Bisley on Armstrong

January 15th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Alexander Bisley interviews playwright on plays and humour:

DAVE ARMSTRONG tells me he doesn’t trust those without a sense of humour.  “Never. The trouble with most people who don’t have a sense of humour is they think they have a far better sense of humour than anyone else. People like that either end up as dictators of small African nations or as executives in charge of comedy in television networks.

Heh. I suspect he has someone in mind with this statement.

The friendly basil grower’s TV credits include Skitz, The Semisis, and Bro’town. One of his witty sketches for McPhail and Gadsby noted a shark’s airlift to Southland Hospital after a run in with Jenny Shipley. Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby had many broadcasting complaints (none upheld). A Melbourne critic didn’t realise it was an attack on free market economics and called Armstrong and the Jewish co-writer Danny Mulheron Nazis. “Satire can be easily misunderstood. And the more sophisticated it is the more easily it can be misunderstood. If someone misunderstands my point I often see that as a badge of honour. Even though Gormsby was a satire on free market changes in education, I’ve lost count of the right-wing ACT supporters who absolutely loved it and saw it as an attack on left-wing values.

I think the best humour can appeal to you , even if you disagree with the message. I loved West Wing (more drama but lots of humour) even though it had a liberal bent. I adore South Park because it lampoons conservatives and liberals in equal doses. After they had lampooned several religions, they even had a go at Richard Dawkins and atheists.

The left wing columnist for The Dominion Post elaborates on his disappointment with elements of the left’s censorious and humourless disposition. “The left don’t have a monopoly on humourlessness. If you don’t believe me, read a Treasury report. But there are elements on the left that get offended on other people’s behalf. Good humour keeps people guessing and is unpredictable, so to be too doctrinaire can make things less funny. For example, I used the N-word in a play recently, and even though the audience roared with laughter, almost every liberal critic told me off. They saw red at the mention of the word, yet didn’t realise that I wasn’t insulting Afro-Americans, I was laughing at the way white politicians try to get down with black people and usually do a dreadful job. Check out David Cunliffe speaking at the Avondale Markets on YouTube in a cuzzie-bro accent to see what I mean.”

It is those who get offended on behalf of others who drive me most crazy.

The drole writer of Le Sud wants audience to be entertained and provoked by his new play,Kings of the Gym. “I believe all four characters in this play are likeable, there’s not really a bad guy. Though it’s about PE on the surface, Kings of the Gym is really about tolerance and ideology. Each character is trying to capture the soul of the other characters. They want someone else to think and act like them, and, at the beginning of the play, can’t countenance a different or opposing political, religious or educational point of view. Like most of my plays,Kings of the Gym is hopefully an entertaining and thought-provoking plea for tolerance on all sides, even though it’s initially very intolerant characters who are making it.”

I’m attending the premiere on Saturday. It will be the only day in January in which I’ll actually be in Wellington!

Other formative influences include political satirists Jonathan Swift and Jaroslav Hasek. “I had a very good English teacher at school who introduced me to Swift’s Rules for Servants, which is like a political satirist’s handbook. And I loved Gulliver’s Travels. It’s a great narrative yet fantastic satire at the same time. And I have a soft spot for scatological humour. Hasek, especially in the Good Soldier Schweik and Red Commissar, really understands how authority in institutions like the Army operates. As a leftie, I find Hasek’s ‘party of moderate progress within the law’ very funny as it reminds me of the Labour Party.”

There is a bit of info on the afore-mentioned party here.

Armstrong is confident about theatre’s future. “Definitely. People have been predicting theatre’s demise for years—talkies, television, Cinemascope and 3D were all going to destroy theatre. But theatre’s still here and I reckon always will be, along with the book and the newspaper. Theatre allows writers to experiment and do things relatively cheaply, which can make it quite a radical and subversive medium. The minute lots of money is involved, people are less likely to take risks. I’ve had far less censorship or people wanted me to change things in theatre compared to other mediums like television. And theatre can be a good living for a writer. Many New Zealand plays make more money at the box office than New Zealand movies.”

That’s an interesting assertion. But quite believable.

