Doug Anthony All Stars
|Doug Anthony All Stars|
|Also known as||DAAS|
|Past members||Paul McDermott
The Doug Anthony All Stars (or Doug Anthony Allstars, DAAS, D.A.A.S. or stylised as D⋆A†A☭S) was an Australian musical comedy group who performed together between 1984 and 1994. The band was an acoustic trio comprising Paul McDermott and Tim Ferguson on main vocals and Richard Fidler on guitar and backing vocals. They were known for their aggressive, provocative style; their habit of involving audience members and their tendency to attack topical and sometimes controversial issues in their comedy.
DAAS began performing as buskers on the streets of Canberra in 1984, while they were attending university. After winning the Pick of the Fringe award at the 1986 Adelaide Fringe Festival, the group relocated from Canberra to Melbourne, but it was not until they travelled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 that they first achieved success. They quickly gained popularity in the United Kingdom, where they made numerous television appearances, but remained virtually unknown in Australia until 1989 when they were made regular performers on the Australian comedy show The Big Gig. These appearances gained them recognition, and they remained a popular feature of the show until 1991 when they left to create their own ABC comedy series, DAAS Kapital.
The group released four live recordings and one studio album, DAAS Icon, which achieved some independent success in Australia but was briefly banned in Britain. They also released a collection of dark short stories in 1989, entitled Book, which took a markedly different tone from their comedic stage performances. They also made two live concert videos and one film, The Edinburgh Years. The group split up in 1994, following a final farewell tour of Australia. Although they reunited in 2003 to perform together at a benefit concert, were interviewed together in 2008 in support of their DVD, and reunited for a one-off show to launch the DAAS Kapital DVD in 2013, the three have ruled out the suggestion of a reunion tour.
DAAS employed an aggressive, confrontational style, which author and journalist Geoff Bartlett describes as "[pushing] the boundaries of humour and good taste to their absolute limits". They frequently delved into topical and taboo subject matter with songs such as "Commies for Christ" and "I Fuck Dogs". "Long before anyone knew the term, one of our greatest driving forces was to be politically incorrect," said Ferguson. Each band member developed distinctive onstage characters, with McDermott adopting a nasty, mean persona, while Ferguson played a narcissistic character who was "gorgeous but stupid". Fidler initially played the straight man, but as the group became more aggressive he developed into a character who was naturally happy and caring but frequently victimised by his fellow band members.
The group drew inspiration from short-lived punk bands like the Fat Sluts, The Lone Reagans and Forbidden Mule, whom Ferguson describes as "like all punk bands... very fast and furious." Much of the band's provocative style emerged from their origins as street performers, where to get people's attention they resorted to outrageous or theatrical tactics—the group would sometimes walk into the street and stop traffic to get noticed. "Sometimes we have to do really ugly or horrendous things to get people's attention, and we're not afraid to do that. We'll hit someone if it gets a bit of discourse going," said McDermott.
Neil Pigot, who did some work with the group, describes their style as "a sort of extension of the Python tradition, but very much in an Australian context." He says that DAAS were "crucially important" in the development of Australian comedy, directly contributing to the styles of successful comedy shows such as The D-Generation, Fast Forward and Wogs Out of Work. At the time DAAS emerged, Pigot says, comedy in Australia was dominated by joke-tellers and impersonators. By contrast, DAAS were belligerent and confrontational, frequently attacking topical issues, invading people's personal space and involving the audience in their act. Mark Trevorrow, who frequently collaborated with the group, described their work as "true genius." "Their great shows were among the greatest evenings I've witnessed in my life and their worst shows were among the worst," he said. "They'd whip up an audience and appeal to people's darker side. It was very Dada, what they were doing. And what happens with that is you're just as often likely to have people who want to kill you as applaud you." In addition, ABC comedy producer Ted Robinson says that the group played an important role in raising the profile of Australian comedy overseas, particularly in Britain where DAAS were very popular.
I think there was true genius at work with that pack ... They'd whip up an audience and appeal to people's darker side. It was very Dada, what they were doing.
DAAS were known for continuing to act, or to remain in character, during interviews. Much of this was just banter, but they also had serious messages. DAAS were often criticising the media and part of this was to tell outrageous lies to journalists during interviews and attempt to see them published as fact. In one of the best-known instances of this, the group told British reporters that their namesake, former Australian politician Doug Anthony, was a much-loved Prime Minister of Australia who had been assassinated on 11 November 1975, by right wing extremists. (In fact, Anthony is a former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia who had led the right-of-center National Party of Australia from 1971 to 1984.) The lie was printed in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent. This game continued undetected until in 1990 the group told a reporter that they had been cast in Batman and had become great friends with Jack Nicholson, both lies. The story was reported as fact in newspapers around Australia and appeared as a cover story in the TV guide of Melbourne's Herald Sun before the media realised the hoax.
