The Chaser on the importance of Doug Mulray to their formative years and why sketch comedy is still important on radio
“What most people don’t realise is that after 20 years of working together, The Chaser guys all hate each other,” Triple M content director Jamie Angel tells Radio Today.
“I spend half my time breaking up physical brawls. I’ve had to implement a strict ‘No Shivving’ policy in the Triple M toilets, just to keep them alive. After each show, we send down an intern to start their cars, just in case one of them has planted a bomb. But it’s worth it – other than those natural tensions, they’re real pros.”
The Chaser returned to FM radio this year after the best part of a decade off the air (and via a brief 12-week cameo in 2017). The boys are well and truly back, and finding their stride in the medium.
After sitting in on Radio Chaser recently to see what goes on behind the scenes, Radio Today spoke with Charles Firth and Dom Knight to find out what drew them back to radio after all these years.
What do you enjoy about making content specific for radio?
Charles: The fact that you can do theatre of the mind sketches, with multiple scenes, whatever the location. You can write it in the morning, record it, and broadcast in the afternoon, it’s just sensational. It just means that it’s a medium of ideas, and we burn through the ideas pretty quickly which is quite exhilarating. I think that’s the best thing about radio, the sheer level of creativity it allows. We grew up with radio in the 1990s when there was a lot more sketch-based radio.
Dom: And the ’80s with (Doug) Mulray.
C: We’re harking back to that tradition a bit, in processing lots of sketch writing and stuff like that, which is something that we love.
D: We did skits on tv too, so its natural to us.
What radio shows were you listening to back then?
D: We actually weren’t listening to the D Generation on radio at all, because they were in Melbourne. I only heard them years later and I’ve been listening to the Game Changers podcasts. Broadcasting an entire show where everyone is in a character the whole time is one of the most radical ideas i’ve ever heard. Certainly the Late Show, the TV show after they finished up on radio, was very big for all of us as teenage boys.
C: And I listened to Doug Mulray. The other person I used to listen to was Mike Carlton. I used to love news review and everything like that. Years later we ended up writing for his Friday news review.
D: Also Club Veg. Chas and I would listen to it and then call each on our landline phones to discuss what we’d heard, and the sketches. So it goes way back.
Why do you think FM radio shows have moved away from pre-planned skits?
D: For one thing it’s quite a lot of work. If you’re one of these multi-media phenomenons who does a daily TV show and a daily radio show like Hughesy, you’ve got spend extra hours in scripting and voicing. I don’t want to say that comedians on radio today are lazy, but shows like Martin Molloy were sometimes putting in 14 hours a day, so it is quite labour intensive. To us it’s just what we’ve always done when we’ve done radio on and off over the past 17 years.
C: I don’t really know why people don’t do it. I imagine that it’s also just the fashion at the moment. We’re going through a period where it’s out of fashion, and I’m sure it will come back. We’ve been looking at podcasts and things like that, I think that’s where the more sculpted audio is going. There’s some amazingly good long-form sketch comedy in that, so maybe it’s moved into podcast land.
D: The standard formats on radio shows now are to get comedians or TV personalities and get them to chat about funny things in the paper and what’s happening in their lives, and that works really well. I can see why that’s been successful. But it’s good to know that’s not the only way to do it.
How do you make having four guys together on the show work for radio?
C: I think it’s just our history, when we set up The Chaser. If we had our time again we would have had more of an eye for diversity when forming the team. But at the time we’d just left uni and it literally was just the four founding members of The Chaser, best mates, doing it for free – and it just came from doing that. Just the legacy of something that happened 20 years ago.
D: This is a show that we’re still quite new to, we’re still finding our feet to a degree. We don’t want a show that’s just us blokes talking all the time, I don’t think that’s what any station would want for five years, if we do keep doing radio. I think later in the year we’re going to try working with other voices just to try and see where the chemistry is. Because we’ve all known each other for 20 years its a tough dynamic for someone new to jump into.
How much control does producer Leigh Kuhlmann really have over the show?
C: We just humour him. He likes to think he’s in charge, and we give him that impression. But his main job is to fetch the coffee.
D: There’s a lot to learn in terms of the craft, how to best use your work, particularly when you’ve got short breaks in between songs. I’ve just come from doing talk radio at the ABC where you could talk for 20 minutes without a break and that was seen as a good thing. Learning how to be as efficient as possible is a big part of his role, and how to clear cut to the meat of the idea. That’s not something that’s intuitive to anyone. You’ve really got to train yourself to master the dark arts of FM talk breaks.
What’s it like having Craig, Chas and Chris sporadically rotating through the studio show-by-show?
D: We hate those guys.
C: I really enjoy it. Craig is so funny and every show we do with Craig I get so many belly laughs out of it. They totally have different energies.
D: Charles only likes Craig.
C: Chas is often quite fascinating to have on the show, he comes in with all these facts and lobbys…
D: And Chris comes in with these incredibly elaborate sketches.
C: He’s an amazingly good writer… so you have all these strengths, and it means that there’s real variety across the week.
D: There’ll all people that we’ve known for 20 years, so it’s not as though we don’t know what it’s like to be in a room joking around with Craig – because he knows all the stories going back, and he can tease us about them, and he will!
C: It’s really nice seeing them. Until this show I hadn’t worked with most of them for several years.
D: I hadn’t for five years.
C: So it’s been really nice just catching up again regularly. It’s the sort of thing we used to do in the pub more.
D: When you work with people for years and years, who were your friends – it’s important that you still do what friends do and catch up outside of work hours. It’s been a real reunion for us, and we’re really at the start of the process. If we keep going, who knows who will be around, who else might be involved. Certainly on the Giant Dwarf side of things, with shows like The Checkout – they have brought through a more diverse group of people, and they’ve now spent 6 years doing The Checkout. I think it would be nice to have that process a bit in radio and long term radio shows do bring people through and that’s always part of the joy of it.
You find yourselves in a situation, pretty common with FM shows today, where Andrew Hansen isn’t actually in the Sydney studio with you. What’s that been like, has it been hard to adapt?
D: Can we just first say our deep respects for our 2DayFM Breakfast colleagues, we would never want to imply that we know Sydney better than they do.
C: Andrew’s such a pro that it has been remarkably easy. However we are astounded that two months into the show, that every single day Skype has a different issue with us. It’s never just smoothly worked. It’s actually got to the point where we just use the landline to contact him most of the time, because Skype is so fucking shit.
D: Andrew is a case study in a social trend. He’s decided to move to Melbourne for all kinds of reasons, with perhaps housing affordability being one of them. There’s lots of people in his situation, with a little kid, wanting a backyard and so-on, plus I think he just likes Kombucha and trendy coffee.
C: The other interesting thing is that he’s actually closer to the Sydney CBD that a lot of the people who live in Sydney. Getting from his house to the CBD actually takes less time, only three or four hours on a plane.
D: The nature of radio today is that most shows have someone who’s not physically in the room a lot of the time, and the technology exists to deal with it. Not in the meeting room but in the studio it works very well.
C: If you were someone who came from Pennant Hills, wouldn’t you want to flee Sydney too?
D: He still knows all the reference points, he only stopped living here in February – I think it would be a bit different if it was something who didn’t understand the environment – like ‘The Triple M5 is short-hand for a carpark in Sydney.’
Radio Chaser can be heard from 3-4pm weekdays on Triple M Sydney, as well as on Saturday mornings from 8am-10am nationally across the Triple M network.