Tony Martin is one of Australia’s best known comedians. He has been writing and performing comedy for TV, radio and the big screen for almost thirty years, as well as performing his own stand-up shows.
Tony’s first book, Lolly Scramble (2005) is collection of humorous autobiographical essays, and was followed by the sequel A Nest of Occasionals (2009). Tony published his first novel, Deadly Kerfuffle, in 2017.
Tony co-wrote Childproof with Sarina Rowell, a TV sitcom about a young couple who decide not to have children. But after three years of pitching the idea, they were unable to sell the project to any of the Australian TV networks as it was considered ‘too niche’. Instead, Childproof was performed as a live podcast at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival and won Best Comedy Podcast in the 2018 Australian Podcast Awards.
Tony was a member of the D-Generation and has been involved with Working Dog Productions throughout his career. His screen writing credits include (but are in no way limited to) The Late Show, Bag Eggs and Boy Town Confidential. Tony has written and performed sketch comedy for the iconic radio shows Martin/Molloy and Get This.
Astrid Edwards: Writing comedy is a constant throughout Tony Martin's extraordinary career. Tony has written scripted comedy for radio including the iconic shows The D-Generation and Martin/Molloy. He has also written comedy for film and TV, published four books, and he co-wrote and performed the award-winning Childproof – the only scripted TV sitcom turned live perform podcast in Australia. In this interview, Tony shares his thoughts on writing, rejection, and reviews, and offers his advice to emerging comedic talent.
Tony, you are constantly creating. What is your preferred medium to write for?
Tony Martin: Well, I don't really have one. I have this sort of glib joke that I make in interviews where I say, ‘Why do one thing properly when you can do a number of things with middling success?’ But, it's true. I have a bunch of things I can do. I can't make a living from any one of them, so I jump back and forth from radio to books to TV to podcasting and hopefully they all add up to one job, really.
Astrid: Not a bad way to do it. So, what is driving you and what happens when you don't write?
Tony: Oh, I can't not write. I'm always writing something, even this ridiculous podcast I'm doing at the moment, SizzleTown. On the tram here… I don’t even remember the journey to record this podcast because I was just sitting there trying to knock out jokes and ideas for that. I find it impossible to turn off, and sometimes it might come out as a book.
I remember years ago John Clarke, who was a friend of mine, used to say, ‘The hardest thing about writing is knowing what it is you've got’. You have an idea and is it a book? Is it a play? Is it a sketch? Is it just one line for something? The hardest thing is working out what you're sitting on, because sometimes you'll start writing something and then you get a couple weeks in and you go, ‘Oh, no. This shouldn't be a book, this should be a bit of stand up’.
Astrid: That opens up so many questions. So, we'll start with SizzleTown. First of, thank you very much for mentioning The Garret in Episode 2 of SizzleTown. You parody the literary scene including several previous guests of The Garret, I suspect. [Laughter]
Tony: Well, it was a mix of a bunch of people that I know. No, I shouldn't name anybody…
Astrid: No, you shouldn't, please.
Tony: ...the lawsuits coming into The Garret. Yeah, my girlfriend is a book editor as you know, Astrid, and she provides me with a good insight into how things work in the book game. It's a world of massive egos, and I find it fascinating because it's... You know, in the world's of comedy and acting you meet some very big egos, but the difference with authors is, authors never have to get up in front of an audience and fail.
Obviously, they can get a bad review and that can be hurtful, but there's just a constant humbling process when you're... Well, a stand up comedian, for example. The next gig could be the worst gig you've ever had. So, it's very hard to get up yourself in the world of comedy.
Astrid: That is true. So, tell me, how much do you write? How much do you script for SizzleTown?
Tony: Well, that's a style that I've been working towards for years because I used to with... Get This, the last major radio show I did, I would write sketches word for word, spend a long time crafting the scripts. But then I remember Matt Dower, who produced the show, gave me a tape recorder to take home and just ramble into as these characters. And what I noticed is it's like writing out loud because you're working the ideas out in the voice of the characters and you're recording it as it occurs to you. So, you end up with sometimes 40 minutes of one character waffling on and in that 40 minutes, there might be 4 to 6 minutes that's actually funny and actually usable. But what you get is, you get a performance style out of it that sounds natural. It sounds like a real person talking as opposed to a sketch-comedy character, because no matter how good your acting is, when you're working from a script, it always sounds like you're working from a script.
