Spicks And Spec-tacular
Season's greetings ... (from left) Myf Warhurst, Adam Hills and Alan Brough.
"We've got very special ways of picking out the music nerds in the audience." So says Myfanwy "Myf" Warhurst of the road-show version of ABC TV's hit rock quiz show Spicks And Specks, now with live audience participation.
"There'll be Adam [Hills], Myf and myself onstage and a band," says opposing team leader Alan Brough. "What we'll do is pick 10 contestants from the audience and they're going to play the games [from the TV show] and we're going to whittle it down to an eventual winner."
The house band will feature Warhurst's brother Kit from Rocket Science, as well as Jet keyboardist Stevie Hesketh and, from the Vandas, Gus Agars on drums.
The idea of taking the TV show on tour came from the frustrations of ABC studio audiences.
"The audience is always so much fun," Warhurst says. "They love having a yell at us and they always get told to shush on the TV show so I'm hoping there'll be a lot of yelling and a lot of chaos."
"On television everything's pretty much prescribed," Brough says. "It can be edited and any screw-ups taken out. The great thing about a live show is that who knows what the hell's going to happen, particularly when you're interacting with the audience."
Aside from choosing players on the basis of questions from the stage, Brough will be scouting the audience for what he calls "super nerds".
What's the best way to spot them? Vulcan handshake? Deep Purple T-shirt?
"I think that they're fairly obvious," Brough says. "We'll have a set of questions which are quite specific because every night we'll want to find different sorts of people. One night we might want a classical-music nerd or a show-tunes nerd."
Or someone attractive to share the stage with? "That should never be discounted as a criteria for selection," Brough says. "We're going to go from the actually practical, asking them whether they know about music, to the completely facile, [such as] 'That's a nice blouse you've got on' or 'I like that T-shirt'. So everyone will get a chance of being involved."
Doesn't inviting the audience onstage risk them being upstaged?
"I have no doubt that every night we will be upstaged," Brough says enthusiastically, "but it will be fun. I think as soon as you start worrying about people being better or funnier than you, you should give up."
Once the 10 audience players are chosen they'll be run through the paces of familiar segments such as "Know Your Product", "Malvern Stars On 45" and "Substitute", which in the live show will be a medley sung by Hills, Warhurst and Brough.
"We'll just slowly lose people until we have one eventual winner," Brough says. "And in keeping with the ethos of the ABC they will win nothing!"
Except kudos? "That's exactly right."
Brough first exercised his music-nerd muscles working behind the counter of a record store in his native New Zealand, which he left after gaining fame as the personification of margarine, a husky transvestite, in a butter commercial.
"I'll be perfectly honest with you," Brough says. "I think the people who came up with [the campaign] were on drugs."
In Australia, his stand-up success garnered him spots such as his 1998 rendition of I'm In Love With The Chemist Shop Girl on ABC TV's Recovery to a bemused group of youngsters, before Spicks and Specks brought him wider fame.
"That was a spectacular disaster," Brough says of the Recovery spot. "I remember looking up and all these kids were staring at me, going, 'You're not You Am I!' "
Warhurst, meanwhile, was rising up the grimy pole of youth radio, moving from Melbourne's 3RRR to Triple J. Next year on Melbourne's Triple M she'll co-host breakfast with Rove's Peter Helliar.
Warhurst also received the 2007 Fugly Award, which runs in tandem with the Logies, for Most Spankable TV Personality.
"It's a bit of a worry," Warhurst says. "I wasn't sure if that meant someone that you wanted to slap."
Warhurst, who studied music at university, will give a rare display of her musical skills.
"I have put my hand up to be playing some sort of '80s balladry piano. That will be deeply frightening for everybody involved. You get to see little sides of us that you wouldn't see on the show."
Will Brough and Warhurst finally get to live out their frustrated rock-star dreams on the road?
"We hope so," Warhurst says. "I've already got plans to trash a hotel room somewhere along the line just so I can have that little fantasy, but I'm sure I will be very polite."
Brough doubts they'll live up to the dream.
"I'd be tempted to but all my friends would laugh at me, which is a fairly potent weapon. We were asked for our backstage requests recently and all I could think of was fresh fruit and a nice bottle of red wine. I think that doesn't make me rock."
Warhurst, who famously forgot the title of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit in the second episode of Spicks And Specks due to nerves, admits she is a little frightened of her first live theatre show.
"There could be some Britney Spears moments for me," she says. "[But] we can all be humiliated together."
Surely mass humiliation is the modus operandi of the show?
"That's right," Warhurst says. "And all having a good time doing it."