Published on April 1st, 2006 | by Dan Barrett0
In Conversation With….Richard Fidler (Part 1)
He’s one of those people that Prime Minister John Howard would likely rather you don’t know about. A longtime ABC comedian with a penchant for art and culture, while maintaining a strong belief Australia should be a republic.
Richard Fidler is best known for his involvement with the comedy team DAAS, but has since gone on to front Race Around The World, The Hub, Vulture, and Mouthing Off. For three years, Fidler maintained the position of Editorial Manager of TV Comedy for ABC TV. Currently, Fidler has taken up a position with ABC Local Radio in Brisbane where he can be heard daily on the Conversation Hour.
Televised Revolution: Your recent ABC panel series Vulture has a strong similarity to a previous panel show you hosted for thecomedychannel. Was Vulture developed with Mouthing Off in mind, or did your experience with Mouthing Off simply influence Vulture’s development?
Richard Fidler: There is a link and it’s interesting that you spotted it. Mouthing Off. That was at a time when I was leaving TV and wanted to go into new media as I thought that was more exciting. It’s funny, every time in my career when I’ve said “I don’t want to do TV anymore, I’m sick of it, I get an offer to do something. I was asked to do this for thecomedychannel. It was the first time I’d ever been asked to host a show of any kind. The budget made it the cheapest show to be made on Australian TV at that time. It was astonishingly low.
The two producers on that were Andy Nehl and Courtney Gibson. Courtney Gibson has since gone on to become head of Arts and Entertainment at the ABC and helped bring Vulture into being. The brief behind Mouthing Off was great because even though it was incredibly cheap and our resources minimal, we could do whatever we liked and make the discussions as large or as frivolous as we liked. That was something I really enjoyed. I try to keep that going, even when I do radio now, a mix between large and frivolous conversations. I like mixing them together.
Televised Revolution: What prompted the shift to focus on arts and culture for Vulture, rather than the general interest topics that Mouthing Off featured?
Richard Fidler: Oh, I was asked to do it. It wasn’t my creation. It was the creation of Guy Rundle, the Executive Producer, and Courtney Gibson, who put it together. I had worked with Courtney in my previous job as a Manager at the ABC as well. They needed an arts debate show, so that was the format they chose for it and thought that I might be the best host for it.
Televised Revolution: Was there much of a difference creatively between working for the ABC and for thecomedychannel?
Richard Fidler: At thecomedychannel there was extraordinary creative freedom that you would otherwise not be able to get. I put that down to the fact that Nick Murray, who ran thecomedychannel at the time, was great and really open to those things. And secondly because cable TV was new and incredibly cheap and they thought the best way to make this work under the budget they have is to back the right creative people. I don’t know if it’s still like that. It probably isn’t. I don’t know, but there was incredible creative freedom at thecomedychannel and pretty good creative freedom at the ABC, but it’s a different process.
Televised Revolution: Were you offered this same creative freedom while working on The Hub?
Richard Fidler: The Hub was the predecessor to Mondo Thingo and similar to that. I’ve never really had a problem with creative freedom. People who like to have strong constrictions on creative freedom don’t normally hire me in the first place. Not because I’m difficult, but because I’m seen as an ABC person, I suppose.
Mouthing Off was fun because we were allowed to say and do what we liked. We had a discussion on religion and Fiona Horne from Def FX was on, who was a witch, and a Catholic and Jesuit Priest and had them exchange religious rituals. We concocted something that was supposed to look like menstrual blood, but was actually tomato sauce and we asked the catholic priest to consume that as an act of ecumenicism to touch upon other people’s religions. That was a lot of fun.
Televised Revolution: Is Vulture returning?
Richard Fidler: I don’t know at this stage. I don’t know what the ABC is going to do. I’m just making radio plans in the meantime. You never know.
Televised Revolution: Have you maintained any contact with the Race Around The World contestants? Followed their progress?
Richard Fidler: Am I friends with them? Sure. Olivia Rousset just got a Walkley award a few weeks ago for her story on Dateline on sex slaves in Thailand. Daniel Marsden I see every once in a while. He lives in Brisbane. Kate Anderson, I saw in New York a couple of months before September 11. I keep in contact with a lot of them. Bentley Dean, I was never that social with Bentley, but he’s been doing some fantastic work as well. He did a great story with Dateline where he went into Baghdad with a bunch of protestors who wanted to offer themselves up as human shields, and the whole thing was a farce. He did an excellent story on that.
And John Safran as well. I haven’t seen much of John in the last year or two, but Johns stuff I have been hugely enjoying over the last few years. I think he’s hit a new high with John Safran Versus God. My wife and I once went around to Johns place for a Friday night with his Mom and Dad. That was great. It was like Woody Allen brought to North Balwyn in Melbourne.