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Tim’s First Job

August 27, 2011

1. Tim, what was your first job? Where?
I was a gardener at Tidbinbilla Space Tracking Station.

2. What hours/shifts did you work?
9-5 endless weekdays

3. What tasks did you have to perform?
My chief task was to halt to advance of nature as it strove to weave its ghastly tendrils into the giant radar dishes.

4. What was the pay like?
The pay was exorbitant, given my total lack of skill and interest.

5. What did you like/dislike most about the job? E.g. did you have to wear a dodgy uniform?
I enjoyed the participation in our nation’s space efforts. Sure, I was just a weeder and whippersnipper, but the aliens may have mistaken me for the radars’ owner. We’ll see…
I didn’t enjoy dealing with blackberry brambles. The last battle on earth will be between blackberries and cockroaches. And the blackberries will win.

6. What skills did you have to learn?
I learnt not to be squeamish about battling nature. It is, after all, trying to kill us. Cases in point: great white sharks, funnelweb spiders and carbon.

7. Why did you leave the job?
The aliens never called. Ah, the impatience of yoof.

8. Were you glad to leave? Why?
I was disappointed to leave Tidbinbilla. My role in the space race was at an end. Presumably, the money saved was blown on wasteful departments like education and health.

9. What is your most vivid memory of the job?
Tiger snakes galore. They’re harder to kill if you give them names.

10. What did you learn from this job?
The aliens are coming. They like the space-garden. And they want it. Sure, laugh it up. You’ll be sorry, so very sorry.


March 20, 2011

An extract from Tim’s recent interview in Berra magazine
Q: Tim, spent your late teens in Canberra, how do you remember your years here?
The deeply-suppressed memories (the Private Bin nightclub, Kambah, the swirling kaleidescope of intermingling colours) refuse to budge. The memories I do recall are happy, carefree and involve driving in circles very fast.

Q: How do describe Canberra to people who haven’t been here?
I tell them it’s a glorious society of equals living in a modern-day Eden beyond their imagining, and that if there is one place to visit before they die it is the ACT.
Hmph. Suckers.

Q: What are you currently up to?
I go to places like Berlin, NYC or Townsville and explain comedy.

Q: Back in the 1980s in Canberra you formed a group known as the Doug Anthony Allstars. For those of us who aren’t familiar with the group, how would you best describe the DAAS?
A Lutheran fellowship of Morris Dancers with a deep love of dogs. We were driven by a desire to teach young people how to explore the boundaries of physical expression, religious belief and Manuka Oval.

Q: You have just released a DAAS DVD, what was the reason for this?
The Unlimited Uncollectible Sterling Deluxe Edition features some of our best work (but mostly our other work) on The Big Gig. I’d like to say something like “you know, it was time for a retrospective view on Australian comedy; time to turn the analogue tapes to digital dots”, but really, it was just more of the same attention-seeking behaviour. Oh, and the money, don’t forget the money, the beautiful yet haunting money.

Q: In 1995, DAAS did “The Last Concert” – any thoughts on bringing the boys back together for a John Farnham style “The Last Tour”?
DAAS never say never. We use profanity and active verbs instead.

Q: Now an ex-Canberran, do you ever stick up for Canberra when you come across Canberra-bashing?
Nobody bashes Canberra. They wouldn’t dare.
But if they did, I’d call for Security and have them removed, beaten and shaved. I mean, why kick Canberra when Queanbeyan is so close?

Q: You may know that the Greens now hold the balance of power here in Canberra. If politics is on your list of things to try, maybe you should try your luck down here, they let anyone in.
Good idea! The Greens are a middle-class hand-wringing network of failed Arts students who worship an unsubstantiated Apocalypse myth. Despite declarations of future-consciousness, the average Greenie is as open-minded as the next Puritan fanatic. It would be more practical (and effective) to elect honest, Socialist representatives.
Canberra’s wastepaper is not a global issue.

Q: Have you ever been mistaken for a Wiggle?
Ask me that again and see what happens.

