Media Week_Tony Martin_Postcard

‘The most financially suicidal thing I have done’

Multi-talented multimedia performer Tony Martin has been busy lately both promoting his latest publication – “Deadly Kerfuffle”, his fourth book and first novel – and organising the release of the podcast series Childproof.

His book tour culminated with an appearance on 3AW’s Remember When program alongside hosts Philip Brady and Simon Owens last week.

The Childproof podcast comes from a TV sitcom Martin pitched to TV programmers called Childproof. There were no takers for the project, but as Martin had written all six episodes, he and some colleagues performed all six episodes at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe. 

“We were all standing around microphones and holding scripts like an old radio play from the 1950s. We got hold of the tapes, and with some help from Nova’s group production director Matt Dower, who is the best in the business, we are releasing them as a podcast series.

“Even though Childproof was recorded in front of a live audience, when you hear it, it sounds like it has all been recorded on location. It is as though you are listening to the soundtrack of a TV sitcom. Whenever there are visual jokes they are described by a narrator – Triple M’s Jay Mueller.

“It is an unusual thing to get your head around. It is not quite the same as listening to a radio play where you might have six characters and six scenes and not a lot of sound effects.

“We had to build a whole Anzac Day parade for one episode. It has almost turned into the Sgt Pepper’s of podcasting. Even if people don’t like it, everyone will have to agree there has never been a podcast like this. That’s probably because who would be mad enough to spend a year writing a sitcom and then just piss it away for free on iTunes.”

Martin is under no illusion this latest project will help pay the bills.

“I work for a few years – like I recently spent five years directing TV sitcoms – saving the money, which is then used to finance my writing. I took 10 months to write Childproof and that is certainly not a business model.

“It has been the most financially suicidal thing I have ever done. We spent 10 months full-time writing. Not only did we not sell it, but I was turning down work for those 10 months. This is quite possibly the most expensive podcast ever made.

“This is not unusual. There are other people I know, Bob Franklin for example, who have spent years writing sitcoms that never get up. I am by no means unique. I am in good company. What is different is that I am the first person to say let’s not throw it away, but actually give people a chance to hear the jokes and to hear possibly why it didn’t get bought!”

Martin also spent 10 months writing “Deadly Kerfuffle”.

“Writing a book, especially a novel, in Australia, unless you are Di Morrissey, Matthew Reilly or Tim Winton, there are probably fewer than 10 novelists in Australia that can make a living from it.”

Martin has also spent four months writing a film that he noted he has so far been unable to persuade anyone to make. “I had been thinking of turning that into a graphic novel, but I was told they don’t sell!”

He does have fun though. “We now live in a world where if no one wants to publish your work, you have options to release it yourself.”

Some have suggested to Martin, because of the interest in the podcast, TV producers may have second thoughts. Martin is not so sure. “All of the jokes will have been heard – there will not be any surprise value.

“It is a sitcom about people who have chosen not to have children and it is also about the downsizing of the workplace.

“My character is the content director for a radio station and in every episode the radio station has a different format. My wife in the show, played by Geraldine Quinn, is a book editor for a publishing company where they are trying to get rid of words from books. The books would become things like ‘My Kitchen Rules Instagrams’. It is a satire of what is going on in radio and publishing…or any industry where people are being told they have to do the work of three people, but for less money.

“It is also a comedy about the selfish people who have chosen not to have children and their trivial life.

“There could be a chance somebody overseas might want to buy the idea, but we are not banking on that.”

Helping Martin earn money is his weekly spot at Nova 100. “I also make a living from doing live stand-up comedy. My focus is writing a whole new hour of material.”

This article was originally published by Media Week on 6 December 2017.

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Podcasts are as versatile as ever

New Zealand-born comedian Tony Martin is much loved in Australia. From the D-Gen to Martin-Molloy and ‘Get This’ with Ed Kavalee, he’s been making us laugh for years.

His latest project, Childproof, was actually the number one comedy podcast before it was even released.

It began life as an idea for a TV show, but after the pitch was knocked back by the networks, Martin took it to the Melbourne Fringe Festival, where it was recorded live as a six-part podcast.

Co-written by girlfriend Sarina Rowell, Childproof is more ‘old-school’ radio serial than podcast and it’s beautifully executed, focussing on a couple, Ian and Jennifer, who’ve decided not to have kids.

But there’s so much more to it than humour born of being child free. For those working in radio, there are some subtle and not so subtle digs at the biz.

