So this happened:
TV STAR Tim Ferguson carried out a vile and obscene campaign of bullying when at the height of his fame.
Ferguson, along with Richard Fidler and Paul McDermott, were the original members of comedy group the Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS) at the time the offensive letters were sent.
The letters were signed off by Ferguson with “love and breast cancer” and “love and leukemia”, and “cunnilingus” from “DAAS CORP”, the comedy group’s nickname.
The letters included obscene drawings of naked women and a man lying between a naked woman’s legs with a large erect penis.
The letters, written to me when I was working as a reporter at the The Sun-Herald newspaper, were sent from the office of the Allstars’ Melbourne agent and from ABC-TV.
And over at Tumbleweeds Tower, we had a bit of a chat about it.
A: Today, in “offensive comedian is offensive” news…
B: Oh dear. What an awful and ridiculous thing to have done. I’m not defending him, but this is an example of when comedians are so in the zone of their comedy – which in the case of DAAS at the time was pretty offensive, sexual, comedy – and they get on a roll and do something like this, which they think is funny and/or justified, and everyone else in the world looks at it and thinks “What the fuck are you doing?”.
A: It seems very much part and parcel of their approach, but it also seems pretty clearly meant to intimidate her.
B: Yeah, that’s very much what he does. Fair enough to be an artist who hates critics (I guess) but don’t express it like this. I can only assume he thought he was being so hilarious that she’d take it as a joke.
A: If there’s a joke here it’s of the “ha ha, why are you taking my threatening insults seriously, I’m only having a laugh!” variety. I can’t really see where the joke is in all this, aside from “how do you like it?” Which doesn’t even work as a joke because a critic writing in a newspaper isn’t exactly the same as a public performer and therefore a bad review isn’t quite the same as sending creepy sex threats. Plus DAAS came from a busking background, so (I’m guessing) they’d be even more than usually sunk in that “critics are like hecklers and you’ve got to beat a heckler down” mindset which looks so bad anywhere outside of a performance space.
B: That’s the other problem, it’s not funny. In fact every time I’ve rewatched DAAS recently – I even went to their live reunion – I walked away thinking “These guys aren’t very funny”. I agree with Candace!
A: For me the appeal of DAAS was largely the catchy songs – the banter in between was often nothing special. As DAAS Kapital revealed fairly aggressively, their grasp of comedy beyond “prepare to be shocked” was pretty flimsy. Meanwhile, the big worry for most local comedians in the age of #MeToo is that historically most Australian comedians have been really quick to have a crack at journalists and reviewers – but most of the time the comedians have been men and the journos have been women. I dimly remember very early on Martin / Molloy rang up a journalist to have a go at her because she said Martin / Molloy was a crap name for a radio show – wacky fun then, serious faces all around now.
B: Yeah, there’s definitely a gendered aspect to it. I think women were expected to cop it “like men”. Now women are saying “actually this is a shit way to behave” – and finally being listened to – and it’s all changed. Extending #MeToo to this kind of thing (i.e. beyond rape and sexual assault) is basically women saying “this is a male way of doing things and we don’t like it and don’t have to cop it anymore”. This is about standards of behaviour and professionalism, as well as how genders interact. A person with a regular job would be fired for contacting someone at another organisation and saying stuff like that. In showbiz, at that time, it was fine.
A: A fair bit of it in comedy, especially the stand up side of things, seems to be a real combative hostility towards reviewers. I think it to some extent comes from relying on reviews to make or break their shows (at least early on) – I saw something recently where a (female) comedian was having a go at a (female) reviewer who’d been clueless and insulting in her review, but the justification for attacking the reviewer was basically that you become a fair target “once you publicly air [prejudicial opinions] in a position where you influence female artists financial outcomes”. So pretty much “don’t mess with our money!” And with some stand-ups not always being pleasant people those concerns have come out in a lot of unacceptable ways over the years – even if Helen Razer thinks it’s all part of the game.
B: Yeah, there’s a huge contradiction between stand-ups doing edgy gear about, say, anal sex and the #MeToo stuff. Then again, they are completely different things.
A: I was thinking more of the time Lawrence Mooney insulted that female (real estate) journo who gave him a bad (and clueless) review while his mates said “that’s the Moonman for you!”
B: Yeah. It would be nice if men didn’t enable other men to be shit. (And it’s nice that in their apology Paul McDermott and Richard Fidler said that if they’d known what Tim Ferguson was doing they’d have told him to stop.)
A: That whole thing from a few years back where comedians were attacking the clueless reviewers the Herald Sun was sending out to cover Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows I suspect might play very differently now – most of the reviewers who copped the flack were clearly younger women being thrown in at the deep end by their (male) bosses.
B: That’s always been a thing during festivals. The Advertiser‘s been doing it for as long as I can remember. A comedian should be able to express their dislike of a review without bringing the reviewer’s gender into it, though. Just say “They got it wrong about my act, I’m pissed off” rather than call them a slut or whatever. Not hard.
A: Unless you’re a male Australian comedian over 35.