If a play has full houses for a month, and it is in Circa One, then that is 30 x 242 x $45, or around $330,000. And that is just for one city. Of course not all plays have full houses and same tickets are discounted. I’m not sure what the average occupancy is for theatres, but plan to find out. I’m actually very interested in the economics and logistics of theatre as well as the actual productions themselves.

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8 Responses to “Bisley on Armstrong”

  1. iMP (2,420 comments) says:

    Is it interview week?

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  2. Pete George (23,680 comments) says:

    Each character is trying to capture the soul of the other characters. They want someone else to think and act like them, and, at the beginning of the play, can’t countenance a different or opposing political, religious or educational point of view.

    Did he do his research on political blogs?

    Like most of my plays, Kings of the Gym is hopefully an entertaining and thought-provoking plea for tolerance on all sides, even though it’s initially very intolerant characters who are making it.

    Characters who don’t tolerate tolerance sounds very bloggish.

    At the end of the blog post there are many who still can’t countenance a different or opposing political, religious or educational point of view.

    I guess bloggers would be difficult to depict in a play, the stage would show a darkly curtained room with glowing screen and red eyes all that reflects the steam rising.

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  3. Tauhei Notts (1,746 comments) says:

    Great satire can also be educational.
    Spin Doctors taught me more about the Public Relations industry than I would ever learn elsewhere.
    It had everything; laughs, informative, thought provoking and a genuine Tom Scott style piss take. The acting and casting were brilliant. The slime ball boss, the interloper Aussie bastard, the aged slut, the token Maori; they covered all bases.

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  4. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Even though Gormsby was a satire on free market changes in education, I’ve lost count of the right-wing ACT supporters who absolutely loved it and saw it as an attack on left-wing values.

    If he was trying to avoid all attacks on left-wing values in Gormsby then he failed monumentally. The Mudgway (sp?) character was sending up political correctness a lot more than free-market education.

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  5. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    Hasek’s party’s full title was the “Party of Moderate and Peaceful Progress Within the Limits of the Law”. His history of the party was turned into a caberet act, but I recall reading someplace that he mainly invented it to get people into his mate’s pub. Hasek never seemed quite as black humoured as Swift, who went to such lengths as posting an obituary of one of his enemies, then arguing with him that the evidence provided by the man’s own writings showed that he was in fact dead, and claiming his readers supposed exclaimation “Surely no man living could write such rubbish!”as further evidence of his deceased status. On the hand, Hasek was a champion of self-satire, pseudonymously writing such vicious attacks on himself that the unaware publishers of the paper he was writing for feared a lawsuit.

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  6. Akaroa (580 comments) says:

    “Bisley on Armstrong”

    Wow, I thought, here’s where we get the hot lowdown on Lance Armstrong’s revelations to Oprah Winfrey about his history of doping during successive Tours de France. Great!!

    And then i find its just about someone interviewing a guy who writes plays!!

    What’s the expression? Oh, I know! Its – wait for it – DOH!!!

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  7. duggledog (1,582 comments) says:

    or as executives in charge of comedy in television networks.

    He means Tony Holden. Ouch

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  8. MikeS (22 comments) says:

    ” I loved West Wing (more drama but lots of humour) even though it had a liberal bent.”

    You mean you’re not a liberal? That would make you an anti-liberal.

    The word liberal stems from the latin liber which meant both book and freedom. It is also the root of the word library and the word liberty. Hence reading or gaining knowledge can set you on the path to freedom. A ‘liberal’ person would no doubt display the traits associated with the word ‘liberal’ which literally means worthy of a free man, free from restraint, free in speech and action, free from predjudice and bigotry, open minded and open to new ideas or proposals of reform.

    A person who is against liberals or anti-liberal (such as yourself?) displays traits which are antonyms or opposites of liberal. These include uneducated, unintellectual, closed of heart, selfish, bigoted, racist, homophobic, close minded and against freedom of speech and religious expression. As we live in a free country, it would actually be anti New Zealand to be against a liberal.

    There is even a word used to describe the actions of a person who is anti liberal. It is liberticide, or the destruction of civil liberties.

    It would seem that you are deliberately conditioning people to misunderstand the concept of the word ‘liberal’. At the same time, we are slowly losing our liberties, libraries and our sense of freedom.

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