Connecting to the Comedian, it isn’t Funny ~ Episode 78 ~ My Conversation with Rod Quantock

Heart of Connection Podcast
Heart of Connection Podcast
Connecting to the Comedian, it isn't Funny ~ Episode 78 ~ My Conversation with Rod Quantock

Connecting to the Comedian, it isn’t Funny

Mark [0:00] I’d like to welcome Rod Quantock to the World Heart of Connection podcast today.  Rod is a pioneer in the Australian comedy for more than what over 45 years of stand up in cabaret, theatre, television and radio.  He is the only comedian to have performed in all Melbourne International Comedy Festivals. That’s a major Feat.   In 2015 was a Rod you awarded the Australian Order – the Order of Australia, well done.

Rod [0:35] I think it was somewhere around there.

Connection to my life as a Comedian

Mark [0:41] Rod, what took you into comedy?

Rod [0:48] How do you explain that?   I was just its University studying architecture. They had an annual thing called the architecture review.  I had to drink one day when I never drink really, but I got a bit drunk and ended up being in the review and I really enjoyed it.   I just decided I’ll just keep doing this.  So, like I gave up architecture and whilst there was nowhere to work when I first began performing, and I just started a career as a comedian without ever thinking that would be a career.  That, in short, is how we did it.

Mark [1:31] How long ago was that?

Rod [1:35] Back in 1968. 51 years ago.

Mark [1:41] And do still get and perform?

Rod [1:42] Getting old.

Mark [1:45] Do you get out and perform as much these days?

I went out of fashion ~ when ‘Button Up’ Underwear did!

Rod [1:50] Most people in Australia don’t even know I’m alive.  So, I don’t get the work that I used to get because I don’t have a radio or television presence.  Though I have a loyal group of ageing fans.  All my work now is around the environment and the challenges we face in trying to sustain the planet, let alone ourselves.  So, not many people are interested in hearing that.  You certainly can’t get on the radio and talk about that.  If you present yourself as a comedian, they want you to be funny and as soon as you’re not you are off the list.  So, I don’t understand why everybody isn’t concerned about it.  But everybody isn’t and partly that is self-interest, but it’s ignorance, forced ignorance of the media.

People connect to their Phone Headset Bubble

Rod [2:55] People live in a sort of near phone headset bubble listening to music as they go everywhere.  And nothing seems to get in except what they want to get in and that’s the worst of it now.  The internet’s made the world a place where you only hear the things you agree with.  Nobody goes and looks up contrary views because they’re a challenge to their ideas and the way they’ve constructed their own personal worlds.   You can see it everywhere.  A clear example is Donald Trump, who is existing so far out of any rational reality and yet he has the whole, you know, 30 or 40% of the country who lives in that same alternate reality with him.  It’s difficult.  I’ve always said, the only way people will respond to climate change is when it floods their backyard or burns their backyard or impacts and blows the whole house away.  It will only occur to people when it’s too late to stop it.  So, the bushfires were a horrible thing, not only for the 60 or 70 people who died but the countless billions of animals, insects, microbes, all those things that keep the soil alive, everything just absolutely vaporised.  It would have been the talking point for significant changes in Australia and then God’s a funny person who sent along the Coronavirus.  Nobody remembers the bushfires.  Scott Morrison, who was unelectable three months ago is now leading us through a pandemic and probably his stocks have risen substantially. So, when this virus is over, we’ll be back to square one.  I’m fighting for the environment. So, there you go, I’m a cheery guy, I’m a comedian.

My Connection to the Environment

Mark [5:13] What got you connected to the environment?

Rod [5:17] I’ve just always had been.  I’ve – look I’m not anti-social but I’ve always enjoyed being by myself in the natural world.

Look, I'm not anti-social but I've always enjoyed being by myself in the natural world. Click To Tweet

Rod [5:30] I’ve always enjoyed – if I went to the beach and swimming, I hate the beach. I hate everything about the beach except the ocean.  I was watching Jacques Cousteau back in the 60s as he put these cameras into the underwater world, and I thought I’d be a marine biologist when I was 10 or 11.  So, my father was good enough to take me up into the Mountain Ash forests of Victoria, quite regularly. I mean we didn’t camp or anything, but we certainly would go for day trips up through Warburton and around there.  I’ve never travelled I don’t know what the forests of Northern Europe or the Amazon are like, but the mountain Ash forests of Victoria and just so ordinary.  I’ve just always had a respect for it. I’m old enough to see the boundaries of my city when I was a preteen.  I’ve seen that boundary expand and expand and expand and expand and just eat and devour everything before it to build suburbia.  I miss it, I miss the fact that when I was young, within half an hour or so you could drive from – I was vaguely inner-city Melbourne, where I grew up.  You could get into nature within half an hour, 45 minutes and now that we can’t do that anymore.

