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Alternative title: The Satire of John M. Clarke (1948-2017)
Issue Details: First known date: 2019... vol. 10 no. 1 2019 of Comedy Studies est. 2010 Comedy Studies
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

A special issue of Comedy Studies devoted to the career of John Clarke.


  • Editor's note: 'This collection is the first scholarly fruit of that sense of loss. It originates in papers presented at the Department of English at the University of Sydney on May 25, 2018, under the auspices of the Australasian Humour Scholars Network' (p.2).

  • Contents indexed selectively. In addition to the special issue articles on John Clarke, the issue contains articles about and interviews with international comedians.


* Contents derived from the 2019 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
Introduction to Special Issue of Journal of Comedy Studies on John Clarke, Robert Phiddian , Jessica Milner Davis , single work essay (p. 2-7)
John Clarke : The Man, the Mask and the Problem of Acting, Anne Pender , single work criticism

'John Clarke delighted audiences with his satire for many years.He was both a writer and an actor, but in many ways, particularly in his early years, he was a reluctant actor. This article examines the development of Clarke’s unique approach to performing and his solution to the problem of establishing a direct connection with an audience. It explores Clarke’s development as a performer and writer from his beginnings in university revue in New Zealand in the 1960s, his association with Barry Humphries and others in London during the early 1970s, and his work in Australia from 1977 until his death in 2017. This article charts Clarke’s distinctive contribution to Australian comic drama as writer and performer in The Games (1998–2000) and in Clarke and Dawe (1989–2017). Drawing on numerous interviews the author conducted with Clarke between 2008 and 2017, it also investigates the unique ways in which Clarke prepared for comic performance, and his approach to collaboration with other writers and performers on scripts for television and in film.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 8-20)
Is This a Dagg Which I See Before Me? John Clarke and the Politics in His Political Humour, Mark Rolfe , single work criticism

'When John Clarke died in 2016, the Australian media rushed for the opinions of politicians on his passing. Among the many cliches about political satire, former prime ministers intoned that he spoke truth to powerand lampoonedthe absurdity of political life. Ironically, politicians were endorsing the most vehement anti-politics views of themselves and their vocation. Notwithstanding the name of his first comic creation, Clarke was no dagg, which is an Australian colloquial expression meaning a socially unacceptable or unsophisticated person. Actually, he had an astute understanding of politics that cannot be confined to the common and populist anti-politics strain of satire in which the ideal of democracy is simply let down by knavish politicians.While Clarke was keenly aware of the satirists watchdog role in democracy, his work shows that he was also alert to democracys complexities and to the common human frailties that can have all of us acting foolishly in certain circumstances.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 21-38)
‘Fred, it’s a mess’ : Fred Dagg and the Cultural Politics of the Laconic, Nicholas Holm , single work criticism

'Writing on ‘The New Zealand Sense of Humour’ in his posthumously published book, Tinkering, John Clarke describes the comic temperament of his country of birth as ‘laconic, under-stated and self-deprecating’ (2017, 31). In evoking the laconic as a marker of national comic character, Clarke is far from alone: the term is frequently used as an easy, ready-to-hand account of the comic characteristics of both Clarke’s native New Zealand and Australia, where he found his later comic success. Yet the ease with which the term is conjured belies the complexity of the comic forms to which it refers. Literally, ‘laconic’ refers to the use of few words, but it is not always clear how this definition informs laconic humour. This article explores how the laconic might be understood by examining John Clarke’s comedy with particular reference to his Fred Dagg persona. It argues that Dagg’s presentation of the laconic can be productively understood in opposition to Sianne Ngai’s account of the ‘zany’. This comparison brings to light the affective elements of the laconic, seen as character-based comedy premised on the absence of care or attention. Understood through this lens, Dagg’s laconic comedy appears as comic engagement with the emotional repression and affective apathy that has historically been associated with New Zealand provincial communities.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 39-55)
A Wry Kind of Grief : John Clarke's Satire and the Bureaucracy of Sport, Jessica Milner Davis , single work criticism

'In Australia, sport has traditionally been held too sacred for mockery. This began to change in the 1980s with radio shows that affectionately mocked the verbiage of sporting commentary. Among the pioneers were Melbourne-based radio commentators, the Coodabeen Champions, and the Sydney-based radio and TV comedy duo, Rampaging Roy Slaven (John Doyle) and H. G. Nelson (Greig Pickhaver). Trans-Tasman satirist John Clarke also built on his earlier work to dissect the imaginary ancient sport of farnarkeling in The Gillies Report (ABC TV, 1984–1985). The advent of mega sporting events including the Australian millennial Olympics favoured the emergence of a more satirical critique aimed at bureaucratic hype and posturing by sports czars. In the run-up to the Sydney Games, Clarke and Stevenson co-wrote a 2-part series The Games for ABC TV (1998, 2000), starring Clarke, Bryan Dawe and Gina Riley. This moved Clarke’s earlier sports humour away from affectionate mockery towards a satirical critique of sport as a bureaucratic construct corrupted by money-making and media coverage. This article argues that such satire contributed to exposing the shady politics and inept institutional management of sport, both in Australia and more broadly. It probes the connections between humorous creation, professional sport realities, audience awareness and social impact, arguing that, while the ability of satire to bring about reform is here (as elsewhere) strictly limited, the satire contributes to public awareness and acknowledgement of contemporary sporting scandals.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 56-70)
Plus ça change : Three Decades of Clarke and Dawe’s Political Satire 1987–2017, Lucien Leon , single work criticism

