Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Popular impersonator turns tables on himself
Interview with Comedian/Impersonator/Writer Paul McCarthy
By SHIRLEY BROUN
BACK in 2009 `Double Take’ television audiences saw internationally acclaimed comedian Paul McCarthy as David Koch, Kevin Rudd, Bert Newton, Jerry Springer and Rove McManus but this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival will bring out a new side to the seasoned professional.
“For the first time I will be ME,” said McCarthy with a hint of amazement. “People are so used to seeing me impersonating high profile personalities that me being me is going to be a whole new experience.”
The festival, which begins today (March 26), is among the most acclaimed in the world. Now into its 28th year it is up there with the likes of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Montreal Comedy Festival which are considered the top comedy events in the world.
McCarthy’s Identity Crisis
Multi award-winning comedy actor McCarthy described his show `Identity Crisis’ as a personal snapshot of his life and how his crazy family helped turn him into one of television’s most revered impersonators who is today often fondly referred to as the man of a thousand faces.
“I will be telling stories about my upbringing and life and how I came to be the performer I am today plus a few voices as well,” he said, but of course his many fans would know to expect a hilarious presentation with twists, turns and a few surprises along the way.
McCarthy says performing came as a result of not liking who he was when he was young. “Not liking myself encouraged me to perform. My way of overcoming my own self-consciousness was to pretend to be other people for the enjoyment of those around me.”
National stardom came early
Television executives saw his potential as a comedy actor, performer and inspired writer almost immediately resulting in McCarthy fast tracking his way to national stardom in the very early stages of his career in comedy.
“My path to recognition was really in reverse to other comedy performers because many start out in `stand-up comedy’ and then progress to TV. I was the opposite,” he said.
“I found my niche in sketch comedy on television when I and my audience were young. Now I am happier to be older having seen all the new developments along the way. Comedy has really matured.”
McCarthy says the diverse nature of what he does makes him a hard act to categorize. “Major successes like Adam Hills, Will Anderson or Rove are particular types of performers but I have various personas to fans and am hard to `box’,” he said.
Impersonations kick into high gear
“I got lucky when I was asked to be in the last gasp of Full Frontal back in the late 90s. They asked me to do impersonations which hadn’t occurred to me before but I found I had a talent for it and really enjoyed it.”
Asked what personalities were his favourite to impersonate McCarthy breaks into a spontaneous performance of former Prime Minister John Howard. “ Howard is not that relevant these days but he was the first of the political impersonations I did so I remember him fondly. Then came Rudd and Julia Gillard on Ben Elton’s Live on Planet Earth.
“When Wednesday Night Fever on the ABC came along I expanded my repertoire to include Tony Abbott, Julian Assange and more.”
Tribute to Max Gillies
McCarthy, 47, said his performances were a tribute to Max Gillies who impersonated political characters throughout the 80s. “He was a real favourite of mine … a real inspiration.”
Versatility is a key to McCarthy’s huge following today. He has even appeared in a couple of feature films including Mick Molloy’s Crackerjack where he played John Clarke’s henchman.
McCarthy, who claims to have lost his hair to comedy because it was so stressful, says he wouldn’t do anything else. “I thought about it once but realised I didn’t have any other skills so I quickly decided comedy was my life!”
Comedy festival kicks off
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival kicks off today (March 26, 2014) and McCarthy’s first performance is tomorrow. Participating artists will be performing every day except Monday until the festival ends on April 20.
For anyone thinking about a career in comedy, McCarthy offered the following advice: “Work out why you are doing it and make sure it is not just to have people look at you. Comedy is an art form so you need to be saying something.”
Next on the agenda for Australia’s popular impersonator/actor/comedian is another series of Wednesday Night Fever on the ABC so stay tuned!