In 1998 I was asked to join the cast of a new sketch comedy show. This was a dream come true for me.
It was to be the last gasp of the Fast Forward-Full Frontal sketch comedy franchise, which had existed on Australian TV screens for a decade. Full Frontal (featuring John Walker, Ross Williams, Gabby Millgate and Darren Gilshenan) had been axed from the Seven Network the year before. They had also won a Logie. The producers, having no idea what to call the new show, decided to keep the old name and add 'totally' to the front, 'inspired' by Ten's nature show for kids, Totally Wild.
I stretched myself as a performer. It was really rewarding working in an ensemble of performers working towards the same end. Yet, we are all very different as performers and as people. It was an eclectic mix of personalities. I got to work with Sydneysiders for the first time, and this opened up my performing world beyond Melbourne for the first time.
I know it's cliche, but we were quite like a family, each of us contributing something different. Darren's theatre background and (brilliant) physical clowning abilities were his strength. Gabby (who had made somewhat of a name for herself as the "you're terrible" sister in Muriel's Wedding) and Julia were veterans of Sydney's burgeoning Theatresports scene - amazing improvisors. John Walker and Ross Williams were the jaded old hands of sketch, they could do it with their eyes closed (often Walker's were), and Vic Plume I knew from the rough-and-tumble of Melbourne stand-up.
The show featured a mix of parody sketches, which required the cast to impersonate famous people, and generic comic characters and situations. Early on the producer/director and writers said "Have you ever done a David Letterman impression?" I said, "No, but I'll give it a go." I managed to pull it off on Live Night (in front of a studio audience). This led to a Seinfeld, a Bert Newton, a Clive James and before I knew it I was "the impressions guy".
Noeline's TV debut.
I did manage to contribute a character of my own. Noeline featured in the first series of TFF. Michael Ward was assigned the task of writing the scripts and I applaud his work. Noeline spent most of her time at a poker machine, waxing prosaic about smoking, drinking, gambling, young people, old people, Pauline Hanson... whatever Michael and I could come up with. I realised how underdeveloped Noeline was. I say again, Michael did a great job. Later, we placed Noels in the Live Night audience, pretending she had come to see the show, and she chewed Michael's ear off about whatever she fancied. It was great fun. I was proud of my professional self. I felt I'd 'made it'... I was 'on the way'.
Would you like to see me performing some generic characters including Noeline on TFF? Download the footage by clicking here or on the image. It is a 2.4 MB QuickTime Movie.