Celebrating Failure: My time with Te Radar

Te RadarI meet Te Radar at St Matthew in the City during rehearsal for the Good Word debate. He’s a man of the moment – with a prime-time Sunday night slot on TV One, and touring a new show, Eating the Dog, as part of the international comedy festival. I suggest to him that he’s managed what few comics ever do – a leap into mainstream media.

“That’s always what I wanted to do – more so than stand-up in a way. Stand-up was a gateway to hosting something. It’s really nice to have been given probably the premier slot on television in New Zealand – it doesn’t get any better and more wholesome than seven o’clock on a Sunday night. Not probably the slot I thought I would have ended up in.”

The show and his profile has brought him popularity with a hugley diverse audience – but he gets particular attention from older women. As a case in point, he can now pack the library at Taupo.

“It was myself and Dave Armstrong and it was literally a record crowd …  I was doing a schools show after that and a contingent of them trouped over there, with their shining faces and their grey hair; their mature demeanour – it was fantastic.”

Part of his appeal is his fragility, his willingness to give things a go and fail. Sometimes miserably.

I’ve always said that celebrating failure is really important. My entire career has been built on failure. I went off to university to do law, and that failed. Really badly. Various things have failed along the way and you always pull positives from it. I become concerned sometimes that we don’t celebrate it enough and allow people to realise that they can fail – that failure is actually a positive option.

Eating the Dog, Te Radar’s new stand-up show celebrates some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and regrettable failures.

They’re ones that I’ve looked and and thought – these people have had a go at something and it all fell apart. Even though the outcomes are very tragic – I look at the Wairau massacre, or the Wairau incident as some people call it – I like to think of it as the Wairau misunderstanding. The story behind it is mad.

Lorraine – the very first aerial casualty. A wonderful story – but he dies.

I mention that we have photos of that incident in our collection, so our conversation naturally turns to libraries.

Libraries have been part of my life ever since I was a kid. I’ve got a real big thing for libraries, I’m a passionate supporter of them. It’s probably best summed up in a photograph that I saw in a mining museum in the north of England. There was a photograph of all of the men of the town in their Sunday best, standing outside the workingmen’s library that they’d just set up. The sense of pride and achievement – working class men who couldn’t afford to buy the books now had something, and they could get the learning that up until that time that had been denied them.

They’re a powerful thing libraries, and whenever I see moves by councils to make them very user-pays I think it so short-sighted. You’re actually weakening a very important part of society [the people] who can go and get access to all of that information.

When he wrote for the Herald, the column that drew by far the greatest response was one about the closure of the Cambridge High School library and turning it into a computer centre so kids could go on the internet.

“There’s an enormous amount of information on the internet – but it’s a different kind of accessing of information. I’m a ferocious consumer of information off the internet – but you do get the sense you’re consuming it in a very shallow kind of way.

There’s nothing like going to a library and finding a book. The debate tonight is in many ways about the future of what we consider to be a book. The changes there and how they’ll affect libraries are going to be really fascinating. If you can have a book and it’s an e-book and you can just click on a button and immediately access more information – that will be fascinating. But where it will leave the traditional concept of a library, with dusty tomes on a shelf that no-one’s taken out for years …

We need to maintain the physical book, because all of the technology’s great until the power goes out, or there’s a corruption of it. All of these people taking thousands of photographs that are never printed out … they’re stuck as zeroes and ones in media formats that are being outdated every day…

Having said that, I’ve been using a lot of the Turnbull Library resources – Puke Ariki, for example. Te Ara – fantastic. For what I do, [they’re] just absolutely brilliant – the fact that I can go online and access the photographic archives that are there in the Turnbull Library through Timeframes – that is a priceless treasure.

But there are barriers – primarily cost, he says.

I would love to have printed a book about all of the stories in my show with all the beautiful photographs – it’s impossible. Unless I was to get an enormous grant from somewhere I can’t afford those images.

Archived television footage is simply not an option.

In the Off the Radar TV series the archive footage was taken out – it was too expensive – hundreds of dollars a second. To me there’s something not right about that. That archive is a treasure for everybody.

In the future those are some of the questions that need to be faced, that whole concept of user pays and locking up these treasures. I’m quite passionate about that.

Time overtook us and we had to cut our interview a little short. My attempt to record our reconvened discussion went awry, a digital failure meant I forgot to press a button and the beautiful second version of our discussion was lost in the improvised make-up room housed in the crypt of St Matthew in the City.

So what do you think? Should our archives be open and accessible and available for re-use? Should we sting commercial operators quite so much? Are libraries and archives distancing themselves too much from the real world – or are we just naturally protective of the treasures of the past?

5 thoughts on “Celebrating Failure: My time with Te Radar

  1. Donna 13 May 2010 / 10:28 am

    I know Te Radar is a comedian but dang this is moving stuff. Failure on a heroic scale is a beautiful thing.

    I also share his feelings about the physical presence of books and photographs. All those zeroes and ones could just float seamlessly into the ether …

  2. richard 13 May 2010 / 10:35 am

    At the debate Steve Braunius described him as the thinking man’s Eion Scarrow – at which point the power went out! Spooky. Radar does have a real passion for libraries though and was genuinely intrigued by the question of how libraries can remain relevant in the future. Hopefully he’ll visit Christchurch and we can host him at the library – he does a lot of book discussions!

  3. absolutelyobvious 13 May 2010 / 12:50 pm

    Access to information, archives, treasures? I agree with Te Radar – “… archive is a treasure for everybody.” The problem is funding the creation and the maintenance of archives… and yes, keeping up-to-date so that they are not forever “stuck as zeroes and ones in [outdated] media formats”… Libraries have their part to play.

  4. sweet pea 13 May 2010 / 4:39 pm

    The American Library Association has Neil Gaiman as its honorary chair of 2010 National Library Week – could we suggest Te Radar as the New Zealand equivalent? A champion, an advocate, an outspoken celeb, someone who loves libaries.

  5. richard 13 May 2010 / 5:33 pm

    That’s a fantastic idea!

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