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June 4, 2023

Paul McDermott: Unafraid. Unbelievably Funny. Unmissable. 

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Paul McDermott

By Mandy Nolan

That is how I would describe a Paul McDermott show.

I saw him a few years back at Adelaide Fringe and was blown away by the calibre of his comedy. I see comedy all the time. No one else is doing this kind of relentlessly biting political satire. Material that is absolutely on top of the zeitgeist.

His insights come from the keen eye of a cynical non-believer, who sees the political landscape for what it is – a worthy subject for comedic autopsy. What he started with the Doug Anthony Allstars all those years ago he finishes in Blood Orange. McDermott is a satrical comic at the top of his game.

McDermott won hearts in the ’80s and ’90s when he dominated the Australian comedy scene for over a decade with the Doug Anthony Allstars. The trio have remained in the spotlight; Richard Fiedler’s Conversations on the ABC showing us how interviews are done, Tim Fergusson positioning himself as the country’s foremost comedy writer and teacher, and McDermott continuing to do what he does best – disembowel authority with a wicked grin.

The Morrison government was rich political fodder for McDermott, I wondered how he might roll with Albo in the driver’s seat? 

‘I’m not constrained by parochial aspects looking at the world’, says McDermott.

‘Everything is on the table. And it’s so immediate. We are getting information from America and overseas the moment it happens so we don’t have to be a colonial backwater focused on ourselves. Yes, I am enjoying living in a country where there isn’t as much on offer with the Labor government. They just aren’t as bizarre as the last government. When they do something inherently evil like supporting Hillsong or integrate health and state, I’ll be there.’

I loved Doug Anthony Allstars, so when I went to see Paul McDermott Plus One: Blood Orange I was nervous. Would his anarchist fire be snuffed out after years of screaming satirical obscenities in the wilderness? No. If anything, McDermott has got sharper. He gives a lot less fucks.

‘People know what I do’ says Paul,‘the style is the same, belligerent and opinionated’.

‘I became more focused during the years of the pandemic, my isolation during covid, and I was just writing material of that personal experience and then it broadened into observations of people who were reacting to it in weird ways.’

So does McDermott find people interesting? Absolutely.

‘I find people’s behaviour bizarre at the best of times. During covid I think there was a lot of high weirdness. Like the Trump thing of putting bleach into your veins to get rid of the bug. All those statements from a world leader who had a megaphone to speak from – they trickled down to people in this country. There is a lot of ratbaggery…’

I find McDermott’s outrage comforting. While housing certainly isn’t a theme of his show, the privilege and power of the super rich certainly is. McDermott has strong opinions on absolutely everything. I wondered what his response to the housing crisis was?

‘It is dire, in Sydney and Melbourne the median house price is $1 million. How does anyone leaving school find their own home? Renting is frightening. We have sunk into servitude. If you can get a house you will spend the rest of your life paying it off. We seem to have adopted this idea that you just rent everything, you don’t own anything, like streaming services, like books and movies – how they flow in and out of your house – once you stop renting they don’t exist, it’s the same as what is happening now in the housing market.’

I love McDermott’s analysis. What I love most about his show though is his unrelenting takedown of Murdoch. The monster of global media is the bogey man at the heart of McDermott’s satire.

‘We are rapidly heading into a world full of things we aren’t certain about, and things that aren’t regulated. We have seen deregulation in places like America.’

‘There used to be a law that you had to present information in a factual way. Murdoch got rid of it and has right wing entertainment as Fox News. It took this long to get their comeuppance.

‘Doesn’t just affect America though, it affects the entire world, because we had the parroting of those ideas here by Morrison – trickle-down fascism – where we continue to import our outrage. Just recently in America they had fascists protesting drag queens [reading to kids] at libraries, then a few weeks later we had them doing the same here.’

McDermott continues to use his comedy superpowers to fight tyranny, injustice and ennui. His weapons? A guitar, a savagely insightful understanding of who pulls the strings of power, and a talented musician he calls ‘Plus One’. Blood Orange is a dynamic collection of verbal and musical absurdity taking the audience on a crazy road trip through McDermott’s comedy hell-scape. His physicality is joyous, and his messages are pure sarcasm. McDermott is truly the thinking person’s comic. And he’ll squeeze every bit of juice out of the comedy orange… until there’s blood! Blood Orange!

According to McDermott, these are the key themes of Blood Orange: ‘The fall of empire, rise of women, and wanking’.

‘Not necessarily in that order.’

Paul Mcdermott Plus One: Blood Orange at the Byron Comedy Fest, Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 June, with McDermott guesting on a panel hosted by yours truly on the Sunday morning. All shows at the Byron Surf Club, a totally magical and transformed venue! Tickets on byroncomedyfest.com

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