Catch a Falling Star

So in 1994 when we read this:

After ten years on the road, on record, CD, radio, TV and in print, the [Doug Anthony] Allstars have finally decided to call it a day. At the end of their current national tour, at the Regal Theatre in Perth on December 17, they will send a fond, sad, undoubtedly rather raucous farewell to their fans and go their separate ways. Each is adamant there is no animosity, purely a parting based on the mutually exclusive plans of each member.

Tim Ferguson, 31, wants to stay home with his family more in Melbourne. Paul McDermott, 32, wants to go to New York to concentrate on his music career. Fidler, 29, wants to return to Britain, where he intends to become heavily involved in a fledging CD-ROM business.

What was actually going on was this:

What would eventually be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis would mean an end to the frenetic, high-energy life that was the Doug Anthony All Stars.

It seems that, rather than breaking up in 1994 because they’d achieved everything they set out to, the Doug Anthony All Stars – Tim Ferguson, Paul McDermott and Richard Fider – broke up on the verge of committing to a UK career because Ferguson was developing MS and didn’t feel he could go on. Considering it’s 2012 and all this is old, old news (Ferguson having revealed his MS a few years back), who cares?

For one, it’s a reminder that much of the “news” in comedy goes unreported. In 1994 DAAS were a very big deal, one of the few remaining hold-overs from the comedy boom of the late 80s that still seemed vital. They didn’t seem all that funny to us – their astonishingly self-indulgent ABC series DAAS Kapital put a pretty big stake through any warm feelings we had for them from their Big Gig days  – but they were still huge figures on the local scene. But when they broke up the usual “it’s mutual” line was swallowed by the media without too much fuss.

Sure, there was speculation; years later even we’d heard that Ferguson was the one who’d split up the group and McDermott wasn’t happy about it. Obviously Ferguson wanted to keep his medical condition private, and we’d go along with that. But the actual story here was that one member (for whatever reason) wanted to stay in Australia, which now seems more than a little obvious just from the wacky career paths the other two claim in that 1994 article. While we’re here, let’s just fix that section for The Australian:

Tim Ferguson, 31, wants to stay home with his family more in Melbourne. Paul McDermott, 32, wants to go to the ABC, where he intends to become heavily involved in television hosting and minor radio gigs. Fidler, 29, wants to go to the ABC, where he intends to become heavily involved in drive time radio and minor television hosting gigs.

We don’t need to know the specifics behind Ferguson’s personal reasons for breaking up the group, but we should be told that his personal reasons are why the group broke up, even if it’s just a “speculation is rife that…” line in there somewhere. If it was a popular band, we’d get that. If it was a sporting figure, we’d get that non-stop for a fortnight plus a half-dozen opinion columns waffling on about “the real story”. Why is it that when it comes to comedy we just get a shrug and “whatever you guys say”?

This kind of thing cuts both ways, just in case you were thinking of making some snarky-yet-true comment about how Ferguson’s medical issues are none of our business. When the media gives comedy sloppy, inaccurate coverage as a matter of course then you get inaccurate stuff like – to take merely the closest example to hand – this from that 1994 article:

“They directly contributed to shows like Wogs Out of Work, Fast Forward and the quick, nonsensical satire of D Gen, a sort of extension of the Python tradition, but very much in an Australian context.”

Which, of course, DAAS didn’t actually do (the D-Gen’s first shows for Channel Seven aired in early 1986 after more than a year as a university revue; Paul McDermott didn’t even join DAAS until 1985) : they were simply part of the early 80s zeitgeist where comedy became more performance-based and aimed at a younger, university-educated audience.

[That’s another reason why the reason behind their demise is important: by 1994 their style of comedy was largely played out and increasingly replaced in Australia by the more mainstream and traditional stand-up we still enjoy (or “enjoy”) today. There’s a big difference between breaking up because one of your members has a personal reason for sticking close to home and breaking up because no-one cares about you any more.]

We’re not calling for more muck-raking (unless we’re talking about the Muck-Raking segment on The Late Show, in which case more Muck-Raking please). It’d just be nice if journalists covering comedy stories – on the rare occasions when comedy contains actual news – treated it like actual news: as something to be investigated seriously, with a commitment to uncovering facts and reporting them where relevant.

Seriously, that 1994 story actually does contain the real story: when on one hand you’ve got Ferguson saying he wants to stay in Melbourne and on the other Fidler is saying: “we’ve explored every avenue of creativity for a group in Australia”, a journalist really should connect the dots. The news doesn’t come from Ikea, and it’s not up to the reader to construct it from a jumble of random facts you’ve dumped on their lawn.

After all, if the professionals don’t get the real story out there then it’s left to people like us to do it. And really, no-one wants to read yet another one of our barely coherent yet supposedly “shocking” 3000 word exposes on that episode of Last Man Standing that totally ripped off Andy Richter Controls the Universe.




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