For those who came in late… The Doug Anthony All Stars were the notorious bad boys of Australian comedy, who between 1984 and 1994 carved a blazingly original path through the musical comedy world, achieving international acclaim and success, the likes of which have never been matched.
The trio of Paul McDermott, Tim Ferguson and Richard Fidler met and formed at university in Canberra, and started as street buskers, where they developed their trademark manic, confrontational stage presence and quick witted improvisation. They also wrote great songs, utilising one guitar and three-way vocal harmonies, led by McDermott’s impressive and powerful voice.
They had a penchant for the purely ridiculous and random, their material being fabulously fantastical, anarchic and gratuitously offensive, pushing boundaries as far they could and then further. But a more intelligent, dark and subversive element was at the core of a lot of their material, along with their merciless mockery of politics, current affairs and fearless attack on anything taboo. Politically correct was not a term in the DAAS dictionary, and it’s hard to imagine any acts these days getting away with some of the material they did, or even attempting to.
The boys first achieved success in the more receptive UK after some legendary performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They then returned home and became a regular (often show-stealing) feature on Australian live comedy variety show The Big Gig, which led to them producing their own TV show – the bizarre and hilarious series DAAS Kapital that could very loosely be described as a sitcom – but it was in the live environment where they were at their best and they went on to perform numerous world tours.
Whenever they appeared on TV or radio, it always guaranteed unpredictable, wild and hilarious results. The boys were a pivotal group in the development of comedy in this country – most Australian comedy in the ’90s, from The D Generation and Fast Forward, to Tripod and Lano & Woodley, was influenced by the irreverent style of DAAS. Then, in 1994 the group unexpectedly disbanded, with the individual members going on to varying success in TV and radio careers.
McDermott went on to become the successful host of the long running show Good News Week, which always seemed to culminate with him bursting into song and explosions of confetti. Fidler went on to have a successful broadcasting career – first on TV hosting shows such as Race Around The World and then moving on to radio, where he now hosts Conversations on ABC Radio. It was due to these commitments that he sadly chose not to join in for the reunion tour – which opened the position up in turn, to Paul Livingston, better known to most as Flacco, an old pal and frequent collaborator of the All Stars.
Post DAAS, Ferguson had a short lived run hosting the offbeat game show Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, then seemed to disappear from the public eye, until only recently emerging, revealing that he had in fact for years been living with Multiple Sclerosis. After writing a book and basing a stand up tour around his condition, he is now mostly confined to a wheelchair – a sad and shocking blow for a man known for being a whirlwind of physical energy and bravado onstage.
It was 20 years ago when DAAS called it a day – with a final tour of Australia that ended up at The Regal Theatre in Subiaco. So it was fitting the group were once again back to terrorise that same venue, at the tail end of their tour, with a three show run.
Looking around the venue, it seemed that the majority of the crowd were likely the same folks from 20 years ago, testament to DAAS’ dedicated, cult like following, albeit with some younger folks mixed in there, evidence of the timeless appeal of the All Stars, as well as fans from McDermott’s other work. Some people, questionably, had even brought their kids with them.
With the obvious differences in the lineup and the group being substantially older, there was some trepidation in the room as to whether they could possibly live up to legend that had been etched into anyone’s mind who had witnessed them at their peak, but it didn’t take long for those fears to be gladly relaxed as the boys reminded everyone why they are regarded as arguably this country’s greatest ever comedy export.
The familiar logo from DAAS Kapital was emblazoned on the screen at the front of the theatre, and as the crowd took their seats there was an excited buzz in the room. The lights dimmed, and Flacco was announced to the stage. A veteran performer and a true original in his own right, Flacco performed a brief opening bit and it was great to see his character back on stage. Dressed ominously in a large coat he took the stage in silence, generating laughs simply with his charismatic oddness. Eyes darting around, with his trademark ‘startled bunny’ look, he milked it for a while, before embarking on a monologue as random and hilarious as ever, cementing himself as one of the great Australian comedic characters.
Then The Doug Anthony All Stars were finally introduced to rapturous applause and Paul McDermott took the stage as brash and dynamic as ever – now older, with his greying hair spiked up, but looking fighting fit, smartly dressed in a waistcoat, shirt and tie – somewhat resembling Alec Baldwin.
After his grand entrance, McDermott ‘suddenly realised’ Ferguson wasn’t actually on stage yet. Storming off stage cursing, he shortly returned pushing Ferguson in his wheelchair.
While it was no doubt sad to see Tim bound to the chair – a man who was such a big part of the group, with his larger than life stage persona – he quickly dismissed any concerns about his ability and anyone feeling sad and sorry for him by poking fun at himself and incorporating his condition into his act. The method in which he did this was at turns inspirational and hilarious. He told us of the chemical cocktail of pills he was on – and how everyone should have MS just so they get to try the drugs, warning us that he may have moments where he vagues out or experiences ‘surges of euphoria.’ Apart from obviously being more stationary behind the mic, he didn’t let it faze him at all, proving himself to be as capable and witty as ever.
