For the seventh episode of the Outland Institute Radio Show we were joined by comedian, actor, musician and New Zealander Alan Brough. It was a pleasure to have him in the studio, as we chatted about Spicks & Specks, growing up, acting, terrible stories, and Alan’s pearls of wisdom such as “What day isn’t made better by Haysi Fantayzee?”. You can hear the full interview by downloading it from here, but here are some highlights:
Every time I mentioned you were coming in, people would say “That Alan Brough, I’d like to hug him”. Are you Australia’s most huggable comedian?
I never really thought about it before, but I’m willing to test that out. I do – after I’ve had a couple of glasses of red wine – and anyone who knows me will know that’s very seldom – I do like to hug people. Particularly small people. Just lifting them up, picking them up and holding on to them. Rove McManus is good for that. Not for name-dropping, but he was the first tiny person who sprung to mind. But that area of person. I love to pick them up. Cos they’re helpless. They can struggle all they like, but they’re like a salmon caught in the claw of a bear.
You and Myf Warhurst seem incredibly nice on Spicks & Specks, are you like that in real life?
If this is possible, Myf is even nicer in real life than she is on the telly. It’s quite difficult to understand. I thought it was physically impossible to be nicer than she comes across on the TV, but she is. I, on the other hand, am just sad. And when I’m not sad I’m fuelled with a rage that comes from an incalculable depth.
But that’s comedy, isn’t it? Many comedians seem to be bitter, nasty individuals who hide behind a thin veneer of humour…
My veneer is being redone at the moment, so it’s just pure rage for me.
Everyone on the show – bar me – is genuinely nice, and we do get on extremely well. And to be perfectly honest I don’t see the point in people being awful to each other on the television. You get enough of that in life, from your family, from people on the tram, in bars… I was reading about Masterchef, and someone said what they loved about it was that you wanted these people to be your friends. As opposed to a lot of reality shows where you want to find these people and kill them.
You are a lover of music, so Spicks & Specks must be a dream job.
When I first got the job, my late mother said “well, thank god all that stupid stuff you know about music is finally going to come in handy”. She wasn’t a “glass half empty” woman, she was more “the glass has been stolen by kids to fuel their ice habit”.
You’ve acted before in films such as Siam Sunset, did you train as an actor?
No, I applied for Toi Whakaari, the New Zealand drama school, and I didn’t get in ‘cos I was an arrogant little shit. I was about 18 and I thought I knew everything. And I didn’t! Thankfully I’ve got older and realised that. Then it made me angry, now it just makes me sad. But I didn’t train.
I’ve been an actor for a long time and I really do love it. I discovered early on that I could do acting and make people laugh, which seemed to be a good thing. I discovered that – as I think a lot of comic actors discover that and aren’t willing to say – when they were trying to be serious and people laughed at them. So later on in their careers they go, “that’s when I realised I was going to be a comedian”. And you go, “that’s when you were trying to do high drama and people were pissing themselves”. Which is exactly what happened to me.
When was that?
I was in a show when I was about 10, called “The Day Christ Came”. I can’t remember a lot about it, but I think it was a sort of fable about a young boy who meets a homeless man, or some sort of vagrant, and takes him into the house. His parents don’t think it’s a very good idea and he ends up being Christ or something like that. As you can imagine, this was obviously fraught with high drama and huge religious overtones – not even undertones. And I remember doing something that the director had assured me was a deeply dramatic moment that was going to change people’s ideas about religion and everyone pissed themselves. And I thought “Well, there we go. That’s that”.
So I think that’s the untold story for many comic actors or comedians – they tried drama and they were just… funny. I was going to say “inherently funny” but I don’t know if there’s any such thing. Apart from being hit in the nuts by a cricket bat.
Spicks & Specks is such a television phenomenon. Are you surprised by its success?
Every day. Well, every Thursday, when we get an email saying how many people watched it. It’s incredible. It’s really lovely… people come up and talk about how much they love it. It’s gorgeous. People have really taken it to their heart. I don’t understand it, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way.
Television is so random. You can put together the greatest team of people you could ever imagine, and the greatest concept you could ever imagine, and people just won’t like it. Or you can put together a bunch of quite normal folk cooking every night and over four million people watch the final episode of it. You just never know. That’s one of the lovely things, to be involved in the bizarre random alchemy of television. But it is beautiful.
I love talking to people about it. I was in a cafe one time and there were three generations of the same family there – grandma, her son and his kids – and we were all talking about the show because they all watched it together. The best thing that’s ever been said to me – almost about anything I’ve ever done – is a guy came up to me one time and said “the only time me and my daughter stop arguing is between 8.30 and 9 o’clock on a Wednesday, so thanks for that”. And I thought “my job here is done” – I didn’t even know that was my job! It’s beautiful. I absolutely adore it. It’s confusing. But it’s good.
Alan Brough is performing the one-man show Chesapeake at The Store Room, Cnr Scotchmer St & St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy until September 13th. To hear the whole interview, download episode 7 from here.