It's like those Christopher Guest movies. I used to always hear that they would film Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show... They would film for 80 hours to get a 90 minute film. I was always skeptical. Surely not. Then, I made one of those films myself and I realise what they're on about because improvisation can just be indulgent and waffling on and going nowhere. And then every now and then you get a joke, a proper joke that sounds like it's been scripted, but it's come out naturally. The wording is perfect.
Astrid: It sounds right.
Tony: The wording is back to front the way people talk in real life. So, you're always looking for those moments. So SizzleTown is a form of writing, but I don't write anything down. I just talk to myself as these characters and then if I get a good bit, I'll stop the tape and then try and think of a better joke, and then go back and try to recreate that bit by putting the proper joke in there. Does this make sense? [Laughter]
Astrid: It does make sense. It does make sense, Tony.
Tony: It's all about trying to get the performance to sound like a real person as opposed to a comedian working off some prepared jokes.
Astrid: That is fascinating to me because SizzleTown is almost the complete opposite of the podcast you released directly beforehand.
Tony: That's right.
Astrid: Which was an unproduced TV sitcom that you wrote with Sarina. Can you please tell me about Childproof and also, my fundamental question, Tony, why a podcast and not a book?
Tony: [Laughter] Well, with Childproof you mean?
Tony: Well, we were really happy with the dialogue. We spent months writing... It was 10 months of full-time writing work, and that had been preceded by two years of conversations about what it would be. It was written as a TV sitcom to be performed. I don't want to compare it The Office, but you know what I mean? That style, where you're on location, single-camera, no audience, no laugh track. It was all written in that style.
We couldn't get anyone to make it. And we really wanted to bring those characters to life with actors, because we'd written it for specific people, many of whom were in the podcast, Roz Hammond, Lachy Hulme, Andrew McClelland. And we wanted to hear them doing those lines so we thought, what if we do it as a live show, like an old-fashioned radio show standing around microphones? But not cut out all the visual jokes. Let's leave all the...
A lot of the writing was visual. The first 5 minutes of the show I don't think has any dialogue. It's all people sitting in a car looking at a sticker on the back of the car, one of those family cartoons. We thought, if we get a narrator – we luckily had Jay Mueller, I think you're familiar with his work – he was the key to it because he brought all the visual jokes to life.
The idea was that if you were listening to it rather than be a radio play it was a way to imagine what the TV show would have looked like. So, we left in Anzac Day Parades and fights with animals and all kinds of things that would normally be cut out for audio. The real danger with it – and this is the reason we did at the Fringe, who love experimentation – is that once you put it in front of an audience, the acting style changes because it was written, like I said, like The Office, as opposed to The IT Crowd, where it's big performances in front of an audience.
So, we were worried that if we put it in front of an audience, naturally the actors’ performances would get bigger and it wasn't written in that style. It was amazing that it worked. There were enough laughs in there that even though the performances were – I'm not saying they were bad, they were just bigger than what we'd imagined, and I'm including my own performances as well – and somehow it worked.
It was just great to hear those scripts working because we'd had a year and a half of people telling us it doesn't work, that it won't work.
Astrid: So, it did work indeed. Childproof six episodes just hit 100,000 downloads on iTunes.
Tony: Wow! Unbelievable.
Astrid: Tell me about... I mean, you're Tony Martin. You have a dedicated fan base. People like your work. Our audience is emerging writers. What is it like for you to be told your idea sucks and no one will publish it?
Tony: [Laughter] Well, that's happened so many times. It doesn’t… Having my record gets you in the door, but it doesn't make anyone make a show. I'm not big enough that people will just automatically make a show because I'm working on it.
I think with that specific idea, there was... We knew when we were writing it, what was exciting about writing it was this is a topic no one has done, no one has touched. There have been millions of sitcoms. There's never been one about people who have decided to be childless by choice.
