The Doug Anthony All Stars are on tour once more. Paul McDermott tells The Adelaide Review audiences should expect a liberal dose of “religion, sex and death” from the anarchic comedy troupe.
“I’m waiting for the moment where we get the social media backlash,” says Paul McDermott of the reformed and touring Doug Anthony All Stars. “We tread a lot of borders and skip across them merrily a lot of the time.” He recounts the story of a sing-along from a show the group played last year. The audience joined in and sang for around 20 minutes variations on the line, “I know a guy called Tony Abbott, and he’s a cock, a cock, a motherf**king cock!” “People would call out names and we just threw them in as we went,” McDermott expands on the brutal sing-along. ”Earlier last year we put Malcolm Turnbull in the mix and people weren’t so keen to say his name in the song. Now though, we find audiences are more than happy to shout his name.” Simple and very offensive, this song is a fair encapsulation of the All Stars style. Since their inception in the 1980s the All Stars have tapped into the public’s elemental anger at society’s absurdities. They have always had a finger on the pulse, and are just as ready to have a dig. Their willingness to unabashedly attack, expose and satirise remains strong. The current line up consists of original members Paul McDermott and Tim Ferguson, with Paul Livingstone (best known for his surreal alter-ego Flacco) replacing Richard Fidler. But while that ethos stays the same, has the audience changed? With the ubiquity of social media-powered outrage in today’s society, do the All Stars have to tone it down? No, says McDermott, not at all. As much things change, so many stay the same. Where the All Stars once made fun of anti-communist fears, they now poke fun at things like terrorist paranoia. The elemental forces of “religion, sex and death” are the All Stars’ inspiration for material. “We don’t get into the day to day minutiae, so in that way very little has changed about how we do our shows,” says McDermott. Yet current events that fit into those broad-stroke themes are still present in the show. The All Stars stay current by confronting tabloid news stories, such as that of Rugby League star Mitchell Pearce’s Australia Day indiscretions where he was filmed urinating on a couch and simulating sex with a dog, or ever persistent characters in Australian in society, like George Pell. “We had a sort of Hillsong to Satan in the show, but he has no currency anymore, so we had to find something more evil. We went for George Pell.” Indeed, modern life provides the All Stars with plenty of ammunition for material. McDermott is reflective thinking about the current state of the world. “You think about the way the world could have gone and it’s just gone in the strangest direction,” he says. One thing that has changed from the All Stars of yore is the way the group tours. “It differs magnificently from the tours of old,” says McDermott “We used to go on the road for months at a time busking and playing shows, and then head off to Edinburgh and come back to rest for a few months of the year. Now we go out in short bursts.” The reason behind the All Stars now brief tours is a simple one: age and mobility. Each of the three members has a life to attend to, and it’s hard to fit freewheeling tours in with life’s commitments and limitations. Paul Livingstone is the oldest of the group, and Tim Ferguson is confined to a wheel chair by multiple sclerosis. McDermott jokes that infirmity places limits on the group, but it keeps the show fresh on stage. “Paul’s a pensioner, you see, so he forgets things and Tim’s brain is a bit addled by the MS,” he says. Livingstone also brings a very new element to the show in his considerable comedic capacity and musical skill, making him a perfect fit for the place once filled by Fidler. “He does a bit of Flacco at the beginning, of course,” says McDermott. “You know, giving the facial muscles a real workout, doing a bit of mugging. He’s a real intellectual and also a wonderful guitarist too. He’s been playing since he was a kid. Hell to travel with but great to work with.” And while age might put limits on the group, their seasoned skills reap their own awards, including a Helpmann Award for Best Australian Comedy most recently. “We were nominated for a Helpmann award. I thought it was a lifetime achievement award. People saying, ‘Just give it to them and you’ll never have to hear from them again!’ But no, it was the best comedy award, which was really nice.” McDermott says the All Stars will be bringing “pure gold” to Adelaide for their one-night-only performance. “Myself, the pensioner and the cripple are all looking forward to it!” Doug Anthony All Stars Live Her Majesty’s Theatre Thursday, July 7 adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au