Welcome back to another season of Extreme Vetting with The Chaser – the only podcast to torture its guests. Below is a rough transcript of the first episode, featuring Andrew Denton, who proved to be a particularly difficult guest to torture.
We’ll be releasing two episodes a week, so remember to hit the subscribe button on your podcast app of choice.
Subject: ANDREW DENTON
Under Investigation For: SEDITION, CRIMES AGAINST AUSTRALIAN TV
Charles Firth: Andrew Denton, thank you for submitting to this involuntary interrogation.
Andrew Denton: It’s a pleasure.
Introduction: The level of sedition, anti-authority behavior, and advertiser unfriendly thought-crime has reached record levels, especially amongst Australia’s elites. Luckily the men and men of The Chaser have been commissioned by Border Force to conduct interrogations and sort out the subversives from the patriots. In conjunction with ASIO and the five eyes intelligence sharing protocols. This is Extreme Vetting with The Chaser.
Andrew Hansen: Now Charles, Dom, Minister Dutton has given us our toughest assignment yet on Extreme Vetting. Right now we have to outsmart Australia’s smartest person, Andrew Denton.
Charles Firth: Ah, crap.
Dom Knight: Yeah boss, what if he starts vetting us instead? Gets us to break down in tears like he always did on Enough Rope, an Interview?
Andrew Hansen: I know it’s daunting, Dommy. I know, but the thing about Andrew Denton is he’s an earnest advocate of euthanasia and the thing is Minister Dutton kind of wants the public to get on board with, well let’s call it a less voluntary version of voluntary assisted dying.
Dom Knight: Oh, it’s a brilliant idea.
Charles Firth: It’s time to make Andrew Denton cry.
Charles Firth: What’s your full name?
Andrew Denton: Andrew. Christopher Milroy. McTavish Hitler. Appreci bullshit. Denton.
Charles Firth: And what’s your age?
Andrew Denton: Geologically quite young, but in actual fact I’m 59, parts of me are 72, one part of me is 106.
Charles Firth: Wow. And what’s the worst thing you ever did is a child?
Andrew Denton: Ah, probably the worst thing I did was I set fire to our front fence in the Blue Mountains in the middle of summer.
Dom Knight: Were you a firebug, Andrew Denton?
Andrew Denton: I think that’s a strong term. Dom. You know, I don’t even know what you based that question on. To be perfectly honest. All I’ve described as setting fire to our front fence in the Blue Mountains in the middle of summer. Now in fairness, I was eight years old and-
Dom Knight: Had just learned the power of fire.
Andrew Denton: I’d just learned the power of fire. I’d only learned to walk erect the previous week and no, that was probably the worst thing I did.
Dom Knight: And did you get into trouble for it?
Andrew Denton: Absolutely. My father sent me on fire. No, actually, here’s the thing, I learned a valuable lesson which was not, don’t set fire to things, but if you are going to set fire to things, don’t use the board game that your father brought you back from New Zealand to do it, because that didn’t entirely burn. So there was evidence, there was evidence. It was a slightly charred map of New Zealand.
Andrew Hansen: What sort of punishment did you receive? Was it just shame or?
Andrew Denton: I think I was sent to bed without oxygen.
Dom Knight: Was that the beginning of your attention with New Zealand as per the song? I Don’t care, As Long As We Beat New Zealand.
Andrew Denton: I love, I’ll say it, I love the bit of research there, Dom. Yeah, probably. It was, it’s probably a deep seated emotional hatred and not just a bit of piss taking that I thought it was at the time. No, it was just what was to hand. That’s what we firebugs are like.
Andrew Hansen: Now, I know you probably don’t know much about interviewing, but what you do in an interview is you research the person that you’re going to interview. And so I’ve Googled you and I’ve got some questions for you based on Wikipedia. So you were born in 1860?
Andrew Denton: Yep.
Andrew Hansen: And you’re married to Jennifer Aniston, correct?
Andrew Denton: Yep.
Dom Knight: And you started your career on the Doug Murray radio show.
Andrew Denton: Ah, that’s not, no, that’s not true. With the Paul Murray radio show.
Andrew Hansen: Right? Sorry, Wikipedia these days. What was it like to work with Doug Murray?
