Doug Anthony All-Star rolls with the punches
TIM Ferguson was the one with boyish good looks, his fresh-face nicely juxtaposed with a trademark frop of jet black hair as he went about his business creating anarchy with his All-Stars brethren Paul McDermott and Richard Fidler in the late '80s and early '90s.
For the years the trio known as DAAS (Doug Anthony All-Stars) ruled the comedy scene here and overseas, on the ABC, at Edinburgh, wherever they inflicted their politically-incorrect musical mayhem.
And despite the all-too familiar ravages of time, Ferguson is an anomaly, still sporting those youthful looks that garnered him a legion of adoring fans captivated by the heady mix of innocence and chaos he seemed to exude.
He is also still in the thick of living a life fuelled with comedy, performing it, teaching it, making movies and writing books about it. The only real noticeable change is his mode of transport, but it's one that often distracts from these fruitful achievements, momentarily stealing the proverbial thunder from under his feet, particularly if those fans haven't been keeping up.
"In the UK they cried at the end of our last show. I mean we were singing a nice song they were all sobbing afterwards. They didn't know I was going to be in wheelchair. So when i got wheeled out they got confused and wondered what was going on, whether this was some kind of horrible joke. Which of course it is but not the one they thought," Ferguson said.
The comedy All-Star was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the early '90s and after the initial shock of it all has soldiered on, firstly carrying a big stick, now on two-wheels.
Ferguson said having the disease while continuing to perform and tour was an annoyance "but mainly for the other All-Stars."
"For me it's all much the same. It's just travel, there's a little bit of wear and tear but MS doesn't really respond in that way. It's got its own mind. You can just have had the most relaxing day and you wake up the next and MS can have other plans.
Anyone with MS can tell you it's a tricky business. The unpredictability of MS is a real bugbear, otherwise I get by with a lot of help from my friends."
Ferguson said it was important for him to be seen touring around the world and doing things that most people do "if only because getting people with disabilities into the workplace, as polite as it is and as caring as it is, will be the next wave of prejudice".
"Women had to put up with this kind of thing 40 years ago with men. Look we'd love to have a woman in the workplace but won't she get tired and emotional, won't she miss her children, once a month won't her body completely betray her? These days women are in charge but can look at people with disabilities and say exactly the same thing. What if they hurt themselves? What if they get emotional? Don't they have days when they're not feeling good."
Ferguson said of course they, as the men were, were doing it with the best of intentions which was to make sure people with disabilities had a good day.
"But they still think they would rather have that day at home sitting in front of the television by themselves."
Ferguson said people with disabilities go to great lengths to impress, which often goes unnoticed by mainstream society.
"They almost never sue for worker's compensation. If they hurt themselves on the photocopier they aren't likely to blame work. And people with disabilities turn up early and leave late. We overcompensate for the fact, in the way women once had to. We don't just have to be as good as everyone else, we have to be better, just to prove we are normal.
"It's the soft prejudice of low expectations, that's what Graeme Innes (former Disability Discrimination Commissioner and lawyer who is also blind) called it. So I like touring the world and doing TV shows in Britain and making movies like Spin Out, writing books (Carry a Big Stick) and teaching people at NYU (New York University) how to be funny just to prove the point that people with disabilities can not only do what you do, but a lot of us can do stuff that you can't do."
Ferguson admits there is an element of forthrightness required in order to do this.
"To roll pass someone in set of wheels you've got to be a little bit cocky," he said. "My friend Quentin, remember him from the Mike Willesee Show, he's more active than I am. He's got a radio show, he's brought out a memoir, he's writing his next film, he's a producer. He's broken a million bones along the way but he's still going."
Ferguson said the NDIS will be a huge learning curve for this country but if more people are employed with disabilities at least people will get to see what they are paying for. "It's not as expensive as buying 10 submarines for the hell of it, but it's getting up there."
- Don't miss the DAAS live at Grafton's Saraton Theatre on July 16 (after the Maclean Cup).
IN NEXT WEEK'S OUT THERE: Tim Ferguson talks about the new show, why death is a great subject for comedy why they are yet to meet Doug Anthony.