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Aussie rules!

Mark Little on Australia's comedy heritage

During the Eighties, Mark Little was best known for his role as lovable rogue Joe Mangel in Neighbours, though his real love was stand-up comedy.

In Laughing At Dingoes, a new, three-part Radio 4 series, Mark explores his homeland 's unique brand of humour and the evolution of Australia 's most famous comic exports.

Mark begins his story in the late 18th century with the "convict sense of
humour ",and says the history of Australian comedy reflects the country 's search for a national identity as well as its physical characteristics.

"Laughing At Dingoes goes back to the time of the invasion of Australia and the creation of the penal colony to look at where the Aussie sense of humour comes from," explains Mark from his Brighton home, his base for the last 10 years.

"Australia is a big,dry,hot country of extremes and the humour manifests itself much as the country does:a lot of the humour is very dry and it is a comedy of
extremes.

"The convicts' beginnings were fairly brutal, so it 's a sense of humour based very much on an anti-authority feeling and having to cope with extreme conditions. There 's a lot of irony and understatement."

The series explores how was later flavoured by vaudeville, pioneered by early stage and radio stars during the Forties, and brings the story to date by celebrating the country 's current crop of comic talent.

Mark talks to best-selling comic writer Kathy Lette, veteran Australian comic Rod Quantock, and a new generation of stand-ups, including Julia Morris and Adam Hills.

Hills says the country itself is the ultimate joke. "The wave you body-surf into shore after a day at the beach could contain a shark or a rip-tide and, when you get back, your house could have been burnt to the ground in a bush fire. That 's where the whole 'no worries ' thing comes from." he says.

But. like many Australians, Little is ambivalent about the country 's most famous comic exports.

"A lot of what 's been exported are cultural clichés," he says. "The series looks at the 'Oker ' stereotype of the Aussie male with his cork hat, Dame Edna Everage and Les Patterson ­ the characters the British public is most familiar with."

Let 's not forget, Little adds ruefully, that Australia 's last big comedy export was Puppetry of the Penis ­"A little dubious and maybe a sign of the times. We hope we can do better than that..."

Laughing At Dingoes also takes in Norman Gunston, who Little calls "an important force in Australian comedy ". Quantock describes how Gunston "interviewed unwitting celebrities in 'daggy ' clothes and shaving cuts, turning the 'dumb Aussie ' stereotype on its head in the Seventies. He was Ali G,30 years before his time and, in the Seventies, the first comedian to turn the 'dumb Aussie' stereotype on its head.

But as proud as he is of his country 's home-grown talent, Little admits that the comedians who inspire him come from a different continent. "They tend to be American in origin," he admits. "Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks ­ the social commentators of their time. They tend to be my biggest focus of ambition."

Laughing At Dingoes starts on Radio 4 at 11.30am on Tuesday May 13.

First published: April 2003

Posted: 22 Mar 2009

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