Andrew Denton: It was great. It was actually really wild because FM radio was still fairly new and it was the first time in the history of FM radio, that a breakfast show beat AM radio and we had an audience of about a million people.
Dom Knight: Oh my God.
Andrew Denton: Yeah. It’s amazing. I don’t think there’s any media left in Australia that has that audience and it was everyone from Garbos to barristers. And Doug was, even though we’re very different people to outward view, we had a very similar sense of humor. It really ran the range from quite dark to extremely absurd and we indulged all of it and Doug was such a gifted performer and the way I wrote really worked with the way he performed, it was really wild. You could just, you’re on this rocket that was taking off and what was fantastic for me is his head writer and the guy that would sit in the studio and write lines was, if something was pissing me off, I could just write a line in there, went out to a million people and no one knew it was my line. It was even better.
Andrew Hansen: How did you get to meet Doug? Was it really a question of being from indoor cricket?
Andrew Denton: No, Doug, it’s an unexpected story and I really haven’t told it before. Doug and I were both at a course for people that had set fires as children and we were in rehabilitation. Doug had set the Great Fire of London. Not a lot of people know that. No, I met him. Okay, so here is the terrible story about the things you do to make a living. And this is how I ended up in radio. Longer story short, one of my best friends was Amanda Keller, her boyfriend, Philip Tanner, had this company called Couple of Cowboys who were making a kind of candid camera pilot. I had no money, I desperately needed work and I was offered for, I think like 50 bucks cash, an opportunity to go and record a candid camera segment in Martin Place, I think it was. And the segment was that I had a pocket full of cash. I was wearing a kind of a trench coat and I was to go, and imagine how this would go today – I was to go up to women and try and encourage them to take their bras off.
Charles Firth: Oh my God. Wow.
Andrew Denton: Now obviously this was not something I’ve felt hugely comfortable with. So I, most people quite rightly said no until eventually one very smart woman said sure. And she took her bra off under her tee-shirt shirt. And so I gave her all the money even though I was only meant to give her a little bit cause I thought that’s enough. So that was pretty bad. But then I had to do a studio segment with Rob Duckworth, ex-Triple M alumni, who was the host. And I just thought, okay, that was a pretty horrible experience, so I’m going to try and make something good out of it. So I went in and basically dropped every joke on him I could. And as a result of that, he asked me to write for him cause he had taken over from Doug and Breakfast.
Andrew Denton: And then the next lesson was never take a holiday on radio because, the first holiday break, I got a call from Triple M saying, “Don’t come back. We’ve axed the show.” And then Doug came back and he’d heard some of the stuff I’d written and he contacted me and it went from there. We got on pretty much immediately.
Dom Knight: Can we just take a break, actually?
Charles Firth: Yeah let’s just take a break.
Dom Knight: I don’t know about you, but I’m having all these flashbacks from working with him years ago and just feeling like I’m 23 again. What do we do? How can we turn things around? So we bring out some of the gear?
Andrew Hansen: Yeah, let’s torture him.
Dom Knight: Okay. Always works, yeah, cool.
Dom Knight: I just, it’s been lovely hearing your story.
Andrew Denton: Sorry, just one second. Could I just step out for one sec? Do you mind?
Dom Knight: Well, I don’t think I’m allowed to –
Andrew Denton: If you don’t mind. I have worked here before and you can trust me. Thank you, I’ll be back in just one sec.
Andrew Denton: This is awkward. I have no idea who these guys are. I thought I was going to be with the famous ones. Chuck? Charles? Charles. Yeah. Ah, Jesus. I’ve worked with these guys for years. You’d think I’d know, wouldn’t you? Now the other one is, oh God, begins with a P? Oh, bluff it. Oh, here we go.
Andrew Hansen: He came back! I’m pleasantly surprised.
Andrew Denton: Sure did! Anyway, let’s go on with it.
Andrew Hansen: We were just reminiscing about old times when we worked so closely together.
Andrew Denton: I forgot the third one. Sorry. Sorry.
Andrew Hansen: Andrew, can I just get you to just hold your hand out please?
Andrew Denton: Ow! Jesus. What was that?
Andrew Hansen: It was just, you know, to make you realize that we’re in charge now.