Q: When was the last time you were back in Canberra, how have you seen it change and how have your views on Canberra changed now that you are no longer a resident?
I enjoy visiting the syringed black hills often. I’ve always like the fact that Canberra was designed by Burley-Griffin as a classless paradise. It was a great idea made flesh. How it became a big western suburb remains a mystery. Who knew that Kambah would grow so big?
That said, you gotta love a place with so much porn.

Q: What does the future hold for Tim Ferguson?
More drastic changes in direction and intent. I wanna make more movies, finish a fantasy trilogy, move to Canada and see a real woman naked.
Sadly, my hair will stay the same.

Q: Finally, do you ever forget your toothbrush?
Um… uh… Gee, you’ve caught me completely off-guard with that one… no one’s ever asked me that before. I’m going to need some time to come up with a witty response. Can I get back to you?


February 28, 2011

Tim Ferguson was raised in a TV journalist family.
He explains how to create the perfect nightly bulletin…

Ever seen that nightly program jammed in between game shows and American sitcoms? They call it “The News”.
It’s been running for over half a century, on every network. And it still rates.

Producing the news is the most reliable career in television. If you’re thinking of becoming a news producer, here are the basics.

Obey the format
You may wonder how producers make the news night after night. The truth is, they don’t. The news makes itself. However, no matter what has happened in the world, all events, great or small, must be tailored to fit a strict regime…

6pm commercial news broadcasts have unscrew-able rundowns.

There are four segments.
The first covers local news. Overseas news may only be included if it is horrifyingly calamitous or involves a foreigner mentioning Australia. Segment one should last no longer than eight minutes.

Segment Two highlights news from Canberra and The World, in that order.
Business news follows, but is kept painlessly brief. This is the “hard” news segment, otherwise known as the actual news. You have seven minutes – maximum. Don’t be tempted to screw with this rule. Ever.

From Segment Three it’s all plain sailing. Sport, sport, sport and sport. (Oddly, you’ll see more people accused of sexual assault, immorality and corruption here than in any other segment.) Four minutes are allowed, but feel free to stretch.

Ninety seconds of weather come in the final segment. (Ninety seconds is, coincidentally, the preferred length of an earth-shattering international crisis story.)

Finally, a 15-30 second story caps off the show.
This event may be either cute, freaky or funny. The newsreader ends with a pun on this story (“I guess that’s why they call them huggy bears”) and it’s goodnight.
Never be cynical about this feel-good moment to the point of removing it. Viewers need this moment.
The only exceptions are the first night of a war in which Australia is involved, the assasination of a First World leader takes place or when the Queen dies.

That’s the rundown. But there is so much more to learn about the news production game. Below are the touchstone phrases you must learn to make great news.

Entertain and, when unavoidable, inform

The primary purpose of evening news bulletins is not the delivery of news. It is the securing of viewers. If people watch the 6pm bulletin on a particular station, they’ll see promotions for that evening’s viewing. The network hopes that, having seen these, they will stay for the night.

If viewers remain watching until 10pm, they’ll see 24 ad breaks, each containing, on average, six commercials. That’s 144 ads or 72 minutes of the evening’s viewing.

All news is local – especially world news.

The further away an object is, the smaller it appears. So it is with news. Without one thousand corpses (or one injured Aussie backpacker), a foreign disaster story is a turn-off.

The nation of India has more than one billion people. It is ravaged regularly by drought, flood and violent religious conflict. But when was the last time you saw a news report on India that didn’t involve a cricket ball?
India only becomes segment two-worthy when it threatens nuclear war with Pakistan. Here’s why – a hydrogen bomb on Delhi would send clouds of radioactive fallout over Australia. It may even knock India out of the Test for a season. This example shows one way in which a news producer can apply the Act Global/Think Local paradigm.

No news is all bad news

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, every nightly news bulletin (even on the ABC) ended with a cute/freaky/funny story to soothe our troubled hearts.

As a news producer, you will come to love your local zoo. Just as the world looks bleak (as shown by that poor injured Aussie backpacker), a chimpanzee gives birth. Your news can end with a smile. The anchor chuckles, “Cheeky little monkey.” Your audience’s emotional equilibrium is restored. They’re hooked for the night – 126 ads to go.

The news must be new

On September 11, 2001, nearly four thousand children died. It was a terrifying, tragic event. Worse, more children have been dying in similar numbers every day since.

