Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mad as hell continues to kick goals

Though I know that Shaun mIcallef hates sporting metaphors, particularly ones that involve olympic swimming pools, I have to hand it to him. Mad As Hell is the best half hour on television, and I once again marvel at its ability to cram in extra jokes by resorting to flash frames. These microseconds of inserted footage are actually against the law, but only if they are deemed to be persuading or coercing an audience to buy products or commit any acts clearly encouraged by the flash frame. I think Mad As Hell is pretty safe with this one, taken from the iview of the show, hence, that white arrow icon pointing salaciously at Stephen Fry's groin, as featured in far too many episodes of QI.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Is your smartphone making you rude? Do you think technology is a distraction from manners? How do we use technology yet remain considerate?

These topics were discussed on ABC News Breakfast yesterday morning, and of course there were numerous tweets from viewers who thought that mobile phone usage had made people inconsiderate. Viewers complained about shop assistants who took calls in the middle of making a sale – thus, not making a sale. I commiserated. I’ve been on the number 96 ST Kilda tram alongside mobile phone users whose conversations are so loud that you can’t even hear the guy up the back who’s got a bottle of sherry in a brown paper bag and has remarkable recall of the collected works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. (Why do so many derros know every song from My Fair Lady?) Our favourite horror godfather Stephen King got so teed off with mobile phone users that he wrote a big fat novel, Cell, where mobile phones have caused their users to become insane, vicious zombies, pulling people apart with their own hands, but not without first checking their SMS’s or downloading a more beguiling ring tone.

As much as I enjoyed Cell, I think Stephen King’s novel seemed too much like the rantings of an angry old man. You know, the sort of guy who is always railing at the local kids for walking on his lawn. Nevertheless it will make a brilliant movie and collect several billion dollars, provided Andy McDowell or Paul Rudd aren’t in it.

This week I finally joined the smart phone generation, or the ‘21st Century’ as Steve Jobs preferred to call it, during his zestier ‘alive’ period. I have a sweet, shiny iphone, which I am only gradually learning to use. And my stubby fingers will never be able to manage that tiny keyboard. But clearly it can’t be that hard. After all, I constantly see car drivers using their smart phones, which they obviously wouldn’t do unless (a) smart phones are easy to manage and (b) they’re homicidal idiots and Stephen King was right.

Most of all, people (including Mr King) seem to resent having other people’s phone conversations inflicted on them, when these conversations are generally about stuff that really doesn’t seem so urgent that the ringer could not have waited till he/she was off the tram or bus.

But there is a worse kind of overheard mobile phone call that can really weird you out. On one Tuesday afternoon when I took the route 96, all passengers were fixated on their tablets, iphones, kindles, or whatever they use to make their journey more pleasant. Suddenly a cry of anguish filled the tram. This wasn’t the sound of someone being attacked or harrassed (I know, because I live in St Kilda and that’s a sound I’ve heard before.) This was the sound of someone who has just received the worst possible news. It was news that physically hurt. Everyone on the tram, even the sherry guy, looked in the direction of the sound. It was being made by a young, tough-looking man who was wearing a suit that seemed a little too small for him, and that had probably been cleaned in a coin launderette once too often. The man in anguish cried out again into his iphone. It was a girl’s name. Let’s say it was ‘Brie’ because it usually is.

