Remembering John Clarke

As I posted my review of The Castle yesterday morning, a movie which Australia is proud to call its own, the country learned of the death of another Australian icon. After three decades of writing and performing on television, satirist John Clarke passed away while hiking with family and friends in western Victoria, aged 68. Having produced material as recently as last week, Clarke’s sudden passing caught many of his peers by surprise.

Not since Carrie Fisher’s death in December of last year has there been such an outpouring of grief for an individual (in Australia, at least). As the news filtered through the various media outlets, a torrent of tributes flowed from comedians in Australia and Clarke’s homeland of New Zealand, as well as politicians on both sides of the ideological fence. The most heartfelt reflections were found on the ABC, the nation’s public broadcaster, where Clarke had worked for the past 25 years.

Clarke was born and raised in New Zealand, where he gained attention for his comedic alter-ego Fred Dagg. He soon after moved to Australia where, like the Pavlova, Phar Lap and Crowded House before him, he was adopted as one of our own. Beginning as a supporting act on the satirical variety programme The Gillies Report, he later went on to create, write and star in The Games, a situation comedy focusing on the committee responsible for organising the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Clarke & Dawe
John Clarke, left, sitting next to colleague and friend Bryan Dawe.

The programme’s documentary-style filming and editing predated Ricky Gervais’ The Office, and was a surprise success for the ABC. It also gave Clarke the opportunity to perform in a sitcom with his long-time collaborator Bryan Dawe, who he had first worked with in the Eighties. Their now-famous comedy act involved Dawe, as the straight man, interviewing Clarke, who would portray a political figure. Their sketches first appeared on Channel Nine’s A Current Affair in the late Eighties, before moving to the ABC’s 7.30 Report and later receiving their own timeslot at 6:55pm on a Thursday.

What’s unique about Clarke & Dawe, as many have already recognised, is that Clarke makes no attempt to mimic the figure he is impersonating – not their voice, nor even their appearance. But being the brilliant writer that he is, Clarke’s dialogue sounds not unlike the phrases and rhetoric that the politicians he satirises utter on a daily basis. This is especially the case when reading the original scripts, which were published in book form on more than one occasion.

There are many examples of Clarke and Dawe’s double-act on YouTube, much of which was uploaded by Clarke himself. Here is one of their funniest and most popular routines that often does the rounds on social media:

 

Though most of their material involved interviewing politicians, they occasionally deviated from this formula by presenting a Mastermind-style sketch, and it’s this approach that I find the most enjoyable. Below is one of their better examples from 2011, mocking the refugee policies of both major parties:

 

There are countless examples of Clarke and Dawe’s work on their official YouTube page, so be a sport and check it out. Away from TV, Clarke also appeared in a number of feature films. He was the voice of Wal Footrot in the Footrot Flats movie, star and co-writer of the black comedy Death in Brunswick and had supporting roles in Crackerjack and A Month of Sundays.

I grew up watching Clarke interact with Dawe on The 7.30 Report, and it wasn’t until my later years that I could appreciate his smart, sharp writing. These times, more than any other, are when we most needed John Clarke, and to lose him so soon is absolutely depressing. He is a comic genius like no other, and shall be dearly missed by all.

May he rest in peace.

Clarke, greyscale
Photo courtesy of ABC News Australia.
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