John Clarke, thanks for your time

We honestly thought Clarke & Dawe would never end. Two men, a couple of chairs, a great script – the perfect satirical format.

Things were looking a bit shaky for John Clarke and Bryan Dawe towards the end of the Howard years, when Gerard Henderson was banging on about left-wing bias in comedy and shows were being axed or tinkered with to appease the government. Then the ABC axed Clarke & Dawe from 7.30 and shunted them off to…wherever it was. We, along with thousands of others subscribed to them on YouTube and watched them there instead. We only watched their last sketch on YouTube a few days ago. This can’t be real.

7.30 aired a pretty good obituary of John Clarke last night. Watching it, we realised how many generations he entertained. For some, he will always be gumboot-wearing sheep farmer Fred Dagg. For others, his best work was as the straight-faced sports journalist discussing the fictional sport of Farnarkling on The Gillies Report. Then there was The Games with its put-upon sports bureaucrats and 94-metre running tracks. Or maybe you just enjoyed all 30 years of Clarke & Dawe. How could you not?

Bryan Dawe, Clarke’s long-time collaborator, was too distraught to speak to 7.30, but he did say this to the Sydney Morning Herald.

It wasn’t Clarke and Dawe that was the most important thing for me… It was the in-between. It was the space between our work as Clarke and Dawe: the conversations, the phone calls, the emails, the fun, the empathy, the understanding. The friendship. And all that means.

John is such a big canvas it is impossible to explain how I feel… I got to experience this man’s humanity, his generosity, his brilliance and above all, his kindness.

He was such an insightful, generous, gorgeous human being, and I’m so fortunate and honoured to have been his friend and co-conspirator for so long.

There have been many articles written about John Clarke in the last 24 hours, and the key theme of most, apart from his comic genius, was Clarke’s humanity. He loved and delighted in other people. And while his job was to give it to politicians with both barrels, he also recognised them as fully-rounded human beings in difficult situations.

A lesser satirist views politicians and public figures through their soundbites and gaffs, exploiting these along with their accent, hairstyle, mode of dress and physicality. Clarke’s genius in Clarke & Dawe was to ignore and remove all this. Whether he was Julia Gillard, John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull or some anonymous spokesman, he always dressed and spoke the same. What interested him was what politicians and public figures did and said, and how that affected the rest of us.

Every week, whoever Clarke was being, whatever he was being interviewed about, he was always, simultaneously, instantly recognisable as his character, offering us a completely new and original take on the situation, and being really funny. And no one could deliver a line like John Clarke. No one. As Tony Martin said…

We’ll no doubt have more to say about John Clarke in the coming months. For the moment, we wish to express our sympathy to his family, friends, and colleagues, and to hope that the ABC will produce a tribute to John Clarke for us fans. Perhaps a documentary or further DVD releases? A definitive summation of John Clarke’s life and career. If that’s even possible.

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