Denton on the Ropes
Andrew Denton would be amazed to still be hosting his ABC chat show in two years’ time, writes Siobhan Duck
ANDREW Denton has no intention of becoming Australia’s answer to Michael Parkinson. Our premier chat-show host says he’ll not come close to bettering Parky’s 36 years as confidant to the stars.
The comedian-turned-interviewer says his greatest fear, aside from small-talk, is complacency. He wants to go out at the top of his game, passing the reins to a worthy heir.
‘‘I’d be amazed if I’m still doing it in four years’ time or even two,’’ he says of his popular ABC program.
‘‘I have no intention of doing it for 30 or 40 years.
‘‘This is a small industry. I hope I would know when to step aside. I’d like to find my replacement and hand it over to them.’’
Who is the heir-apparent? Denton’s not saying.
At least one man has already stuck his hand up for the job. Seasoned presenter Ray Martin has long bemoaned the fact he does not have his own chat show and went so far as to speak enviously of Enough Rope.
Martin received widespread scorn late last year when he said: ‘‘Clearly before Denton’s Enough Rope was on, I owned the genre.
‘‘There’s a bloody big hole in TV outside of what Denton does. I saw the John Laws interview and thought ‘S---, I should have done that. I know Lawsy well and he would have talked to me and we don’t have a spot at the moment’.
‘‘I have 40 specials I’ve done literally while Andrew was still at uni. That’s not to put him down for a second. It seems silly not to have me do it.’’
Denton didn’t take offence at Martin’s comments, saying he welcomes the competition, which makes for better television.
‘‘I think it’s (Martin’s remarks) fantastic,’’ he says.
‘‘I’m a great believer in having an industry where people are hungry to do things. I welcome competition.
‘‘I do not feel threatened or negative about it. I take it as a compliment.
Martin was once invited to appear on Enough Rope but refused.
Denton has a long wish-list of guests, topped by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but there are also plenty who volunteer for a grilling.
Denton doesn’t restrict guests to those he admires and respects.
‘‘Kyle Sandilands is a case in point,’’ he says. ‘‘People in this office did not particularly like him. Still, he made an interesting interview. It’s not about who I like or do not like. It’s about who is interesting.’’
Whether the guest is a taxi driver or former US president Bill Clinton, Denton is still nervous before each interview.
He reckons it’s better to go in cold rather than chat to guests before the show. And guests are not allowed to vet questions before the interview, though many have tried.
The only time Denton relaxed this stance was with Rove McManus.
Before their chat, Denton called McManus to ask if he was comfortable talking about wife Belinda Emmett, who at the time was battling cancer.
Denton says Coldplay frontman Chris Martin tried to veto all questions about his personal life but still appeared on the show when that request was refused.
‘‘He was clearly uncomfortable talking about Gwyneth (Paltrow) and (daughter) Apple, but you have to negotiate those moments,’’ Denton says.
‘‘We are very clear about it. We will not be dictated to. A lot of the questions we ask are difficult. We are not trying to get people to reveal their deepest, darkest secret or do a ‘gotcha’ show.
‘‘But something like ‘What are you most afraid of?’ can be tough to answer at home in your own lounge room, let alone on national television.’’
Denton knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of an uncomfortable line of questioning on Enough Rope.
Actor and screenwriter Richard E. Grant turned the tables during an interview and asked him about his relationship with television journalist Jennifer Byrne.
‘‘I was surprised but it was fantastic,’’ he says of the infamous interview that had him squirming.
‘‘He asked me some very personal questions, but it was a moment when, if I had said ‘You cannot ask me that’, I would have been a hypocrite because I ask people those same questions.
‘‘On the other hand, it’s not about me, so while I was happy to answer, I also had to wrestle the interview back to him.
‘‘It was great television and an amusing battle of wills.’’
Denton says the interview with Grant, along with his chat with UK character actor Miriam Margolyes — who spoke with equal candour and enthusiasm about being told to shut up by the Queen as she did regarding her own prowess at oral sex— are among his favorites so far.
‘‘I am at my most excited when things are out of control,’’ he says.
Though Denton loves his job, he doesn’t want to do it forever and hopes to take another self-imposed sabbatical from television.
He’s walked away from television once before— in 1996, when he was at Channel 7 — to spend time at home with his son.
The break allowed him to ‘‘look at the industry from the outside in’’ and decide he no longer wanted to be the funny guy.
‘‘You have to be sharp to do comedy and as a comedian I had become quite flabby,’’ he says.
‘‘But there are times when I am watching a comedian that I feel a bit wistful.’’