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Of Killer Bees and Jamborees

‘What about some world game news?’ John Safran asks.

I’m stunned, because in 4 months of reading the news on Triple R, I can’t remember him requesting a sports story. Of course if a sport story coincidentally has an element that appeals to a Safran interest area (evil clowns, cannibalism, scientology, killer bees) my co-host might pipe up, but never a request for straight sport. I once asked him to tell me all he knew about AFL and he uttered just three words.

‘The Flying Doormat.’

Again at the next newsbreak, John wants more ‘world game’, then more at the one after that. Maybe this is it. Maybe John has finally found the sport he is interested in, or maybe …

‘John, are you watching the World Cup to check how often they’re running Music Jamboree promos?’

‘No. No. No.’ he blusters. ‘I’m just bored. I’ve worked 14 hours a day for so long and now nothing. I called the plumber twice yesterday.’

Our producer and co-host Fee Bamford-Bracher smiles over the studio panel. He’s definitely watching the soccer for the half time ads.
‘It’s like people who say they’re going to reclaim the beauty of the swastika from the Nazis,’ John explains when I ask him about John Safran’s Music Jamboree. ‘I’m trying to reclaim the word ‘jamboree’ from the scouting movement.’

It’s not the first time he has been involved in a tête à tête with Baden-Powell. On air, Safran sometimes tells of his days car sharing with his sister. ‘We were allowed one sticker each.. I tried to cool the Laser up a bit with a Triple R sticker, but then she negated that coolness with her ‘Every Inch a Rover’ sticker.’

When pressed, though, John admits that he too dabbled in scouting. ‘I was a cub. Not a very good cub, but a cub.’ I tried to imagine the young Safran doing the wolf ears and the Grand Howl and wondered whether Akela or Baloo or one of that crowd looked at him and thought – ‘That one is going to be an ‘enfant terrible’’.

The first time I saw Safran on television, he was locked in the Tokyo subway, sharing his thoughts on just how appropriate it was to thank people who had housed and fed him for 10 days with a kangaroo brooch. For the rest of 1997, he was the star of Race Around the World. He streaked through Jerusalem (twice, in the first take he didn’t think he sounded scared enough) placed a curse on his ex-girlfriend in the Ivory Coast (twice, he didn’t think the first witchcdoctor had really done it) and put up a sign in the Disney museum that read, ‘Walt Disney, a renowned anti-semite, attended meetings of the American Nazi Party’. The stunts were gutsy, pointed and well written and you had to laugh, unless he was making fun of you in which case you wanted to rip his whiney little head off.

Which is what Ray Martin tried to do, when Safran camped outside his house A Current Affair style and with official time-keeper Shane Paxton, ran a clock on what time Martin left home to go to work. The footage was for an ABC pilot, but was only ever aired on Media Watch, which pretended it had a story, but really just wanted to show an angry Ray wearing one of the really bad shirts of the late 90s.

Sometime in 2000, Debbie Lee from SBS Independent saw the pilots. She asked him to pitch a few ideas, and in 2001, pre production began on Music Jamboree.

‘The initial one liner for the show was, ‘What would it be like if Stuart Littlemore hosted Video Hits?’ John explained. I asked whether the emphasis then was on grammatical errors in rural newspapers, and John gave me the giggle he reserves for filling in awkward silences.

‘It’s a bit more theatrical than my earlier work. I’ve let myself go a bit. Set myself free.’
Last Wednesday, John invited me to a preview screening at Cinema Nova, along with 100 or so friends, fans and one Triple R listener who had won a double pass by promising to ask the softest, most sycophantic Dorothy Dixer in the ‘Q and A’.

The lights came up and we applauded the man who now is running third in great ‘Footloose’ dance routines, behind only Kevin Bacon and Kevin Bacon’s stunt double. In another sketch he’s Prince. In another, a Dr Seuss reading Eminem, dutifully doing his community service for firearms offences.

‘Eminem is misleading,’ Safran tells us later. ‘Because he’s got a squeaky nasally voice, and so do I, you might be thinking I’m pretty good at impersonations. But as soon as we get to Prince, you’ll think, ‘Hang on, isn’t that the nasally squeaky voice again.’’

Not that the series is all about John dressing up and being a hooligan. There are interviews (Ozzy Osbourne is a highlight), secrets from the industry’s ‘music mole’, and enough religious stories to offend most of the world’s population. ‘I only needed to drop two music stories and replace them with religious stories and it could have been called John Safran’s Theology Jamboree’.

The ‘Q & A’ came and went with most of the questions running along the line of ‘did you actually do that?’ and John responding by jiggling his leg nervously and saying ‘Yes, yes, yes.’. In particular, people wanted to know about the miracle of a group of nine unaccompanied male teenagers being granted entry to Melbourne’s most exclusive bar. ‘We did actually do it’. John said proudly. And then, ‘Creatively, it just doesn’t seem to work if things are set up.’

I made a mental note to tease John about his use of the word ‘creatively’. He’s beginning to talk like an installation artist who has just dropped a cow in formaldehyde, More importantly, if I’d said it, he’d tease me.
I’m trying to imagine what John will say to me the morning he reads this.

‘Hey WASPY Wilson,’ he might begin

‘Yes Judaic John’.

‘Couldn’t you have been more glowing?’

‘But there wasn’t a bad word in it. What about the last bit where I said it was the most innovative comedy show for years.’

And he’ll say, ‘But you’re my friend you have to say that,.’

And he’ll be right. I do have to say that. But on Monday, when the show finally airs, a whole lot of other people will be saying it, and John Safran will have a new generation of fans. And when they ring during the song breaks, I’m going to be taking their calls.