People were saying to us, ‘Oh, but they'll be hateful. They'll be unpleasant. They won't be unsympathetic’. And I'm going, ‘Well, is Larry David sympathetic? Is Homer Simpson, Basil Fawlty, Alan Partridge, Hank Kingsley?’ All of my favourite sitcom characters are selfish, terrible people. [Laughter] That's where the comedy comes from. Every meeting we had, I don't know who said this, but I remember seeing a writer saying, ‘The moment to get up and leave a meeting with a television or film executive is when they use the word likeable’. That's the moment to just get out of the room because they think that if you have likeable characters, that it will have wider appeal. And that's demonstrably not the case.
And so, we heard the word niche. ‘It's too niche’. It will only appeal to people who don't have children even though we felt that we were writing it more for people who do have children so that they can look down their nose at the childish, selfish behaviour of those who…
Astrid: Who choose not to.
Tony: ... who are more worried about when their Amazon packages arriving than what their children are doing.
To me, selfish behaviour, or at least perceived selfish behaviour is a goldmine for comedy. I remember we went to the ABC with it, and the guy at the ABC these were his notes. He said, ‘Why do they hate children so much?’ The whole second episode is that they get into an argument about a child in a restaurant making noise and they end up on the front of the Herald Sun as the new face of child-hating. It's all about this perception of them as hating children, whereas, of course, like myself and my decreasing number of friends without children, they just don't care about children. We don't notice them. We're indifferent to them. We don't hate them.
Astrid: They're not your choice.
Tony: But the guy I'm speaking to at the ABC had three children of his own and he was clearly offended by... He felt the show was a go at him, I think.
His other note was, ‘If they hate their jobs so much, why don't they just leave them?’ In the show, my character is a 52-year old music director at an FM radio station. Now, when you lose a job like that…
Astrid: You don't get another one.
Tony:... You don't get another job. You end up in Bendigo teaching at the radio school. But, forget that. That's not the reason that they stay in their jobs. The reason they stay in their jobs is because it's a sitcom. Hey, why don't all the people who work in The Office just leave the office if they don't like working there? Hey, why doesn't a Steptoe just move out of his dad's house if he doesn't... The reason is because it's a sitcom. [Laughter]
What I could tell it was... well, possibly they didn't find it funny, but also it was fear of this idea hasn't been done before. Sorry to quote John Clark yet again, but...
Astrid: Please do.
Tony: ... he is my guru. I remember him saying to me, ‘Tony, if you're pitching a TV show, the executives want to hear two things. They want to hear that it's a completely original idea that's like everything that's been done before’.
Tony: That's what it is. In a meeting you can see them, they're desperate for comparisons. The guy's saying, ‘What's it like? Can you tell me what it's like? Tell me another show that it resembles’. Of course, we couldn't think of one because there hasn't been one.
Astrid: After it was rejected from TV, why not a book?
Tony: You know, I have to say it didn't occur to me to make it into a book because so many of the best jokes in it are dialogue-based.
Tony: Now, admittedly, I see a copy of my last book here on the table here and that is a novel.
Astrid: Deadly Kefuffle.
Tony: I've had people say to me, ‘There's so much dialogue in there’. I don't mind a book with a lot of dialogue. I understand for some people that's off-putting.
Tony: But Childproof would have been... Yeah, we were just so obsessed with hearing Lachy Hulme say all those swearing lines.
Astrid: He does it well.
Tony: I was so obsessed with hearing Roz Hammond play that character. We just really wanted to hear those lines said out loud and hear them get a laugh in front of an audience.
Astrid: When you write scripted comedy, how is that different than writing comedy for a reader, for example, in Deadly Kerfuffle?
Tony: Well, with scripted comedy where it's largely dialogue, you... In fact, it's very similar because in both cases with Deadly Kerfuffle and with Childproof, I and Sarina with the TV show would just walk around the house talking to ourselves. You walk around, you try and generate realistic-sounding dialogue and exchanges. If you do that, it's an acting exercise. It's an improv exercise. You find your brain starts working laterally. You start changing the subject. You start talking about things that have nothing to do with what the scene is about and then you can shave most of that away and you'll keep a little bit of it. It just makes the writing less predictable and more surprising.