Dom Knight: Things have changed.
Andrew Hansen: Things have changed since the days back at the OBC.
Andrew Denton: Yeah, well, I don’t wish to freak you out, but that just made my left nipple entirely erect. Oh, there goes the other one.
Andrew Hansen: Ah, it always backfires! Why are our devices always so pleasurable?
Dom Knight: Let’s try this one.
Andrew Denton: Sorry. What was that?
Andrew Denton: Uh-oh, you’re torturing me with Daryl Summer’s sound effects. I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it!
Andrew Hansen: Now that is a torture.
Dom Knight: Oh Mr. Denton?
Andrew Denton: Oh God! I’ll say anything. What do you want to know?
Andrew Hansen: One thing that we are interested in, starting Border Force, is early in your career, you actually produced a show for TV called House of Hell, yes?
Andrew Denton: No, I actually didn’t produce that show.
Andrew Hansen: It didn’t produce?
Andrew Denton: No, I created the show on Triple M, but Channel 10 produced the show.
Andrew Hansen: Yes. So you created it. We’re just interested in some of those techniques because we think that they could be used on refugees.
Dom Knight: For those who haven’t heard the story, many regard you as the inventor of reality TV in Australia and, and I’m sure you’re very proud of it. What actually was the House from Hell? How did it come to be, and how hellish did it get?
Andrew Denton: Well, when I first came to do my breakfast show on Triple M with Amanda Keller and Dave Gibson, I inherited a promotional idea called Live In It to Win It, where you had four people living in a car for as long as the four could take it. And the last one out, won the car.
Dom Knight: That’s a great idea.
Andrew Denton: It was an interesting idea. And what turned out to be great about it was in fact the four people who were fantastic and we got on really well with them. I walked away from that going, wow, that the theater of human beings in that situation was really interesting. So I then came up with this stupid idea, which was to do a much bigger thing over, I think it was over four months? It was some insane idea. And where we cast people who we knew would be different to each other and we just put them in a house.
Andrew Denton: The house was the other character. So for example, on one occasion they complained about the furniture. So we replaced it all with doll’s furniture and then they complained about that. So we, they came home one day cause that they had to go out, I can’t remember why they would go out, but they came out to live in this house and there was no furniture at all and they weren’t happy about that. So this is terrible. No furniture. So the next day when they came home, the house, there was furniture stacked to the ceiling. They couldn’t move. Here’s the thing –
Andrew Hansen: What happened?
Andrew Denton: We did the stuff because there wasn’t any guide for this. So we did what we thought was right. You know, we were certainly casting for people who are different because, six people the same, it wasn’t going to be any good. Might’ve been eight. But we did psychological testing just to make sure that, I don’t even know how we set the parameters, but we took what we thought was a duty of care.
Andrew Denton: And then about three months in, the youngest contestant, we found out something we hadn’t found out. What we didn’t know is that the previous year one of her friends had taken their own life, and she was quite young. And so she was very much in the high risk group for that and we could tell, because we had a producer there in the house with them, that she was struggling, and this is a terrifying moment. And so we immediately took her out of the house and sat down with her and said, look, this is just, you know, for fun. This is not serious. If you want to get out, we can engineer a way out, but you know, what do you want to do? And she said, no, I want to stay in. So we, we, we completely turned it around from being this house from hell.
Andrew Denton: We spent the last month, we found out what each of them, something they each wanted to really achieve. And then we set the target as achieving that. But at the end of it, I remember saying to Amanda and saying, we’re never doing this again because I saw, what I’ve now seen repeated endlessly, and the only defense I have is that we were the first. So we actually didn’t have anything to go on. I saw this is dangerous stuff. It’s, it’s quite potentially quite irresponsible.
Andrew Hansen: So it’s sort of almost turned into a house of hugs, in that you were trying to almost help them out. Oh yeah, that sounds actually quite nice.
Andrew Denton: Look, it wasn’t the end, but it was that last few weeks I found very nerve wracking.
Andrew Hansen: I can imagine now. Can we just have a moment?
Andrew Denton: Sure.
Dom Knight: Charles, what say we fill this entire interrogation room with furniture. Do you think that would rattle him? We’ve got to rattle him somehow.
