If you had a television set during the late 80s and early 90s, odds are you remember the Doug Anthony All Stars. The collective comedic and musical talents of Tim Ferguson, Paul McDermott and Richard Fidler shocked and entertained international audiences when their in-your-face style and desire to push the boundaries of what was considered ‘good taste’. Since DAAS first disbanded in 1994, founding member Tim Ferguson has been busy. National comedy tours, an autobiography, a DAAS reformation, and several writing and producing credits, as well as publicly revealing his battle with multiple sclerosis are just some of the things keeping Ferguson hard at work.
This December, Ferguson brings his Comedy Writing Masterclass to Melbourne’s The Wheeler Centre. The two-day course explores how to truly master comedy writing, a topic that overlooked by many screenwriting courses.
“It’s an outrage!” explained Ferguson. “There is no comedy writing or narrative comedy writing component in any screenwriting course in Australia, except for RMIT in Melbourne. So you can go to the Australian Film Television Radio School, which is the country’s premier screen-writing body, to do a degree in screenwriting they have zero comedy. There’s nothing.”
Ferguson has taught all over the world, from New York University to Screen Academy Scotland, even South Korea. “The great thing is that wherever you’re teaching, the principles of comedy remain the same. No matter the language, no matter the culture. Invisible structures of jokes, and I just tell people what those invisible structures are.”
“The people I’ve learned comedy writing from, the people I worked with from the Doug Anthony All Stars to working with Mark Gracie to doing writing courses and talking to the funny people at lunchtime, everything I teach is not stuff I invented. It’s just stuff I spent a long time cobbling together and researching and also looking at a lot of comedies: good ones, bad ones, and just asking ‘How are they doing this? What’s the trick? What are the hidden structures of this comic’s story?’.”
But don’t head into this class expecting politically correct comedy that doesn’t shock. DAAS fans might remember classic tracks such as ‘I F*ck Dogs’ and ‘I Want to Spill the Blood of a Hippy’, while Ferguson’s recent comedy show ‘Life on Fast Wheels’ uses humour to tackle the heavy topic of Ferguson’s battle with MS.
“Politically correct comedy isn’t funny, that’s the only problem with it. If it appeals to someone with a narrow but very clean mind, it’s not going to appeal to everybody. The thing is, comedy has been woke for thousands of years. Comedy is always more woke than woke. Comedy is always on the frontier.”
“A sense of humour has always been important, it’s the only way you’re going to survive the Trump and Morrison era otherwise you really would hurl yourself off something high or go searching for sharp objects in your kitchen. A sense of humour is indispensable.”
Ferguson promises anyone that attends his class will leave with a new set of skills. “A bag of tools. A bag of skills and tools that will help them create and then improve their own comic writing so that they can get that script back out of their bottom drawer and they’ll be able to see how to fix it. I teach people how to fix their comedy, so they don’t have to just rely on following their nose. I guarantee they will leave with a working knowledge of how comedy works and a great red forehead from slapping themselves all day.”
Tim Ferguson’s Comedy Writing Masterclass visits The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne December 14 & 15. Tickets available through TryBooking.
Written by Thom Devereux