And what Brie, at the other end of the phone had just told the tight suit guy (we’ll call him Brad because he looked like he should have been one) was that their relationship was over. This obviously came as a surprise to Brad, because his cries of disbelief and horror were absolutely genuine. What followed was Brad trying to convince Brie that they shouldn’t break up, because he was so impossibly in love with her that he would kill himself if she left him. Seriously, the breakup by mobile phone was as dramatic as that. We passed Middle Park station and Brad was still threatening self harm. At Fraser Street he’d calmed down a bit. Then Brie obviously brought up some transgression that Brad had made, because he reassured her that this would never never happen again, they’d already talked over this. He didn’t even like Wendy. And he hadn’t pashed her, he’d just bumped into her at Southern Cross Station outside Pie Face. He could probably get the CCTV footage, if Brie didn’t believe him. ‘Just please don’t leave me.’ The mood on the tram changed from one of bland Tuesday afternoon indifference to genuine concern for Brad. His agony was palpable. It touched something in all of us; that terrible moment when we learn that a relationship is mangled beyond repair. And not just any relationship. But the only one that seems worth anything and that reassures you in the night at 2.00am when you used to get nightmares, which will no doubt return. I wonder how many commuters were thinking of offering advice to Brad? ‘Come on, you were too good for her anyway.’ ‘There’ll be other Bries.’ 'I know what really happened at Pie Face. It was innocent. You're a hulluva nice guy.' I know I wanted to, but Brad seemed in no condition to take comfort from strangers. And who could blame him? He was being dropped – by mobile phone! That’s almost as bad as being dropped by an SMS or a Facebook post. And he looked the sort of guy who doesn’t usually burst into tears in public and who only just tolerates the Twilight movies because Brie likes them so much. Even the sherry guy was stunned by what he had heard. He was silent. Clearly, he couldn’t think of an appropriate song, though I’m sure there are several. Blue Sunday springs to mind, though a Jim Morrison vocal is hard to pull off. You really need to be on bourbon, not sherry.
Several people left the tram a few stops early at Fitzroy Street, to avoid Brad’s terrible, horrible ordeal. Before long it was just Brad and me and the mobile phone with Brie at the end. Brad howled into his instrument about how he would never again do what he had done that had so upset Brie. Then Brad stopped talking when he realised it could no longer serve any purpose. Brie had hung up. Brad immediately pressed return, but Brie had decided not to take calls. Now was my chance to say something to Brad, but how could it possibly pick him up after this epic separation? Brad walked toward me and the back doorway as the tram stopped at The Esplanade. This was Brad’s stop. Mine wasn’t till Luna Park. I wanted to tell Brad that things would get better, that he mustn’t give up on being a good human being. I made eye contaxct with Brad as he headed for the exit. Once I was on a tram with a young guy who was ‘chroming’, sniffing aerosol paint from a plastic bag. I remember seeing his eyes as he entered the zone of unhurting, the place that he needed so badly to reach and relied upon the paint fumes to get him there. The chromer had a dead face. He was no longer in the normal human dimension. He had mentally checked out. And that’s how Brad looked as he left the tram. I don’t think that anything I said would have saved him from how he felt. I just hoped that Brad wouldn’t throw himself under a car, or seek comfort in petrol fumes.

And when I woke up at 2.00am that night I thought about Brad and Brie, wishing they hadn’t made me an eavesdropper of their demise.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Okay, time to stop sulking

And from Maurice Saxby in Magpies:

'Read this great book and be intrigued.  Reread it and savour fully its mental, psychological and emotional riches.  It is worth it.'

Well, I see to have done what most bad book bloggers do. I've had a hissy fit, prompted by some less than perfect reviews on the frequently poisonous Goodreads. And to all those authors who have been trolling reviews of their own work or perhaps that of adversaries, shame on you! But I understand that there is a program out there which can actually de-anonymitise the reviews, so some trolls are in for a very nasty surprise when they discover they have been exposed as the source of the five-star rave review of their latest work. (it happened on Amazon a litle while ago.)

And I've carried on as though I'm owed a good review. Please forgive me. For a man who has written a novel using 'the nature of humour' as its theme, I've been showing a remarkable lack of humour in my posts about Tigers on the Beach of late.

As for the world's funniest joke, which I have included at the end of the novel, I told it last night at an AWG event where I was sharing a comedy panel with Steve Vizard and Peter Moon. No one laughed. And yet this is the joke that I told to Shaun Micallef, making him burst into laughter, which is what I do when Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell is on TV. It's the funniest, sharpest, silliest show on the ABC. I honestly didn't know it was possible to shoe-horn that many jokes into a show. Mad as Hell
is quite an achievement, though I worry sometimes that worry that there are so many jokes, it might be difficult for the viewer to catch them all. Here is where ABC iView comes in handy. you can enjoy the show over and over, though I'm slow on the pause control and I still haven't worked out what the flash frames are about.  Actually, here's one. I apologise to anyone I might have upset and no breach of copyright is intended.

One of the flash frames from Mad as Hell. I don't know who any of them are, though the guy to the right of the mid-screen white icon does look a bit like Ian Thorpe. If it's him, even just a photoshop, someone is in an awful lot of trouble.

Monday, March 3, 2014

George I don't know who you are but thank you.

Just when I was sinking into the pit of despair, my editor sent me this Herald Sun review by a boy (or possibly a girl). George, I don't know who you are, or where you've come from, but you've done me a power of good.