Charles Firth: We’ve got to rattle him.
Dom Knight: But it’s running rings around us.
Charles Firth: Perfect.
Dom Knight: Mr. Hanson can you requisition some furniture for us?
Andrew Hansen: Yes, immediately from Moodie.
Dom Knight: Andrew, you’ll notice that the room is now full of furniture, and, it’s flat packed so you’ll have to get assembling I’m afraid.
Andrew Denton: Well, flat pack goes with the back of my head, so I’m perfectly happy about that. I love the fact that you actually made me appreciably about seven feet higher, so thank you. This is great. Do you mind if I just step out for one second?
Andrew Denton: This is dreadful. I mean, I think I’d rather… Oh God, I think I’m going to be sick. Oh God, no.
Andrew Denton: Oh, Oh, Oh. I’ve just remembered the other one’s name now. Andrew. Ah, here we go.
Dom Knight: Andrew, I was thinking back to those stories of radio. What strikes me is the budget that you had. I mean that’s an extraordinary, you couldn’t do anything like that nowadays.
Andrew Denton: No, although it wasn’t a massive budget cause you know, I mean we just rented a house and –
Dom Knight: That sounds pretty massive.
Andrew Hansen: That’s a budget. That’s dollars. That’s above zero.
Andrew Denton: That’s true.
Charles Firth: But also in Sydney that would be like $1 million to rent a house.
Andrew Denton: This was a long time ago. Charles, before avocado was a thing. Yeah. Look, I guess so, but most of it was our imagination. The theater of the mind.
Dom Knight: Did you enjoy all your years doing radio? It was [crosstalk 00:14:51].
Andrew Denton: Not a day. I did actually. I really loved it. It was, I was very lucky. Working with Doug was just incredibly exciting and we had a really funny time. And then Amanda is just one of my best friends and she always makes me laugh.
Andrew Denton: So I remember in the days when Triple M was the only duopoly in town, it took me probably about 10 months to work out how the game worked, which was that Triple M was the bloke station. And today FM was the girls’ station today of him had Wendy Harmer and Peter Moon who were a really good show, but the female demographic earn more than the male demographic so that they were always meant to be number one in the ratings. And we were always meant to be number two anyway, so, but at the end of our first year, we actually did go to number one and I found out when I eventually left Triple M and had lunch with the MD, I said, that must have been an interesting board meeting at the end of that year when we’d broken the plan and gone to number one, she said yes, it was a very interesting board meeting.
Andrew Denton: Sometimes, every now and then we went to number one, but usually we were just at number two and I’d say I wouldn’t worry about it because we’re meant to be in this position. But I can assure you we had a way better time than Peter and Wendy, who even though they did a great show, actually didn’t enjoy each other’s company. Whereas we used to have a hilarious time in the most hilarious times directly. Once we came off here and had our meetings where we said all those things that you could never say publicly, just to try and make each other laugh.
Andrew Hansen: Okay. So then you went from radio to working with The Chaser for a while.
Andrew Denton: Is that on Wikipedia?
Andrew Hansen: No, this was a thing that you pitched to the ABC to get Enough Rope up, as I understand.
Andrew Denton: I don’t know. I remember Enough Rope.
Dom Knight: They made you do this terrible comedy show with a bunch of kids, ah, as part of the Enough Rope deal. Isn’t that right?
Andrew Denton: Can I just step outside for one second?
Andrew Denton: Wow. This is really awkward. I remember rambling, and David Tench. I don’t remember this one. I might have made some crap but I don’t remember that. I’ll just play along and see how we go.
Andrew Denton: Yeah. Oh those were days. I wonder what became of those guys. Do you, do you know any of them?
Dom Knight: How do you decide which projects to do? I mean I, I don’t mean to be disparaging but they haven’t all worked. Many of them have worked. But what’s the process? Cause you get offered so many different things. You have a million ideas all the time. How do you chart a career? Cause you’ve done so many different kinds of things.