'Even the best broadcast satire tends to have a relatively short lifespan in Australia: After a couple of years or so, the creators run out of ideas, characters grow stale or the zeitgeist shifts and audiences and sponsors look elsewhere. Remarkably, John Clarke and Bryan Dawe’s eponymous weekly political satire segment of Australian news media endured for thirty years before ending abruptly, a consequence of Clarke’s sudden death in 2017. Originally framed in newsprint in 1987, Clarke’s deadpan mock interviews underwent their first evolutionary leap in media format the same year when he collaborated with Dawe to perform them as episodic radio scripts. Two years later, a transition to television established the show’s definitive audio-visual format–one which later facilitated Clarke & Dawe’s online success with the advent of Web 2.0 media. Despite these radical changes in media form, Clarke & Dawe’s satirical mechanics remained largely unchanged. In around two-and-a-half minutes, an interview would deliver a revelatory and forensic dismantling of a complex topical event or concept by gently but mischievously eviscerating its advocate. This article outlines the durable structural format of Clarke’s satiric creations and his deliberate cultivation of a recognisable and idiosyncratic approach to interview, including tone, rhythm and delivery of speech. It then examines the impact on these formal aspects of respective media potentialities (newsprint, radio, television and the Internet) in order to investigate the lengthy popular success of the series.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 71-87)
Generic Outlier : John Clarke and ‘the shabby suit crime comedy’, Marty Murphy , single work criticism

'From 1999 to 2005, Australian cinema produced several crime comedies beginning with Gregor Jordan’s Two Hands (1999) which served as a ‘prototype’ (Grindon 2012) for the variations that followed, including two farcical satires adapted for the screen by John Clarke. Clarke adapted for television two crime novels by Australian author Shane Maloney, Stiff (2004) and The Brush-Off (Neil, 2004). For Stiff, Clarke directed as well as wrote the screenplay. Production for both was by Huntaway films, a company owned by him, The Brush-Off director, Sam Neill, and co-producer, Jay Cassells. While these two films do not match the famed Clarke and Dawe sketches (Australian Broadcasting Company TV) for satirical bite and artistry, they are an interesting subset of this crime comedy ‘cluster’ (Grindon 2012) within what might be called ‘the shabby suit crime comedy’ genre. Clarke’s crumpled protagonist stands apart as an educated little man up against the forces of political corruption and vice. It is argued here that the films identified from this short time-span share thematic concerns and iconography as well as neglectful male tailoring: the group of Australian crime comedies possesses similar syntactic and semantic generic qualities (Altman, 1984). This article discusses the outlier status of Clarke’s pieces within that group as farcical satires in a political rather than criminal milieu, as well as their distinctive techniques and artistic success.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 88-101)
John Clarke, Tinker-Poet, Robert Phiddian , single work criticism

'Clarke’s poetic output was never the main game, but he was persistent in developing the (entirely self-authored) Complete Book of Australian Verse (39 poems; Clarke, 1989) through two intermediate versions culminating in the 2012 edition of Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse (68 poems). This article addresses the central characteristics of Clarke’s art through the voice, timing and rhythm of these parodic poems. They illustrate the sort of parody discussed in ‘Are parody and deconstruction secretly the same thing?’ (Phiddian, 1997 and subsequent work). Clarke’s own favoured word for his writing practice, tinkering, suits such carefully wrought pieces well, and fits with more expansive notions of parody as critical and creative refunctioning of models rather than as narrow lampoons. Through intimate imitation and distortion, they display a guarded, sometimes hostile, affection and a jagged nostalgia both for their poetic vehicles and for the Australian subject matter. Clarke always inhabits the words of others in his Australian work, speaking via parodic deflection. This contrasts with the Daggy directness of his New Zealand work. Was he only ever a visitor in Oz? Was the parodic reserve a necessary carapace against the sort of fame that he fled in the 1970s? This article reads the poems as a window onto the distinctive rhythms of Clarke’s writing and his complexly ironic relationships with both his homeland and his adopted nation. His resistance of 'the voice direct' made him a wry and knowledgeable visitor and offers an abiding challenge to Australianness.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 102-118)
First Steps : An Overview of John Clarke’s Television Work in New Zealand before 1980, Paul Horan , Mark Hutchings , single work criticism

'This article accompanies a ‘Dagg-liography’ that for the first time records the full scope of John Clarke’s comedy output for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) in the years 1973–1980, during which time Clarke moved to Australia. The authors outline the aims and purpose of their research and the challenges that had to be overcome in compiling an accurate list of what in some cases was very ephemeral work. Technical characteristics of the items are summarised here but commentary on the nature of Clarke’s individual performances is included in the Dagg-liography rather than in the body of this article.'

Source: Abstract.

(p. 119-126)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Last amended 12 Jun 2020 12:33:31
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