Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 March 1998

The Two of Us
Paul McDermott & Richard Fidler

Paul McDermott(right), 35, hosts Good News Week on ABC-TV and is a breakfast presenter on Triple J*. Richard Fidler, 33, wrote the award winning CD-ROM Real Wild Child and is the presenter of ABC’s Race Around the World . With Tim Ferguson, they formed the Doug Anthony Allstars, a comedy trio which enjoyed almost 10 years of international success and notoriety before an acriminious split in 1994. Neither has exchanged a word with Ferguson since the group broke up.

Paul: Before I met Richard, I’d seen the Allstars busking on the streets of Canberra. Hated them. I hated them vehemently. I didn’t like their stuff at all.

Then we were both performing at the same cabaret club and Richard and I got talking afterwards. We discussed working together. A few weeks later the third member of the group, Robert, was ill and Richard asked me to fill in. I ended up staying.

We always had disagreements about the best way to handle things, the right music. Richard and I always had difficulties. I argue sensibly, with God and right on my side. Richard argues in a belligerent way and is closed off to suggestions. I’m very forg iving and he seems to hold on to pain.

Actually, I’m considered a monster.

While we were in the group, we lost track of friendship. You think: if the friendship is affected we’ll give up because friendship is more important. But then you think, no, money - money is more important.

Any attempt to share our feelings or be honest was an invitation to be mercilessly attacked by the other two. The comedy was always black. Richard probably suffered more because he was more honest. Nobody could afford to slip up - it was survival of th e fittest. It was always a battle of wills. He would accuse me of being domineering and controlling. But you’ve got to come up with the material and the last thing you want is a committee. These things work better as a dictatorship.

But I didn’t always get my way. It took us a year to do Commies For Christ - one of our most successful songs - because Richard didn’t like rap. Is he obstinate' I didn’t say that. Let’s say he has strong will power.

He’s an incredibly tenacious person - incredible will to achieve, which I admire. When the group broke up, he wasn’t going to do performance stuff because it wasn’t so much his forte as ours. He saw himself as having a serious job. Well, now he’s devel oped this whole CD-ROM thing and is holding down jobs in television.

Quite a severe shock. I was probably cramping his style all those years.

I think he was pretty unhappy in the middle years of the group. I was part of the problem. I think I let him down. I was probably nasty, even vindictive and cruel, but we came through it - the fact that we’ve still retained the friendship is so valuabl e.

A cathartic thing happened in Barcelona. We’d been there for the post-Olympics entertainment and we were at the airport along with half a million other people desperately trying to get home. I was so incredibly tired and angry. What triggered it was Ri chard going off to buy a paper while I struggled up the escalator with everyone’s luggage. I lost my temper. I said I couldn’t stand it any more, we were at loggerheads all the time. I was very , very aggressive. Richard was noble and listened to me. We s at, surrounded by all this hullabaloo and people and luggage, and talked for an hour at least. There might even have been a bit of crying.

Will I know him for the rest of my life' I have no idea.

Richard:We met at Cafe Boom Boom, a cabaret venue in Canberra. Paul was in a group called Gigantic Fly, parodying ‘30s films, very clever. My first impression was that he had a beautiful singing voice. He was also spiky which was good. He had really abrasive moments in his performance.

We were very young. Tim was a bit of an explosive hippie in those days. Robert and I would stand there and smile a lot. When Paul joined, he changed the dynamic. He would come out with the worst possible thing that was in the back of everybody’s mind. A really nasty, poisonous thought. I really enjoyed that. Once his mother was in the audience and Paul was doing a song called Mummy Dearest about crawling back inside your mother’s womb. It was spectacularly visceral and offensive.

At first, I was happy to sing along and play guitar and play the straight man. Then the group moved to Melbourne and the audiences just weren’t responding - we had to do something to provoke them. We started being a lot more vicious. I realised I wasn’ t as good at abuse as Tim and Paul - it made more sense for me to be the victim. I became Mr Stupid who was just naturally happy.

Paul being Mr Grumpy is pretty much for real. I've never known anybody to have such prolonged periods of grumpiness. He has a whole series of laws in his head and he can get very angry if you break one - and it’s so easy. Not leaving enough milk for hi s tea would be one.

He is a bully, yes. He accuses people of his own worst sins. He could be bullying because he needed to show leadership in a situation where we were letting things slide. Other times it would be just his need to maintain authority and, often, to insist on his artistic prerogative. In retrospect, that was reasonable because he was the main artistic engine in the group. Not that I had been a picnic to work with either. My faults were, well, laziness and thoughtlessness, I suppose.

Paul is a very complex man. He’s incredibly loyal - even though he might behave dreadfully to you to your face, then you hear stories of him coming to your defence. But he’s also very unforgiving if he suspects you of disloyalty.

Once, I remember, we were painting backdrops in this theatre - he was doing the bulk of the work and I was going along in my own slow, plodding way - and we were talking, for hours. I felt really happy at the end, when we’d finished. It was like we’d r eminded ourselves of why we’d liked each other in the first place.

Somebody said we were like an old married couple who know each other very well and always bicker. Well, that’s true in a way.

When we were touring, we’d spend months on end sharing a Tarago stinking of Big Macs and beer and personal body odour. We were living like a triple-headed hydra confined in our roles both on and off stage. Here were so many rows and periods when we cou ldn’t talk to each other. Paul’s changed a lot since the group broke up. Mr Nasty could take a rest and this sweet guy emerged. Anyway, the animosity got less and less, gradually the toxicity leached out of the system. It has been a very pleasant time, re suming a friendship.

Paul has two modes of being. Very gregarious or painfully shy. He’s happiest when he’s been painting successfully (if the painting’s bad then he’s terrible) and when he’s in party mode. He is truly sensational then. He’s a very, very good dancer and if he ’s poured a few drinks down his ridiculous neck and lost his head, he can actually be quite pleasant.

Will I know him for the rest of my life' Absolutely. For sure.

Interview by Jan Wheatley

-Typed up by Caroline from the MOSH!! Board
* Note by Caroline: (Only on Fridays!)

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