Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Talking Heads -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) of leading figures His characterisation Bob Hawke and John Kerr, like John Howard, have made us laugh till it hurts. with his own show on ABC. He hit the mainstream in the '80s Now, two decades on, is touring nationwide. his latest theatrical production the many masks - Max Gillies. Meet the man behind BABIES GURGLE CHILDREN LAUGH CHEERING CAR HORNS HONK THEME MUSIC thank you very much for coming. It's great to have you, Great pleasure. in Brisbane here at the Powerhouse. Now, your show opens tomorrow night, what's the price you pay for touring? What's the toll, of...living in digs. Well, you get sick

Motel rooms, cheap motel rooms, as 5-star hotel rooms. eventually seem the same can get quite gruelling And the touring itself you going is the audience - but, of course, what keeps in far-flung places. meeting audiences I'm intrigued to know, Max, you or John Howard? who's going to retire first - Ah...good question. and I hope I do too. He'll die with his boots on - to hear from John Howard (Laughs) Well, we're going

later in our discussion. Oh, good. Oh, right. at some of your early days. First, let's have a look I was in Melbourne in 1941. My father was away at the war or four years of my life. for the first three get to know him till he came back. So I didn't really As soon as he came back, under a lot of strain the marriage was and after three years it broke up. to bring up two small boys Leaving my mother under a lot of financial pressure. Severe housing shortage at the time. saved by public housing. And eventually we were getting a decent education. Mum also worried about us She needn't have. At Melbourne High School, I didn't excel academically. because I spent so much time But that's probably in the school debating team...

for the school magazine... drawing political cartoons editing the two student newspapers or going in all the plays to winkle my way into. that I could manage school plays, whatever. House plays, And from that day to this, get me off the stage - the only way you can really that's to use the hook. with America's war in Vietnam Australia's involvement political disenchantment. was a time of deep Together with some friends of mine, to be a potent medium we found the theatre with the old Australia for expressing our disenchantment and our hopes for a new one. a theatrical co-operative And we formed Australian Performing Group. called the And for the best part of ten years, for a new Australian audience we did new Australian plays here in Carlton. in a converted pram factory 71 new Australian plays by the APG. MAN: And out of it all, came was first played here. Williamson's 'Don's Party' we did at the time, Of the many Australian plays you'd have to say that 'Dimboola' the biggest audiences. attracted one of it was even made into a movie. It was so successful has been considerably enlarged. MAN: In the film, the original story Vivian Worcestershire Jones, Max Gillies plays a new character - a bicycling anthropologist described as search of local rights and customs. who has arrived in Dimboola in a very interesting experience. 'Dimboola' gave me director didn't want in the story. I played a character that the And I was playing a role didn't want me cast in. that the writer Hello! Confidence all round. institutions of the time, Like many worthy cultural is now a distant memory. the Australian Performing Group the old pram factory, As is the building that housed it - a supermarket and a carpark. which is now a food court, television in the '70s. I started getting into It was a lot of fun. Come on, you couldn't kill anyone. Try, try, try... I suppose you could... Well, if you put it like that, catching up with what we were doing Somehow the mainstream seemed to be back in our little pram factory.

Roderick, please... in the vanity of the world Are you all so smothered of reality can't even penetrate? that the still small voice Well, I can see the fun of it. in the first place? What got you into it I was always doing it, I suppose. Well, acting was... the local kids in the street I can remember entertaining and then tell them stories. I'd make them become an audience How old were you? something like that. I can't...five, six, seven, and this became very popular. I can remember that...

I didn't have to make them come. After a while, to keep telling stories. They actually wanted me What about impersonations? My betters, teachers usually. I was always impersonating people.

