Writer and comedian Tania Lacy, first came to prominence as a rambunctious comedic reporter on the ABC’s music/youth program The Factory in 1987 and then as host of Countdown Revolution. Lacy was a breath of fresh air – adding humour, anarchy (literally) and contributing many classic characters and TV moments. Not the least of these classic moments was the infamous strike in 1990 that saw her and co-host Mark Little fired and threatened with charges of hijacking a TV station.
Lacy now lives in Berlin but is returning to Australia this month for a book tour and a comedy and humour writing Masterclass for Daily Review . We spoke with Lacy about her TV career(s), the sketch/prank that was never aired and the strike that ended her run on the ABC but started her journey as a professional writer.
You started your career as a dancer (choreographing and appearing in one of Kylie Minogue’s clips no less) – how did you turn to comedy and working on the ABC’s The Factory?
I was a dancer on Countdown and one day Molly saw me carrying on like a twit and had me open the show. I still remember I had to say, ‘Welcome to Countdown, here’s Jason And The Scorchers’. A few weeks later, out of the blue, the executive producer rang me and asked if I would like to audition for a new show on the ABC. After a number of auditions I got the job as a roving reporter on The Factory.
The show took a while to find its feet and I was pushed toward being a more serious reporter for youth current affairs. It really wasn’t a good fit and soon I heard whispers that I was in danger of being ‘let go’. I took matters into my own hands and started submitting scripts of my own. They liked them and so they kind of let me and my producer do our thing. Suddenly, I was being referred to as a comedian and so I thought, ‘okay, now I’m a comedian’.
You became famous for your comedy sketches and unorthodox artist interviews. Any favourites?
Probably one of the best sketches I ever shot never made it to air. Simply Red were touring and we were not granted an interview so, next best thing, I dressed up as Mick Hucknall and boasted of my plans to turn up at the gig, perform as Mick and attend the glamorous after-show party.
The idea was that there would be this incredible build up throughout the show but when I arrived at the stage door claiming to be Mick Hucknall, they would clearly see I wasn’t him and turn me away. Only they didn’t. Instead, they showed me to my dressing room! With camera crew in tow, I giggled my way up the stairs, barely able to speak I was laughing so much. I looked more like Bozo the clown than Mick Hucknall and yet security had let me in!
This was crazy. Certainly, I wasn’t prepared for this moment but I ran with it, waltzing into the band room with a flourish, demanding Perrier water and trying to join the rest of the band in their warm up. Suddenly, this very angry woman blew into the room. In a crappy Scottish accent, I introduced myself, ‘Hello, I’m Mick Hucknall’ to which she responded, ‘No you’re f#@kin’ not, now get the f@&k out!’
We were quickly escorted to the nearest exit while the crew were taken into a separate room where some big dudes took the tapes from the camera. Damn, no way this story was going to make it to air. By the time I got back to the ABC, the executive producer was waiting for us… in the driveway… as in, outside the actual building. Seems the promoter had already called and expressed his displeasure. It was demanded I make a public apology, write an apology to the band, the promoter and the band’s manager, which I did. Not that it made any difference, to this day the promoter refuses to speak to me. I still wonder about those tapes though. I would have loved to have seen that material go to air.
After your time on The Factory you hosted Countdown Revolution. Your time on that show came to an end with you staging a live protest and refusing to play the music videos. What was the real story behind this classic TV moment and how did the ABC react?
Oh God, the strike. With all the goings on at the ABC, this really was such a minor blip on the radar. It did however, quickly become a massive issue for management, which was weird given it was the same management who encouraged us to express our points of view and take our comedy to the limits. ‘Go crazy’, they said. ‘We want anarchy’, they said.
Well, we gave them anarchy and turns out they didn’t mean that kind of anarchy. They wanted a happier, more ordered kind of anarchy.
When Mark Little and I took over as hosts of Countdown Revolution, it went from near death to out-rating the news on another network. Suddenly the record companies were interested… and that’s when everything changed. Pre-taping the show became a laborious exercise in ‘stop tape, can you not say that and say this’.
We were confused and met with the producers wanting to know what had changed. ‘Nothing’, they insisted. We were to keep doing what we were doing. Suddenly there was talk of an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for one of the reporters to interview a popular boy band.
There were a few other similar kinds of bonuses arriving around the same time. It became apparent the show was embroiled in some kind of contra deal with allied industries. Essentially, this was cash for comment and years before the cash for comment scandal of 1999. Huh, so ahead of my time.
We were the dummies, the unwilling and ignorant mouthpieces scoring all manner of contraband for the show, something Mark and I abhorred. This was not a commercial network remember, this was the ABC and we did not want to be a part of it. We decided to speak out and turn the show into a mock protest.
We did not name names, we didn’t even mention the trip to L.A., but we did say we objected to having to say specific things for specific gain. Funnily enough as the show unfolded the screen was flashing with the news that Countdown Revolution was going to Los Angeles to interview New Kids On The Block. Seems this was something they were very proud of. Needless to say our protest cut a little too close to the bone for ABC executives.
The best form of defense is attack and that’s exactly what occurred. We were fired, by fax, and threatened with charges of hijacking a television station. A gag order was put in place and I abided by that order. Articles popped up in different publications indicating others did not. Needless to say, I moved on with my career, not that it was easy – it was actually one of the most horrific periods of my life.
Tania Lacy returns to Australia later this month and will be sharing her comedy writing skills in our exclusive Masterclass events “Find Your Funny” in Melbourne and Sydney, teaching humour and comedy writing for screen, stage and page. For more information click here.