Friday, November 30, 2007

"Keeping Your Kitsch In Sink"

The Needle And The Damage Done

Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, November 30, 2007

Fiona Scott-Norman uses her collection of vinyl atrocities to educate as well as entertain.

Fiona Scott-Norman puts a comic spin on her collection of trash vinyl.




The Studio


Sydney Opera House, Sydney


5 December 2007 to 8 December 2007


$28/$20 plus booking fee.

Phone Bookings

(02) 9250 7777

Online Bookings


"It really is is shockingly bad," says Fiona Scott-Norman of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival hit she is bringing to the Opera House. "The whole show is full of shockingly bad stuff."

At first appearance it seems a strange way to entice audiences but, in the case of The Needle And The Damage Done, bad is kitsch, and kitsch is good.

Over 75 minutes, Scott-Norman counts down a top 10, or should that be bottom 10, of the worst albums of all time. She trawls through the collection of just-plain-wrong vinyl she has amassed over the years, starting as a teenager in England when she shoplifted a Rolf Harris LP. It was strange preparation for her move to Australia at 18 but great grounding for her Melbourne radio program Trash Is My Life.

"This is the thing," Scott-Norman says. "I'm a good DJ, but I also have a large trash collection. It's like the evil side of me, the dark side. At some level I'm programmed for kitsch."

As comically kitsch as much of Scott-Norman's albums are - be they John Laws's spoken word LP In Love Is An Expensive Place To Die, or her most recent acquisition, a collaboration between the London Philharmonic Orchestra and romance novelist Barbara Cartland - there is certainly a dark side to this malodorous menagerie, as seen in categories including Swinging Sexism and I'm Not Racist But, in which even old Rolf takes a fall.

"I concentrate on the '60s and '70s because there's a big gap between what was acceptable then and what is now," Scott-Norman says. "I play a bit from Rolf Harris' Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport [which goes] 'Let me Abos go loose, Lew, let me Abos go loose, they're of no further use Lew, so let me Abos go loose.' By our standards that's appalling [but] he wrote that in 1957 and at that point Aborigines not only didn't have the vote but their deaths on outback stations were recorded in the livestock records."

Scott-Norman uses these vinyl atrocities to educate as well as entertain.

"It's cultural archaeology," she says. "It's drawing attention to things and reminding people how far we've come. It's celebratory, my show."

She has also found a rich vein in the vintage work of various Christian singers.

"A lot of it's simple in that what's funny is that it's so daggy or structured because, man, they go for a lot of hairspray those Christians. But what I find interesting about Christian music is the hypocrisy. They pose as being about love and Jesus and Christian values but so much of it is propaganda and it's manipulative."

There is a jaunty Christian sing-a-long (or should that be sin-a-long?) to a song called Oh Buddha.

"It's a categorical slagging off of all other religions," Scott-Norman says. "It's passive-aggressive."

Has she thought of evening the score with some Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist kitsch? Some duets between the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere perhaps?

"If the Dalai Lama put out a record of songs, I'd be there."

Scott-Norman brings her unique comic analysis to the albums, something that comes naturally to her after parallel careers as a DJ and a theatre and comedy critic for publications including The Age and The Australian.

"A couple of comedians have gone, 'Ooh, gamekeeper turned poacher,' " she admits of her first forays into stand-up after 15 years as a critic. "It's different doing it to writing about it. The stuff that seems obvious from the outside is not so easy when you're on the inside. It's like you're on different sides of the membrane. I was lucky in bringing all my interests together and it struck a chord with people. It's like going to a fun fair, on a roller-coaster or ghost train: we all enjoy being terrified. I think there's a lot of that in my show, people being appalled but also delighted."

Scott-Norman, whose vinyl library will be featured in a coming episode of ABC TV's Collectors, admits the reason she has been able to amass such a cornucopia of crap is that most people consider them rubbish and chuck them out.

"I've got most of my stuff from op shops over the years," she says.

How does one decide if an op-shop find is kitsch, and therefore cool, or daggy and bad?

"What you're looking for is something that has that extra edge," she says. "Something that catapults it into the spectacular category. It's a lot to do with the intention of the artist, the self-awareness."

Cover art is also important, says Scott-Norman, hence her section Men With Stuff.

"Basically that's an album cover art section, the props that men use to make themselves appear more masculine on their album covers."

After Scott-Norman's show, you'll no doubt be scouring St Vinnie's for Bernard King's A Man Of Style, John Laws's You've Never Been Trucked Like This Before or Charlie Manson's folk album Lie.