Behind the dunnys. Behind the dunnys? the Dunnyview Auditorium. We had this place we called of the teachers encouraging us And then...I can remember one impersonations into the classroom. to bring these scurrilous little the storytelling. And it was a bit like Once you'd done one character, wanted you to do more. the audience then we had to essay another teacher. So each week,

this began very early in your life. So it sounds very much like all of I think so and then it was... it was the magic of the theatre... What did I know in those days?

vaudeville, sideshows... I would have known circus, been an easy childhood Well, it can't have and that was unusual in those days? with your parents divorcing What experiences from your childhood the most impact on you? do you think had time ago, it's all a bit of a blur. I don't know, Peter, it's a long when I was younger - I don't remember being unhappy hit my mother in my teenage years. I think financial strains really those as being pretty bleak. And they were, I can remember financial pressures, She's under these was she very overtly political? have to say, political activists. She came from a family of, you'd There had to be a better society than the one we had. That was the underlying feeling, I think. So, by your mid-twenties, the Vietnam War is standing to really wind up - Australia has committed its forces there. Was that the thing which politicised you? Um, no, I wouldn't say it politicised me. But I was always aware growing up that government seemed to be maintained or sustained by appeals to fear, anxiety, greed - all the mean... the mean things in us. And I think Vietnam unleashed, or our engagement in Vietnam, unleashed a creative explosion. Now, that creative explosion you talk about, your part of that was in the Australian Performing Group. That had some really wonderful people involved in it - David Williamson, Graeme Blundell... Greig Pickhaver... Yes. HG Nelson. Bruce Spence... Yes. Clashing egos all of the time. Arguments...we'd meet - we'd have these collective meetings every Monday night and upwards of 50 people would sit around arguing about... where we should go and what we should be doing. Well, legend has it that this was enough to drive David Williamson out of Melbourne? Well, after he'd left, and about the time the whole group was folding or had had it's day and we all recognised that, he was at me saying, "You've gotta make your own shows. "Because the theatrical producers around the place "the State Theatre Companies, such as they were, ".. they don't know what you can do "or how you can do it - you'll have to show them." I think it was what pushed me, in the end, to...try what was virtually a solo project. Which was review, in a sense? Review...playing with politics, playing with politicians, Well, that took you into the '80s... at which time you became a household name. So let's take a look at that. Sure.

In 1984, I was invited to come here to the ABC studios in Ripponlea and something very special happened. Good evening, I'm Max Gillies. But this should become less obvious as the night wears on. I'm an ordinary bloke, like me footy. Got a footy team. G'day...buy Australian or I'll snout you. OK, Sergeant, I'll do my patriotic duty. He still represents all that is young, bold, independent and manly in America. What'll we do about taxes? I'll tell you what we'll do - we'll reduce taxes by an astonishing 100%! I had achieved some small notoriety playing our political leaders on stage in the theatre and in cabaret. So it was a very pleasant surprise. to find when I came here these characters worked equally well on the small screen. (Sighs) (Sings) I'm a rather weak and antique figurehead drink another drop and I'll flop back into bed What have I said, Governor General, very ephemeral, rather be dead. Hello, Sir Joh... We proved that politics makes strange bedfellows. The beauty of this sort of thing is that you could say things to a mass audience that you wouldn't get away with in any other forum. We took a look at a number of issues including the Royal Commission into the British nuclear tests at Maralinga which was presided over by Diamond Jim McClelland. (Sings) # When I was a lad, I served the law # My silver tongue opened every door # My beautiful suit recommended me # To the horny-handed fellows (All sing) # The horny-handed fellows at the ALP... # Play it, Sam. And we had a bit of fun with the silver bodgie. (Sings) # Now, just remember this # I'm no longer on the piss # I laugh and then I cry... # I don't think Bob took it badly. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. LAUGHTER My name is Max Gillies. I thank you, Prime Minister, for your very kind words of introduction. I can only second those... Yeah, thanks, mate. Well, times change, fashions change. They don't make television the way they used to. I think that's a pity. Yes, we'll come to the pity of it all in a moment. What was it like, being on stage there with the... the real Bob Hawke, wasn't it? In a sense, we became performing partners. Um...but a bit like, I suppose a bit like Hope and Crosby or Abbott and Costello or something like that. I don't know which one I was, whether I was the straight one or the...the clown, sometimes it crossed... You were asked to play him when he wasn't available once or twice, weren't you? Yes, he wasn't available one year so I performed him. And the next year... It had been, obviously with some success, because the next year they asked me to do the same thing. Even though he was on the platform sitting next to me. And...that, it wasn't easy but as we did more and more of these gigs together, I think we got each other's measure a little bit more.

