Still gorgeous! Tim Ferguson: Carry a big stick*

This is not a review, and it’s too biased to be a critique. Just enjoy it for what it is, Me telling you a story.

Sitting in a comfy armchair, chatting to Tim Ferguson for about an hour or so, it’s surprisingly easy to forget just how much this giant of Australian entertainment has experienced in a little under 30 years. His anecdotes, generosity, genuine interest, and sage advice flow freely. Were it not for the occasional lull in conversation (where upon your brain decides to overwhelm you with messages along the lines of “For the love of God don’t say something dumb, that’s TIM”), you could easily feel you were catching up with an old friend.

In my case that’s exactly how it felt.

Me explaining (badly) the concept behind my ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ photo series to Tim.

The year was 1995. Clad in a brightly coloured suit, Tim first burst into my loungeroom when I was 14. Not literally of course, but the premise of his show “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush” meant that was entirely possible. Toothbrush was bold, colourful, and very silly. I quickly got a crush on the tall, dark and handsome host.

October 1998 – Star City, Sydney.

Three years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim for the first time when I went to see him performing Rocky Horror live in Sydney. The programme’s biography for him mentioned a former group he was part of – The Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS). I’d never heard of them before but to my surprise, two guys whose own tv shows I really enjoyed, were part of it too.

My loot.

DAAS became to me, what a certain boy band is to the current crop of teenagers. Of course, there are some striking differences. The men in DAAS actually have talent. ;p

I was (in Tim’s own words) a Jokie. The comedy equivalent of a Groupie. I collected everything I could lay my hands on and drove pretty much everyone I knew, mad. Eventually, mid twenties, the videos got put away and I became more of a closet fan. My obsession turned to proper appreciation of their talents, and I followed the boys’ careers in a much more restrained fashion.

Anyway, back to 2012….

I’m going to back things up a little here and explain briefly how I ended up sitting in the foyer of Perth’s Empyrean theatre, chatting oh-so-casually with a man whose career I’ve followed and that I’ve idolised for more than half my life. To put it simply, I just tweeted him and asked where I could leave a gift for him.

Then hoped that Paul McDermott hadn’t put my photograph on some kind of national security checklist when I chased him down the Hay Street Mall aged seventeen.

As Tim entered the foyer, he said hello to those he passed – including my new friend Justin and I. Suddenly very shy, I clutched at the gifts I’d brought along for him and said little more than hello. I didn’t introduce myself. Then he greeted me by MY NAME. Whoa. It was like the world had suddenly turned upside down. A celebrity was interested in me and my work?! They were happy to see me?! They remembered who I was?!

One of the photographs I gave Tim.

Before the show, most of our conversation was just the sort of things you talk about when you meet anyone new for the first time. Life, relationships, health, work. He admired my tattoo, I admired his Batman jacket that Justin had been raving about since Friday at Paul’s show. We chatted about my photography and I gave him a print and a glass bookmark I’d made. I explained that I’d been unwell for some time  and that my friend had kindly shouted me a ticket. Then we took some photographs together, and I took some photos of some other fans nearby before inviting them to join us. New friends all ’round!

Photographer Kell Rowe (That’s me!) with Tim Ferguson.

Tim with film-maker Christy Leitch, and friends.

It was all a very surreal experience. Even more so later, when Justin and I took a lift to try and get to the auditorium and accidentally ended up at the stage door. Whereupon Tim turned around and said with a smile,  “Oh Kell, I put your name on the door for the later show so just turn up”.

The doors shut. Justin turned to me in the lift, grabbed me by the arm, shook me, and said something like “ just got comped by Tim Ferguson”.

Ok, ok he probably didn’t say dude.

Ok, forward pedaling again now, let me tell you a bit about the show.

In the last 3-4 years I’ve largely ignored novels, in favour of reading autobiographies. I’m appreciative of a good piece of fiction, but nothing captures my attention like a real life story. They fascinate me.

Instead of publishing an autobiography, Tim’s chosen to perform his as a show called “Carry a big stick”. A reference to his walking stick/cane. For any biography lover, and certainly for Allstars fans, “Carry a big stick” is a must see.