Alternatively, you could search for Olympic skaters Torvill and Dean's collection of embarrassing duets.

"They do Saturday Night and I Ain't Got Nobody," Scott-Norman says. "They're so white, they make Leonard Nimoy sound like 50 Cent."

Peter Helliar in conversation with Benito


Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2007

Expect role-playing, bad mime and jokes about produce from Peter Helliar.

Peter Helliar goes bananas.




Enmore Theatre


130 Enmore Rd, Newtown


23 November 2007



Phone Bookings

02 9550 3666

Online Bookings


Two shows, 7.30pm (sold out), 9.30pm.


Bananas pushed Peter Helliar over the edge. "Global warming I could handle," the blond comedian says, "but paying seven bucks for bananas was a bit full-on."

This produce-based epiphany became the seed for Hellraiser, his show looking at the comedic possibilities of some of the more serious issues of our day.

"When I started writing it, there was a foiled terrorist plot at Heathrow, North Korea was testing missiles, global warming was more on the agenda, petrol prices had skyrocketed. Then bananas got to seven bucks a kilo and I thought,

'OK, it's time to get involved now.' "

Helliar guffaws regularly during our chat. He appears not to be laughing so much at his own jokes as at the ludicrousness of life in general, a gift that would have proved invaluable earlier this year when hepatitis C support groups attacked him.

"Who'd have thought a Pamela Anderson joke could get you into hot water?" Helliar says.

Helliar made a public apology but the controversy was reported in papers around the world, including London's Daily Mail and The New York Post - which can't have hurt his notoriety, surely?

"No, there's nothing wrong with that," Helliar says.

Eschewing any future hepatitis C humour, Helliar has stuck with making fun of the intrinsically unfunny.

"It's a challenge to take an issue that on the surface isn't funny and make it, find something in it. There are only so many jokes you can make about the same target. I don't want to do any more jokes about Shane Warne, I'm bored of that. You're always looking for new stuff to find comedy in. But I don't want people to think they're going to learn anything by coming to this show. It's not preachy."

Less An Inconvenient Truth than A Mildly Informed Possibility? "Mildly informed, yeah. Half-baked opinions."

Helliar is happy to stray from the script, which lets him swerve into pet topics such as the corporate patriotism of McDonald's or his strange affection for Bunnings employees. This has led to some dangerous audience encounters.

"I once had a saucepan thrown at me," Helliar says.

Who goes to a gig with a saucepan?

"I was thinking, 'Was this pre-planned? Was there some controversial stir-fry routine that I had?' I guess they would have brought a wok if that were the case. But it was a footy club, so there was a kitchen at the back. I said, 'Hey Cranbourne, heard your footy team had a win today.' Cranbourne's a suburb outside of Melbourne. Someone up the back - obviously he didn't play that day - threw kitchenware at me."

One thing that won't appear in Hellraiser is Helliar's AFL alter ego Bryan Strauchan. With his fame from TV's Before The Game, Strauchnie is more famous than Helliar in the AFL states.

"When I'm in Sydney, I still get people yelling out for the character, which puts a strange vibe in the room for a couple of seconds because it's hard to go into any of that kind of stuff, and I don't like to. If I'm doing Hellraiser as myself, I don't like to sponge off that character."

Much of Helliar's appeal, particularly through Strauchnie, is the self-deprecatory humour of the plain, unfit, everyman against superstars.

"There are too many comedians who have come about in recent years who are too good-looking, so we have to balance up the ledger a bit."

Surely Helliar's boss, Rove, is among those tall, handsome, young comedians?

"I'm taller than Rove," Helliar says. "I'm 5 foot 11 [180cm] and he's about 5 foot 2 [157cm]. He's got those telephone books he's sitting on, but he's got the looks on me."

Did he ever call him "shorty"?

"For the first three or four years," Helliar says, "then he won the Gold Logie."

What can punters expect from him live? "I'm a lot more physical, reasonably high-energy on stage. I use the whole stage. I like role-playing, bad mime ..."

Mime? "I'm up there with your worst comedy mimes but I give it a shot. I've become a kettle on stage, a paper clip.

I talk about global warming, drought ...

A lot of people I talk to after the show say it was their first stand-up gig. I was lucky enough to discover stand-up quite early and I think it's the perfect night out."

