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Book Review (x2): Tinkering / A Pleasure to Be Here by John Clarke

Tinkering / A Pleasure to Be Here.
by John Clarke
John Clarke is one of the rare famous New Zealanders who Australia hasn't claimed as their own. Probably because he got too well known for being a New Zealander before he did what many New Zealanders do, move to Australia. Though I think he may have made a side trip to the UK for a few years before that.

As a comedic writer/performer clearly Australia was a bigger joke for John Clarke than New Zealand, or at least a bigger coal face to mine humor from when it comes to political nonsense and a general fascination with unnecessary levels of administration and form filling.

A Pleasure to Be Here (2017)


I can't remember when John Clarke first came upon my radar but through the nineteen eighties I was much more intrigued by Australian politics than I am today. It's likely John got my attention as that comedian who did a short interview style satire at the end of the week on the TV News show, A Current Affair, and then later, The Seven Thirty Report.

A Pleasure to Be Here is an extensive collection of those interviews that John did with his on screen collaborator and friend Bryan Dawe between 1989 and 2017.

As much as John's writing is clever and mostly genius, the interviews are presented with no context beyond brief chapter headings, to give you some indication of the time period they were written and who may have inspired them. However if you were following the news of the day, some of the bigger political stories are easy to recall, allowing you to see the humor in John's take on events.

That aside, there are some interviews which are almost timeless due to completely sidestepping the main issue thanks to John's fascination with administrative affairs. A particular favorite interview of mine is on page 50 with Senator Bob Collins, Minister for Shipping, titled: The Front Fell Off.



Part of John's genius was his ability to perform his own work completely straight faced, as if the interviewee is the only sane person in the room. The fact that he made no attempt to look or sound like the person he was playing highlighted the strength of his writing and humor.

Unfortunately a book of the interviews does lack the magic of John and Bryan's performance but you can relive many of the interviews on the Clarke and Dawe Youtube Channel.

That aside, it is a great reference book for John and Bryan's work, and is still worth a read, particularly if you at least remember key political events like Australia's ever changing Prime Ministers.

Tinkering: The Complete Book of John Clarke (2017)


It's something of a misrepresentation to call this book The Complete Book of John Clarke in the sense that clearly, it's not thick enough (282 pages), and there's not a single Clarke & Dawe interview reproduced within.

However, in terms of completeness what you get is a sampling of all kinds of writing that John did from Fred Dagg through to profiles of people he admired, diary like entries, poems, short essays, and more.

Like A Pleasure to Be Here, no real context is given for any of the writing reproduced other than it generally falls in the order it was written and it's a bit of a highlights anthology of John's entire career as mostly a writer (as opposed to writer/performer).

The humor is very much Clarke's style (as you would expect) with fewer pieces that require you to know the events of the day in order to find funny. You'll get more of a taste of John's fascination (and perhaps cynical contempt) for bureaucracy, meaningless administration, and form filling.

However what makes this book stand out for me are the sections where John is writing about actual people who inspired him, or retelling stories from his life and career. I imagine John had plenty more stories to tell or people he would have loved to have written about. Unfortunately his passing in April of 2017 has slowed him down somewhat. (Paraphrasing a joke John himself makes in the book).

I also imagine, that were he still around, reflecting on his own life would be less important to him than making fun of current events.

Tinkering is an enjoyable read, though a little challenging in places due to some fairly unorthodox writing structures like reading a form - no one likes reading forms, even humorously written ones. All the same it's an essential book for John Clarke fans.

Both books are available through John Clarke's website.

Comments

  1. A very thorough review David. If I knew more about the politics down there I just might buy this book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I don't know how famous John Clarke was in the rest of the world but in Australia and New Zealand he was Comedy royalty for the best part of 50 years I'd think. He was a huge star in New Zealand in the early 1970's before anyone in Australia had even heard of him.

      I think you'd probably appreciate a TV show he wrote and starred in called 'The Games' which was a send up of the administration tasked with organising the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Has a similar style to The Office but a much wider scope since they're working on an international sporting event.

      Delete

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