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Sunday Life
Weekend Australian

1998, She - Full Stop!, Vera Klein.
I Couldn't Live Without...

Paul McDermott, 35, host of Good News Week, wants to repay a karmic debt, says salads haven't suffered enough and reveals the reason why he won't fry fish at 10 am.

I do like a lot of food. It's an essential, like shelter and warmth. But I don't eat fruit and I don't eat vegetables- they're boring. They've suffered no pain in death. Animals are good to eat because you know they've gone through a bit to be served. I think that's always a good thing. I find it hard to buy salads for that reason- you're paying for something that someone has just pulled out of the ground. Whereas with an animal, you know someone's chased it around and expended a bit of energy catching it.

The Constant fear of Death
It's a great motivator. If you're always conscious that you're going to die, then you've got to achieve things before that happens. I've committed so many sins that I believe that they're going to catch up with me. I've done so many offensive things on stage, especially about tumors and cancers, that I'm sure there's going to be some yin and yang balance, which doesn't sit well with me, as I'm a lapsed Catholic. I think you should be able to get away with murder with Catholicism- and just atone in that last brief moment with your priest in three or four words, "Please forgive me father" and boompf, okay. But another aspect of my nature believes I've accrued a karmic debt and I'm concerned about that. I've got a weird lump on my chest at the moment...

The news
Following the News is part of the job, unfortunately. no news is good news, it's a very grim world. Except for the end of the TV news on a Friday night- when there's a romp through the parklands or something like that. I rang up and complained once. There was an air crash followed up by "now we'll leave you with something pleasant". it was so depressing in contrast to the loss of 365 lives, it seemed like a cruel joke. That's the good news; the commercial station's 30-second gift to the Australian people.

If I'd been warm in the last few days, I probably wouldn't have the flu now, which is upsetting me. Onkaparinga, oh I love those blankets. They're good blankets. They bring back good childhood memories of being wrapped up in one at the drive-in late at night. I'd do an endorsement for onkaparinga any day.

Another essential. I need large shelter. When I was younger I could do with little shelter, but now I'm an old man and I need room to wander. Over time, I've accumulated a fair amount of rubbish in my life and that's going to stay in the shelter as well because it'd be pretty hard to live without all that rubbish.

The Publicity Machine
The relentless monster the voracious creature that is, of course, the publicity machine. I love it. I get to have chats in the wee hours when I should be in bed coping with my flu. But I probably wouldn't exist without it, in one sense, which is why I couldn't live without it. One hand clapping in the woods- that's me without the publicity machine- or a tree falling in the woods, or any of those Buddhist images. But I'm sorry, I hate it. Some things I won't do. Those morning programs where they want me to come and cook some fish or something. Besides, I'd probably burn down the studio if I went anywhere near a cooker. I'd be dangerous - stupid. Why anyone at home sitting on a couch at 10 in the morning would be interested in how I prepare salmon...God knows.

17 May 1997, TV Week, Glen Williams.
Paul's Phone Fury

Here's one line that the Good News Week star can't use!

Good news Week's Paul McDermott has a lightening-fast wit and a comeback for all occasions. But put him up against a giant communications company and he is reduced to a frustrated mess capable only of stringing a sentence together padded with expletives. What is meant to be an interview with Paul and his Good News Week offsider, Mikey Robins, begins with Paul turning blue in the face as he berates a bureaucrat about being unable to use his home telephone.

A nail has punctured the line, but Paul's attempts to get it fixed has dragged on for weeks. Mikey finds his mate's predicament too funny for words. "You have a fax, an e-mail, a fancy computer system and two phone lines and a nail has stuffed it up" he says, laughing. "They built the ark with those things, Paul." Paul is less than amused.

"So much for modern technology," he says. Turning to lighter matters, such as the success of their satirical game show Good News Week (which screens on Fridays, ABC 8pm), a smile comes on both of their faces.

"It's not a difficult show to sustain, because there is always something happening in the news," Paul says. "Although a lot of the time the stories are depressing, you have to laugh." And laugh they do. With a constantly changing panel of guests, Good News Week remains fresh and pacy.

