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Weekend Australian

December 7 1998, New Weekly.
Paul Goes Def

Is Paul McDermott's voice good news or just weak? Actually, it's pretty near gale force on his current single, a tender duet between himself and former Def FX singer Fiona Horne.

Titled Shut Up/Kiss Me, it will appeal to all those romantic types who want to cut the small talk and get down to the horizontal mambo. Written by Paul, it's yet another string to the bow of the guy who came to prominence writing and performing the tunes for the comedy troupe The Doug Anthony Allstars, back in the days when Ramsay Street was ruled by Mrs Mangel.

So, how did the whole duet thing come about? Well, eagle-eyed viewers of Good News Week/Weekend on the ABC will have already spotted a duet between Paul and Fiona - the Yazoo hit, Only You.

"I've been on the show a few times," says Fiona, "and when they changed to Good News Weekend they introduced the musical segment and Paul and I did our duet. The response from viewers with faxes and e-mails was so good we decided to record together."

Like Paul, Fiona is no one-trick pony, with a best-selling book about witchcraft - which is currently in the stores and has sold more than 10,000 copies as well as her varied musical projects.

"I've got fingers in more than a few pies." she says enigmatically.

Speaking of which, there was her recent Playboy cover shoot, over which she had complete artistic control and says has been very well received by everyone.

My family, boyfriend and friends, all the people close to me, have all told me how much they like it and that's what's important. I had total control over the project and it was a condition of me doing it, so it would be the way I wanted to portray myself," she says.

"My view is that pornography is always going to be there, so it's best to take the situation and make something you're proud of that will appeal not only to men who want to be titillated, but to the many women, either straight or lesbians, who read Playboy - and there are lots of them."

Fiona will be releasing a solo album around February, co-written with the, help of members of the bands Frente! and Boom Crash Opera. Meanwhile, there's another witchcraft book coming up - a sequel to her bestseller - to be called Witch: A Magical Year. Sounds like every year is magical for Ms Horne.

November 30 1998, Who Weekly.
Sexiest Men Alive Number #3 - Paul McDermott

Paul McDermott squirms in his seat, uncomfortably pondering his sexability. "I've never really understood why people scream at comedy," muses the former Doug Anthony Allstar and Triple J regular. "When you tell a joke, and to have people sort of faint…" But this particular protagonist, with a delivery as jagged as his haircut and come-on smile, knows he sets off the spunkometer. Teens in the audience at ABC-TV's Good News Week tapings tell him so with their yells and catcalls. Older fans claim to appreciate the 36-year-old host for his scurrilous mind. We reckon a hint of bristle, the cute, taut bod, the hello, you've got-my-attention eyes and choir-boy sweet singing voice may have something to do with it. He can throw his arms around us any time.

Erogenous zone: Anywhere there's an audience.

March 17 1999, Herald Sun, Robert Fidgeon.
All Over The Edge

Friends describe him as shy. Their assessment comes as something of a surprise considering Paul McDermott's made his name as a small-screen nasty-mouth who ravages everything sacred.

Suddenly, his acerbic tongue was slicing through all things we hold dear. Audiences, particularly younger viewers, loved it and he's never looked back.

When the All-Stars broke up in 1994, fellow members Richard Fidler and Tim Ferguson were seen as the ones most likely to find solo fame.

Instead, it's McDermott who has reached the top, with colleagues Mikey Robins and Julie McCrossin in the satire-turn-game show Good News Week.

The show was a huge Friday-night success for the ABC, but until the middle of last year McDermott was seen as being "too edgy" for commercial TV.

But commercial TV has no reservations about doing an immediate about face if it can smell a rating point or six. And suddenly, McDermott smelled OK.

He was also seen as having the ability to pull in much sought-after younger viewers.

As a result, by late last year McDermott and the Good News Week team were being wooed by all three commercial networks.

Ten won, and on Sunday GNW premieres on commercial television in the 7.30pm hot seat. The irony of the change in commercial TV's perception of him is not lost on McDermott.

"In one sense, there's a bit of piranha in commercial television," he says. "You throw a bit of fresh meat in the pool and they'll all go after it. When one goes after you, they all want a piece.

"They (the commercial channels) hate each other more than they love good television. If they have a chance to undercut the opposition or rub someone's face in it, it's almost better than getting ratings."

He says he's both surprised and a shade angered at the "undercover and covert action" waged by the commercials as they attempted to lure GNW from the ABC.

"There were suddenly all these little volleys going backwards and forwards; people making comments that weren't strictly true," he says.

"Stuff was being leaked to papers. We certainly never thought that would happen. You sit back and watch it all happening and think: 'Oh dear, come on, get a grip on it everyone'.

"In one sense it's good, I suppose, but you've got to realise it's all very superficial and momentary. Will we be the flavor of the month in a week?"

McDermott, 35, grew up in Canberra, one of six children of assistant tax commissioner John McDermott and his wife Betty, and went to a Marist Brothers school.

A "bit of a loner", he completed his HSC and attended Canberra School of Art. In his final year at art school, he caught a performance of the All-Stars and joined the group.

