Bisley on Armstrong

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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