Made a Connection to Nature in my Backyard

Mark [7:14] Do you miss your connection to nature?

Rod [7:18] Yes, but I have a jungle of a backyard.  I’d never do any gardening.  It’s a garden that encourages possums and native birds and butterflies as much as I can.   I’m very lucky where I live that there are some – there not untouched natural bushland parks, but they’re close to being a natural urban bushland park.  So, I have those I wander with my family and the dogs we’ve had over the years.  It’s there, I mean – I also too but not so much anymore – I used to do a lot of regional touring around Victoria. So that gave me an opportunity to go from the coasts to the mountains, to the deserts, to the plains and experience all that as well.  So, nature – when I say – I’m not a spiritual person.  The Indians have a wonderful image of the universe which is pearls and each pearl is connected to every other pearl by another pearl, in a web or a net of connections.

Connecting to tours of Melbourne Zoo

I used to do tours of Melbourne zoo.  They were tours of the planting and no animals were looked at, in making those tours let alone harm.  We just went and looked at the horticultural side of it with the head gardener.  Walking around with people that understand plants and the middle ground they play between the energy of the sun and the bounty of the soil is quite extraordinary.   So, he showed me a tree, it’s a Queensland tree that has a nut that is extraordinarily hard, it’s almost impossible to break.  Cassie’s swallow them.  The Cassie used these really hard nuts to grind the food in their stomachs.  It would stay in there for five or six years or more until it gets to a point where it’s too soft to be effective.  So, they excrete it and that’s what gives the plant, the nut the opportunity to break and germinate and nurture the next seedling of this tree.  And that’s a relationship that’s built up over 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years. Those relationships come together and adore nature’s entirely like that.   There’s a lot of research now on how trees communicate with one another.

Amazing Wisdom of Nature

There are trees in Africa that if one starts to get eaten by a giraffe, and they send out a pheromone into the wind to alert other trees for the downwind, they then change the chemistry of their leaves to make them bitter.  This stops the giraffes from eating them.  It’s just extraordinary, the wonder of it is just amazing.  It is a miracle beyond miracles – I don’t believe in God or believe in the end it is all about the energy I suppose, It is about how greats energy, who uses it, how they use it.  And we’ve created this extraordinary interconnected web of almost balance, and then it falls out of balance at different times because droughts are natural, and bushfires are natural.  Overall, for the last 200,000 years, more significantly since the last ice age, we’ve lived in ecology that is perfect for human beings to live in.  And we are the only creatures that have ever existed that can actually interrogate nature, understand nature, see the beauty of nature, enjoy nature, the most other things nature is – nature’s a thing that they’re part of, and we’ve stopped being part of nature and that’s really a problem now.

We are the only creatures that have ever existed that can actually interrogate nature, understand nature, see the beauty of nature, enjoy nature, Click To Tweet

Our disconnection from Nature

Mark [11:58] What’s created for us human beings to disconnect from nature do you believe?

Rod [12:04] Because we hate it.  People have always hated nature. They’ve been frightened of it.  It’s unruly, I mean I had a neighbour who used to vacuum her lawn.  When the autumn leaves came, she’s vacuumed the lawn.  I mean when it was mowed, she’d vacuum up the clippings with a household vacuum cleaner. People find it unruly.

Rod [12:30] It’s chaotic.  It can be deeply disturbing. It can be life-threatening. It can be cruel in the way that it gives and takes.  Agriculture, which has a sort of history of about 12,000 years or so, was the point where everything changed.  Up until then, we were part of nature – we were hunter-gatherers; we didn’t have deep impacts on the environment.  But once we learned that you could plant seeds and cultivate them and store them.

