A DAGG’S LIFE
The early days of John Clarke offer insight into the impish, disquieting humorist, writes Graeme Blundell
significance. As are the glimpses of a stocky singleted and gumboot- wearing young man called Fred Dagg ( effortlessly inhabited by Clarke) in a bush hat caught on black- and- white TV, who obviously loves falling over sheep fences.
That is when he is not riffing brilliantly on such topics of national importance as corruption, oil discoveries, censorship, national elections and the political non- interview.
‘‘ You can get away with a certain looseness in your writing if you’re stupid enough,’’ Clarke says of the ancient sketches. ‘‘ And I was prepared to be pretty silly to make it work. But in the long run I was going to have to sit some exams.’’
The Scrolls preserves evidence of considerable diversity of belief and practice within early New Zealand comedy, when Clarke was learning the craft of making people laugh for a living; something he has always taken with the greatest of seriousness.
‘‘ My only strength was that I came from the audience,’’ he reveals. And, from the start, he possessed a kind of instinctual idea of what that audience might like to watch. ‘‘ So the job for me was: how do you go from being in the audience and doing roughly what you would like to see, and doing it without anyone noticing?’’
Moving to Melbourne in the mid-’ 70s, Clarke developed a first- rate career as a TV satirist ( The Gillies Report , A Current Affair and The Games );
ILOVED the life, the creative pool I was doing laps in,’’ comedian John Clarke says, his voice distinctively nasal but ever a bearer of happiness. As always he is concerned with the pleasures of the laughter he promotes so effortlessly, its mechanics, hydraulics and the strange territories it has travelled across.
Not without difficulty, 59- year- old Clarke is recalling the days when he started performing as an unruly student in the late 1960s at Victoria University in Wellington, the southernmost national capital city in the world.
‘‘ I was really just an electron bouncing around in the universe, so I’m grateful that any order came out of that chaos,’’ he drawls.
Also an actor, satirist, writer and director, Clarke has been respected, admired and loved by Australians for 30 years. But where did this impish and disquieting humorist come from, with his piercing, understated observations of our lives and his unparalleled ability to get a laugh out of saying a simple yes or no?
The answers are revealed in The Dagg Sea Scrolls , far more than a collection of memorable television moments, hysterical though most of them are. The 46 sacred minutes, which contain rare archeological black- and- white celluloid and esoteric vaudeville turns in huge arenas full of long- haired students, are of great historical