I guess with a novel... I had so many characters. With Deadly Kerfuffle, you were trying – I don't know if I'm succeeding – but you're trying to make the characters all sound different. The worry with novels, and I've had this reading a novel where you go, ‘All these characters sound like the novelist’. Of course, that's a valuable thing because you're trying to put bits of yourself into all the character...
Tony Wilson, another great writer, read this book and he said, ‘I can hear you in all of these characters’.
Tony: I wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad thing.
Astrid: I'd take that as a compliment.
Tony: Yeah, I did.
Astrid: Yes. Now, Deadly Kerfuffle is fiction. It's contemporary satire. It's your fourth book but if I understand it correctly, your first three were more autobiographical essays.
Tony: Yeah, yeah. That's right.
Astrid: So, why the move to fiction?
Tony: Well, it was an accident in a way because what happened originally was I tried... I always loved comic novels because there are so few that are actually funny.
Astrid: So, what are your favourites that are funny?
Tony: Well, I guess it would be a very standard list because I, like a lot of people who grew up in the 70s, I was forced to read Catch 22 at school. What I loved about that book is it took all of the absurdity that I enjoyed in comedy like The Goons and Monty Python and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, that kind of stuff, and applied it to a really serious subject. That was quite mind-expanding.Whenever I read about that book now, it's generally slagged off now. It's like one of those books like The Lord of the Flies that's been so bashed into people's heads at school that no one seems to... It's hard to strip all the paint away and see what was amazing about those books.
Astrid: In the first place.
Tony: Exactly. Catch 22. I remember reading Lucky Jim, Confederacy of Dunces. It's a pretty standard list. A lot more low brow stuff too, like the Tom Sharpe novels, which were these novels you would get at the milk bar or, in my case, in New Zealand, the dairy. The wire tree in the corner, the rotating wire tree that would have Day of the Jackal and Go Ask Alice. They would have these funny books by this guy called Tom Sharpe from an English writer who wrote books like The Throwback and Porterhouse Blue. They were really laugh-out-loud books, but I don't think they don't get a lot of respect.
Recently, I'm one of those people who I'm always looking for funny novels and you're always reading, ‘Hilarious. Five stars’. Then, you read the book and…
Astrid: It's not funny.
Tony: ... you're not laughing. It's rye or clever or well-observed but not piss funny. The one recently that broke the mould for me was Ryan O'Neal's Their Brilliant Careers.
Astrid: Ryan O'Neal is brilliant.
Tony: He is hilarious. That was a case of a proper book that's actually laugh-out-loud funny. It has a really big laugh on the first page and I remember as a reader just going.
Astrid: And, it keeps going.
Tony: I can take the seat belt off because I trust this guy. I'm in safe hands.
There aren't many of those. The author who makes me laugh the most at the moment is... Do you know Charles Portis?
Astrid: No, I don't.
Tony: He's an American author whose ... I think he's only written five novels. The most famous one is True Grit, which has...
Astrid: Oh, yes. Yes.
Tony: ... been turned into a movie twice.
Tony: Even the Coen brothers couldn't bring the humour out of the book because the book is really funny... Even though it's a disturbing story about a young girl on a revenge mission in the Wild West, she narrates it so straight-facedly that it's laugh-out-loud funny. I thought surely the Coen's will be able to bring that out and even they weren't able to make a funny film out of it. I worry that it's... Not that every funny book should be turned into a film, but I know that the first book I read of his is called The Dog of the South, and I understand that Bill Hader, the comedian, has been trying to turn that into a movie for years.
Astrid: You're hopeful?
Tony: I'm hopeful because I think it would actually make a really funny film because his dialogue is really funny and... Yeah, there's been a couple films of his books. There's one called Norwood, which I've never seen, but... Yeah, he's a really funny writer.
By the way, I'm not comparing myself to…
Astrid: No, please. Please.
Tony: ... these great writers.
Astrid: Changing track slightly. Tony, you are known for your incredible work ethic and attention to detail. I've had the privilege of witnessing a little bit of that on the sidelines from Childproof, but what is your writing process? How does that manifest? Are you sitting at a desk? Are you wandering around the house with scraps of paper? How do you do it?
