Haere ra, John (and Fred)

Yet another Kiwi icon passes. But his legend will live on.

John Clarke is someone many of us remember. For me it was as Fred Dagg, singing the immortal song “If it weren’t for your gumboots” played on National Radio storytime. For others it was his incredible skits on farming life and economics.

In later life in Australia, Clarke tried to shed the Fred Dagg persona. He made an indelible mark there with his scathing and incredibly intelligent political satire.

Also claimed by the Manawatu, Clarke was the voice of Wal Footrot in Murrray Ball’s Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale. I’d go as far to say John Clarke was Wal Footrot.

He died doing what he loved. And I bet his sharp wit never deserted him.

We didn’t know how lucky we were.

Find out more:

What are your favourite John Clarke memories?

Satirists at large – Steve Braunias and David Slack

Writer and editor Stephen Stratford (@stephenstra) (blogging at Quote Unquote) joined two of Aotearoa’s top satirists to discuss satirical writing at the Auckland Writers Festival. The aforementioned satirists:

And what a sharp-witted triumvirate they were.  Stephen kicked off with a great potted history of satire – Juvenal, Jonathan Swift, Private Eye, The Thick of it – into New Zealand’s own history – John Clarke,  A week of it – McPhail, Gadsby, A. K. Grant, Chris McVeigh (in the audience apparently).

He riffs a bit more:

Steve Braunias is the finest satirist Mount Maunganui has ever produced.

And not only that:

Fielding is the epicentre of New Zealand satire.

Steve Braunias explains his Secret Diairies. They have an inbuilt narrative:

I regard them rather pretentiously as motifs.

How do they choose their victims? David Slack says you don’t punch down, you punch up:

Who’s asking for it? Who apart from John Key?

Discussion turns to left wing /right wing satire, and Braunias wryly imagines:

Bomber Bradbury but with nuance and jokes, or Chris Trotter with a laugh track.

Cover of Madmen Cover of Smoking in Antarctica Cover of Fish of the week Cover of Civilisation

How do people respond to having the mickey taken? Unexpectedly well sometimes. David Slack ended up getting some work from Gareth Morgan:

Sometimes satire is a sort of LinkedIn thing.

and at the Beehive:

Every minister’s office is full of cartoons of themself.

We gained insight into writing satire. Steve spoke of:

long slow lugubrious magic … I don’t have a first draft, every line is written one line after the other.

There were SO MANY cracking anecdotes in this session – complaining letters from Judith Collin’s family, a tattoo of Paul Holmes,  upsetting Julian Assange, giving it but not being able to take it …

And as a finale, a well-deserved award for Steve:

Top stuff, satirists. As you were.

If you haven’t got enough to worry about…

You might think that reading romance novels is a harmless little diversion? Well, it’s not so. Apparently women who read steamy romances are putting themselves at serious risk of an unwanted pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease!

Cover of Encyclopedia ParanoiacaAccording to British “relationship psychologist”, Susan Quillaum, this is so and she cites a research survey that found that only 11.5 % of romantic novels mention condom use. The report, all scientific of course, found “a clear correlation” between the frequency of romance reading and a negative attitude towards condoms.

And where does this disturbing fact come from? It’s in a delightful book called Encyclopedia Paranoiaca which gives a vast amount of information about things we can worry about.

Reading itself is discussed, especially reading on the toilet which gets a stern absolute “No” from the interestingly named Dr David Gutman, lead physician of American Haemorrhoid Specialists. However, Doctor Gutman recognises that a lot of people like doing this so he suggests that when people have done their business they can resume reading by putting the seat cover down and sitting on that.

Let your worries accumulate by learning about the dangers of photocopiers, pine nuts, skinny jeans, prune juice, drinking from a straw, dental floss, coffee mugs…

Squirrel seeks Chipmunk: The Anti-Peter Rabbit?

Cover image of "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk"I’m not the only one at the library who loves David Sedaris. When I saw a new title of his appear on the “Just Ordered” feed on our website, I wasted no time placing a hold.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but neither did it fail to amuse me.  Sedaris has written a collection of short stories (illustrated by Ian Falconer, the genius creator of the Olivia picture books) told from the perspective of animals…if they were human. However, do not mistake it for a nice cutesy read like the stuff by Beatrix Potter. Some of the stories and the illustrations accompanying them are more than a little disturbing.

Sedaris is a clever man. This book  is a satirical observation of human thought, behaviour, and relationships, played out by household pets and common rodents. You can’t help but shake your head and chuckle at the ridiculous-ness of human nature at the end of every story. 

I also loved the fact that the stories were only a few pages long, each one easily devoured within minutes, squeezed in between other activities.

So what short stories have you enjoyed reading this summer?

On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover

This one man show cum power point presentation certainly deserves its place in the Writers’ Festival: It is full of words – big words, clever words, funny words, convincing words, rhetoric, repetition, allusion, verbosity, a sometimes empassioned barrage of language written by Richard Meros and adapted by actor Arthur Meek and director Geoff Pinfield for the stage.

The stage in question is the Philip Carter Auditorium at Te Puna O Waiwhetu/Christchurch Art Gallery, an ideal venue for this style of theatre, though sadly inappropriate for most other theatre. Tonight it was three-quarters full of chuckling and squealing spectators, most of whom seemed to be highly entertained by this satire which, as the title suggests, thoroughly explores the thesis that Helen Clark, in order to ensure the future political and economic success of our beautiful country, ought to take Richard Meros as her young lover.

If satire has the twin goals of entertainment and incitement to political action, this particular example of the genre swings heavily towards the entertainment end of the spectrum. Meros suggests that one of the conditions of Helen Clark taking him as her young lover, and one of the problems that will be solved by their resulting union is the apathy and helpless individuality of his generation. With Helen Clark as ruler in perpetuum and Meros at her side, life will finally have meaning for “the generation whose only dream is to have a dream.”

With Meros as its apolitical anti-hero, the play manages to blithely poke fun at most issues, politicians, parties and cultural icons while avoiding any position outside the realm of the ridiculous, performing frothy heights of excitement while side-stepping real passion or commitment – precisely the condition that Meros identifies in himself as New Zealand’s only university educated, unemployed virgin between the ages of 18 and 26.

It is funny, cute and clever, the humour has a wide appeal, with everything from sudden references to dead philosophers to jokes about rugby and “Lord of the Rings”, but I’m not sure you’ll find yourself mulling over the deeper issues later that night or in the shower the next morning.

You can see On the Conditions and Possibilities …  at 6pm Friday and Saturday, $20 or $25 at Te Puna O Waiwhetu/Christchurch Art Gallery