Localised Farming changed Nature

Rod [13:14] Then you started to get things larger than sort of localised family groups travelling around their environment, the hunter-gatherers.   So, you started to get these agglomerations of people who then build walls around them to protect them from other people who wanted to take what suddenly.  Once they all shared now, one owned to themselves, and that’s where it all broke.  And it’s been a history, combined history of our extraordinary intellectual and mental reasoning and curiosity and desire to know.  So, as we understand nature, there’s another part of us that then uses that understanding to exploit it.

My Deep Respect for Science

Rod [13:59] I read a book when I was in high school called “Brighter than 1000 Suns.”  Which is the first story or the first book about how the atomic bomb was developed?  I have a deep respect for science scientists, mathematics, physics, chemistry, all those things.  This is my spirituality if you like.  In “Brighter than 1000 Suns” – you get the story of how human curiosity opened a world that is around us. The Greeks had an instinct for atomic theory.  From the sort of the late 1900s into the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, scientists expose the inner workings of the atom.  For no other reason than I wanted to know how things worked.  And of course, once that was developed, and the realisation of the energy that was locked in the atomic structure, the race was on to turn it into a weapon.  And it’s terrible but now it’s got to the stage where everything we have – our mobile phones, our GPS everything is a product of the weapons industry.  It’s just diverse and unfortunately, the worst in us is now trying to put over the best in us.  I don’t believe there’s any way of turning things around.  We’re headed for ecological collapse everywhere.  It’s happening all the time now in different places.  I mean you can’t take any joy from it. Donald Trump has effectively destroyed the United States, it’s not going to recover from this pandemic from his foreign policies and his ravaging the poor and the disadvantaged in America.  He’s stuck money into the pockets of the most egregious horrible posture – good word.  The oligarchs of America are the oligarchs of China, the oligarchs of Russia, they’re all the same. I think now it’s eight people own 50% of the wealth of the world and the power that goes with that is just extraordinary. So, it’s a group of perhaps a group of 10,000 people who can ring one another and change the course of history, if they like.

There is no connection to Democracy anymore

Rod [15:02] There’s no democracy anymore.  They’re off the screening or so we’ve fractured everything that that is important and beneficial to a broader human nature.

Mark [16:59] It’s interesting in the podcast when I have the conversation about the ‘All That Is” a lot of people talk about their connection to nature and how important nature is to their mental health and their well-being.  It’s interesting, I’m wondering whether for some people there is a turnaround wanting to get back into nature because they know the mental health benefits that they experienced by being in it?

I don’t see people connecting with Nature

Rod [17:25] I don’t see that anywhere really.  I see people walking – well, you can’t see it now.  But I see people walking around shopping centres and malls and streets with bags full of stuff they bought. That’s the meaning of their lives.  It’s what they consume – what they own.  It must be the next best thing I mean it’s not a criticism.  It’s a combination of that movement away from the insecurity a life lived in nature – to one where nature’s been subjugated to give us some form of security.  You know the great famines of the past; they happen in Africa and that’s just a lack of will of those with food to move it there.   We’ve conquered diseases.  We’ve conquered food supplies.  Everything you get into your life now tells you this is how it should be.  There’s nothing you hear in your FM radio world or you read in your Murdoch newspaper or you watch on the commercial television that tells you that you’re missing out.  It impossible – people don’t understand and it’s too late to make them understand because the whole system is designed to have them subjugated and seduced by consumer capitalism. They will start to look for something else which will be on civil strife and conflict.

Comedian Connecting to the Audience

Mark [19:07] Coming back to you as a comedian, when you connect into your audience how do you create your humour that is going to connect with your audience? How do you judge that? How do you sense that?

Rod [19:25] Pass.

Mark [19:26] Pass on that one.

Rod [19:28] There’s no.  Hang on just let me, just go to – somebody’s ringing you might have to edit this bit. Anyway, let’s go I think it’s alright. Sorry.

Mark [19:42] So when you’re doing it – when you’re up on stage, you’ve been preparing your comedy, you’ve been preparing your show.  How do you gauge whether that’s connecting with your audience?  How do you notice that? What do you?