And...it was an uneasy but fairly successful partnership. When you were reflecting back on 'The Gillies Report',

you said there earlier, that it's a pity that style of television isn't made so much anymore. Why is it a pity? The resources aren't there.

The budgets aren't there, those... 'The Gillies Report' had a fairly high production budget behind it. I mean, these days, you compare something like 'The Glass House' which I find hugely entertaining on a good night, but that's made for a fraction of the budget that we used to have. But the other side of it is... you're always caught between your audience...and management. And successive managements of...well, the ABC, but it's true of all the broadcasters,

are always, in this sort of territory looking over their shoulders to see what their political masters think of this. Unfortunately, politics has intruded too much on the creative side of the ABC for as long as I can remember. Do you have to get inside people's soul in order to...to characterise them? Um, well you have to imagine yourself into this person. I mean, what...you look at them on your television set every night. And you think, "Why are they behaving like that? "What's causing this...you know, this bunch of mannerisms "or this...flight of rhetoric or this lack of rhetoric." You just wonder what's behind it, so then... ..in a sense, but you don't get inside them, you can't - you can only get inside yourself. You've gotta find something inside yourself that explains to you why this behaviour happens. Now, John Howard has a high opinion of satire? Just before we came together I had a chance to speak to him. Let's have a look at that. Oh, please. Thanks for joining us. Always a pleasure, Peter. Let me just say, at his point, we will not be issuing an apology. For what? Well, I don't know - I'm still waiting for you to ambush me.

What about political satire - what's it like being the target of impersonators like Max Gillies? Well, everybody's gotta make a living, don't they?

I mean I've gotta do what I do, which is lead,

and Max is gotta do what he does, which is impersonate me ruthlessly. And the Commissioner of Taxations has gotta do what he does - of the entertainment industry. which is audit members We've all got a job to do. on everybody eventually. And that job will be done respond to satire in the same way? Do you think Peter Costello will targeting powerful figures - Well...satire is about the answer to that one. so I guess you'll never know never tamper with the truth. Satire is one thing, but you should is un-Australian. To tamper with the truth I'd never do that. (Laughs) Well done. particular character for a long time. And you've been working with that How have you changed him? a disgruntled spear carrier, I used to play him as who's always in the wings you know, the actor and knows he should be centre stage. More confidence in himself than any of his peers had. And...if he hung in there long enough it would happen - so I have followed that career with some fascination. Of course, he's got a central role to play in your current production -

let's have a look at what you're doing today. 'I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN' PLAYS Why haven't I changed? I don't know, I just.. there's nowhere to put the feelings that you used to have about...community, sense of what you're sharing and making together. When capitalism finally fails, how to have a community life again. we're going to have to remember there's a need for community. Because while there's human beings, So after two hours in the chair is about to come out. this shock jock Here we go. broadcaster, Mr Alan Jones... MAN: The Prime Minister's favourite I'm Alan Jones and I am what I am. into your homely nation tonight. Thank you for inviting me to the war in error. We are still committed Mr Alexander Downer... MAN: The honourable, I spent the last month flat out trying to finish off a book Australia's foreign policy agenda which I think will determine for many years to come. Junior Schools Atlas and... It's called the Jacaranda Australia of the way through it. I'm nearly three quarters It's not cruel, I'm not cruel. these characters as anything else. This is as much a celebration of They've got very cruel politics the politics good measure and I hope we give are concerned, but as far as the human beings this...honestly is a celebration

