Bad boys of Australian comedy, the Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS) terrorised the global comedy scene in the '80s and '90s with a blend of cheeky bravado, angelic singing voices, and the sort of ribald humour few comedians dared emulate.
Their breakup, depending on which websites you frequent, either traumatised a legion of devoted fans or proved the Lord is merciful and wise. Thankfully, at least for those with a love of humour on the darker end of the spectrum, the DAAS breakup was more of an extended hiatus. Though the guitarist has changed, that bad boy image lingers on well after the baby-faced monsters evolved into silver foxes.
If you believe the hype that we mellow with age, you’re probably not going to like the Doug Anthony All Stars. The face that launched a thousand hips, Tim Ferguson, is gleeful in admitting they’ve gotten worse with age. “When we started, we wanted people to think that we meant well, and we wanted to be liked. Now we’re too old for that. We don’t have the patience or the ability to try and beguile and befriend an audience.”
For original fans of the group, it’s a worrying thought. Old-school DAAS shows sometimes incited audience members to slap each other as competition, after all. But Tim is quick to reassure. “Our subject matter is darker, our jokes are more hurtful, at least amongst each other: the audience gets off easily.”
With a history of comedy focused on every social taboo known, it seems odd to think the group can go darker, but their newest show looks set to achieve the goal. “This show is called ‘Near Death Experience’, and you might ask why. The why is very simple: the closer you get to the stage, the closer to death you become. Of course, everybody in the audience is much closer to death than they would like to admit.
“We just want to impress upon everybody – even the young people – that the clock is ticking, and that death awaits. The warm tsunami of cold mud is rising with every second and we just want to wake people up to that fact.”
For most comedians, it’s a career-ending topic. Yet there’s plenty of joyful humour for those willing to take the journey. “People leave whistling the tunes, and they feel very happy. But it’s the Doug Anthony All Stars, so it’s not easy. We’re not easy to watch.”
It would be easy to call a show like ‘Near Death Experience’ politically incorrect, but it’s a label Tim disputes. “A lot of people say, ‘oh you guys, you’re anti-political correctness’, and it’s not true. We focus on being politically accurate. Being politically correct takes the agreement and permission of others. We haven’t met those people, so we just concentrate on being accurate, which takes a lot more work and a lot more thought.”
It’s an intellectual kind of social anarchy. “We’re never sexist, and we’re never racist, because that’s just stupid. It’s not politically incorrect, it’s just dumb. But we do talk about sexuality, we do talk about ethnicity, we do talk about disability, frailty, and the fact that we are all slowly losing our minds.”
With so controversial, and intimate, a subject, feathers are bound to be ruffled. “No matter what you say, you’re going to offend someone. Even if you encourage more people to drink a glass of water in the morning, you’re going to upset somebody who lives in a drought stricken part of Queensland. Given the topics we’re dealing with, it’s inevitable that by the end of the show, everybody will have been, if only for one second, offended.
“Occasionally, people will walk out of the show, but the strange thing is they will walk out after an hour. And considering that our subject matter hits the ground firmly and brazenly from the get-go, it’s always interesting to see which song will press their trigger. But it is very satisfying for us to see that after all this time, we can still make people walk out in outrage, disgust, and fury.”
Though the topics are just as visceral, the physicality of DAAS’s comedy style has refocused over the years. “We’re dealing with firstly, me in a wheelchair, riddled with MS. We’re dealing with Paul McDermott still being well under six foot. And god knows what the enigma, Paul Livingston, is going through. We’re dealing a half-empty deck. The wheels have all come off, yet we are still screaming at speed downhill.”
It makes for oddly mesmerising viewing. “We’re not easy to watch. It’s a participation sport even when there’s no participation allowed. People’s very physiology cries out for succour by the end of it. And so, it is a rapturous feeling that the show builds up to, but it deals with the darkest possible topic, which is the thing that everybody’s slowly, increasingly worrying about. And if they’re not, they will be by the end of the show. We don’t care what we say. We don’t care what the consequences might be, and that makes it funnier.”
The final joke told? Tim hung up without saying goodbye.
DAAS Tour Dates
29-30 Jun - Brisbane Powerhouse1-2 Jul - Brisbane Powwerhouse7 Jul - Her Majesty's Theatre (Adelaide)16 Jul - Comedy Store (Sydney)