Martin’s character “Ian” is the Content Director of Rock FM, where “The Mad Breakfast” has been replaced by “Breakfast with the Mayhem Crew” and there’s Craigo’s “crazy crank calls’ to the suicide hotline.

“No one died. Only radio itself”.

On episode one, it’s ratings day and at Rock FM, they’re expecting some bad news.

“My hair is the perfect metaphor for commercial radio.  From the front, it’s business as usual.  From above, you can see the layoffs have already begun”.

Produced by Bad Producer and narrated by Jay Mueller, the first two episodes of Childproof are available free at the official website or on iTunes.

This article was originally published by RadioToday.com.au on 24 November 2017.

SMH_Tony Martin_Childproof

Podcasts, writing & the art of funny voices

Despite working extensively in radio and television for three decades, Tony Martin is generally recognised for his most minor roles. "It's weird 'cos most people probably know me from Kath & Kim or my nine-second, wordless appearance in The Castle."

In case you missed it, he plays Bud Tingwell's son and appears briefly at the end of the movie. When he went to the Melbourne Show recently, people recognised him as Sharon's boyfriend in Kath & Kim. "I was wearing a fake beard and I'm only in four episodes," he says, with a laugh. Apparently it's not uncommon for people to yell "pash rash" at him, inspired by one particular scene.

None of his own work has made its way back to his native New Zealand, the place that inspired his choice of lunch venue. Owned by Kiwis, Batch cafe in Balaclava is dotted with NZ paraphernalia, lollies you might find in a dairy (their equivalent of a milkbar) and a hot sauce named Kaitaia Fire, apparently something of an obsession across the ditch. I opt for the quesadilla and he the brisket roll; we both have a glass of Martinborough pinot gris.

Sitting down with him for nearly two hours is a treat; he's funny and quick, with what seems like an encyclopaedic knowledge of comedy and film. Throughout our chat, he regularly leans in and speaks directly to the dictaphone affecting different voices. At one point, he schools me in language differences between Australia and his home country: cue exaggerated Kiwi accent. "A bach [pronounced batch] in New Zealand is a beach house. Where are you going for the weekend? To the bach … in your jandals. Or if it's cold you might have your jersey on."

From the age of 12, Martin was obsessed with silly voices. Growing up, his stepdad was an amateur marlin fisher, so the family spent months at a time at sea. The only available entertainment was the radio, which featured classic comedy shows from the BBC, including The Goon Show and I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again with John Cleese and the cast of The Goodies. "I just listened to those and got addicted to radio, the theatre of the mind."

Between school and finding work at an advertising agency, he worked in an army disposals store.

The main game, however, was amateur theatre, which he did at night for four years. Back then, there was virtually no comedy scene in New Zealand. Martin says it's impossible to explain to anyone in Australia how big John Clarke was in the 1980s. "Every house had a copy of Fred Dagg's Greatest Hits – his first album. Everyone knew every sketch on it off by heart. Clarke couldn't go to the shops without being mobbed. He made a movie called Dagg Day Afternoon. He had to move to Australia because he couldn't get any work done."

He was honoured to host the tribute to the late Clarke at this year's Logies, who he starred with in the movie Crackerjack.

Martin got his start in advertising at the first FM radio station in New Zealand, a job he took in the hope that he would get to do comedy voices. After a few years, he was transferred to Brisbane, although it quickly became apparent that Melbourne is where the real action was, comedy-wise.

Watching the credits of the comedy show Australia You're Standing In It on the ABC, he spied the name Rod Quantock, and promptly rang him to ask about contacts.

He sent the then head of comedy at the ABC Kris Noble a tape of his sketches and although Noble called and told him "this is shithouse" he also offered him a job as a researcher. A complete lack of knowledge about Australian politics and history ("I didn't know what the Dismissal was") didn't dissuade Martin from taking a gig on the best political satire of the time The Gillies Republic and later Rubbery Figures.

There he learnt puppeteering, voices, sound effects editing and editing, which provided invaluable experience. His role involved cutting articles out of the newspaper and putting them into categories for writers. "It was like a homemade version of the internet. They'd say 'what's Bob Hawke been up to?' I'd go to 'H' in my newspaper file and give them all the newspaper articles I'd found."

The appetite for live comedy in Melbourne at that time was huge, with venues all over town hosting stand-up nights. "People forget the biggest thing in Melbourne comedy in the '80s was theatre sports, it was teams of comedians doing games, playing at the Arts Centre in Hamer Hall. People would go along and barrack like at the football."