"You can never rest on your laurels," Paul says. The show is always changing and quickly evolving." So who would Mikey and Paul like to see as guests on the show? "Paul Keating would be good," Paul says. "So would John Howard. We could get them on the same team working together for a better Australia. "Gough Whitlam would be lovely. Cheryl Kernot is always good." Mikey thinks long and hard. "Robert Menzies could be good!" he adds.

October 9 1997, The Age, Lynne Cossar.
The News Is Good For This Allstar

He's one of the brightest, most popular comic talents to emerge on television in years. But in late 1995, when ABC TV was scouting for a host of its new weekly comedy series, Good News Week, the name Paul McDermott was not high on the list of contenders.

In fact, the hirers and firers at Aunty were reluctant to use him at all.

He had dreadlocks, a razor sharp wit and a bent for the blackest of black humor that tended to make people nervous. They were scared of him, says the shows producer, Mr Ted Robinson.

McDermott was best known as then for the bad-boy character he played in the group the Doug Anthony Allstars. His alter ego was the rude, crude, aggressive one. And people - even those in the industry - mistakenly believed the act.

"It's very easy to pigeonhole people," Robinson says. "They thought this was the Paul McDermott you got when you met him, rather than the bloke who would rather have Irish Breakfast tea than alcohol."

Good News Week premiered in April 1996. Although the show had a rocky start, and only just survived ABC budget cuts last year, it has emerged as one of the television success stories of 1997: a top ten performer for the ABC and a serious ratings challenge for the commercial networks, coming in second only to Burke's Backyard in its 8 o'clock Friday night timeslot.

Already ABC has signed for a third series in 1998. And although McDermott has not yet formalised his contract, he has given Robinson a verbal undertaking that he'll be back ("but I can always worm out of that it a big offer comes along," he says.)

Along with the success of the show, McDermott's reputation has soared. According to Robinson, the commercial networks are now circling and there's talk of one or two firm proposals coming his way at the end of the year.

Naturally, the ABC wants to keep him. The commissioning editor for ABC television comedy, Mr Dennis Watkins, denies any knowledge of the initial reluctance to hire McDermott (Watkins only started in the job last year and helped save the show, he says.) "All the Doug Anthonys were talented and interesting but I thought there was a potential in Paul that hadn't been fully realised. Personally, I think he's terrific and, as far as I am concerned, there is a long future for him at the ABC."

McDermott finds it difficult to believe people confused the character he played out with the person. "You do a performance, you do a character and, of course, it's an extension of who you are, but I can't believe people can't differentiate between someone on stage and someone you talk to," he says.

McDermott knows Robinson had to do some hard talking to overcome the ABC's initial reluctance to take him on. But he remembers the events leading up to Good News Week a little differently. "Ted had spent months convincing them of using me and they were scared," he says.

"I had dreadlocks at the time and he was saying: 'It will be a first for the ABC to have a dreadlocked host of a program. You've never had that before for an 8pm timeslot.' And apparently he had wooed them over and not mentioned this to me and, of course, I've gone out with a pair on No. 1 clippers about two days earlier and hacked them all off. I show up and Ted is looking at me and saying: 'What have you done? What have you done?'"

But it wasn't only the ABC that was confused about him. "Everyone has been a bit reluctant for me to do things," McDermott says of his work history. "When I did the debate (World Series Debating), people were saying I was just the singer in the Allstars. These people had worked with me. It was just a funny thing. People didn't think I could write my own material and rubbish like that."

Good News Week has given McDermott a chance to widen his appeal, show a gentler, charming side. You'd think the show's natural audience would be the young set. But the timeslot on Friday night excludes many of the twentysomethings because they are out whooping it up at the end of the week. No, it's a new group of fans that's pushing McDermott's barrow.

Older people, who like his irreverence ("they're happy we're up there sticking it to them"), and younger students, who watch with their parents. "We've had teachers ringing up saying: 'Thank you,' because children are watching the show because it's funny but they're also catching up on the news."

One minute McDermott revives shades of the Doug Anthony Allstars character: the fearless, in-your-face humor. But he can also be self-depreciating and gracious, warm and funny, in a naughty boy sort of way.

"The one thing he does carry into his private life is his paradox," says Robinson, who's worked with him on and off since 1989. "He is simultaneously a really gentle, polite, nice person who would rather not be the centre of attention and rather blend in with the background. But he's also a very creative person. If he isn't actually writing and painting and working away at one of his various craft skills, which includes things like bookbinding, he actually goes slightly mad. He needs to sit down at his lathe every day or he becomes unbalanced and unhinged."

