Thought for the day – for John Clarke’s birthday

“It’s a wee bit on the horrendous side, is this town-going.” – John Clarke/Fred Dagg

The late, and very much missed, John Clarke. For his birthday.

Contains Harris Street, just outside where the library is now, and bits of Victoria Street in that vicinity. Filmed in roughly 1976: it looked much the same when I moved to Wellers in 1982.

Thought of the day: from John Clarke/Fred Dagg



‘Of all the many turning points and crucial stages –  from primitive ape-like creature through to the sophisticated and marginally less primitive ape-like creature that you see about you at zoos and football matches – the most curious development of all is that of the human brain.

‘The human brain has got man into a lot more trouble than has previously been supposed and unless we come up with some way of putting the brain out of commission or obviating some of the more ludicrous effects of the brain, then I don’t think life’s going to get any better.’

John Clarke/Fred Dagg.

The late, great John Clarke/Fred Dagg on the meaning of life. An excerpt therefrom.


“Of course, in the 20th century, we have produced a fair array of theories about what life’s actually about and probably the existentialists take the buttered confection for getting closest to thinking they had it all worked out. They used to hang about in the Paris area, which is in what we used to call Gaul, and talk about how terrible life was and how they didn’t know if they’d really get to the weekend. They reckoned life was a pretty dreadful business and was filled with a thing called ennui.

“Now, ennui is a terrible thing, and seems to have roughly the same effect as terminal boredom. Ennui actually is a French word meaning Henry. And the story goes that once you get a touch of the Henry’s, it’s all downhill and the only way to relive the symptoms is to whip down the harbour and pull a wave over your bonce and call it a day.”

The full piece is here. 

Rest in Peace. Reports through from Sydney this morning he’s died, aged 68.

Clarke was the closest New Zealand has come to a genuine comic genius. An original, one who, mostly, based his humour on the way New Zealanders talk rather than by just adapting a sketch from Monty Python or Stan Freberg or the Frost Report to local conditions.
He first appeared to a wider audience on Country Calendar in the mid-1970s, just as the country’s economic reliance on pastoral products and the Brits was being pulverised.

He was a breath of fresh air, in so many ways: mostly because of how he talked.

It was very buttoned down Kiwi, but with an ornate side to it: “It’s a wee bit horrendous, this towngoing,” a diffident Dagg mutters in a voice over as he is seen parking his Landrover in Wellington’s Harris Street.

He laughed at the way we talked, but it was a laughter without jeers.

Clarke had the true comic’s gift of being able to show what was funny about New Zealanders but in a way which, somehow, celebrated rather than sneered at it.

There was always a sense of heart, a generosity of spirit, as he laughed – or rather, as he showed us what was funny.




Don’t You Worry About Daggy Boy

A Tractor Drive down memory lane tonight with a Fred Dagg special.

Unlike many of these things I think this will be actually worth watching.
Fred Dagg came at a time when our agonised public intellectuals, whose favourite pose was that they were the only cultured ones in a nation of barbarians, used to rend their garments in the Listener and bewail the lack of a sense of humour in New Zealand.

Fred Dagg/John Clarke proved this wrong, and – by and large – he is yet to be bettered.

One of the reasons he was so good was his humour was based on observations of New Zealanders as they are, and did something weird with them.

Of more recent local humour, BroTown has managed this, with an urban, Polynesian and very Auckland feel.

Billy T managed it occasionally. So – a bit more obscurely – did BFM about 15 years ago with their “Dad’s Tips” sketches.

Too much of our televised humour (McPhail and Gadsby, Pete & Pio being the most glaring examples) were based on taking some offshore comic ideas, usually from an amalgam of Python/Goon/Firesign/Freberg, and adapting them locally.

At times it worked, and at times they managed to go beyond this (I still treasure the memory of McPhail doing Muldoon singing Rod Stewart’s “Do you think I’m sexy?”).

Clarke/Dagg only did this sort of borrowing offshore ideas once – with the Gumboot Song, which was a takeoff of a Billy Connolly number. It was hardly his best work.

He did two much better songs: one, “We don’t know how lucky we are” is fairly well known and I’m not the only person who believes it should be our national anthem.

The other one, less well know, was on a single and called “It’s not a bad day for it.” It was a catchy, country-ish number, funny and exuberant. Great stuff.

A couple of memories: being interviewed about a brilliant idea he’d had about saving energy by running a generator off the back of the power take off on the back of the tractor.

The interviewer asking whether what was gained on electricity savings was lost on the petrol used by the tractor.

Dagg, pausing, removing the ciggie from his mouth and muttering,
“Oh yeah, you been to university, have you?”

Another one, parodying Muldoon’s speech at the National Party conference in the run up to the 10975 election, crying “Wallace Rowling has warts on his bottie! Are you going to vote for a man with warts on his bottie?”