Tim Ferguson met Richard Fidler busking on the streets of Canberra in 1984, while they were both attending university. Ferguson recalls: "Richard was playing the guitar—something from Cat Stevens—one day and I walked up to him and we did 'Wild Thing'. I sang a few lyrics and jumped about like a mad thing. Lo and behold we made a stack of money in ten minutes." The two began performing together and joined with another friend, Robert Piper, to form the Doug Anthony All Stars. They derived their name from Doug Anthony, a former Country Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. According to Fidler, during their earlier gigs in clubs and as street performers, Ferguson was "a bit of an explosive hippie" while Fidler and Piper were more reserved. Robert Piper left the group in 1985 due to other commitments. Piper has gone on to a successful career with the United Nations and is now Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.
With Piper's departure, Paul McDermott, who performed at one of DAAS's regular clubs, was invited to join. He accepted, although he did not like their material, which he considered too sweet. Fidler says McDermott changed the group's dynamic; he wrote the majority of their songs and prompted a darker tone. After winning the Pick of the Fringe award at the 1986 Adelaide Fringe Festival, the group relocated from Canberra to Melbourne, where they based themselves with a regular gig at the Prince Patrick Hotel in Collingwood, in an effort to save enough money to travel to the Edinburgh Fringe. Initially DAAS found that Melbourne audiences did not respond to their act and to provoke a reaction they became more aggressive, with McDermott and Ferguson adopting more abusive personas and often picking on Fidler's naturally happy but stupid character. They made their first overseas performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1987, to sold out crowds.
It was weird for us to go from performing ... to an audience of roughly 15 million people in one night, to then go back to Australia and have to busk in Swanston Street mall.
Following their Edinburgh Fringe shows, the group enjoyed considerable success in the United Kingdom, making appearances on numerous BBC comedy shows. In 1988, the group was nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award for their performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Fidler says that the British people were more receptive to their act at the time than Australians had been. "The whole thing exploded for us when we got there, it was quite incredible. Within a very short time we were doing national television appearances in front of millions of people and playing these enormous shows," he says. They played extensively in Canada, Germany, America and Britain, and finished their time in Britain by appearing on the final episode of the successful Friday Night Live. However despite the acclaim they were receiving overseas, when they returned to Australia at the end of 1988 they remained unknown. Upon arriving in Melbourne, they struggled to gain a following and went back to busking on the streets.
This changed in 1989 when ABC comedy producer Ted Robinson invited them to appear on a new comedy show, The Big Gig. They became a popular feature on the series and appeared in every episode until 1991. In 1989 the group also released a book entitled Book, which was a collection of dark short stories. Many of the stories had been written several years prior, even before the three had started performing together, and adopted a markedly different tone to their comedic, largely ad libbed live shows. Ferguson said that they had wanted to write something that people could read and enjoy without having seen DAAS perform. Book sold 30,000 copies in England within the first two weeks of publication before being banned when DAAS refused to release an edited version of the book or permit a warning sticker on the cover. The issue was taken to court in the same year, where the ban was overturned.
DAAS released their first official album, DAAS Icon, in 1990. Two of the featured songs, "I Want to Spill the Blood of a Hippy" and "Bottle", were also released as singles. Icon went on to become the highest selling independent album in Australia, but was banned in the UK due to a reference to the IRA in the song "KRSNA". This was later overturned by a British court. The group continued to appear weekly on The Big Gig until 1991 when their own series, DAAS Kapital, premiered on the ABC. A futuristic half-hour long sitcom about the band's adventures in an underwater history museum, DAAS Kapital ran for two seven-episode seasons between 1991 and 1992 despite a poor critical reaction. From 1992 they became UK-based, returning to Australia for a short time in 1993 to promote Dead & Alive, a live recording of one of their London shows which was released on CD and VHS. They played at the opening of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and appeared regularly on Britain's Channel 4 variety show Viva Cabaret.
It was incredibly difficult [to leave] because I loved it. And also I loved, and still do, the boys.
The group held a final farewell tour of Australia in 1994, which was recorded and released on CD by ABC Records as DAAS: The Last Concert. The break-up sparked rumours of a falling out among the trio, although all three denied this, stating that it was simply time to move on. Richard Fidler described it as a matter of practicality: Ferguson wanted to return to Australia to be closer to his young family, while McDermott and Fidler wished to continue working in Britain as they felt they had done everything they had wanted to do in Australia.