"I was about 25, which was quite late to start as a performer, but by anyone's measure it's been a good

run," he says.

"A friend of mine keeps telling me I have this guardian angel taking care of me.

"When I came back from London, the All-Stars had fallen apart. I didn't really care about things that much. I just figured I'd do something eventually."

Eventually, it turned out to be Good News Week. The show developed a loyal following on Friday nights. When Roy and HG headed for London, GNW moved into their Saturday slot, along wit1h the Friday show. Ratings on both nights showed the show had broader national appeal than Roy and HG - a fact that didn't go unnoticed by the commercial networks.

While GNW was pursued by the three commercial networks, McDermott says Ten was always their preferred option.

"Ten's got the right programming for us, the right demographic," he says.

"When I speak to my peer group, it's the only commercial station they watch.

"Ten also showed tremendous pluck and courage to go with The Panel. They let it run and it's developed into a great show."

There's little doubt that Ten's treatment of The Panel won over many of the "new breed" of TV performers.

The network's perceived patience and lack of interference in giving the show time to settle was seen as a rare trait in commercial television.

"Every TV show of that sort will have a shaky start," McDermott says.

"Ten could have jumped in very early and started canning it. They didn't. They gave it time, and as a result have got their best rating Australian show.

"It showed a trust on the network's part. They didn't send in the bully boys to alter it.

"To see that sort of support from a network for a new program was something that for us (at GNW) was quite astounding. That got our attention."

With the commercial launch of GNW just days away, McDermott admits to being "toey", but is looking forward to the challenge.

"Sure, the timeslot's tough, but that's good. We'll probably learn our lesson quickly - one way or the other."

While conceding it would have been "safer" to remain at the ABC, he says complacency has no place in the performer's handbook.

"You've got to push the envelope, be it in a personal or business sense," McDermott says.

"We could have stayed and grown gracefully old, but with a show like this, you have to shake it to its very foundation so that people think about why are they doing it and what they are doing it for.

"And, besides, travel broadens the mind, they say."

May 2 1999, The Age, Jan McGuiness.
And here is the muse

"He's very professional, very nice and always polite, he's got values."

"He's grown into a very nice boy, but he comes from a good family. He used to talk about going to grandma's for Sunday lunch and eating roast chicken with soggy vegetables."

"He's very quiet, very willing and has time for everyone."

Can this be the man poised on a car bonnet, thrusting a billiard cue menacingly and shouting obscenities to the amusement of a gathering crowd in Chapel Street, South Yarra? Yes, it's Paul McDermott, the host of Good News Week, Channel 10's satirical take on the news, and the quotes are tributes from colleagues who knew him best at his worst as the mean and nasty member of the Doug Anthony Allstars.

Now he's playing a part for the photographer before reverting to polite, quiet Paul who wears Buddy Holly glasses and drinks Irish Breakfast tea, which is not to say that McDermott is a phony.

His Canberra background as the son of a deputy taxation commissioner in a large Catholic family was a recipe for more of the same or something very different. He is different, edgy, tangential and provocative, but he is also a performer who knows where to draw the line.

Always polite. but not so quiet, is how we found him. Bored with going through the motions of smiling for photographers or peering through plants as in old Mug-In mug shots, McDermott is revved up by being presented with an original idea.

As the writer of most of the Allstars material and all of their songs, he has a mind that works on several levels and can argue three points of view simultaneously. Even so, he has come a long way in conventional media terms for someone who missed the Gulf War because he didn't own a television set.

It's not that he hasn't had a deep and meaningful attitude towards the media from an early age. But it's based on distrust and therein lies the link between his previous incarnation as the brutal brat of the Allstars and his present role as ringleader of Good News Week's alternative and irreverent fix on the news and newsmakers.

The Allstars were deeply into manipulating the media and their own publicists with fabrications about the group's projects including an appearance in a Batman movie sequel and elaborate lies about each other. These days, McDermott trawls the daily newspapers and television for content to satirise and comment on. Now 36, and five years after the Allstars disbanded, he's still at the provocative, pointy end of Generation X, the first generation to be taught media studies and educated to look for spins, hidden agendas and editorial bias.

Only the media is surprised at this group's general disaffection for its product. While uncomfortable about contributing to it and claiming to hate the "dross" of giving interviews McDermott is off and running on this topic. He has hosted a games show based on news and current affairs for three years, but no one has yet asked him about his own interest in the subject. For him, he says, it's an exercise in wading through misinformation and the deliberate spread of confusion. "Baffled" and "addled" are words he uses often to describe a world in which we communicate more but seem to know less.

"When I was in India recently we saw a stand of Barbie dolls at Delhi airport. Do you realise how important this is? And the freaky thing is they weren't even new but old models from 10 years ago. You can just imagine some manufacturer with a warehouse full of these blonde tramps thinking let's dump them in Asia. It's all part of the ongoing spread of confusion that at least we try and confront on Good News Week

"And he'd like to see more of it on television. McDermott applauded John Safran's attempt to bring Ray Martin to heel with a taste of A Current Affair's foot-in-the-door tactics for an ABC TV comedy pilot.