more interesting public figures. of some of our MAN: Senator Amanda Vanstone...! come to me (Sings) # Let the children # So they may one day too be free # I'm like a modern day female Jesus and I give them temporary visas... # # He gave them bread psychological explanation No doubt there's some deep for what I do. and the girls from the department Usually it's just me down at the Golden Lotus belting out 'Stand by Me'

trough of prawns night. at the all-you-can-eat I think of what I'm doing, though,

was 15 and mimic the schoolteachers. as just what I used to do when I was beginning to find it passe, If it was clear that the audience I wouldn't want to get out there. But as John Howard says the party wants me." "I'll be there as long as Oh, please, please. Australian people last year We went to the with a campaign based on trust. to be a six-foot black woman Next time I'm going to pretend and see if I can sell that too. John Howard is an arch politician. As far back as the '70s when he was Malcolm Fraser's treasurer, he obviously had a great political future ahead of him. He could talk under wet cement. He could... He could rationalise the impossible - all the prerequisites for a successful politician. John Howard had it in spades. When I'm on night shift and my partner is on day shift we don't get to see all that much of each other... Hello, darling. .. which is a pity. back in the early '80s. I quite like Louise, we first met 'The Gillies Report' When we were shooting two very lovely children. we had the first of

of careers Louise has had a wide variety we've known each other. in the brief time that She's been a magazine editor of a newspaper, a presenter... a publisher, an arts editor So on the few occasions fleeting minutes with each other that we manage to spend a few nothing to talk about. it's not as if we've got Yes, very romantic. Young love. Young love. Cultivated understatement there, Max. a lifetime making people laugh. Now, you've spent What makes you laugh?

People make me laugh, funny people make laugh. I...I wouldn't miss... the last five minutes of the '7:30 Report' every Thursday night. to get my hit of Clarke and Dawe. Um, I remember the first person who made me laugh - more than made me laugh - but was... the first time I saw... misery and despair transformed into something sublime and that was watching Charlie Chaplin. I've probably watched Chaplin more than any other single performer, than anybody else. more often in my life he switch off from all of this? What about Max Gillies? How does of his time as he possibly can He spends as little in situations like this. Um...Nothing personal, it's... your own...self too much. it's just you become aware of

So I suppose, "How do I switch off?" It's...by losing myself. and dream, do you? So do you drift away a good bit of dreaming involved. Ah, I suppose there is I'm a great waster of...of time. Well, what's time for then? How is time better spent? You see a light on the hill. a perfect Australian image of... I mean, it's to me seeing hope and possibility a little flickering light even though it's only in the empty void out there. in this country. We live in this huge void you're very aware of this And when you travel around it,

very insignificant really. that...your humanity is So you can make... out of a glimmer of light you make a lot out there in the universe. 'cause that's all there is Well, like a lot of comic actors, that's a pretty dark vision. to hear myself say it. Yeah, I don't, I'm surprised you've been pressing me, But only because that's what I'm thinking. do I realise that I'm not gloomy all of the time. I mean, I don't go round, But when pressed, how I do see the world. I think that's what, That's not the public Max, of course. from this interview - Well, no, but you can see to be the public Max very much. you wouldn't want it But what keeps me going? Given this awfully bleak idea? some optimism. Just the light on the hill, in the theatre, you can... That's what you can do the world into a different place. make...you can make You can... play with the possibilities. It's...an optimistic activity. a conservative person, And even if you're

for optimism in your life. there's gotta be some room to be done out there So, there's serious stuff which I'm probably avoiding namby-pamby stuff. by doing all this... (Laughs) If, as happens to all of us, and rips us off the mortal coil - the big stage hook of life comes How would you like to be remembered? On a good day, he made us laugh. on a bad day too, didn't he? He made us laugh Well, that'd be nice too, but... I'm too modest to suggest that. till it hurts over the years. Well, you've certainly made me laugh Thank you, Peter. Max, thank you very much indeed. Bill Bristow - Next week on Talking Heads,