If they don’t laugh, I haven’t connected

Rod [19:59] Well It’s the simplest thing in the world really – people laugh. If they don’t laugh, it’s not funny to them then you haven’t connected – if they laugh you have.  What – once you make jokes about is what defines a comedian I suppose.  I mean there are lots of good people who good comedians but talk about – in the state of the world is in – talk about insubstantial things.  I watched something on television last night, which was all about – well basically it was all just – I mean it was horrible. It was all about cheap sex and comedy now has become or comedians have become personal, they’ve got nothing to talk about except themselves.

If they don't laugh, it's not funny to them then you haven't connected - if they laugh you have. Click To Tweet

Has comedy become commodified?

Mark [21:02] Have they become commodified?

Rod [21:05] Well it is a commodity now, yes.   I know from my own experience that I can’t get any mainstream work because what I talk about isn’t the commodity that they want to sell.  Comedians, either work by themselves or just something that’s in the ecology of its own – that they fit into.  You can’t make jokes about McDonald’s on commercial television.  You can’t criticise the mining industry through humour.  We just can’t do those things in a commercial environment.

Humour Good for our Souls

Mark [21:42] Is humour good for the soul?

Rod [21:46] Oh, yes – well, yeah, of course, it is. I shouldn’t say course it is, that’s rude.  Well, it’s one of those things that we have that doesn’t exist in any other species. I mean, it’s there for a reason and I guess the reason is – that it’s?  What is it?  I don’t know.  I used to think about those things like 30 or 40 years ago, I don’t think about them anymore. It’s a natural thing.  People laugh at the most horrible things and yet they also laugh at the most wonderfully uplifting things as well.  Now, it’s something that we have – I don’t think like everything else that’s human that’s neither – exclusively pure nor good.  It is what you make of it, and what do you use it for?  So, I just decided a long time ago that I would use it and I think at one stage, I thought I’d use it to change the world.  But I worked it out a long time ago that I wasn’t going to do that.  So, I use it now to I suppose I use it now to connect people through coming and sitting in seats to hear me.  I connect them to a common idea, I suppose.  The common idea is there’s so much wrong with the world.

People buy tickets because they agree with me

Rod [23:23] People don’t buy tickets to see somebody like me because they disagree with me. They buy them because they agree with me. So, it’s an analogy now that you probably lost for most people that ended up considering myself to be Vera Lin and my jobs to entertain the troops.

Mark [23:40] When and when people are listening to comedy, and their laughing – do you think their defence shields have dropped? They’re in a more of a relaxed zone and they can hear things differently – take stuff on board differently?

Connecting to the Audience is Bonding

Rod [23:53] Well, yes, absolutely.  To do it – it’s one thing to do it in your lounge room watching a comedian on TV. It’s another thing to do it in – I get audiences of perhaps 100 and 150.  There are comedians who get audiences of two and three and four and sometimes 10,000 people.  But to be in a room where everybody’s laughing at the same thing is very bonding.

Mark [24:18] That must be a wonderful connection when everybody in the room is laughing with you?  With you or at you? Which one?  Or both?

Rod [24:28] It’s laughing – who knows. Ask them, I don’t know.

Mark [24:35] That bonding, that must be a pinnacle of your career – the pinnacle of the moment as a comedian when you’ve got everybody laughing? The whole energy in the room is really connected to that space.

LOL – it’s what they’re laughing at

Rod [24:48] Well, it’s more to do with what they are laughing at. So, what I – this is weird. More about not what they are laughing at but what they are laughing about I suppose.   My stuff is about political corruptness, ineptitude, misjudgements, stupidity.  And that all underpin the way we approach the problems that we have in the world.  So, I’m – it’s – I mean I’ve got to the point now where I don’t – you know, I’m not rushing around now I can’t rush around.  I do not sort of trying to work out some way of getting on the internet to tell people that the world – there’s a lot more to worry about than this virus in the future.  I’ve sort of lost a bit of motivation in terms of what’s the point really.

Mark [25:54] Are you getting a bit disillusioned?

Being Disillusioned

Rod [25:57] I’ve been disillusioned for quite some time. (Laughter).

Rod [25:59] I actually put together a book called “Double disillusion”, when there was a talk about double dissolution, back in the early 2000s.  I put together a book of articles called double disillusion. I just see how powerful this system which is – there’s nothing deliberate about it.  It’s social Darwinism in a weird way.  It’s a system that’s allowed the worst people in the world to oversee the world. They’ve developed systems where they employ people in public relations and marketing.  What democracies do is basically give people supposedly, what they want, and my parents lived through the depression and the Second World War.   What people wanted then was a welfare state, some security, income, free education, free health care, people wanted all of those things at the end of the War because I thought they figured they had sort of earned it in the ultimate sacrifices they had made.