In June 2010, Tim Ferguson revealed that the break-up was due in large part to personal health issues. Unknown to the public at the time, Ferguson had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996 after experiencing symptoms for several years including a few severe episodes while touring in 1993. The symptoms affected his mobility, causing him to struggle with choreography and physical routines onstage and eventually, he says, "it was clear I couldn't remain a Doug Anthony Allstar with whatever this was". Still coming to terms with his diagnosis, Ferguson chose to keep it private, telling few people outside of his close friends and family. "I didn't want other people to know," he says. "I didn't want it to be coming up in conversation with strangers."
In July 2003, DAAS reunited for the first time since their break-up to perform at a special gala comedy event called "For Holly". Dedicated to the memory of Holly Robinson—a casting director for Home and Away and the daughter of The Big Gig's Ted Robinson—who had died of cancer the month before, the concert was a fundraising benefit for research into the disease. At Holly's request, the three also performed the Hunters & Collectors' "Throw Your Arms Around Me", a song they had frequently covered in the group's later years, at her funeral.
A DAAS DVD entitled The Unlimited Uncollectible Sterling Deluxe Edition, a 2-disc collection of their performances from the first two seasons of The Big Gig, was released on 6 November 2008. Ferguson, Fidler and McDermott recorded a commentary track for the DVD and made several media appearances together to promote its release, but the three ruled out the prospect of a reunion tour. "We certainly catch up for barbecues, but not as a comedy group," McDermott said.
Initially, McDermott was not interested in further pursuing comedy, which he came to regard as an "aberration". However, in 1996 he returned to television after being recruited by Ted Robinson to host the satirical news-based quiz show Good News Week. McDermott hosted the show until its cancellation in 2000 and returned to this role when the series was renewed in 2008. He reunited with Robinson again in 2007 when he was named host of a new ABC variety program, The Sideshow, a show described as a successor to The Big Gig. Although it quickly built a strong cult audience, the show did not rate well and was cancelled after its initial run of 26 episodes.
In addition to his television work, McDermott has continued to be involved in live comedy. He has frequently participated in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, having often captained one of the two competing teams in the festival's Great Debate since his first debate appearance in 1994. At the 2002 festival he not only presented a solo comedy show titled "Comedyoscopy", but also performed with Cameron Bruce and Mick Moriarty in a music-based comedy trio called GUD. McDermott described GUD as being in a similar vein to DAAS in that it revolved around music, comedy and the inter-relationships between the band members onstage.
Ferguson also continued to pursue a career in television. In 1995 he hosted the Nine Network's short-lived game show Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, and after the show's cancellation Nine kept him on to develop new television pilots. However, the network was not sure how best to use his talents, and Ferguson left to pursue other work. During this time he wrote his first novel, Left, Right and Centre: A Tale Of Greed, Sex And Power, a political satire. His subsequent television credits have included Unreal TV, Big Brother, Funky Squad and Shock Jock, a 2001 cable sitcom which he also wrote and produced. He has also built a strong career as a corporate event performer and is a sessional lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where he teaches Narrative Comedy for the Professional Screenwriting Advanced Diploma and has run short courses on comedy writing since 2008. In 2010, he released a guide to comedy writing, The Cheeky Monkey: Writing Narrative Comedy. In 2010, Ferguson hosted and co-produced WTF – With Tim Ferguson, a comedy chat show on community television station C31 Melbourne.
After leaving DAAS, Fidler became heavily involved in computers and multimedia. In 1996 he wrote the award-winning CD-ROM Real Wild Child, a history of Australian rock and roll. Although he had not initially intended to return to television, he has hosted various TV shows since 1996, including Race Around the World, Aftershock, Mouthing Off and Vulture; and spent three years in management as an editor of ABC TV comedy before deciding he "wasn't cut out to be a manager". In 2005 Fidler ventured into radio, fronting the 7–10pm shift on ABC Local Radio station 612 ABC Brisbane. Since 2006, he has hosted the 11 am–3pm shift on 612 ABC Brisbane, with the show's first hour—known as The Conversation Hour—also broadcast on 702 ABC Sydney.
Original and founding member Robert Piper entered into a very successful career with the United Nations, serving in Cambodia, New York, Serbia, and other countries, and later worked for the Clinton Administration.
- DAAS Icon (1990)
- Live at The National Theatre (1990)
- Dead & Alive (1994)
- DAAS Bootleg - Live in Edinburgh (1994)
- The Last Concert (1995)
- The Unlimited Uncollectible Sterling Deluxe Edition (2008)
- DAAS Kapital (1991)
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- AustralianComedy.net – DAAS Fan Forum
- – DAAS Lyrics
- The Doug Anthony All Stars Costumes and other ephemera are now part of the Performing Arts Collection at the Arts Centre Melbourne