Image: Tim Ferguson speaks to Cas Allan. Credit: Brenton Allan.
Comedian, screen writer and educator, Tim Ferguson, was on the Gold Coast over the weekend to present his comedy writing workshop Write Comedy Now for the Gold Coast Writers’ Workshops.
Tim is well known for his hilarious antics in the Doug Anthony All Stars alongside Paul McDermott (Good News Week) and Brisbane’s Richard Fidler (ABC – Conversations with Richard Fidler).
Since the breakup of DAAS in 1995 Tim has taught many comedians and screenwriters the art of being both entertaining and funny.
His book The Cheeky Monkey: Writing Narrative Comedy is one of several books that Tim has written or collaborated in and he uses the lessons within this book to train aspiring writers and performers.
Tim has written for stage, television, radio and newspapers on numerous topics most notably political opinion and comedy.
CitizenJ contributor, Cas Allan, caught up with Tim last night for this interview.
Producer, Mark Gracie once said of you “He’ll say anything to get attention” and “the man has no fear or sensitivity”. Have these attributes contributed to your comedic success?
“I suppose I’ve never been worried about speaking comically because comedy relies on speaking the truth as you see it and if people are laughing it’s because they are recognising that truth,” says Tim.
“Even if that truth is something silly.”
Tim gives the age-old example of why did the chicken cross the road: to get to the other side.
“People laugh because it seems obvious to them that that is the answer to the question and so they recognise its truth.
“I don’t really care that they [audiences] mightn’t find my ideas savoury. That is their problem.”
You must feel a sense of freedom to not have to worry about what people think of you, to be able to stand up on a stage and say things that people might think but perhaps wouldn’t say.
“It’s not so much what people think of me, like anyone I’m sensitive, everyone wants to be liked but certainly peoples’ emotional reaction to what I say is really their own business.
“It’s freedom as much as you give yourself really, I’m happy to say things that ‘shouldn’t’ be said, of course they can be said.
“I get a lot of comedians asking me how have you gotten away with things that you’ve gotten away with in your books and your shows and I just say it’s because I never ask permission.
“As soon as you ask permission to write or say something, well then someone is going to say no.”
You tend to look for the shock factor in your comedy. Do you find that taking audiences out of their comfort zone makes them open to suggestion that what they might think, but not say, is funny?
“Yes they have because making anybody laugh is tied in with surprise.
“If an audience sees a punch line coming, well they’ll just dodge the punch, which is why often if you ask a riddle and people don’t laugh its because [they have] worked it out before you have finished the sentence.
“In the modern world, in order to surprise people, given all of the media that they ingest, you’ve really got to push them quite hard to take them by surprise.”
Were you always funny, do comedians have to have a particular personality or can comedy be taught?
“There are people who are funny, the life of the party, they’re telling jokes at the dinner table, they put the lamp shade on their head and they run around and make fools of themselves, these people usually have a very hard time being comedians.
“Certainly when they start off, because nobody in the venue knows who they are and what happens is their normally gregarious and funny ways aren’t recognised because everybody [at the venue] is a comedian, they’re all supposed to be gregarious and funny.
“I wasn’t really funny as a kid and I had to become funny fairly quickly because I went to nine schools.
“Turning up at a new school you have two choices, one is to hide in the library with your back to the wall or you try and ingratiate yourself by trying to say things that are funny.”
Did you feel that all this moving around, changing schools and friends in early life set you in the direction that you have taken?
“It set me up to do a couple of things, one was to try and shake peoples’ tree quickly as a performer either through just intimidating them or by saying things that were just shocking and the other was to ingratiate myself so by the end of a show I wanted people to say ‘we love him’.”
You often refer to politics in your comedy and opinion pieces; do you find that politics is an unending source of ridicule and comedy that people can relate to?
“It never stops, even today the gift of the right, there’s a woman on Channel 7 who’s running for the One Nation Party who thinks Islam is a country.
“People like that put food on comedians’ plates.
“So I’m more a contrarian about people I agree with than to actually pick on someone [like] a One Nation candidate.
“Those people can’t be helped and it’s good that they think they can have a go and good on them for having a go, why wouldn’t you but there’s only so much fun to be had.
“The other thing is that everybody else on the comedy circuit, everyone, would always choose One Nation as a target of comedy than the high and mighty Greens and this flies in the face of something that’s important in comedy and political comedy.
“Stewart Lee put it very simply, he said there is punching up and there’s punching down and he said that comedy has to punch up, it has to punch the things that are above it, higher status or higher wealth or whatever it might be because punching down is a bit like telling jokes about homeless people.
“Unless the joke has a point, an important point then it’s just picking on someone.”
You’re here this weekend to teach comedy writing, can comedy writing be methodically taught?
“A lot of people say no.
“This is because they don’t know.
“I’ve never met a comedian who says you can’t explain comedy because comedians have to explain comedy to themselves every day to find something funny.
“Comedy works much in the same way as anything that’s a surprise.
“Comedy has principles and they are ancient and they are fixed. They have not changed since the days when people started writing on papyrus,” he says.
Tim has been working on his latest book, an autobiographical look at his life and the lessons he has learned from it.
The publication date for Tim’s book is yet to be announced.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
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