric sex, the Allstars launched into a straight forward, indeed poignantly beautifil rendition of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine".
"To my way of thinking there are basically two styles of comedy," ponders McDermott. "There are the comedians who want to be your best friend, who want you to feel that you share common attitudes and that
you should be comforted by that. And then there's the style we've always gone for where an audience honestly doesn't know what's going to happen next or for that matter whether they're safe."
As 1990 approaches, the Doug Anthony Allstars are clearly on the kind of roll that most comedians can only dream about. Whilst so many comics adopt a passive stance, awaiting offers of work, the Allstars are a devestatingly ambitious, unstoppable outfit with an apparently endless stream of possibilities.
"I think they could do whatever they wanted to do," group about possible future television projects. "Just about anything is within their reach but they're a little suspicious of success. It's frightening to start turning into an icon when you're in the business of destroying them."
"Our phdosophy is that if it's not working today then keep pushing and it might work tomorrow," says Ferguson. "We push ourselves, we keep working, we don't sleep... and eventually, if it's good, somebody's going to notice. We're not surprised by our success, we think we've worked bloody hard for it."
"We've often been told that we're running at everything too fast," continues McDermoct. "We're alway being told to slow down. But we want to get it all done before we burn out. I mean, why the fuck not?"
"Ambitious is one of those words that's usually meant perjoratively," says Fidler, "but personally I don't have much trouble with it. Yes, we want to get a lot done. Yes, we're prolific. Yes, we're ambitious.
"I think the Doug Anthony Allstars are like a shark. We have to keep moving or we'll die."