The killer was world hunger. The commercial news reports on this tragedy on that day numbered zero. Even the ABC and SBS forgot to mention it. Presumably, if the starving millions wish to receive nightly recognition from network news bulletins, they need to work on new material.

Trust me – I can read an Autocue

Reading the news is more difficult than it seems. All right, your news anchor only has to turn up at three o’clock, scan the reports, complain about the theft of the Monte Carlos, dawdle into the studio at 5.30pm and spend three to four minutes in total actually on air. (The ABC is very different – anchors have been known to arrive for work as early as two o’clock.)

Sounds easy, but reading an autocue without looking like you’re reading an autocue is very difficult. Particularly when everyone knows you’re reading an autocue.

And appearing convincing and trustworthy is a task beyond most politicians, church leaders and St Kilda players. Your newsreader must do it every night. Your job is to bolster them with constant praise, professional support and Monte Carlos.

One news anchor told me of a recurring nightmare where their autocue was blank. Read into that what you will.

Every tragedy is an opportunity

What can I say? It’s a dreadful business.

As for the non-commercial networks, compare their news to 7, 9 and Ten.
The ABC reels out the same “all news is local” stories, commonly in the same order, as the commercial stations. So much for editorial independence. And forget any sense of proportion.

SBS presents the only news worth watching which. It struggles for an audience. Sigh.

Some days, nothing of interest happens. On other days, the world goes bananas.
One would hope that, on quiet days, more remote yet pressing issues would prevail. This might occur if those damn monkeys at the zoo kept their hands off each other.

As a news producer, the most important thing you must remember is that TV journalism is not a sacred flame. It is a flame lit to attract moths. Millions of them.
Commercial or not, these principles are immutable for they play to human nature. The viewers, as they are in all things televised, to blame.

The drive to bring news to people, to discover the truth and reveal it regardless of the consequences, is an ideal held by all journalists. But it is not the principle upon which evening news bulletins are based. It will be your job to capture the attention of families at the time in the evening when those families are at their most distracted. Fearless truth and stories without borders can’t compete with dinner, homework and feeding Moggie.

That’s why the news must make viewers feel a part of each story. Like the game shows they follow, news reports must engage our imaginations. They must attract us then entertain us. Their stories must play to our self-interest and their anchors must hold us fast.

Everything else, including war and famine, is just window dressing.

(This article first printed in The Age Green Guide)

Tim’s new Q&A

February 3, 2011

When were you happiest? At the School Without Walls free-school.  Jungle animals, feral cats and rockstars don’t live that freely.  It was high school without the, like, hassle. Or walls.

Which living person do you most admire? I am currently stalking Paul McDermott. Does that count?

What is the trait you most dislike in yourself? I’m too hard on myself.

What is the trait you most dislike in others? Absolute certainty.

What’s the meaning of life? Expensive.

Who would play you in the film of your life? My mother. Don’t laugh, you know you’d do the same for yourself.

Yes, I guess I would. Yeah, you would, so you can wipe that smirk off your face.

Are you a controlling person? Look, I won’t answer that until you stop smirking.

What would you most like to wear to a costume party? The Olsen Twins.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you? Wear pants.

What’s the best pick-up line you’ve heard? “Sir, please blow into this bag.”

Tell us a secret. Soylent Green is not people – it’s just Soylent that’s been dyed green.

Cult of youth spells end of Western civilisation

January 9, 2011

Cult of youth spells end of Western civilisation (a TF piece from The Age, March ’04)

The terrorists in al-Qaeda seek to destroy Western culture. They needn’t bother. Give Western culture 30 years and it will collapse under the weight of its incontinence nappies.

The West’s celebration of youth has infected its culture like a deadly virus. Too many members of generation X go childless as they perpetuate a youthful lifestyle of attachment-free independence.

It’s understandable. Today youth is celebrated by the mass media like never before.

Sportswear, soft drinks, junk food and zippy inner-city cars are made by corporations that survive by selling their wares to young, single people with disposable income.

The commercial media have no choice but to deliver a younger audience to these corporations. Youth lifestyle is subsequently promoted by the media as the pinnacle of Western culture.