After Rubbery Figures, he was asked to work as a writer with the D Generation, which evolved into two decades of work on both radio and TV, notably with Mick Molloy. In recent years, Martin directed Upper Middle Bogan and a few episodes of The Librarians with Wayne Hope; he worked on Very Small Business as a cameraman.

He has also turned his hand to writing fiction, recently releasing his first novel, Deadly Kerfuffle. His previous two books mined his personal life for material. Despite changing names, some of his family have taken umbridge at what he revealed – a few have not spoken to him since.

Not surprisingly, given his love of radio, Martin is also mad for a podcast. He is a regular on Ed Kavalee's Team Effort and the Dum Dum Club. "The thing about podcasting is you're just chatting to someone and you're just at someone's house and they might record for two hours, so by the half an hour mark, you've forgotten that they're even recording," he says. "If a journalist was to sit down and go through every episode, they'd find all these amazing stories. It's a really uncensored medium."

No doubt that's a big part of their appeal. "Young people now have a much higher bullshit detector, the old interview format of the '90s just wouldn't cut it, they want to hear that people are being quote authentic or quote honest, whatever that means now," he says. "So the most uncensored and seemingly unedited podcasts are the ones that people like."

He and his girlfriend Sarina Rowell are about to release a podcast called Childproof, which they co-wrote. Originally conceived as a TV sitcom, it's about a couple who don't have kids. Thus far it's been knocked back by the television networks, who have decreed it "too niche".

Rather than put the script in the bottom drawer, Martin staged it at the Fringe Festival. He and Geraldine Quinn performed it over three nights and recorded it with a view to creating a podcast.

The only thing he can liken it to is the series Homecoming, which in turn is rather like an old-school radio play. "If you were writing a sitcom for radio, you would have six characters. The first episode of Childproof has 29 characters, I'm playing a character based on me and [there's] another one based on John Waters. So it's not like a radio series, it's like an audio version of a TV series; it's inviting you to imagine what the TV show would have looked like."

So, what's next? Does he have a plan? "No! I just blunder along from project to project. What I tend to do, is the phrase modus operandi? Is that a word? My MO is I tend to work for a few years and save money and then do my own stuff."

Let's hope it looks a bit like the TV show he conceived for the ABC called A Quiet Word. Locals such as Shaun Micallef and Rob Sitch, as well as overseas names including Bill Bailey, Lily Tomlin, Carrie Fisher, Richard E Grant and Rob Brydon sat down with him and chewed the fat about their profession. "It was just shop talk, there wasn't any talk about you know who you're married to," he says.

Even though the show screened late on a Tuesday night, the Bill Bailey episode got half a million viewers. His approach was to speak to people he knew or whose work he admired. "So I didn't have to pretend I was a fan, didn't have to look up Wikipedia. I'm not a qualified interviewer … I can't do what Andrew Denton does, so the only way I could make it interesting was to be genuinely interested."

Childproof will be released through iTunes in November; Deadly Kerfuffle is out now through Affirm Press.

This article was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 November 2017.

Sydney Morning Herald_Childproof_Podcast_Media

The Bold and the Bizarre

Tony Martin describes his upcoming Fringe Festival show as experimental – "and possibly misguided" – but he's among a slew of high-profile names who are attracted to the annual arts festival for the very reason that it has a reputation for boundary-pushing ideas – from both emerging and established artists.

This year, alongside up-and-comers, long established acts including Arj Barker, Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges, the Umbilical Brothers, Geraldine Hickey and Lawrence Mooney – even Community's Joel McHale – are on the bill.

Martin says every odd-numbered year he tries out new ideas at the festival.

"I did The Yeti in 2013which was me acting out every single part from one of my short stories, and I got the best reviews I'd had in my whole career," he says.

This year, the comedian, writer and radio presenter will premiere his new podcast, along with a cast of comedians and actors ("I can't name them all but there's a Logie winner in there!"), recording it live in front of audiences.

But Childproof is not your average podcast; it's closer to a radio drama.

Co-written with his girlfriend Sarina Rowell, Childproof is a six-part sitcom for television, about not having children. The pair spent four years developing and writing it, then pitching it to TV networks and streaming services, only to be roundly rejected.

"It's a controversial subject," Martin says. "There's never been a show about people who are 'child-free by choice' – and yet by the year 2030 we're told there will be more people in Australia without children than with children."

The common response they received was that the show would appeal only to people who don't have children.

"Does MASH only appeal to people who were medics in the Korean war?" Martin says.

