Ride of his life
Merrick Watts has some explaining to do on a name, writes
SO, let’s get the important question out of the way first. Merrick Watts, host of new ABC quiz show Tractor Monkeys, what’s up with that title? Does it have some deep hidden meaning or is it just about, you know, a monkey on a tractor?
‘‘I know, it’s killing me!’’ Watts laughs.
‘‘I’m angry at the ABC for calling it that because now I have to explain it all the time.’’
To Watts, Tractor Monkeys is one of those ‘‘silly working titles’’ he imagined would be changed to something more sensible before the show went to air. That never happened. But the host hints some light may be shed on the title in the final episode, so stay tuned.
Of course, you may wish to stay tuned because the show is a fun, breezy romp that allows Watts, team captains Dave O’Neil and Monty Dimond and a cavalcade of comic talent to trade quips about fascinating footage unearthed from the ABC’s archives. That’s a pretty good reason too, right? Tell the people at home why they should watch Tractor Monkeys, Merrick.
Considering what’s out and about at the moment, it’s a really good option – a fun, undemanding game you can play along with at home, whether it’s passively or even actively via the app from the ABC. (Visit www.abc.net.au/ tractormonkeys for further information.) It’s a little different and it’s very funny. I think it’s been well received because of its nostalgic tone. There’s a warmth that comes from the personalities and their interaction on the panel, and also the nature of the content. That warmth attracted me to it in the beginning. It felt like an inviting kind of TV show, which is something I really wanted to do. At times it feels less like a quiz show than a spirited conversation between some very funny people trying to out-joke one another.
It’s funny you should say that – it has been compared to a dinner party conversation, and it kind of is, but it’s a competitive dinner party conversation where there’s a bit of one-upmanship that plays nicely into the format. And it is competitive – people are trying to win – but it never gets nasty. I never saw anyone get too focused on winning, even though they were competitive. They get swept up in the fun of it, which was fantastic to be part of. I’ve found it fantastic to watch. I’m not going to lie, though – we absolutely fluked it. (Laughs). You haven’t hosted before. How did you take to the role?
I normally play second banana, which is something I’m very happy doing. But at some stage, a hosting role like this was going to come along. I’ve been offered them before, but it’s always a matter of me proving to myself and others that I’m capable of doing it. What I picked up on in Tractor Monkeys made me feel good enough that I wanted to be part of it. And I’m still able to get a few jokes off while enjoying myself as host. There were times towards the end of filming that I forgot I was making it; there was such ease and enjoyment.
Tractor Monkeys. I imagine that stems from your relationship with Dave and Monty, both of whom you know well, right?
People have commented on the chemistry between the three of us and it definitely exists. I’ve known Dave for almost 20 years, we’ve worked the same stand-up comedy rooms many, many times, and being such old friends gives us the ability to throw lines to one another or just know which areas to go into. I worked with Monty on radio and I’ve known her for many years as well. It may have been fewer years, but it was also more intense because of all the hours we spent working together. The three of us were cast because we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses; we can all take a crack at one another without fear of offending. You’ve tackled a few different challenges in your career, Merrick. Is there an overall game plan or are you going with what interests you?
In some ways I worry less about my career and my goals than I used to. There are still several stages I need to fulfil if I’m going to feel like I’ve accomplished everything I need to. Those steps will come with time and with age. As far as my career goes I think about longevity more than highlights. I want to stay in the war, not necessarily win battles.
Tractor Monkeys: Wednesdays, 8.30pm, ABC1.
Monty Dimond, Merrick Watts and Dave O’Neil in