Alongside Paul McDermott and Richard Fidler, Tim Ferguson achieved international comedy rock star status in the 1980s and 90s in the Doug Anthony All Stars. In his MICF show Carry a Big Stick, Ferguson outlines their rise to fame and how his sex and drugs party lifestyle was interrupted by a time of physical dysfunction, leading to his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and how this hampered his creative output.
The MICF guide promises a show as obnoxious as DAAS in their prime, and the first half of the show delivered some good laughs for a number of the audience, however I was disappointed that the show didn’t live up to its “fierce and funny” description.
The stardom of DAAS and attending excesses surely produced many “scary, sexy tales”, and I was perplexed that Ferguson’s generally breezy performance often glossed over these. Why can’t DAAS ever go back to Frankfurt? What was the fallout of their performance of “I fuck dogs” in an entertainment program for families at the Barcelona Olympics? This easy-listening show lacked an edge and Ferguson only showed rare glimmers of the mischief I hoped for, such as in a tale from the TV show “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush” when he gave a pony to someone he knew lived in a flat.
The show tells us that Ferguson’s creative desires have been frustrated by a sporadically misbehaving body, and that he’s had to secretly manage this condition for many years. A suggestion of discrimination in the entertainment biz whistles by without interrogation on the way to the next story. Probably the most insightful comment of the show comes from the doctor who diagnosed Ferguson’s MS, “The good news is it won’t kill you, the bad news is it won’t kill you”. This played on my mind in the seconds between the final applause and the lights coming up at the end of the show when I felt a deep sadness for Mr Ferguson. I felt that while he accepts that he has a condition for life, he doesn’t have a plan on how to live. And the more I thought about the show, the more strongly I felt this. The focus on what he was unable to do, to the exclusion of what he is still able to do, suggests the absence of a plan for the future. In this way the show sidesteps another of its promises, to be “inspiring”.
Lamenting what we can’t do achieves nothing, and plenty of people born with disabilities will never experience the opportunities that Ferguson has enjoyed. The real inspiration of the Ferguson story is not in this show, it is when he demonstrates that his life is not over by taking on new challenges, such as in directing Wrongtown – Population You! playing at the Tuxedo Cat. It’s worth a look for some impolite musical comedy.