Rather than let his script sit in a drawer, he decided to have a cast of actors read it aloud and release all six episodes as a free podcast.

"It's actually never been done before because, well, what kind of mad person could afford to spend a year writing a television-quality sitcom and then just piss it away on iTunes for free?" Martin asks. "Tickets to the show are fairly reasonable, and then we'll release the episodes for free – I think it might be a world first."

And "there may well be a reason for that".

"But to me, the Fringe is where you try something mad that might fail – something that's a bit more of an experiment," he says.

"Although in America, everyone's talking about a dramatic podcast, Homecoming ..."

 The work is being made into an HBO drama starring Julia Roberts.

So there might yet be hope for a TV version of Childproof?

"Yes – I may well be played by Julia Roberts."

Comedian Lawrence Mooney says the ethos of Fringe offers freedom to create.

"If something is labelled 'comedy', there is an expectation that it's got to be funny … but Fringe suggests experimentation, evolution, discovery, an artistic will and I love that," he says.

This year he's expanding his recent impersonations of the prime minister in An Evening with Malcolm Turnbull.

Mooney says he discovered he could do a good Turnbull while sitting in front of Q&A. "I'm so much happier with Malcolm rather than Tony because he just makes more delicious, fruitier sounds."

The premise for his show is that Malcolm has been given his own tonight show.

"I'm a massive Max Gillies fan who was famous for doing Bob Hawke among others in the 1980s and '90s. It's been 30 years since somebody has done a dedicated live lampooning of a prime minister. It's time."

He says staying in character for the duration has given him pause for doubt but he's "happy it'll sustain".

"Audiences are strange, amorphous beasts and you can easily project on to them way too much, you've got to allow them to be what they are," he says. "I guess if they're coming to the Fringe Festival then they've started defining that in their collective consciousness so, yeah, they're different.

For the first time the Arts Centre is a venue for one of Fringe's most intriguing performances, as part of Take Over!, an initiative which invited artists to create a site-specific work. Billed as a "fantastically bold adventure", performance collective Discordia, comprised of eight artists from varying backgrounds including dance, filmmaking, photography, live art and music, will perform a show unlike any other. At least, I think it's a show.

Discordia's Holly Durant, best known for her work with Finucane and Smith, says it may not be a show – in itself.

"It's definitely an event – you enter, you leave, there are two sessions per evening, and it's an experience that involves an amount of performative elements," she says.

"I'd call it a multi-space experience with a number of different visual and performative elements, all those things are partly in your control and partly out of your control: you're both running from and giving in to the experience."

This high-profile collective – Durant, Gabi Barton (Town Bikes), Benjamin Hancock (Lucy Guerin Inc, Chunky Move), Simone Page Jones (Black Lung Theatre), James Andrews (Antony Hamilton Projects), Hannah Fox (Tate Modern, Dark Mofo) and Will and Garrett Huxley (Melbourne Fashion Festival) are "converts" to Discordianism – often described as a "religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion". The collective members combine absurdism with philosophy, and the show is described as the unveiling of their church of Holy Chaos. Whatever it actually is, we can be sure the Discordia experience is not one that could happen outside of Fringe Festival, at least not at the Arts Centre.

Musical comedian Sammy J – best known for his double act with furry purple sidekick Randy (operated by Heath McIvor) – is a Fringe regular and says while some people treat the festival as a "trial run", he considers it a place to stage more challenging material. In 2016, he premiered his most personal show, Hero Complex, at the Fringe, before taking it to the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2017.

""I don't think I would've felt comfortable premiering it at another festival – Fringe audiences come along to see something a bit risky," he says.

This year, he's not on stage but is directing the two-hander Birds on Sticks, starring Heath McIvor (as himself, not Randy) and actor and Play School presenter Alex Papps. Written by McIvor, it's a dark comedy about two disgruntled puppeteers, and will be a departure for all three performers.

"It's new for me – the last thing I officially directed was the 2005 Melbourne Uni Law Revue," Sammy says. "And this is a play, no puppets! There will be dark elements, but it's a comedy."

It's also unusual for Heath – not Sammy – to have his face on stage, "and I think it's been a while since people have seen Alex Papps on stage", Sammy says.

Premiering at Fringe, Sammy says, also means no ticket sale pressure.

"The whole point of this show is to be the purest expression it can be, without the need for worrying about making money," he says. Removing the need to make money is "incredibly liberating".

"You're not trying to please a crowd – you're trying to do exactly what you want to do."

This video was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald on 8 September 2017.