Mindless Television

Rod [27:24] That worked for a little while.  Back in the 50s, the average manager of building business earned seven times what these workers owned.  Now, which an inconceivable – just the disparity between the head of companies and the workers that make the company work is so obscene.  That’s happened in my lifetime. What those people have done was build a society where the shop is full, everything is shining and new.  The television is full of mindless, entertainment.  I mean, I love football and all those things and enjoy watching it.  But in the end, if people have got the shiny things.  People are spending their time watching things about people who never met getting married.

Mark [28:25] Yeah. reality T.V.

Our need now for Shiny Things

Rod [28:27] It just horrible and pointless.  It’s just the petty minds of small villages where gossip is the lingua franca. Look I mean people are happy up to the point where they don’t have the money to buy the shiny thing. Or things start to really go wrong when there aren’t any shining things to buy anymore.  in the Chinese things to buy anymore.

My Connection to Social Justice

Mark [28:58] And your connection to social justice, where does that come from?

Rod [29:02] I just grew up in the 50s and I grew up with people who lost husbands and sons and uncles.  If they hadn’t lost them, they knew people who lost parts of their body in those in the war.  They paid a very high price on the home front and the battlefronts.  When all that was over, it was there’s never going to be another war and we deserve for our sacrifice we deserve equality and egalitarianism.  That thing of mateship which I don’t it had any meaning but mythologically we give to it.  Now it is so devoid of context or meaning, but it’s thrown at all the time.  It’s all about mateship and getting together.  Well, what’s that happening Rupert Murdoch, Twiggy Forrest and Gina Rinehart and all these horrible people are just wallowing in their wealth and are staring at us.  The thing about the Coronavirus is when you see it in the US and Britain – the reason, certainly in America. The reason the Trump administration is doing anything if anything at all is it’s a threat to the economy.  They don’t give a f…. about the people who die or suffer.  It’s just not in Trump’s nature to have any empath for anybody else in the world. It’s protecting their economy.  That’s why they’re talking, and you can see it in the Murdoch press every day here – that we should all get back to work in two weeks. Because young people aren’t affected by it.  The symptom isn’t bad for them and they don’t die. So, they should be back everybody working.  And in America, they’re just saying well, if it means old people must die to keep the economy going.  Well, isn’t that a bullet you’d like to take for your children, so they have a healthy economy.  Most people are pathologically mad and don’t know whether America together wakes up to it.  We’re lucky because we have compulsory voting.  And if we had the systems they have in America where it is voluntary voting and that’s when the ‘nutters’ come out in force. And because we had compulsory voting, there is a balance.

Buy yourself a Bunker in New Zealand

Mark [31:38] If you had advice for a younger Rod coming through the world now, what would that advice be to him?

Rod [31:46] Find a place we can build a bunker.  Make sure there’s going to be water in the future. That’s easy to find out if you go the websites and future rain distribution.  You can’t pretend to depend on the society that we all depend on now, it’s going to collapse.  I mean you can see the fractures now.  Not so much here that we’re an island.  We produce a lot of our own food.   If goes on for too much longer, we’re going to start to run out of medicines, which will come from overseas, we make very little ourselves and we’ve been exposed for that.  Globalization’s meant specialisation.   What the first world did in effect was export its pollution to the third world, because that’s where the factories are.   So, everybody’s depended on China or India or somewhere in Southeast Asia for computer parts.  Almost all the medicines we have here in Australia are manufactured in India or thereabouts backups.

American’s Bidding for Ventilators

There comes a point where countries going to say – its America saying now, we’re not going to share.  We’re not going to give you anything.  What we’re going to do – is we’re going to be cowboys and we’re going to run around the world now and we’re going to buy everything we can get for ourselves.  So, in American now because the government, the federal government will not intervene in the procurement of vital equipment like the ventilators and the masks and things.   Each state and city have to compete, and hospitals have to compete on its own.  Prior to this epidemic – like a ventilator was $15,000, now they’re up to $50,000. It’s because one hospital is bidding against another hospital, bidding against the governor, bidding against the Mayor.  Bidding here and bidding there.  In America private individuals now we’re cornering the market and price gouging.