Tony: I walk around the house talking to myself, which I've mentioned. That is what most of it is. I can't sit at a desk. I'm involved in a walking project with Sarina Rowell. We are 10 years into our attempt to walk every street in Melbourne. We do an hour a day. And that's where Childproof was written, or at least the storylines were nutted out on these walks. I find forward movement helps with writing. If I'm ever stuck writing, I'll just walk round and round the block talking to myself. Luckily, I live in a suburb where that's pretty normal.
Astrid: Excellent. Excellent. You've had a lot of different collaborators over the years.
Astrid: What's it like to write by yourself as opposed to writing with someone?
Tony: You'll hear this from a lot of writers, I've very rarely written with someone else in the same room. In fact, the last time I did that would have been probably 25 years ago on The Late Show where me and Mick Molloy would write together. But, what happened there was interesting because we were a comedy duo and we were like a double act. When we went to radio, we didn't want... There was a lot of fake laughter on radio in those days where people were laughing at jokes they clearly heard before. We decided to write separately so that on air, we could genuinely laugh at what the other person had written.
Astrid: No fake laughs.
Tony: Exactly. That's been my method ever since. On the radio shows that I do, it's always, ‘I've got something on this. I won't tell you the out. Don't do this bit, I'm going to talk about that’. And you're trying to get a genuine laugh from the other person.
And even when I've written with Sarina on Childproof or with the guys on The Late Show, you have a meeting and you knot out the ideas and some of the jokes and then one person takes it away and writes it and brings it back and reads it out to the group. There's very little sitting in a room like… Like we imagine Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond used to do. Sitting there in short-sleeved shirts with ties that snap brim and a typewriter going, ‘Okay, what's the next gag?’ No one really writes like that I don't think.
Astrid: You never know. We're sitting in front of a copy of Deadly Kerfuffle and I'm still not clear. How did you get those words down on the page? You have a book in front of you.
Tony: [Laughter] Well, like I say, the way this book came about was interesting because I had tried to write novels before and like a lot of novelists, I was using stuff from real life. I was finding that once I fictionalised it just wasn't as funny and that was what led me to write those other books, the non-fiction ones. Instead of putting these funny things that happened to me into a fictional context, I'll just tell them as they happened like a piece of reportage.
With this one, I remember it was 2006 and there was this crazy paranoia post-September 11, where it was just talk-back radio was just full of, ‘I think there's terrorists in my street. I don't trust them. They're not putting their bins out on the right day’. It was disturbing, but it was also... It seemed like good comedy material for me.
So, I started writing this book and then I got 9,000 words in and a lot of people... Because I had this book Lolly Scramble do well, a lot of people were saying, ‘Why aren't you doing another one of those? What are you messing around with fiction for?’ And I listened to them and ended up writing another Lolly Scramble, and then forgot about this book that was called ‘Dunlop Crescent’ at the time.
And Sarina uses an old laptop of mine and I was just going through cleaning out files – this is a couple years ago – and I found this file named ‘Dunlop Crescent’. I didn't even know what it was. I opened it up and it was this book that I'd started writing 11 years earlier.
What was really interesting, I think people who write always dream about losing their memory and then reading something that they've written as though someone else had written it. Only then can you see what's good and bad about something. I had that experience. I was reading it as though this was something someone else had written. And I went, ‘Oh, that's terrible. Oh, what's that bit? Oh, that's good. There should be more of that’. And so I just spent a couple months mucking around and fixing up those 9,000 words and then I realised I had no notes, I had no idea what these characters were going to do next, where the story was going. And to me, that was like an advantage. I thought, ‘Well, hang on. If I don't know where this is going if there's no plan, maybe a reader will not know what's going to happen next’. I don't know whether that's how it turned out because I've had a lot of people say to me that it's quite predictable...
Yeah, so then I just decided to try and finish it and imagine what the original writer – also me – had been thinking. This went on for another 10 months. It turned into a 10-month obsession. I don't think I would have sat down and written this in 2017 if I hadn't found this unfinished project. Also, it came on the end of a bunch of things that hadn't gotten up like Childproof. I'd written a film that I couldn't get anyone to make and I was a bit, ‘I've got to write something that…’
Astrid: That goes somewhere.