McDermott was born in Adelaide, one of six children in a Catholic family, and a twin (he has a twin sister). The family moved to Canberra early on and that's where McDermott was schooled. His father was a senior public servant and his mum, a home manager. After high school, McDermott went to art school. In 1985, the last year of his course, he decided he needed to earn money, ("I'd been stealing the materials up until then"), so he joined a group called the Gigantic Flyer, which performed at a new Canberra club called Cafe Boom Boom.

McDermott had seen the other Doug Anthony Allstars, Tim Ferguson (formerly of Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, with Nine) and Richard Fidler (ABC's Race Around The World), busking in Canberra square. It was through Cafe Boom Boom that the three got to know one another. McDermott was asked to join the group when the third member, a guy called Robert Piper, had exams.

McDermott didn't like the group's style of humor. It was too sweet, he says, but he helped change that. He wrote the songs for the Doug Anthony Allstars, then hummed them to Fidler.

The three started busking together. In 1986, they attended the Adelaide Fringe Festival and walked off with first prize. They moved from Canberra to Melbourne. "The scene in Melbourne was a bit more intellectually diverse than the comedy that was happening in Sydney at the time," says McDermott. "The Sydney comedy scene was more aligned with the American-style stand-up and seemed to follow along the familiar themes of 'look-at-the-funny-cat, weird lighting in the 7 Eleven, isn't it funny when you smoke dope?". Melbourne seemed a bit more adventurous."

The group started working at the Prince Patrick Hotel and saving its money, so they could get to Edinburgh for the fringe festival there. They went in 1987 and stole the show. From their sell-out performances came an offer to appear on Saturday Night Live, hosted by comedian Ben Elton. They struck an immediate chord with the millions of viewers in Britain.

When the group returned to Australia, they resumed busking in the Bourke Street Mall.

It was then that Ted Robinson, a former head of comedy at ABC, contacted them about appearing on a new show, The Big Gig, hosted by Wendy Harmer. The show ran from 1989 to 1992. After that, the group did DAAS Kapital, an offbeat series on ABC. When that finished, they returned to England.

Then came a major coup. Channel 4 offered them their own series but, by now, it was 1994 and Ferguson wanted to return home for family reasons. McDermott and Fidler decided against following immediately. They didn't want to take the group into commercial television in Australia, where they feared its take-no-prisoners style would be watered down. So they stayed in England.

McDermott arrived in Melbourne in time to do the debates. From there, he got an offer from the Sydney Theatre Company to do his own show, Mosh. Then came Good News Week.

Good News Week is a co-production between the ABC and Robinson's production company Good News Week Productions. There are five writers for the show and two regular panelists, Mikey Robins, who also partners McDermott in his other job, a three-hour, five-day-a-week morning show on ABC Radio's youth network Triple J, and Julie McCrossin.

(The following is a part of the above article, just a different section)

So does Paul McDermott ever think of going commercial? Chasing the big bucks and the big profile?

"I would never discount it," McDermott says. "But I think if you take them an idea, you have to be fairly adamant you know what you want. The real problem isn't the good idea, it's seeing it through. It's the fear that if you don't get the ratings in your first week, you're never going to get them. There is no faith in the product."

McDermott believes Good News Week would not have survived if it had been on tried first on a commercial network. "After four or five episodes, they would have said: 'It's not working. It's not working. Pull out. Pull out. They're not buying meat pies in Crow's Nest. Pull out.'"

Good News Week producer Ted Robinson says viewers are yet to see the full range of McDermott's talents. "I think Paul has always had the ability to do anything," he says. "He is probably, arguably, one of the best songwriters in Australia, but that side of him is still amazingly little known, although I'm sure he'll address that in the near future."

McDermott doesn't rule anything out in his future. He's hooked on performing, he says, because of the adrenaline rush and the instant gratification. But at the moment he's content at the ABC. "I would prefer to do a good job, where Good News Week is, rather than be tempted by the lure of Australia's Funniest Home Videos or whatever. I do have ambition, but I want to achieve certain things. Whether they are in the public eye or not, it doesn't concern me."