The lifestyle of the young is seductive. It’s not surprising that X-men want to play the never-ageing Peter Pan and X-women choose the capable romantic, Wendy Darling, as their role model.

I call them “Neverlanders”.

Like Joan Rivers’ cheeks, their youth is stretched to the point where it becomes a little sad, even tragic. The Neverlanders can be found groping each other in doof-doof nightclubs, zipping around the CBD in red convertibles, filling their Bridget Jones diaries with increasingly repetitive tales of increasingly repetitive acts, sobbing once a month as they wonder why they can’t meet a nice girl or boy, or both.

Botox, hair implants, boob jobs and makeovers with the unappetising label of “extreme” abound as gen X clings to youth.

If you ignore the sobbing, it’s a fun life. But Neverland’s ticking crocodile is approaching.

In the 1960s, your average fortysomething was at home most evenings with their spouse and kids. They had enjoyed their jitterbugging youth but had decided that, after their 21st birthday, it was time to “grow up”.

The closest many gen-Xers come to being “grown-up” is serial monogamy. The poo-spluttering wailing sirens known as “babies” do not enter the equation. And that’s where the whole thing comes crashing, hungover and a bit teary, to the ground.

The capitalist culture of youth contains its own demise. As Neverlanders delay breeding, the quota of new young people shrinks. Each year the value of youth will increase with its rarity, the promotion of youth will intensify and the struggle by the ageing to live the life of the young will go on.

Our society will have fewer babies and more fortysomethings dancing the Time Warp at the Metro.

Treasurer Peter Costello has revealed the awful truth that gen X’s inadequate superannuation will not sustain us in retirement. And we can forget age pensions. Our life expectancy is growing faster than our super and the Australian government of 2040 will not have enough taxpayers to sustain the 6.2 million over-65s.

All too soon, a new social group will send our economy and culture reeling. This group will not be the unemployed, the drug-addicted or the homeless.

It will be the single, aged poor. With their savings spent and no children to support them, the burden of the Neverlanders will cripple the West.

We are doomed. There are no solutions.

Pamela Bone (“How about having babies earlier?”, The Age) believes young women should consider having kids before starting a career. She is right. She is also right when she admits there is no clear way to bring about such a revolution in twentysomething culture.

Young women are fully aware that motherhood is rewarding, but they also know how hard it can be. Many figure it’s best put off until they’ve lived a little and their bank balance is healthier. Fair enough.

The boys aren’t much help either. Traditionally, men are the ones who propose marriage, but they’re procrastinating too. A freewheeling life is an attractive alternative to the pressured existence of father and provider. It’s easier to act like a kid than to raise one.

Governments, poor things, can’t do much to inspire us to breed. Tax breaks, child care and maternity allowances are all very well, but the choice to have kids requires more than money.

We can’t look to the market or media to save us. It is not in the short-term interest of advertisers for consumers to grow up. Health concerns and budget restrictions influence those with kids and mortgages more than those without.

Carefree, single youth will remain our most hyped, celebrated and comfortable lifestyle. And, every day, our population will grow a little older.

Osama bin Laden can put aside his hateful dogma. Instead, he can sit back and quote the crocodile of Neverland – “Tick-tock tick-tock…”

Comedy Writing Course

January 9, 2011

Comedy Writing

[Course code: S345253, at RMIT]

Course Description

This exciting course offers the skills needed to write stand-up and narrative comedy. Build characters, devise stories and apply time honoured principals of comedy writing to make your own stand-up routine, comedy film or sitcom. In a competitive industry, comedy skills can offer writers a new income stream beyond drama writing.

The course is taught by Australia’s internationally acclaimed ‘comedy doctor’, Tim Ferguson.
Ideal for Writers who would like to build their comic skills.

Course dates:

  • Sat 19 Mar 2011 to Sat 09 Apr 2011
  • Sat 09 Jul 2011 to Sat 30 Jul 2011
  • Sat 03 Sep 2011 to Sat 24 Sep 2011
  • Sat 05 Nov 2011 to Sat 26 Nov 2011

More info:

Tim’s original Constitutional Preamble

December 30, 2010

A Preamble to the Australian Constitution is being mooted. We may already have one that fits the bill of the moot.