Friday, November 09, 2007

interview with Uncle Semolina (& Friends)


Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald. November 9, 2007

Plastic wrestling greats and a seven-metre mudpit help re-enact the world's oldest written story.

Back in the pit ... actor Mark Tregonning from the production in England.

Back in the pit ... actor Mark Tregonning from the production in England.
Photo: Tristram Kenton

The Studio
Sydney Opera House, Sydney
15 November 2007 to 23 November 2007
$20-$28 plus booking fee.
Phone Bookings
02 9250 7777
Online Bookings


"We try to use the qualities of dirt," says Phil Rolfe of the decision to stage the 5000-year-old Sumerian epic Gilgamesh in a seven-metre mudpit.

"At times [the dirt's] playful and at other times it becomes like a burial ground. By the end of the play the actors are literally covered in dirt, caked in it."

"The dirt is a real character," says co-creator Christian Leavesley, who admits to feeling "quite suffocated by cleanliness".

Mess is an important part of the work of Melbourne theatre troupe Uncle Semolina (& Friends), who have also re-enacted parts of the Old Testament and Greek myths using their childhood love of soiled plastic superheroes. As we speak they are making a mess of London's auspicious Barbican Theatre before wiping down their Iron Sheik and Sergeant Slam figurines for the Opera House. The 1980s toys play the respective leads of the original superhero Gilgamesh, born two-thirds god and one-third human, and comrade Enkidu, born half-man, half-beast.

They suspect their mudpit in the Opera House will arouse the usual mix of reactions to what they admit is, dolls aside, not a show for children.

"It's pretty violent," Leavesley says. "There's quite a lot of darkness in some scenes which counteract the child-play aspects. [In London] we had three curtain calls, which they told us is extremely rare, but at the same time we also had a couple of people who just thought, 'I don't understand what this is about and I find it annoying,' and left. I'm assuming that's what they were thinking. There is a level at which you [must] understand the imaginative vocabulary that the show is built on, which is the way that we played as children."

Leavesley, 33, and Rolfe, 35, feel their combination of intense toy-play and mythology appeals to generations that spent the 1970s or '80s in sandpits with Star Wars and World Wrestling Federation figurines. Rolfe and Leavesley saw in this the roots of storytelling and returned to the mudpit when the time came to stage their own shows.

"I had the whole Star Wars set," Rolfe says. "I used to play in the backyard, flood it with water and just crash and bash through all sorts of stories with my brother. Christian had a similar suburban Australian upbringing."

Leavesley: "We had more Lego at my place."

"From a psychological point of view," Rolfe says, "when you are a kid playing with these toys you're playing out versions and possibilities for the world. That kind of re-imagining of stories and creating epics out of miniatures is part of the inspiration for the show."

The actors hold the figurines, like dolls or puppets, and then do their voices for them as they play-fight each other. The figurines are the leads, but the audience can see the actors who are doing their voices and throwing them around.

The story is that of King Gilgamesh fighting and then befriending Enkidu who, after offending the goddess Ishtar, among others, is destroyed, leading Gilgamesh to a violent existential struggle with his own mortality.

This archetypal tale is the oldest surviving written story and from its 12 stone tablets later stories such as Noah and the flood and Homer's Odyssey arguably emerged.

Rolfe and Leavesley saw lessons relevant to our time in the work.

"When we first started it," Leavesley says, "the US was invading Iraq and [there was] the idea of a literal but also lateral sense of the US being at the height of its powers ... but now being somewhat of a Gilgamesh, of how different societies deal with a sense of mortality and of crumbling."

The tale of a tyrannical ruler convinced of his own invincibility carries specific messages for today's kings.

"It relates to that moment when you're a child and completely self-obsessed and then you realise the world's bigger than you," Rolfe says. "I think [world leaders] are still very much little boys, in that all the big geopolitics are actually little-boy stories if you boil them down."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Live at The El Rocco Jazz Cellar, Oct. 2007

For those who were too lazy, poor, or indifferent to come to my gig at Wordjammin' at The El Rocco, underneath Bar Me last month you can now hear some of the tracks at

Alternatively you can just click on the title of this blog entry, cheers.

the tracks are - "Whore of Babylon", "The Perfect Local", "Her Name was Champagne", and "She Chucked A Sickie".

the personnel are Benito Di Fonzo (guitar, poetry) Ash (piano) and Ben Eadie (drums).

Yes, I am playing those muzaky jazz chords, crippled walking bass and cheesy pentatonic scales whilst performing poetry, but they did let me sit down.