Tony: ... that comes out. I had two years of writing things that weren't going anywhere.
Astrid: It fascinates me that happened and that can happen in Australia and to you.
Tony: Not just to me... Everyone I know who writes comedy – and I know some of the best comedy writers in the country, Gary McCaffrey, Bob Franklin – their beds are off the ground because of the number of rejected or unfinished projects under the bed. That's pretty common for probably everybody.
Astrid: What advice do you have for emerging writers, particularly writers who want to write any form of comedy or humour?
Tony: Well, the best thing is to try and make it as unique to you as possible, because everyone makes the same mistakes when they're starting. And I don't think it is a mistake, I call it training wheels. When you start out, you're always copying your heroes. When I started out, everything I wrote sounded like Peter Cook or Monty Python or Steve Martin. Then, at some point, after three or four years, you look down and the training wheels are gone and you suddenly have your own voice and you've discarded all your influences.
I see a lot of young comedians now, I'm just talking about stand up for a moment, there's so many more of them, so much more competition. They get good much quicker than we did back in the 1980s.
Astrid: The dark ages.
Tony: I look at someone like Joel Creasey. I remember seeing him on stage when he was like 22. I'm going, ‘How is he so good this soon?’ I could barely put two words together at 22. The sooner you find your own voice and start writing about things that fascinate you, the better you'll get and the quicker you'll get better, because the worse thing you could do is write what you think is going to work.
I remember years ago having to do a talk to some students about a film I'd made. When it got to the question and answer bit, all of the questions had the words ‘US market’ in them. I remember people were going, ‘What do I have to do to get my script successful in the US market? How can I get American producers to like what I've written?’ I'm going, ‘No, that's a bad starting point’. If you look at things that – if we can just talk about that for a moment – if you look at things that have worked in America from overseas, they usually... I think of the Full Monty, that movie or Flight of the Concords, where they've kept their own voice and that weirdness and uniqueness is what's appealed to people.
Astrid: You've spoken a lot about projects that didn't get up. Tell me more about rejection.
Tony: [Laughter] Well, if you're getting into writing, get used to it. That's what I would say. I have so many half-finished or rejected ideas and it's hard because it's something you've put months and months into… Especially when you don't necessarily trust the judgment of the person you're pitching to. Is the word ignominy? I should know it as a writer, shouldn't I?
Astrid: Ignominy? Yes.
Tony: I had the ignominy of having a guy who'd written possibly the worst comedy film ever made in Australia and the worst comedy series ever made for TV telling me what's wrong with my script, so that's hard. If John Clark or Shaun Micallef or Judith Lucy was to tell me – as they all have done – what was wrong with things I've written you go, ‘Oh, okay. They're probably right’. And, you go away and it makes you try harder. But when one of the gatekeepers is one of the worst comedy writers in the country, that's pretty hard to take. [Laughter]
Astrid: I can only imagine. If there's a gatekeeper and they've shut the door for you, that's rejection before your idea goes public. What about your public ideas? What's it like to get a harsh book review, which I believe is some of the things you're parodying in SizzleTown?
Tony: [Laughter] Yeah. Well, I've always got good and bad reviews. With this book, for example, I got literally the worst review I've had in 35 years.
Tony: And I got some of the best reviews, so who's right? I think the good ones were right.
Astrid: Of course, they were. Of course, they were, Tony.
Tony: I don't know. It's tough. With the really bad one, I was quite depressed about it and then someone sent me an email. I opened it up and it was a short story that had been written by the reviewer and it was really bad. It just made me feel so much better. [Laughter]
But yeah, certainly in comedy I wouldn't be unique in saying you remember the bad review. You don't remember the ten good ones. With this book, I've had elevent reviews. Nine were really good, one was average, and one was really bad. Of course, the bad one is the only one I remember.
Astrid: On balance though, that's a pile of good reviews. So, that was satire. That was fiction. Will you ever go back to autobiography and will you ever write a serious comedian autobiography?