Andrew Denton: I don’t get offered that many things, interestingly, because I’ve mostly tried to create my own stuff. I don’t know, in the case of Chaser, because it is coming back to me now. But that was just sheer chance in that I subscribed to the newspaper and I remember thinking, look, it’s not as soft as solvent, but it’s certainly got its uses. And it made me laugh to be honest. And as those guys, if they’re listening would recall I was invited to launch. I think it was the second year and I just really enjoyed their level of disrespect and humor and energy. But that was just one of those real pumps as in, why don’t we try my television? Nobody knew that that was going to work. And that’s actually the truth of all television. The good stuff and the bad stuff. You know, it’s a surprise to me either way. When something goes really well, that’s a nice surprise. And when something goes really badly, that’s not so nice surprise. But they’re both a surprise cause nobody has a clue.
Charles Firth: Well David Tench, that was the highest rating first episode of a talk show ever, in Australia’s history, wasn’t it? I think?
Andrew Denton: Was it? I actually didn’t know that.
Charles Firth: Yeah, I think it was. Were you surprised that it then sort of didn’t work out the way you’d envisaged?
Andrew Denton: No. Cause you could kind of tell re even with that big writing, you just, there’s a vibe. You can tell when something’s working, when something’s not.
Charles Firth: So what happened with David Tench?
Andrew Denton: Well, without naming the person, there was a very brilliant performer who the character of David Tench was built around probably the most brilliant performer I’ve worked with. But unfortunately, not long before we were due to go into production, it became very clear that he wouldn’t be capable of doing it. And it was one of the most unhappy conversations I’ve had to have in my professional life where I basically, for his own goods, had to say, we’re not going ahead with you. And ultimately that person was very grateful. But at the time it was really painful. So, and this was…
Charles Firth: And for people who don’t know what David Tench was, he was the first real animated television host in real time.
Andrew Denton: So I had grown up watching and loving Max Headroom. I love the attitude and action. And this is, this is exactly how I pitched David Tench to Channel 10 and this was in the days where a pitch, this short could get you a show. I bumped into the Channel 10 management. The only ever time I went to the big international television festival, horrible thing. Never went again. And they said, you got any ideas? And I said, Oh yes, I do have one. It’s a real time animated television show host. And the point about a cartoon is that no past, no shame, no future, no fear. They’ll ask and say anything. And that was always how I saw it. And so there was an incredible liberation. But
Charles Firth: This is a huge amount of resources to add into it because Animal Logic did the animation…
Andrew Denton: Who did Happy Feet and all kinds of things. So here’s the thing, when I said that to them, they said we’re really interested. And I only a week before I had spoken to a friend of mine, James Hacker had done all our titles about this idea and I said, James, fewer ever to do something like this, how would you do it? And I left him to go and have a think about it. So I rang him from France where this festival was and I said, James, remember that idea we talked about? How would you do it? So at this time there was, it had never been done. So in fact to create a realtime animated host, which Animal Logic did, it required an enormous amount of resources. It was a world first and so much of world first that it actually, the feat wasn’t repeated until last year.
Dom Knight: Oh, really?.
Andrew Denton: When BBC caused quite a stir by having a real-time animated Vladimir Putin. So there’s nothing quite like an idea that’s ahead of its time, 13 years after it first happened.
Charles Firth: Well, you know, the other place I saw it was a live onstage at Walt Disney world, but again, much lighter than David Tench. But there is a real time animated character with a, with a live, I mean, is that what you were hoping for, for Tench? A sort of Disney parks launch?
Andrew Denton: Oh no, not quite. In fact, afterwards I thought if I’d made one change, Tench was an amalgam of every terrible talk show host you could imagine. And he was barrel chested and blonde haired, and he was, you know, identifiably a male host. But I realized if I had lowered the status of that character to say a cute little animal, I reckon it would’ve worked. And much later I thought of a better title, which is Badger Works Blue. And I just imagined this cute little animal asking his incredibly inappropriate questions. One of my favorite Tench interviews was with The Wiggles.
Dom Knight: Yes. What happened there? Because actually the story online is that they just refuse to come back for a second interview.
Andrew Denton: I don’t think we ask them for a second interview because we never asked anyone for an interview expecting them to come back for a second.
Dom Knight: So what happened? What’s the story?
