For Melbourne based comedian and ‘living treasure’ Rod Quantock, comedy was an accidental career.
With over four decades in the business and having being credited as one of the founding fathers of the vibrant Melbourne scene, Quantock jokes that he is prehistoric, that he comes from a time before standup.
‘When I began there weren’t any standup comedians and there weren’t any venues.’ In the tradition of the world’s funniest comedians, Rod Quantock’s foray onto stage was through the vehicle of the university revue.
‘I was studying to be an architect. I figured that if I am an architect I’ll be doing bathroom extensions and carports. I would have done really funny carports.’
Quantock is an intellectual and his comedy isn’t a download on trying to find underpants that fit, or putting petrol in your car, or being dropped by your girlfriend. From early on Quantock took his commitment as a radical and critical thinker seriously enough to make the whole thing a joke. It’s something he’s been doing ever since.
‘I like to think of it as being the Fool in King Lear. I have thought about comedy for a long time as a tool to get ideas across and to say things with a different shade from the way a journalist or a scientist might say. A comedian certainly can’t change the world, but it does invigorate the debate. Because let’s face it, people love it when you have eight speakers who are heavy and serious and a comedian who comes on and moderates and keeps things cheery. A lot of the issues we are facing are hopeless, so a humorous approach takes the pressure off.’
Quantock has followed the CSG battle with interest and has a unique and optimistic take.
‘The CSG thing is one that can be won mainly because the farmers are involved. No one has quite worked out how to deal with a radical farmer; they are mythical people and when they get angry the media don’t have a clue, they can’t call them unemployed lazy professional protesters!’
Climate Change is the bell that Quantock rings in his shows these days. He is driven by a passion to consume information, to infuse it with humour and deliver it to a weary population who need a fresh take on a very pessimistic tale.
As for climate change doubters, Quantock gives them little attention.
‘The official denial movement has given up on trying to fight the science – they’ve moved it into economic argument and of course it’s conspiratorial! I don’t respond to those people anymore because you’ll never change their minds. They’ll be up to their necks in floodwater and they’ll say it’s an act of god to punish homosexuals. No, they’re a waste of time. You have to embolden the people who are actually wanting to do something.’
The future is bleak, says Quantock. ‘The CSIRO put out a great report on the future of biodiversity. They say by 2070 there weren’t be one part of Australia that resembles what it is today; it will sound different and smell different. All that is now unavoidable so people need to localise and they need to bring resilience into the systems we have. Any building of defences against climate change equals fossil fuel which just adds CO2 to the atmosphere. In some way climate change is complicated, but at the fundamental level it’s pretty simple. We are about to hit 400 parts of CO2 per million, which is the highest it’s ever been. We are well on our way to 400–500 parts per million; even in the age of the dinosaur they didn’t hit those numbers – this is unique in the history of the planet.’
So how do we move forward?
‘I know we’ve sorted this out when the MCG is a vegetable garden. If we don’t turn our roads into strip agriculture and every square inch of available land into permaculture, then we’re doomed.’
So how does a comedian take the most serious subject on Earth – our species and planetary demise – and make it funny?
‘That’s the challenge that I enjoy,’ says Rod. ‘I seem to float above the world and look at the achievements of the last 10,000 years – the painting, the music, the mathematics, the science, and it’s all within the space of 100 years going to dribble away and disappear! On one level it’s very funny and, being part of it all, it’s an incredible tragedy. The fact a species so incredible and wondering can bring about such chaos. In 20 or 30 years from now if you don’t have a boxed set of David Attenborough you won’t know what the world was like.
‘It took me two years to find a way to deal with it and I have good days and bad days.’
Quantock has done his homework.
‘Mad Max wasn’t a movie,’ he laughs. ‘It was a documentary.
‘I have spent an awfully long time reading and researching. I know more about the science and economics of climate change than 99 per cent of people do. I obsessed about it. You go through the seven stages of grieving when you realise we are going to live in a world without worms and whales; you eventually go to some tentative form of acceptance.
‘I find it important to keep talking about it – we will burn every molecule of carbon we can get our hands on. The world is a big junkie and capitalism is the dealer.’
Damian Power drops in before his month long season at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and Dave F Rocks, our local Raw finalist, also joins the bill in this night of biting political satire that will be more tongue than any cheek could handle. MCd by the Mayoress of Mayhem, Ms Mandy Nolan.
Catch the brilliant, inspiring and very, very funny Rod Quantock at the Byron Brewery on Monday March 25. Tix $20/25 and are available at the venue or they can be booked on 6619 0529.