"What he did was really courageous and badly handled by the ABC."

McDermott says he's uncomfortable doing interviews, but by this stage it's his Network Ten publicist who is looking that way.

We are together, after all, sipping tea in the midst of Good News Week's many Comedy Festival commitments to discuss the program's successful move from the ABC and the 6 May premiere of GNW Night Lite, a 90-minute variety show built around pop culture.

This, finally, is the show producer Ted Robinson had McDermott in mind when he first approached the ABC in 1995. At the time, McDermott was writing scripts and painting, which he'd studied at the Canberra School of Art before joining the Allstars.

"Ted essentially persuaded me out of retirement from performing," says McDermott.

"I wasn't interested in going back on stage after the Allstars. Comedy didn't even vaguely interest me because in comparison to the other arts I saw it as transitory and flippant. When I stopped doing it I saw it as an aberration, something that had been good to do for eight years but now it was over.

Robinson, a former ABC commissioning editor for comedy, had intended to do a program that reinvented variety and entertaniment television.

"But when I got the panel show together that became Good News Week, and the ABC had no interest in the variety showw, I had the good idea of filling the vacuum with the only person available and that was Paul," says Robinson.

Robinson had always viewed McDermott as the most creative and protean member of the Allstars, but not so the ABC, which took a lot of convincing and not merely because of the dreadlocks he sported at the time.

"The ABC people were very apprehensive about me and didn't want me to do it. They thought I couldn't talk and ad lib because in interviews I'd always let the other two (Allstars) do it. Ted had immense trouble convincing them I had any skills at all.

"So although I hadn't been keen to do it, I suddenly had a point to prove. Vengeance is very human and I'm reeking of it at the moment."

Back then, Robinson says McDermott was an "interesting creative firmament casting around for a direction. Now he's more controlled, focalised and has mellowed."

He is perhaps future chat-show host maierial, given that he is as lateral and intelligent as Andrew Denton, another Robinson protege who has moved in that direction?

"In terms of what he's done to date I've tried to keep him, out of the

chat show arena," says Robinson.

"Originally, I didn't think he had the common touch, he had no social graces in the sense of having no small talk. Paul can talk about film, theatre, the art world and music but there are gaps. In the last two years, however, I've noticed that shifting.

He has learnt to engage people and at least take an interest, whereas once he couldn't."

McDermott concedes that he is still learning to sit up straight, not stare at his feet, and to encounter humanity. "Some weekends I don't leave the house, it's safer, easier and more satisfying to stay home and do a drawing than to go out and cope as a human being."

McDermott doesn't see his long term future in television at all, no way. "Not that it isn't an enduring and wonderful medium" he mocks catching the publicist's eye. "But I don't want to be there all bloated, out of touch with my feelings, piggy eyed and dull-witted still doing the show. Better that Channel 10 feed me on peaches and sake and put a gun to my head in the back pasture.

"Of course, I can say this age but wait till I get there all pampered and addle-brained. Even thinking about it's scary. But the shock value of what we're doing will wear off after a few runs and parody eventually becomes reality on television because it loses the parameters, of what gives it form. Even now, people do see us in a real game show, which baffles me because there are no prizes or return bouts."

Many options await him outside television. McDermott paints miniature landscapes; he could peruse a solo singing career or devote himself to writing and binding his own books. He's writing a perverse alphabet book, which he'll illustrate with perverse drawings and is about 5000 words into an "I Hate You Poem" of bitterness. He likes bizarre fairy stories and wants to update a semimedical early renaissance book about marvels and monsters.

"Everything appeals, but television is the easiest because there are networks, and safety nets all over the place," he says. "I'm lazy and unwilling to test myself. If I concentrate on my music I'd be vulnerable and naked and expose more of my soul. I'm weak and I don't want anyone to see it. It's easier to be flippant than to bare your soul."

We'll be hearing more of McDermott's powerful singing voice and song writing skills On GNW Night Lite and it is in that direction that Robinson thinks his talents will eventually lead him.

"He is one of the most remarkable songwriters I've seen at work. Over an intense three-week period last summer he and Mick Moriarty of The Gadflys wrote 28 songs, 15 of which are extraordinarily good. It all awaits him musically."

Does his choice of musical material make him a closet romantic or are they the songs that suit the voice? The latter, savs McDermott. "It's just such a pissy, sweet voice. I've smoked for years to get the Van Morrison effect, but it's still contralto time. I've always wanted to have music that would cut against the voice and create a jagged musical structure but I've never achieved that."

Still toying with the idea of being a romantic, he adds, "I believe there is something intrinsically wonderful about people, I just don't know where it is or what happened to it, which is why I have so much bile spilling out. It's like people claim that Hunter S. Thompson is attacking the American Dream because he's critical of it, but he actually thinks it's wonderful." As Ted Robinson says, "it's a strange eclectic, paradoxical combination or things that make up Paul McDermott. But underneath it all it is a fierce intelligence that will always stand him in good stead."