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Why performer Paul McDermott is Australia's most reluctant frontman

Culture

Prolific comedian and star host of Good News Week Paul McDermott spoke to InQueensland about the grand irony of being a performer and an introvert, the comedy song as protest song, and why right-wing comedians don’t really exist.

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Performer, singer, television show host, artist and author are a few of the labels you can tar Paul McDermott with since shooting into the Australian consciousness with punk musical comedy group the Doug Anthony Allstars.

McDermott’s latest show is Plus One, coming off the back of a hugely successful run at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the show takes on the establishment and right-wing kookery with the help of guitarist Glenn Moorhouse.

“It’s been great to get it out on stage, but quite frankly, I’d be just as happy to sit in my room writing songs and singing to myself,” he said.

“The actual performing of it seems like the most arduous task but the rest of it’s been really fun to put together. The performing almost seems like a secondary part of it.

“I certainly like taking this beautiful instrument of mine, my gorgeous voice, out for a run.

“If there was a way the government could keep me and my ridiculous thoughts away from people, and pay me for silence, I would be quite happy to scribble away and work on what I want to work on, and never show it to anyone – that would be bliss,” he said.

McDermott said the threads of the show began during early 2020, when that event happened that nobody really talks about.

“I did start writing a lot of material about what was going on through the prism of myself, and how it was affecting me, hoping that it would reach a universal audience. Thinking one person’s experience has a commonality to it,” he said.

“But then I realised that I’m not really the person that should be writing that because I don’t like people that much I try and stay away from them.”

Initially an art-school graduate, the reluctant frontman said he only began busking to make a bit of extra cash while he was on the dole, until he shot to stardom with the Doug Anthony Allstars.

The Doug Anthony Allstars were known for their post-punk anarchic ethos performed comedy songs such as Commies for Christ and I Want to Spill the Blood of a Hippie.

Paul McDermott’s Plus One at Adelaide Fringe ’21 (Image: Tony Virgo)

“You can still go out there and talk about whatever you want once you’re on stage, this idea that comedy has been somehow cancelled is ridiculous,” he said.

“You can talk about anything you want to talk about, like anywhere, you just have to be aware that there is accountability.

“This whole fear mongering about people being cancelled is stupid. The ones that have been cancelled, that I’m aware of, deserved to be cancelled. Then they whinge and cry and go on Fox News to tell everyone they’re not allowed to talk.”

McDermott said his new show is an opportunity to break the rules, swear, sing, and take aim at the absurdity of Australian politics with tunes such as Pete Evans’ Magic Machine and Scotty Aloha.

He said most comedy songs are akin to protest songs as they are intended to be a challenge to the status quo, which is why there aren’t many right-wing comedians about.

“I don’t know what right-wing comedy is because right wing comedy doesn’t seem to be comedy at all, it’s just punching down.

“I’m sure there’s someone writing nasty songs but they wouldn’t be comedy songs as much as propaganda.

“There are not that many right-wing comedians because at the end of the day, they’re not f—-ing funny.”

McDermott is no stranger to political material, having been host of satirical news programme Good News Week. He said that comedy is the best vessel to analyse the absurdity of life, even when it is as stark as it is now.

“Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand, in fact, one informs the other, you need that balance to give it some heart.

“I love absurdist humour as a response to things that are too structured.

“It is about challenging those ideas within society and that is sometimes the very backbone of our society, or our political class and having a go at them and their decisions –  which have been pretty goddamn comical over the past few years.”

Paul McDermott’s Plus One is due to play at Brisbane Powerhouse in early February 2022, for more information visit Brisbane Powerhouse’s website. 

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