They then introduced ‘the guitarist’ to the stage – Livingston, now sans-costume, joined them, and did a great job filling the shoes for Fidler as the straight man, though not being the brunt of jokes as much as the former member. Some people noted the boys were not wearing their trademark military style jackets, which was apparently because they long ago donated them to a gallery, in all their stinky glory (they famously never washed their costumes).
After Ferguson explained his ailments, McDermott mentioned how Livingston had also been dealing with some serious health problems, including slipped vertebrae – but he wanted the crowd to know that he too has been dealing with some serious problems – such as bad dandruff and an upset tummy. Classic All Stars.
Kicking off with one of their classics, the piss-taking KRSNA that mocks Hare Krishnas (or those ‘bald, saffron dress wearing idiots’ as Ferguson described them, commenting if they added cymbals to their drums it would make it more interesting). The song was also famously banned in the UK due to its lyrics about the IRA.
They were constantly making self-deprecating jokes about their age – commenting they looked like Tripod had been in a terrible accident, or that they were the remaining members of 1D in 2027.
Another classic, World’s Greatest Kisser, was dedicated to Tracy Grimshaw, complete with hilarious anecdotes, before Tim went on a crazy rant about nipples that had the audience in stitches, revealing his own after someone shouted out for him too, and commenting how for vegans, giving head is like cheating. As Tim had warned, due the drugs he was on, he would at times seem to drift off, though his little rambling monologues were all the more hilarious and endearing for it. At one point he apologised for seeming off his face, but that he was getting one of ‘one of his euphoric surges’ and having a great time.
One of their more beautiful, serious songs, Little Gospel Song, Paul introduced as a tune they wrote to convince some Christians that they weren’t Pagans back in their busking days.
Another classic DAAS motif, interspersed throughout their show, was their classic Gilbert & Sullivan parody song. The short repeated verses, sung sweetly, start off with pompous, old fashioned notions of ‘whispering sweet nothings’ and ‘walking hand in hand through the park,’ before quickly deteriorating into increasingly lewd verses such as ‘staple gun my genitals to the wall’ and ‘stimulate my penis with your hand.’ Later on in the show, an entire new suite of hilarious verses was debuted by Paul, all based around the ‘bubbling’ antics of shamed rugby player Todd Carney.
Another of their most famous songs, Dead Elvis, was well received and featured Paul doing his best Elvis impersonation. They then presented Tim with a musical present, which turned out to be a triangle, though for his own safety’ he was provided with a plastic straw to hit it with instead of a metal rod, which Tim amusingly attempted to use.
Tim then debuted a new feminist poem for ‘wimmin’ everywhere, encouraging them not to shave the hair from their bodies, but to proudly let it grow free – and not to worry about what men will think, because they will still try to have sex with you.
Mixing it up with another more serious number, Auld Triangle, a beautiful number that slipped into silliness when Tim continually missed his queue during the chorus of ‘that auld triangle went jingle bloody jangle’ drawing glares from Paul. Culminating with Tim’s hilarious and astute observation that ‘You go to war with the army you have.’
Paying respect to sad passing of comedy legends Robin Williams, Rik Mayall and Joan Rivers, they performed a touching rendition of The Young Ones before launching into Maria – an epic song that originally featured repetitive verses rhyming with Marie, Maori, Murray and so on – but as Paul explained, they had updated it. The 2014 version is a bit more simple, and essentially comprised of picking people they hate and calling them ‘a cock, a cock, a motherfucking cock’ in song to hilarious effect. They worked their way through Abbott, Morrison, Bishop, Pine and Pell before opening it up to the audience, who called out Colin Barnett.
The mood became more subdued as they made some poignant comments about mortality, winding up the set with Warsong, one of their greatest and most moving compositions, as video of the young All Stars performing the song on DAAS Kapital was shown on the big screen behind them. As they moved into the second verse Ferguson stood up out of his chair, holding on to the mic stand, to a round of applause and it was suddenly a very moving affair that saw some eyes welling up.
Paul left the stage but Tim and Livingston remained for a bit of rare banter without Paul, who was heard loudly running around backstage ranting about looking for a toilet. His silhouette then appeared on the screen, and in hilarious reference to the earlier talk of Todd Carney, he appeared to piss in his own mouth.
He then returned to the stage to close the night with one of their most popular, high-brow songs, the outrageous ode to bestiality, I Fuck Dogs. Never has a song been such a juxtaposition between beautifully heartfelt melodies and obscene content.
And then they were gone, to a standing ovation. Despite the differences and the passage of time, the All Stars proved they still have an onstage chemistry like no other, with the perfect balance of music, banter, gags and random silliness, that had the audience in fits of laughter for two and half hours, that seemed to fly by. They’re just natural performers, at home on the stage, and it was truly great to see them on stage again. The spark of genius is still there and there was so much love in the room, with the crowd simple overjoyed to see their heroes rightfully reclaim their comedic throne.
The boys stayed back after the show for over an hour to talk to fans and sign things, and mentioned the possibility of extending the tour overseas, and we can only hope they continue the reformation a bit longer because as you were reminded watching the show, with the inclusion of more recent, topical material – and in light of the current political situation in this country, with frankly the most appalling, self-serving and offensive right-wing government this country has ever seen – we’re more in need of The Doug Anthony All Stars than ever. There’s never been anyone like them, and there never will be. Amen.