Since the untimely death of John Clarke just over two months ago, it’s been nice to see many of his classic sketches again thanks to Clarke & Dawe From the Archives. But it’s also sad to remember that there’s now only so much John Clarke out there to enjoy, and very little unseen Clarke to come.
Next month, Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre is hosting a tribute to John Clarke – one which quickly sold out and should be a great night (we hope very much will be podcast). Then there are the episodes of The Ex-PM, filmed days before Clarke’s death, that will air later this year. So that’s something.
Also, last night, the ABC finally broadcast the episode of Meet The Mavericks featuring Clarke in conversation with British comedian Alexei Sayle. This was filmed last year while Sayle was in Australia promoting his second volume of autobiography, Thatcher Stole My Trousers.
In the book, we discover, that like Clarke, Sayle arrived in London in 1971 and it was there that he took his first formative steps in comedy. Discovering his comic voices and how to deploy it, is a big theme of the book and his conversation with Clarke. And we also hear from both about how they intentionally paused and re-started their careers.
In Clarke’s case, he left huge success as Fred Dagg behind in New Zealand in the late 70s when he came to Australia, slowly rebuilding his career via low-key slots on ABC radio. For Sayle, his career pause happened in the late 90s, when he felt he’d run out things to say in his stand-up. Having chosen to become an author, he found himself appearing at many promotional author Q&As and realised that he was still making the audience laugh by talking about his life. He returned to stand-up in 2012 with a new autobiographical style and hasn’t looked back.
There are also reflections from Clarke and Sayle on growing up as Baby Boomers, in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when everyone’s parents and elders had been shaped by the war. That older generation, Sayle argues, weren’t perfect, but their perspective on life did empower his generation to be creative:
When I first got into television, a lot of the senior executives had been in the war…and these people [who are executives now], who are bureaucrats, are terrified of an angry tweet from a viewer. You think, the TV executives in my day, they’d been fucking bayoneted by the Japanese. They didn’t give a fuck about an angry phone call, and they were like ‘Bollocks!’, you know.
We’d love to have heard Clarke’s thoughts on that topic, but alas the conversation moved on.
Meet The Mavericks isn’t a flawless format, but over its several series, it’s been one of the more interesting shows which see several relatively well-known people in conversation. One of the reasons it works is that it’s just a two people with a similar background talking about what they do for a living and how they’ve done it. No one’s distracted by one of them painting a picture of the other or them having to drive around in an old car, it’s just intelligent chat. Sometimes, the simplest idea is the best one.