Still Poking us in the Eye - The Big Man of Australian Comedy

There once was a man who was big. Big in stature, big in personality and big in genius. He wore big, round yellow glasses and smoked a lot. His name was John Pinder and he is widely acknowledged as the father of Australian comedy.

I had the privilege of working with John on the 2005 Big Laugh Comedy Festival at Riverside Theatres and the first national tour of The Goodies – Live on Stage. The Big Laugh Comedy Festival ran from 2001 to 2007 and was the forerunner and blueprint for the Sydney Comedy Festival. Pinder was the Artistic Director and he drove me crazy. As the Marketing Manager I had to somehow find a way to gather all the intel from John’s brain and put it into a form that would communicate to the audience, sell tickets and meet his high expectations of comedy. It is still one of the highlights of my career and I will never forget his intense passion and insane genius (or the late nights!).

John was originally from New Zealand but made Australia his home. He grew up with an interest in circus and the kind of comedy found on The Goon Show. He cofounded Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Circus Oz and The World’s Funniest Island. He worked as a consultant on Steve Vizard’s Tonight Live show and at the Comedy Channel and he produced an incredible number of comedy shows touring them to international comedy festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe.

He understood comedy like no other and could always see the next big thing even if it was a revival. He would mentor and champion young comedians and producers and passionately push their careers along. The list of names that have acknowledged his profound influence on their lives and careers is long and impressive and includes people such as: Wendy Harmer, Rove McManus, Mary-Ann Fahey, Richard Stubbs, Ian McFadyen, Peter Moon, Jane Turner and comedy producer Chris McDonald, just to mention a few. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the big names in Australian comedy today are where they are because of him in one way or another.

And he knew everyone in the comedy business – from the biggest international stars to the bright eyed kids who were just dreaming. He understood the personalities behind the comedy and he knew how to get the best from them and support them at the same time. He was the brains behind the revivals of The Goodies and Aunty Jack and their subsequent national tours. The audience members didn’t know about him but he was the man behind the scenes who made us all laugh and who kept comedy developing.

The big man became ill and passed away last year, but he is unforgettable. There is an exhibition on at Riverside Theatres at the moment that John loved. It’s called Behind the Lines and it features the best political cartoons of 2015. It’s the only place in Sydney that you can view it and it travels annually from the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra. It was always a part of the old Big Laugh Comedy Festival and is a fabulous combination of art and comedy for those who like their politics and current affairs. Satire at its best, it is an annual round-up of global and local events that have shaped our lives through controversial cartoons that test the boundaries of freedom of speech. It is a privilege to be able to see it locally and John understood and championed that.

In association with the exhibition there will be a special event presented by Riverside and the Whitlam Institute called Pinder’s Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Pencil. Pinder’s Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Pencil will feature the hilarious and thought provoking comedian Dan Ilic (a friend of John’s) discussing and exploring the exhibition with the talented cartoonist Jon Kudelka. It will be a fascinating and very funny evening. Riverside Theatres has decided to honour his memory by naming this event after John Pinder in a manner that he would appreciate. Naming this event after him brings with it an expectation of, and a commitment to, the highest quality comedy. So this is one “poke in the eye” you definitely shouldn’t miss! John won’t – he’ll be up there sharpening his pencil!

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