Welcome to the first Charming book review for 2014! I’m trying out a different review format for the new year and hoping to expand the range of books about which I share my two cents. Let me know what you think! Meanwhile…
Carry a Big Stick by Tim Ferguson
Hachette Australia RRP: AUD $35
I think you’ll like this if you’re into:
– Australian life stories
– The stand up/TV comedy industries
– Multiple Sclerosis awareness and understanding
For more information visit Hachette Australia.
The best autobiographies – or, perhaps, the most enjoyable autobiographies to read – are usually the ones that tell the story of one life, whilst resonating with your own. This was the case for me with Tim Ferguson’s Carry a Big Stick; not because our lives are similar in any real way, but because key moments in his life seem to have intersected with key moments in mine (but that’s another story). During the late 80s and early 90s, Ferguson was living the heady life of a professional comic, touring the world and generally wreaking havoc. I saw him perform everywhere from uni bars in Brisbane to fancy theatres in London as I wandered through my own salad days. Little did I know just how serious the life of this comic was set to become as I sat in the audience holding my sides together.
Ferguson crashed onto the comedy scene as a member of the anarchic jokester boy band The Doug Anthony Allstars, with Canberra comrades Paul McDermott and Richard Fidler. DAAS combined political antagonism, philosophical reflection and dick jokes into a wild musical stage act that took the comedy scene by storm. Weekly appearances on the innovative ABC variety collision The Big Gig threw them into a more mainstream limelight, which was followed by successful international tours and an eclectic array of side projects, including comic art, books and a TV series. DAAS disbanded with little explanation, leaving many (including myself) presuming ‘artistic differences’ had simply kicked in. In reality, Ferguson had finally chosen to take the advice he’d been given several times over to slow down. After many years of curious tingling sensations, momentary black outs and other sinister clues, he had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and could no longer live in denial of its impact.
Carry a Big Stick follows the popular TV personality, comedian and writer through the 4 ‘Acts’ of his life so far; from Act 1 as a child through to Act 4 where our hero begins a new life coping with his diagnosis. Ferguson’s family life was almost as chaotic as his professional one, with several changes of school and locale due to his father’s own high flying media career. Ferguson writes with great poignancy of his pride in his parents and his relationship with his two brothers, one of whose death is given its own very touching chapter. While Ferguson seems happy to offer details about the senior Fergusons, he steers clear of discussing his partners and children (until his recent remarriage in Act 4) and only hints respectfully at the foibles of his famous amigos. There is no ‘warts and all’ gossip here, but there is plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into the TV industry, the developing Australian arts scene and the stand up comedy/festival circuit as it stood in the 80s/90s. Memories of Ferguson’s hit TV shows like Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and Funky Squad are sure to raise a smile. DAAS made a game of creating tall stories about themselves for the media, making many other interviews or life histories of the band completely unreliable. Ferguson sets the record straight here (sometimes).
These days, Ferguson writes and lectures about the science of comedy writing. This is partly because he is older, wiser and passionate about the topic, but also because it is work he can do on good days and bad, from an office or at home, with a walking stick or a wheelchair as required. The book’s title refers, obviously, to the walking stick, but also gives a nod to Ferguson’s take-no-prisoners attitude to both his comedy stylings and his approach to discussing MS. He dedicates one chapter to the explanatory rant he would like to dispatch at the random medical advice or ‘what’s with the stick?’ queries that regularly come his way. He is highly knowledgeable about MS while being sensitive to the fact that the symptoms and outcomes are individual. After many years of trying to hide the disease, his now able to discuss it openly, but without allowing it to define him.
DAAS fed me with enough mad, dirty, chaotic belly laughs to see me through my 20s and they’ll forever be close to my heart. This enjoyable autobiography cements my respect for Ferguson as a writer and confirms that the show is not over by a long shot.
Now, do yourself a favour and check out some vintage DAAS as they ramble from politics, to smut, to gorgeous rich vocal harmonies. Watch for the audience member shedding a tear during their moving rendition of Heard It Through The Grapevine. It’s glycerine – entirely staged for effect! **Warning: lyrics may offend! Or entertain. Or both. **