Andrew Denton: It’s just asking every question you shouldn’t ask The Wiggles. And of course The Wiggles, they’re wonderful, they’re beautiful men. I’ve known them for years. So they of course never broke their Wiggle-dom. But they were, they were wriggling not wiggling. I can’t remember many of the questions. I remember one was, do you ever show the Hooley Dooleys your bank account just to see grown men cry? And actually all the things you should never talk about with The Wiggles. And I worked with a really talented team of writers and my only disappointment was it actually was really good comedy writing, but that doesn’t really matter if you don’t think something’s funny, then it’s just not funny.
Andrew Denton: And I think there was something about Andrew Forsyth who took on the character of Tench. He did. He worked as hard as any human being I’ve ever seen in this industry. And it was so hard what he was being asked to do because Tench was meant to be spontaneous and explosive. And Drew is a brilliant performer, but he’s not a spontaneous performer. And so he was having to sort of be a character that he wasn’t built to be. And so it fell short. And I remember when it was all over, David Mott and the program of Channel 10 who is a guy, to his credit, he brought in Big Brother and he bought in lots of things that worked and stuff that didn’t, and he took me out to lunch.
Andrew Denton: And David’s actually a very nice guy. And you can’t say that about everyone in the industry, and I could tell he was wanting to lead up to, well, we’re not going with the second series, which I’d obviously worked out. And so I got it in ahead of him and I said, David, I’ve, I’ve just had a great idea for an advance on this series next year, a real host, but all our guests are animated. I could see him just go pale. And I said, David, it’s alright, I know we’re not coming back.
Dom Knight: Can I just talk to you guys outside front?
Charles Firth: Look, it’s been lovely reminiscing, but I feel we haven’t put any pressure on him. I haven’t got anything out of him. What would Minister Dutton want us to do to Denton?
Dom Knight: Well I think Andrew, he’s all into euthanasia, isn’t he? He’s been campaigning around the country for voluntary euthanasia, he has.
Charles Firth: Well voluntary euthanasia, but I wonder whether we could sort of get him to try and promote some involuntary euthanasia.
Dom Knight: Oh, Minister Dutton would definitely love it.
Charles Firth: Does that sound good to you, Mr. Hanson?
Andrew Hansen: Mm, let’s try it out.
Charles Firth: Now, Andrew –
Andrew Denton: Sorry! I’ve nodded off.
Andrew Hansen: Can you just hold out your hand?
Charles Firth: I just wanted to make you feel nice about it.
Andrew Denton: Oh, Darrel Summers again.
Charles Firth: So you campain for euthanasia. You want people-
Andrew Denton: Voluntary euthanasia. it’s very important.
Charles Firth: Voluntary. Yes. Well, we’re thinking here at the department. We’re sort of interested in euthanasia,
Andrew Denton: Actually, voluntary assisted dying, but let’s not, I don’t obviously want to weigh you down with things that are important.
Dom Knight: Yeah, no, no, we don’t do details.
Andrew Denton: I know that.
Charles Firth: This is the department of border security.
Andrew Denton: Yeah, of course. Details are not relevant,
Charles Firth: Not relevant at all. So you’re into euthanasia. We’re just wondering whether you’d be happy to drop the voluntary part of that equation and just sort of start campaigning for, for involuntary euthanasia.
Andrew Denton: I see where you’re coming from and I can see why that would be of appeal to your department. Possibly Minister Dutton. But no, that’s not what I do, is what I take, what I do in this space very seriously. And I’m not going to have it taken over for brute political reasons, but, but thank you for asking. Do what if I step outside for one second?
Charles Firth: Sure.
Andrew Denton: Okay. I think I got to get the fuck out of here. Run!
Dom Knight: Oh, foiled by Denton again.
Charles Firth: Ah, he used that old, can I walk out of the room, trick. I’m so sick of us falling for that trick.
Andrew Hansen: Oh, he was always the smartest one in the room.
Andrew Hansen: Extreme Vetting with The Chaser was written and presented by Dom Knight, charles Firth, and Andrew Hansen. Recorded in collaboration with PodcastOne Australia. Produced by Alex Mitchell and audio production by Darcy Thompson. For all episodes, search Extreme Vetting podcast. Listen for free at podcastoneaustralia.com.au or download the new PodcastOne Australia app.