To have an autobiography told to you, face to face by the person who lived it is really something else.
Fixated on the story, the audience melted away from me. Were it not for the laughter and clapping, it could have just been the two of us, sitting across a table. Him talking, me listening, hanging on every word as he laid his life bare.

There were laughs. Oh believe me. There were a lot of laughs. Not just awkward “It’s wrong, but it’s funny” ones either.  Over the course of the show, Tim takes you through some of the highlights of DAAS and his solo career, and whilst he didn’t sing at the show I went to, he played  video clips of a couple of the more….”colourful” pieces he may be remembered for!

Of course, being biographical, Tim’s story delves into his private (and more recently public) battle with Multiple Sclerosis. He openly shares his recollection of doctors visits, and his genuine fear. At one point in the show, the room became so quiet that I could hear my own heart beating.

Forgive my honesty, but the first time you see this great man shuffling where he once would have danced and leapt, is really hard. It is confronting, as is the content of the show…. but Tim is still Tim. There is still warmth, a sparkle in his eye, and the same  razor sharp wit (a little too sharp for some!).

The show, as well as Tim’s own words and advice to my new friends and I, will stay with us a long time. It was an emotional day, and Tim would probably not like me to say this but I did go home and have a bloody big cry.

And now I’ve done that, I’m going to take his advice and just get on with things.

These days, Tim educates as well as entertains, splitting his time between touring his live show, and teaching aspiring entertainers  the art of comedy writing. He is an author of both a novel (“Left, right, and centre”) and “Cheeky Monkey” his definitive guide to writing Australian comedy. He regularly holds courses and workshops around the country, as well as working as a lecturer at RMIT.

He is a passionate and encouraging teacher, as well as a vocal advocate against TAFE cuts in his home state of Victoria. All of Tim’s past students have active roles in the entertainment industry.

After the show, Tim again joined me and some other fans to chat and also to offer some industry advice to Christy, a local film maker. She told me later – “He spoke about the future in Australian narrative comedy and how supportive he is of local talent.”

With his permission, I recorded this to share (please excuse my giggling) –

Tim’s show now moves on to Canberra in October. Please see the links below for ticket details. You might also like to read this article from The Age, dated March 2012.

The tag line for this show says for audiences to be ‘mildly nervous’. Don’t be. Be thankful, be inspired, be entertained, encouraged, and ever so slightly outraged. It’s not scripted comedy, it’s life. And by God, life can be funny at times.

Thankyou to Justin (for taking me to the show), Christy (yay! a new friend!), and to Kate (for her advice re structure and editing). Thanks most of all, to Tim for making me feel so special, and for sharing his story with us.

Please visit the links below –

Carry a big stick – info about Tim’s show and ticket sales.
Cheeky Monkey – comedy courses and Tim’s book.

Blackcurrant Photography – in case you found my article via another blog. I’m a photographer specialising in fine art images of Australian wildflowers.
Hindsight – Hindsight  is a short science fiction film set in the future of tomorrow. It is being produced by Murdoch University Honours director Christy Leitch.
Skinny Cap with two Sugars – Kate’s blog. Kate is a West Aussie journalist and sub-editor.

*The post title makes reference to an ‘ugly people’ segment from DAAS shows where Tim would pull faces, asking “What am I?” The answer of course being, “Still gorgeous!”.
Well that, and the fact that he actually IS still gorgeous.

I’ve had lots of lovely feedback on this article via Twitter and Facebook, including having it shared by the man himself!

Update – 14/9/2013. Tim’s autobiography will be released this month. Keep an eye out for it in your local bookshop.


7 thoughts on “Still gorgeous! Tim Ferguson: Carry a big stick*

  1. Pingback: Spring – The everlasting chorus (video). «

    • Thanks Ai-Ling! Tim runs some comedy workshops too if you are interested. I think the next one is end of September in Sydney. You can ask him about it on Twitter if you like!

  2. I’m having flash backs to DAAS on “The Big Gig” reading this Kell. Back then Tim was my favourite all star too. I would love to have seen ‘Carry a Big Stick’ . Love your write up and am totally unsurprised that Tim is such a great guy. Sometimes you can just tell from a smile and his screams ‘great guy’

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