Mark [33:56] So, what would you like to see young comedians start doing to assist improving the world?

Climate Change Unstoppable

Rod [34:08] Well, when we get back to that thing – there’s nothing you can do.  Literally, there is nothing you can do. The trajectory of climate change is unstoppable.  I spoke to – there is an institution in the United Kingdom called the Hadley centre, which is part of the Bureau of Meteorology.   It’s one of the three leading climate change institutions in the world.  The ex-head of it is out here at Monash University for a few years.  So, I chatted to him and I said, “well, what can we do”?  He said, well back in around 1980, a molecule of co2 went into the atmosphere.   That molecule was the one that tipped us over the three degrees threshold and that was back in 1980.  Co2 is a very slow thing to have the full impact.  But we’re breach – we’re well past 1.5 degrees that everybody talks about.   There are days, in fact, weeks now where the global average temperature is two degrees above the average. So, all you can do, I mean it’s a horrible thing, a terrible world that we’re in.

Mark [35:29] Put your head between your legs?

Rod [35:32] Now I know I have a…

Mark [35:35] Bit more of a positive outlook than that?

I have pain for young kids in the world

Rod [35:38] Well, one part of me is very grateful that I’m in my early 70s.   I won’t get to see the worst it.  The other part of me feels very deeply not just for my family, but when I found out about this, which is only 15 years ago, I did three years almost full-time research on this to make sure I got it right.  When it finally dawned on me that it’s unstoppable – that it’s – the scale of it is just unimaginable.  I used to sit in the street having a cup of coffee and every time I saw a child or toddler or a 5-year-old, I’d cry. I just cried because I knew those children had absolutely no hope of a future that would be anything less than a competition for survival.

Rod [36:35] I mean it’s hard to imagine, and I’m sorry, I have such imagination, in a way.

Mark [36:40] No, I really appreciate your comments, I think it’s important for it to be heard.

Its such a Pandora’s Box

Rod [36:46] In a way, I’m sorry that I ever found it-it’s Pandora’s box.   All those stories are the same.  Adam and Eve.  It’s all about what we’ve learned. The power of our intellect to understand the world.  And then the capacity or the worst aspects of – greed, gluttony, all the seven deadly sins, arranging themselves to take advantage of this power that we’ve unleashed in nature.   It’s not just – it’s not the power just to destroy rainforests.  Which – where do you start anyway?  So, what advice do you give – there is no advice I could give.  I really, as I say, I’m glad I’m in the 70s.  I don’t even know what to tell my children, I mean my children know so I don’t have to tell them.

Millionaires and their Bunkers

Rod [37:45] Middle America and there was full of bunkers, these millionaire bankers, where they all think they can run away and hide until the rest of the world dies.  Then they can all come out and be kings of the new world.  They’re all over New Zealand now – all these tech company directors from California have all got bankers in New Zealand.  They all think they’ll survive on baked beans. Some of these places got swimming pools in them and hospitals and streets.  Some of them have vast and if you’ve got 10 or $20 million you can buy into one.  So, how would you like to spend the rest of your life with a lot of rich pricks?  We’re happy to affect the world and hope that everybody else dies by the time the doors open.

Mark [38:32] No. I wouldn’t want to do that.  I would hope that we can make a change and encourage the younger people to do change their philosophy and you know really dig deep to improve what we’re currently doing.

Young People trying to Make Change

Rod [38:48] Well you can see it in the school strikes.  The Australian Youth Climate Coalition which has been around for a long time has been working really, hard.  But one hope is that Rupert Murdoch gets Coronavirus and dies.  The other is Trump gets it, Boris Johnson gets it, Jair in Brazil gets it.  People are at the end of this virus; people are really going to question how our world is run.  In terms of climate change the fact that we’re running out of the soil, we’re running out of the water, running out of the sand. People are killing for sand now.  It’s a commodity that is essential to concrete and it’s a sort of sand you need.  I’m an architect, so I know about these things.  You can’t – you just can’t get it. So, in India now, there are criminal gangs digging up sand from rivers and shooting the residents who are trying to start marching. And that’s just crazy.


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