When Tim Ferguson quit comedy troupe The Doug Anthony All-Stars in 1994 after a decade of success he didn’t tell Paul McDermott nor Richard Fidler he was battling Multiple Sclerosis.
It would be another 12 years before he told either, and 16 years before going public.
“We’d gone through long and arduous tours around the world which had gnawed away at everybody’s will-power. So they were surprised, and I’m sure anger was also tied up in there. But they were also sad it had come to an end. We’d had a decade full bore of this,” he recalls.
“Because it’s invisible and I didn’t want to freak anybody out, I kept it to myself. So it was a long time before I told either of them. It was when I was using a walking stick that I started telling the people close to me.”
From the ages of 19 to 32, Ferguson experienced random symptoms and erratic bodily dysfunction but tried to ignore the signs.
“When the All-Stars broke up, I didn’t know what it was. It was just becoming clear that my wheels were falling off,” he continues.
“When you wake up and the left side of your body is a rigid plank, it started to make me worry. And of course being male, as soon as it went away I’d ignore the doctors and specialists, saying ‘It’s gone!’”
ABC’s 2 part documentary Tick F**ing Tock revels in early DAAS in both Australia and the UK. Part 1 documents success at Edinburgh & Melbourne Comedy Festivals, and TV glory on The Big Gig and DAAS Kapital,
Part 2 sees Ferguson, McDermott and Paul Livingston aka Flacco reunite and tour once more. It has been produced by veteran producer Ted Robinson who was pivotal to the boys’ success. There are retro clips of the troupe in early TV performances, shocking audiences with impromptu antics.
“YouTube has a lot of stuff, but comedy moves all the time. It always changes and metamorphoses into new things. So we thought it would be good to remind people what we did on Live television -when they used to have Live television without a newsreader at the centre of it. The danger, the excitement, the fire and fury,” he reflects.
“There’s no point in trying to be funny unless you’re trying to fix the problem. Comedy points out hypocrisy, imbalance and unfairness better than a long, boring speech.
“Comedians who just want to make people happier don’t last long. Laughter has a good physical effect, because it causes endorphins in your system, but you have to unsettle people. That’s what people subconsciously want when they go to see a comedian.”
Despite his public profile and being a patron of MS Australia, Ferguson concedes he never wanted to becom the ‘poster child’ of the neurological disease.
“I never wanted to be the guy they wheeled out all the time, just because I have MS. If I look at the amount of time I spend on health things, I spend a lot more time on other conditions like Motor Neurone or getting young people with disabilities out of aged care,” he explains.
“At the moment we’re having a Royal Commission into Aged Care, and nobody has mentioned the thousands of young people living in aged care homes? There are teenagers in rooms with 90 year olds, just staring at a stick…”
Yes, that spark of youthful anger remains within, and continues to drive Ferguson’s creativity.
While Ferguson has been tested physically, emotionally and mentally, his expression knows no such limitations.
Amongst his post-DAAS achievements, TV hosting (notably Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush), scripting Shock Jock, writing and directing feature film Spin Out (“It’s big in Japan too but nobody quite knows why”).
He has taught comedy screenwriting for both RMIT and NYU, is currently penning a sitcom and has published Cheeky Monkey comedy screenwriting book. He is about to travel to the US & Canada, has more ahead for DAAS, and has 2 solo shows planned for 2019, one on writing comedy and another on his own ‘grand theories’ of life.
“A Fast Life on Wheels we’re calling it!”
Tick F**ing Tock airs 9:30pm Tuesday October 2 & 9 on ABC.