Many have imitated Tim Ferguson’s original Constitutional Preamble (written in the darkest years of the Howard Dark Years which were dark). There is even a South African version, though it’s unclear if they recognised the humour in it.

But this is the original, printed in 1999 in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper…

Constitutional Preamble  By  Tim Ferguson

The Prime Minister and the poet have had their go. Now here’s what they should have said.

WE, the People of the broad, brown land of Oz, wish to be recognised as a free nation of blokes, sheilas and the occasional trannie. We come from many lands (although a few too many of us come from New Zealand) and, although we live in the best little country in the world, we reserve the right to bitch and moan about it whenever we bloody like.

We are One Nation but we’re divided into many States. First, there’s Victoria, named after a queen who didn’t believe in lesbians. Victoria is the realm of Mossimo turtlenecks, cafe latte and grand final day. It’s capital is Melbourne, whose chief marketing pitch is that it’s “livable”.

Next, there’s NSW. It is the realm of pastel shorts, macchiato with sugar, thin books read quickly and millions of dancing gay-boys. Its mascots are Bondi lifesavers who pull their Speedos up their cracks to keep the left and right sides of their brains separate.

Down south we have Tasmania, a State based on the notion that the family that bonks together stays together. In Tassie, everyone gets an extra chromosome at conception. Maps of the State bring smiles to the sternest faces.

South Australia is the province of half-decent reds, a festival of foreigners and bizarre axe murders. They had the Grand Prix, but lost it when the views of Adelaide sent the Formula One drivers to sleep at the wheel.

Western Australia is too far from anywhere to be relevant in this document.

The Northern Territory is the red heart of our land. Outback plains, sheep stations, kangaroos, jackaroos, emus, Ulurus and dusty kids with big smiles. Although the Territory is the centrepiece of our national culture, few of us live there and the rest prefer to fly over it on our way to Bali.

And there’s Queensland. While any mention of God seems silly in a document defining a nation of half-arsed agnostics, it is worth noting that God probably made Queensland. Why he filled it with dickheads remains a mystery.

We, the Lullaby League of Oz, are united, primarily by the Pacific Highway, whose treacherous twists and turns kill more of us each year than die by murder.

We are united in our lust for international recognition, so desperate for praise we leap in joy when a ragtag gaggle of corrupt IOC officials tells us Sydney is better than Beijing.

We are united by a democracy so flawed that a political party, albeit a redneck gun-toting one, can get a million votes and still not win one seat in Federal Parliament. Desirable, sure. But fair? Not when you consider Brian Harradine can get 24,000 votes and run the bloody country. Not that we’re whingeing.

We’ve chucked out the concept of “fair go” in the downsized ’90s. Instead, we want to make “no worries” our national phrase.

We love sport so much our newsreaders can read the death toll from a sailing race and still tell us who’s winning, in the same breath.

We treasure our politicians, who talk about listening with such persistence it’s hard to get a word in. We tolerate our Prime Minister, who is not only short but a Methodist, hanging offences in decent countries. And we like watching Parliament on TV because Natasha Stott Despoja is a total spunkrat.

We, the wicked witches of the land of Oz, want to make it clear this continent is ours and always has been. Mind you, Liberal Party polling shows that there were some people here before Captain Cook so we should address the issue once and for all. While possession is nine-tenths of the law, our ancestors were fortunate enough to discover that genocide, cultural extinguishment, baby theft and flour poisoning make up the other tenth. So Oz is now ours and that’s that. Our midget Methodist master says we have no reason to feel sorry for killing more Aborigines per capita than the Nazis did Jews and Liberal Party polling says we’re OK with that. Why don’t we say sorry? In the words of our PM – because, because, because, because, because.

Now, can we just drop the whole thing before the Olympics start? Phew, with that nasty bit out of the way, we the Brain, the Heart and the Nerve of Oz, want the world to know we have the biggest rock, the tastiest pies and the worst-dressed Olympians in the known universe.

We don’t know much about art but we know we hate the people who make it. We shoot, we vote. We are girt by sea and pissed by lunchtime. And even though we might seem a racist, closed-minded, sports-obsessed little People, at least we’re better than the Kiwis. Now bugger off, we’re sleeping.