This book is so excellent I read it in one 
sitting. Adam has just found the girl of his 
dreams. Plus, his grandfather has just died 
and his grandmother has moved in. 
Grandma is difficult and she’s upsetting 
everyone in Adam’s family. Adam has to 
keep his family from falling apart, stop his 
brother from doing dangerous things and 
keep the girl he loves. This is a great book 
and I think everyone will love it.
George Murrihy, 12
Verdict  Brilliant.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It could be a bumpy ride …

 In my last post, with my usual hubris , I made up some mean and sarcastic reactions the critics would have to my new book, Tigers on the Beach. And hubris being what it is, it seems I’ve attracted some of the very quotes that were in the post.

I’ve been in a bad mood all week,
Back in the days when I was making TV shows I had to steel myself against the reviewers, because some of them, like Robert Fidgeon and Bruce Elder, could turn seriously poisonous if your comedy show did not make them laugh. Bruce Elder said that I should have been sacked, after my cable quiz show about advertising, hosted by Mikey Robbins, failed to entice him. It was called Campaign and it was pretty much the seed that might have germinated into The Gruen Transfer. It had low production values, because cable in Australia doesn’t pay so well. It was hard for me to recover from that review, especially as Mikey took it so much to heart and believed the dung that Elder had flung, which was especially mean about Mikey. We got good reviews everywhere else, but of course the one in the Sydney Morning Herald was the one that all our family and friends read. I still shudder when I think about it, but I was under contract to continue making the show, so I had to wander round Fox studios all week looking brave and saying ‘I’ve had worse,’ which, in all honesty, I hadn’t. Mikey didn’t hide his contempt for me (I ws the producer). In a camera rehearsal before the taping I played the part of one of the contestants, so they could get the lighting and audio right. It was the day the review had appeared. Mikey was there as compere, tipping as much shit on me as he possibly could. It wasn’t a good experience, though I can still watch Mikey and find him funny. And guess what? The show really wasn’t that bad. It was really pretty good, all things considered. Elder had well and truly exaggerated its failings, but that nasty little shitspray was apparently ‘the talk of the advertising industry for a whole day’ (I’m quoting one of our judges, the remarkably funny and articulate Esther Clerehan, professional advertising headhunter).  This was a problem, as I relied on the advertising industry heavily to allow us to use their expensive, often witty and sometimes breathtaking TV ads.

So far, none of the thumbs down for Tigers on the Beach have been anywhere near as savage as Bruce Elder’s drubbing, but they’ve still been pretty ordinary. I suppose you have to be alarmed when members of your own family, who have read the book, comment on how pretty the cover is but don’t mention anything about the book’s content. I think they might be annoyed because I used a few old family adventures,  but I didn’t ask their permission to do so. Dredging up the past is something that most fiction authors do, and I thought that I used the stories in a way that was more disarming than dismissive. But I should have asked ...

I know we shouldn’t let the bad reviews hurt us, but we do. And yes, I also hate authors who moan about it on their blogs.
Even blogger Braden, of Book Probe, who was so nice about The Shiny Guys, said he found Tigers on the Beach disappointing.  But then, if you’re looking forward to another book in the style of The Shiny Guys, I guess it would be disappointing.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that if we are interested in a topic, then everyone else will be too. Comedy, which is really the book’s theme (dressed up as a romcom) has fascinated me since I was a young adult and first laughed at Monty Python’s Flying Circus, then wondered what made it so incredibly funny.

I started to analyse comedy, and even developed strange theories, such as it helps to have blye eyes if you’re going to be a comedian. This disturbingly Aryan view (not held for long) might have been borne from the fact that the funniest members of the Python troupe are the ones with blue eyes. Really, my theories of comedy go on and on. Not all are as inane as this.
But when you try to analyse comedy, it often falls to bits. Just see if the well-meaning American presenter of thiscollection of Python sketches does anything to improve the humour of these Python moments, by somehow trying to explain them. And just for the record, I loathe and detest the Mr Creosote sketch. (See, there are those absolutes: ‘Loathe’ and ‘detest’. The far too strong and emotivewords we use when comedy disappoints us.)

Anyway, do please read Tigers on the Beach and see what you think. It took an awful lot of work, I think I like it, and I’d hate to think that all I’ve achieved is a book that irritates people. I want to charm you and start conversations. I want to reach out to you. Oh God, fetch the bucket. I want to be loved.