Tony: The tears of a clown. I don't know. What was interesting about the two books I did in that style was everyone wanted me to do... If I'd written a book about why me and Mick Molloy had broken up or what really happened on The Late Show...‘
Astrid: Everyone wants to know.
Tony: Someone said, "If you spill your guts, that's the quickest way to...’ You get headlines and to sell books. With Lolly Scramble, I had people say to me, ‘Oh, I was expecting a lot more about your family’. I have enough material for three or four books. But, as I said to that person, ‘Firstly, they're still all alive’. I would feel terrible writing about... I've got to outlive them if I'm going to write about them.
Astrid: Fair enough.
Tony: Also, when I started writing about... I just wanted the books to be funny. That was all I was interested in. Big events in your life aren't that funny. Also, too, another thing, if I was to write a book about The D-Generation or The Late Show or Martin/Molly, none of those people would ever speak to me again because you have to be brutally honest.
And a friend of mine who's quite a big name in show business who I won't name, he told me recently he got paid a lot of money to write his memoirs. He spent two months writing it and he realised that he couldn't be honest because it would upset too many people. He ended up giving the money back.
Tony: He said, ‘To write a dishonest book would be to write a worthless book’.The one I always think of is there's an autobiography by Frank Sinatra's last wife, Barbara Sinatra, Frank's fourth wife. It is the biggest pile of shit you've ever read. It's like it's totally self-serving. It's completely invented and you find yourself thinking of the trees while you're reading it, the trees that were cut down to make this worthless, vanity project.
Astrid: Yeah, you don't want your name on that.
Tony: So, I went, ‘Unless I can write absolutely honestly about things there's just no point’. Then, I started to think about things that were funny that had happened to me. They're not big moments from show business, writing a TV sketch show is one of the most boring things you can do.
Astrid: Why is that?
Tony: Because it's like scientists. If you have to write guys writing sketch comedy, it's not like those legendary stories of staying up all night writing Saturday Night Live in the 70s when everyone's on cocaine. It's not like that at all. It's a bunch of scientists sitting in a room going, ‘Yeah. Yeah, that's funny’. That's what it sounds like. That's what comedy writing sounds like.
Whereas all the funniest stuff that had happened to me was boarding houses I'd lived in, disputes I'd had with landlords, crazy encounters with chiropractors and neighbours and amateur theatre productions I had been in. What I realised is, if I change the names of those people and then sometimes change the location or even fudge the timelines slightly, I can now write completely truthfully about that.
Whereas if I write a story about Mick Bolloy...
Astrid: People might guess.
Tony: People might guess who that is. Even when I wrote the stories about an amateur theatre, I fictionalised the... There is no play called ‘You Screamed Molloy’. I even change the name of the plays and where they were put on so that if someone had a copy of the program, they couldn't look up the person. I didn't want anyone to feel embarrassed, so I changed all the names.
I've had people write to me who I haven't seen for 30 years going, ‘Is that me? Am I that guy in your book?’ I've had to go, ‘Yes, it is you’.
I'm generally the butt of my... There mostly stories of my disgraceful behaviour so it's not like I'm attacking anyone. It's so liberating once you've changed people's names, you can write totally honestly in a way that I could never write about the TV shows I've worked on.
Astrid: Liberating is a good word. So, Tony, your final question, what's next?
Tony: [Laughter] I don't know.
Astrid: What do you want to be next?
Tony: Well, I'm really enjoying this process in SizzleTown and it is, again, experimental because you're starting with nothing with every episode.
Astrid: And, no one else is doing it.
Tony: It's just me talking to myself. It's so enjoyable working with Matt Dower, who you know. He's worked on Childproof. He's an amazing editor and producer and I couldn't do the show without him. You know, he's dropping breathes in to make it sound like I'm really talking to myself. So, I'm really just enjoying that at the moment. As for what's next, I'm not sure beyond that. There's no plan. I think a lot of people think you have some long-term plan, but no.
Astrid: Tony, I can't wait. Thank you very much for coming on The Garret.
Tony: Is that it? Was that enough?
Astrid: Tony, that was perfect.
Astrid: And, we're still rolling. Thank you, Tony.
Tony: Thanks, guys. Cheers.