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Weekend Australian

16 October 1999, Herald Sun, Bronwyn Hurrell.
It's Good News For Paul

Warning to all waiters: know your product when serving Paul McDermott, because he'll trip you up. It's not that the sharp Good News Week presenter is a food or wine snob.

Quite the opposite. He says he has no favorite cuisine - food is merely a way of staying alive.

When buying wine, McDermott uses the novice's guide of choosing a label by price: expensive for people you like, cheap for the rest.

But if there's one thing McDermott loves it's his cup of tea - and embarrassing, waiters at snooty restaurants by ordering little-known brews is a favorite pastime.

A variety called Queen Mary is McDermott's current top choice, and you wouldn't be the first waiter who has faltered when he's requested it.

Apart from tea, McDermott claimsnot to have any interests and likes. It all fits in with the misanthropic "criticise everything and praise nothing" mantra of the highly successful television show Good News Week and his intensely private demeanor.

He doesn't even really like talking about television because he doesn't watch much.

McDermott says if there was a government department which investigated people who worked more than their quota of hours, he'd be "illegal".

Midnight clock-offs, diets of water and bananas, and hyperactivity-induced sleeplessness punctuate his life.

Among the flood of similar shows to reach our screens in recent times, GNW has succeeded where others have failed.

"Because of the popularity of Good News Week and the variety show we did, people think they're very easy to do, which is a naive conclusion," McDermott says.

"That's why there are so many similar shows, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's a market for them, but they're not easy, by any stretch of the imagination."

McDermott didn't see Mick Molloy's much-publicised failed comedy show, so is wary of passing judgment.

"I saw a bit of it and I thought it was fine. But like anything else, comedy needs time to settle in, especially if it's Australia's Funniest Home Videos are going to take time to adjust to a new thing. We (the makers of GNW) were very lucky on the ABC because they nurture that kind of thing. "

He surmises that many of the ingredients for a great show were there with Molloy's offering.

"They are very talented people you're talking about - Judith Lucy is an extraordinary talent, Tony Martin is a very gifted comedian, and Mick Molloy is awesome as well," he says.

He says the reason behind some of the more recent flops is a lack of support from the networks.

"They're not willing to give it time. It's hard to grow anything, but you have to put that time in if you want anything substantial out of it.

"They throw a lot of money to people who have an idea, and the idea gets up, then they say, 'That's not a good idea'.

"There should be a bit more time thinking about what's going on, or once it's on, supporting it rather than stabbing it in the back."

McDermott says there are no such problems at GNW. "The Ten network has certainly been tremendously supportive since we came from the ABC," McDermott says, "but we still are having a bit of trouble with ratings."

He says the current shows are "probably the best we've produced in the four years we've been doing GNW. We've got our formula right now. The problem is maintaining it."

McDermott believes GNW will have a long life. "Because it deals with contemporary events, news and so on, it's as enduring, I suspect, as newspapers and any other media because it's another form of commentary.

"Even if it wasn't me, Mikey and Julie, if other people took it over, it would be wonderful to see the show continue for years.

The serious news element of GNW appeals to many fans, but McDermott feels the cast are just doing what good comedians should be doing.

"There's no point doing comedy unless there's some form of social comment," he says. "If you can walk into a wall and make it a social comment, I think that's fantastic, as long as you have a point to it.

"We do the same thing. We attack a position. I suppose there's a social conscience, but another motivating force is to criticise everything and praise nothing. We just hate everybody the same."

But this dislike of everyone isn't always even-handed. At times executives have requested that, say, anti-Liberal material be dished out in equal parts to anti-Labor comment.

"We got to the ridiculous stage where they were saying, 'You've got three Howard lines so we've got to have another Beazley line here', or 'These Beazley lines are really cruel and those Howard lines aren't so cruel'."

Politics make bad dinner-table conversation, but McDermott is merely sipping gin and tonic and nibbling on bread, so it's probably OK to steer the conversation that way.

The republic referendum is difficult to avoid on a show such as GNW, and his personal views are staunch.

About the only thing McDermott has in common with a monarchist is that fixation with tea-drinking.

However, his outlook for the republican cause is not good.

"I think the republic is probably dead in the water," he says of the chances of the yes campaign getting up," he says.

"I think we're battling. It's worded in such a way that's made it very difficult. John Howard has been a very canny politician with the referendum.

"Pathetic side-issues have clouded the issue so much that we aren't sure what we are deciding."

McDermott doesn't doubt the republic will come. "But it should happen now rather than when the blue rinse set shuffle off and New Idea or Woman's Day can't print any more stories about the Royal Family.

"I'm speaking to friends in Britain and they say, 'We can't even believe you're having a referendum on it. No one here wants them'.

