John Clarke was Australia’s best political satirist – a reputation well earned.
The death of renowned satirist John Clarke at the age of 68 has saddened his many fans in Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand-born Clarke first rose to prominence across the Tasman with the character Fred Dagg, a laconic farmer who turned into a superstar through a succession of TV appearances and radio interviews. Fred Dagg’s Greatest Hits (1976) remains one of New Zealand’s favourite records.
In 1979, he moved to Australia and worked on a series of projects including the Gillies Report. He had his big breakthrough in 1989 when he started doing a series of satirical interviews based on current events, with Bryan Dawe as the perfect straight man.
The format with Dawe as interviewer and Clarke as interviewee never changed, and despite Clarke making no attempt to mimic his subject in either appearance or voice, they constantly delivered hilarious takes on all manner of topics.
We have attempted the impossible and tried to narrow down some of the best interviews to just 10. Apologies if your favourite hasn’t made the list.
1. The front fell off (1991)
It is hard to go past Clarke portraying the late Senator Bob Collins attempting to discuss an oil spill that occurred in 1991, when the Greek tanker Kirki lost its bow off the coast of Western Australia. This interview actually made a comeback in 2007 when it went viral with many unsuspecting international viewers being told it was an actual interview with an Australian senator after a more recent oil spill.
2. All birds are cats (2012)
Some of the best parts of the Clarke and Dawe interviews are when the interviewee moves off topic. In this classic video, Clarke portrays Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon who had been agitating for a leadership spill against Prime Minister Julia Gillard during the week. Fitzgibbon flounders in fantastic fashion under the glare of Dawe’s spotlight.
3. The right to be wrong (2014)
Given the current government’s preoccupation with making changes to the Racial Discrimination Act this one is still relevant today. Here Clarke lampoons Senator George Brandis after he famously defended the right to be a bigot in Australia.
4. Who is Lara Bingle? (2010)
Clarke as a newspaper editor attempts to explain why Michael Clarke and Lara Bingle are such big news, but he runs into trouble trying to explain exactly why people should care.
5. Desalination silliness (2009)
It wasn’t too often that Clarke and Dawe strayed from the national scene, but there were occasions when they just couldn’t help themselves. Victoria’s desalination plant, which was built to drought-proof the state, came under their gaze and former Premier John Brumby gets skewered beautifully.
6. John Tries Very Hard Here (2016)
One of the best characters Clarke played over the journey was John Howard and while there were plenty of situations to choose from, his stint in forced retirement last year where he was confronted with his legacy is probably the best of the lot.
7. A Concern for the Whale (1991)
This one from the early days of the format has it all, references to former A Current Affair host Jana Wendt at the start, a BHP spokesperson mercilessly spruiking for making dirty great big holes in the ocean and a throwback to Clarke sporting some wild hair.
8. The US Oil Spill (2010)
We are not sure what it says that so many oil spills at sea feature in this list, but the lax regulation surrounding mineral exploration in the ocean is certainly rich fodder for the Clarke and Dawe treatment. Here Clarke plays a BP spokesman after the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, desperately trying to shift blame for the incident back onto the American president.
9. Immigration (2010)
Some of the characters Clarke created for his interviews were among his funniest pieces. Two of the best were Lars Torders and hero of this video Ignatius Norant (Ig Norant). Norant faces a quiz on Australia’s harsh immigration policies and finds out the facts about boat people are vastly different than the hysteria we are often presented with.
10. It’s All Going Terribly Well (2016)
While Clarke doesn’t mimic the politicians he plays, his attitude in the interviews still provides a nice summation of his character. When it comes to Malcolm Turnbull, Clarke always managed to effect a certain level of smugness into his answers, which can be seen on brilliant display in this clip filmed late last year.
What are your favourite John Clarke sketches and memories?