Australian comedy is irreverent, highly satirical, and anti-authoritarian; sometimes strident, and always varied. A new book by UNE's Anne Pender, professor of English and theatre studies, is a testament to its richness.
Professor Pender has spent five years working with some of the greats of Australian comedy, to write Seven Big Australians: Adventures with Comic Actors.
One of the seven, stand-up comedian Denise Scott, will launch the book at Reader's Companion at 5pm on Wednesday night.
The evening will celebrate the book and the actors: Carol Raye, Barry Humphries, Noeline Brown, Max Gillies, John Clarke, Tony Sheldon, and Scott herself.
"They've done a lot for our entertainment, and our national sense of ourselves and our culture," Professor Pender said.
Barry Humphries, creator of Dame Edna Everage and Les Patterson, pioneered the one-man show as a satirical form. Max Gillies impersonated and mimicked politicians - so much so people mistook him for then-prime minister Bob Hawke. The late John Clarke changed television through mockumentary (The Games) and his Clarke & Dawe interviews on the ABC.
Noelene Brown's speciality was the game show and the sitcom, while Carol Raye produced television satirical revues in the early 60s. Tony Sheldon shines in musical comedy, and Denise Scott has made an enormous contribution to stand-up comedy.
"Each of them has done something different and important," Professor Pender said. "You can tell a story about Australian comedy - performance and writing - through their lives."
Professor Pender spent five years interviewing her subjects (lengthy biographical interviews over days and months), attending their shows, and following them on tour.
"I got to know them over a long period, so that I could really get a sense of who they were, what they were doing, their attitudes, and what happened to them in their lives right from the beginning as children," Professor Pender said.
Not only are they extraordinarily talented, she said, they are also all lovely people.
"They are so generous, and they are really open about their own lives and their difficulties at the beginning."
John Clarke told stories about touring New Zealand as Fred Dagg in the 1970s. When he pretended to run for parliament, then-prime minister Bill Rowling insisted on an interview with him.
Similarly, Max Gillies appeared with Bob Hawke, dressed as the prime minister, at a football club grand final day breakfast - a slightly surreal experience, Professor Pender thought, and a testament to both men's courage and sense of humour.
"These people made their mark, not just in comedy," Professor Pender said; "they interacted with the politics of the day."
That interaction with politics is, Professor Pender thinks, one of the strengths of Australian comedy. People enjoy how these performers skewer politicians; they can laugh at corruption, pretension, and propaganda.
More information on the book: http://www.publishing.monash.edu/books/sba-9781925835212.html