"I don't think there's anyone under the age of 65 who doesn't think the referendum would be a good thing."

1998, Morph.
Paul McDermott: 'May Your News Be Good News'

You've been described as a spiky Tom Hanks. Does that make him a smooth Paul McDermott?
I don't know. I've never heard that description. Spiky Tom Hanks. Wow!

Ian Turpie, who was a real gameshow host, has reinvented himself as a satirical character with Roy and HG. How will you, the host of a satirical gameshow, reinvent yourself?
(laughs) At the moment I don't have to. But, when the time comes, I could always reinvent myself as Ian Turpie, if that was needed. But I don't think I will have to do that. Not within the forseeable future anyway. Hopefully, I'll have a debilitating car accident before then. And get the rather fine pensioner pay out..

... or get rounds of applause like Christopher Reeve...
Yeah. Sucking life out of a straw, that sort of thing.

What been your worst moment on stage?
I've forgotten words, I've made mistakes, but there's never been a worst moment that I've been embarassed by.

Nothing at all?
No, I've had fights with people on stage, I've had things thrown at me, but it's all part of life's rich tapestry... and if you get to throw things back, that's fair enough.

Speaking of violence, you once flattened George Michael in a nightclub, didn't you? What pop star would you want to flatten next?
I didn't flatten him! I accidentally kicked him in the kneecap and he fell down by himself...

He went down, though, didn't he? (laughs) He did go down. But I don't want to flatten anybody. If I kick them accidentally while Im dancing that's a different thing.

That was a long time ago (laughs). It was because I was wearing a pair of spatch rider boots from the 1940s and they had big hob nails on them and they took a big chunk out of his knee.

Very dangerous...
Yeah, very dangerous, but they're in storage now. But I don't want to do physical violence on anyone. Mental anguish, though, I can get into that.

A friend of yours once said you talk about the "poisonous" things that are at the back of everyone's minds. Does doing that get things off the chests of audiences or does it encourage people to be "poisonous" too?
It's interpretational. As soon as you do anything or appear in anything or propose anything, someone will interpret in such as a way that it is against their belief system.

Look at the Bible. Beautifully written book, but it's probably caused more wars than any piece of literature on the face of the earth.

But that's not necessarily the book itself, but rather the way Christianity has been interpreted...
Yeah, certainly the institutional nature of it. Anything under God, if you believe in God, is corrupt. We're imperfect creations. And, consequently, any religion that comes from that, no matter how divinely inspired, is going to be corrupt.

But humans obviously have a need to get involved with religion of some kind...
If you want to be atheist or whatever, fantastic. That's another rational choice. I think there is no God.

But that's a position of faith.

Atheism is a position of faith.

You have the same kind of faith as somebody who believes in God.
Well, atheism is still defining somebody who doesn't believe in God. But the mentioning of it in the language means there could be an opposite.

I find all those things valid. I don't think I believe in God, but you never know!

There was a letter in a Melbourne newspaper saying parents should introduce their children to GNW. What do you think?
Any forced watching of television programs is wrong. I don't think people writing in to say their kids should watch it is good at all. I don't think it shows a positive attitude in the community for the intelligence of young people... if they want to watch it, they'll watch it.

I say parents should go and watch some pornography, but will they go and do it? No! I actually think it would be good for them. Free them up slightly!

You've said GNW is entertainment, but that often it's more news worthy than the commmercial news.
I think in the same way that we editorialise and we extrapolate on the truth (infer things from news articles - ed), that process is happening in every commercial news broadcast. We present it in a humourous way, we tell people that we're editorialising. They don't. I think we're a bit more honest.

Is political satire effective? Does it change people's minds about the world?
Oh yeah. But you don't do it as a conscious we're here to change people's attitudes or beliefs. We're just presenting different points of view. We should have a society that is open enough and free enough to accept those different points of view. And all too often ew don't.

But is it okay to have a cackle while the media gets owned by fewer people and the news has to make a profit like other TV shows?
Comedy is tied up with tragedy. Yes, there are terrible things happening, but you've got to laugh. What else are you going to do? It's Australia!

You've said it's time young people carried placards and protested...
... when did I say that? I could have been lying...

... lying?
... I think everyone should carry placards, not just young people! I wouldn't confine it to young people!

Small animals?
Everyone! Yeah. Dogs, cats, Mum, Dad, the kids.. you know, take your placards out on a Sunday and have fun. Bring the family together: protest!

No, look, I think there's incredible opportunities within society to change it. And with the massive conservatism that's out there, there's just so much fun to be had!

You're being called upon increasingly to make comments about the media. Do you find that annoying?
I find it really annoying.

Because I don't know what I'm talking about half the time!

Everyone's faking, I think. You fake to the point where you get away with it, that's all. And the longer you get away with it, the better (laughs).

