In 2017 two Australian comedy superstars (and friends of nearly 20 years), Paul McDermott (Doug Anthony All Stars) and Steven Gates (Tripod) performed a one-off event as part of the Ballarat Cabaret Festival. Now they're touring the country together with 'Paul McDermott and Gatesy Go Solo'.
Steven Gates spoke to Australian Stage's Simon Piening about spinning plates and 'serious' music.
I was surprised to discover that the original DAAS officially broke up in 1994. Maybe it's just my age, but DAAS have seemingly seared themselves into our collective comedy memory. Why do you think they had such an impact (apart from the obvious incredible talent involved)?
At the time I thought the Dougs were the most exciting thing happening in Australia: picking up where the Young Ones sorta left off. I was kinda too young to understand what they were talking about but their energy really appealed to me. I never really saw the distinction between comedy and music growing up – I still don’t really – I liked that they did both and they had a weekly platform in The Big Gig that perfectly captured the delirium of the time that matched their rawness.
You’ve both been around the Australian comedy scene for 25 years or more (DAAS wound up in the mid 1990s, just as Tripod was getting started) – how has the scene changed?
There are four times more shows in the programme nowadays. There are less avenues to have an audience see you at the same time so, sadly, there are less water-cooler moments. Conversely, it’s never been easier to have your work seen by the world. The quality of stand-up, in particular, is insane now and I think puntrers in general are far more comedy-savvy.
When we started, people left the house to see things. Nowadays, we’re competing with 65” TVs and streaming – so THANKYOU forever if you still decide to go out over Netflix.
DAAS were known for their aggressive in-your-face comedy, while Tripod have developed a reputation as gentle, nerdy, jongleurs. How would you describe the vibe of this new 'solo' collaboration?
Thankyou for noticing the distinction! When Tripod started we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Due to the fact there were three of us, people either thought we were trying to be DAAS or they WANTED us to be; we probably went too hard in trying to distinguish ourselves as the opposite. We were more influenced by Lano & Woodley and the comedians we hung out with at the time.
The Paul and Gatesy approach to music is similar but our comedy is wildly different and I like that. I think we’ve reached a point where our goal is to bring a bit of beauty into our funny and vice-versa. I never want the audience to know where anything is heading.
Tripod have performed with Megan Washington, Gotye, Missy Higgins and the Melbourne Symphony – do you secretly want to be serious musicians? (AKA Tripod originally started out as a proper band. What happened?)
We were never a ‘proper’ band – in that when we started we saw it as a chance to perform our favourite songs with a theatrical/dumb sensibility. I had an original band at the turn of the century – I found it hard to take myself seriously when my day job was ‘comedian’. I’ve thought about the ‘serious musicians’ paradigm a lot lately and I’m just not that interested in being taken seriously. If you bring something exciting to the stage, with honesty and integrity, an audience will still digest it THEIR OWN WAY and, like I said before, I want our stuff to tick ALL the boxes; that’s the challenge we have anway.
So is Tripod over now? (is Paul the Yoko Ono of Australian comedy?)
That’s funny. I mean I ... ’like’ Paul...
Tripod is still alive and well. It’s one of the plates we all keep spinning and as long as it’s enjoyable we’re all in. We’ve been doing a monthly residency – generating new material as it comes and enjoying some of our more obtuse material. If it stops being fun – you gotta move on.
You’ve been friends with Paul McDermott for almost 20 years – was there always a plan to work together at some point?
No plan as such. When we did get it together for the Ballarat Cabaret festival in 2017, the plan was to sing pretty songs together – you could call it ‘serious music.’ Perhaps our audience had another thing in mind when they bought a ticket so ever since the Adelaide Fringe last year (‘19), the focus has been on comedy: which is a perfect jumping off point for all the other ‘things’.
What do you like about each other’s work? What irritates you about each other?
I can answer both these questions in one! Paul is extremely prolific – it falls out of him. That’s great but I lose track of all the ideas and he rarely edits so I have to decide which bits stay or go to make them cohesive 4 minute ‘songs’. I don’t enjoy that part – too much responsibility.
Tell us about Paul McDermott and Gatesy Go Solo. How did the project come about? What can audiences expect?
It was going so well! I hate this question. We sat down to write our ‘comedy show’ and were hit with the question: who cares about what two middle-aged white guys have to say! About anything!?! I’m not!! We started from there. We navigate Paul’s self-obsession. We talk about how we met and what brought us together onstage in the first place – with beautiful music... We learn to live and love again... or something.
Is this a ‘thing’ now? Can we expect more 'Paul McDermott and Gatesy' shows – or is this a one-off project?
Another spinning plate baby. It’s show business in Australia. You gotta do multiple things to earn a living here. I enjoy hanging out with Paul. We gotta lotta love and mutual respect going on. We also love to let each other have it onstage. It is slower than most collaborations because we live in different cities but maybe that gives each idea room to breathe. We’re already thinking about other ideas for next year's show so who knows…!
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing comedy?
I’d like to think I’d be doing something with music: Sound Engineer/Designer or somesuch. I’ve always loved music the most. Although I was on a tram the other day marvelling at the driver… I like the idea of clocking off – like, DON’T think about work until tomorrow. Sadly, in the arts, there’s always a part of you that’s on the clock. Boo!
Paul McDermott & Gatesy Go Solo is touring nationally from March – May 2020. Visit their Facebook page for dates and venues – www.facebook.com/mcdermottandgates/events/