You must have your finger on the pulse a fair bit to do GNW.
Yeah. But I think you can fool all the people all the time, if you're really good (laughs). But you've got to understand it [the news] a little bit.

Getting personal now. In an interview a friend of yours said you've got a lot of laws in your head for daily living.
He was referring to a code. A personal code, that's all.

Ethics, yeah. Belief systems that aren't based on any external reasoning or philosophy, just things that you believe yourself because that's who you are.

You had a Catholic upbringing, didn't you?

How was that?
You can't really understand it until you have something else you can compare it to. It wasn't until I left school that I realised there were maybe other ways to get an education. I've been raised a Catholic and you can't get rid of it, it's in the blood. It's something you are either rebelling against or accepting. If that makes sense.

It seems a shame that somebody would need to make a decision 'for' or 'against' being a Catholic when Catholocism was, of course, started by the heart of the Gospel message.
The heart of the Gospel is fantastic. It's beautiful, it's great. But I think there's a lot of distortion. People have extrapolated (there's that world again - ed.) on the Gospels and have found things in there that I can't find. The Bible is an incredibly beautiful text, Old and New Testament, but at the same time it's open for such interpretation.

November 26, 1998, Daily Telegraph, Dino Scatena, thanks Tigger!
This Is Serious, Mac

Even with a couple of ARIA Awards under his belt, Paul McDermott still doesn't quite know what to make of the music industry.

The funny man joked about how backstage during this year's ceremony, he and his co- host Mikey Robins stuck pretty close to each other because their sort "don't really mix with musicians".

"I know some who are friends and so on, but we're a different breed. We're stand-up comedians, we have a different mentality. So you cling together because you're the same. And Mikey's a friend."

Anyone who ever caught the Doug Anthony Allstars or saw McDermott break into sonf on his Good News Week knows that for a comedian, the boy's got a pretty serious set of pipes sitting in his throat.

"People have always basically been confused about me," explains McDermott without a hint of his trademark sarcasm or irony. "But I think it's good to keep doing different things. "

Suddenly the smirk returns. "What was the guy's name? Craig McLachlan. That's what I want to do. I was a singer before Neighbours, I had a band. Because he had a lot of musical credibility. Just because he became an actor for a while, it didn't detract in any way from the strong musical cred he'd built up through years of hard work on the circuit."

All of this has led to McDermott's decision to finally release a straight record, a duet with ex-Def FX singer Fiona Horne called Shut Up/Kiss Me.

McDermott met the vocalist-cum-author-cum Playboy Playmate when she appeared as a guest on his show earlier in the year. The two sang together on that first night and McDermott decided to invite his new friend to cut a record of a song that he'd had laying around for years.

"She's not stopping at the moment, " McDermott offered on his musical collaborator. "I think she did a lot of hard years with Def FX and like so many Australian bands on the road all the time, they got incredible audiences all around the country but all of the money went straight back into the band. I know bands that have had number one songs in Australia and still been getting paid 100 bucks a week.. It's shocking. Less than the dole. But you do it because that's your art.

"This record is a bit of a contrast to what she's done in the past, " he added. "We just thought it would be a one-off for the show. But then we got a very warm response from people who saw the show, asking where they could get the single, so we decided we'd put this out as a bit of a promotional thing for Good News Week.

"It was something nice to do with Fiona. But now there's the embarrassing realisation that there's something there you've got to talk about. It's all fun making the thing. The weird thing is then having to admit you made it.

"Well, it is for me. I don't know if other people have the same sense of: 'Oh, I've done that. You take it away and listen to it now if you want to. If you don't, that's fine. I don't care.' Now I've got to sit in a coffee shop and rattle on about it."

Sitting in a coffee shop overlooking Bondi Beach, McDermott explains that there's a lot more where Kiss Me came from. In fact there's a whole revue of songs (from a show called Mosh! which McDermott wrote and toured throught Melbourne and Adelaide after the Allstars' break-up) and several more compositions from an aborted DAAS show.

"I just don't get much of an opportunity to actually do anything with them," McDermott said of his collection of over 100 songs. "Even with this thing: We had a week to put it together for the show, Fiona had never heard it before and she was a bit uncertain about doing this sort of thing because she has a reputation with Def FX of doing a harder edge thing.

"So between Good News Week and Good News Weekend, there wasn't much time to put too much effort into the production and music. I actually think it's one of those things where you have to put time into it."

McDermott has now slotted some time aside for the middle of next year to do the music thing properly and hopefully come out of it on the other side with a debut solo album.

"I just like singing and I like performing songs, I like doing original material, but whether it's accepted or whatever, I'm not that fussed about. I'd just like to be able to do it because I enjoy it."