“People over the years have asked me to do chat shows and interviews and I usually go, ‘Well why would you want me to do that?’ and they say, ‘We used to enjoy your interviews on Get This’ on radio,” says Tony Martin.
Ticking all the boxes of writer, performer, broadcaster and comedian, Martin is now about to solidify television presenter on his CV, with the first of an “occasional” 6-part interview series on ABC1, A Quiet Word with Tony Martin.
It was a Triple M radio show that has generated interest in a ‘fireside chat format’ with some of his favourite performers.
“I never used to think of them as interviews,” he tells TV Tonight. “The word I use is Conversations. Pretty much they were either people I knew or people I was a huge fan of. We would turn down quite big names to come on Get This because we needed them for a whole hour and I wanted to be able to talk to them without having to look at notes.”
Interviewing Bill Bailey in a quiet bar, the two exchange ideas, anecdotes and insights. But at just 6 episodes to play out across the next year, his show is not looking to become a successor to Enough Rope.
Martin says he couldn’t replicate the style of the ABC’s long-running interviewer.
“Andrew Denton is somebody who seems to be able to talk to pretty much anybody. But I’m not very good at faking interest in somebody I don’t know anything about,” he said.
“If I wasn’t getting on with Bill Bailey after ten minutes it would become uncomfortable viewing. But I know his career backwards, I’m a mad fan of his, so I don’t have to fake it up. Not that I’m saying Andrew Denton does. He just has a much wider interest in things.
“If I stick to things like film and television I don’t feel like a phony. I don’t feel like enough of an expert on sports and politics, to interview someone and feel like I have a sense of authority. But with Comedy I think I pretty much know as much as anybody else.”
Martin says interest in a regular interview show surfaced after he was asked to interview Hollywood screenwriting guru Robert McKee.
“It was only ever meant to be an eleven minute segment, but I spoke to him for 45 minutes,” he says.
“It was the first time I’d ever interviewed anyone on television, and the first time I’d interviewed anyone on my own.
“I’d always worked with Mick Molloy and then Ed Kavalee. So when the other person is talking, that’s when you think of what you’re next question is going to be. It was quite a shock because I thought ‘Oh my God, I’m going to have to keep this going!’ But all of a sudden I realised I was just talking to him.
“Then people were stopping me in the street saying ‘You should do a show like that.’ People who wouldn’t be interested in my comedy say to me they really enjoyed the interview with Robert McKee.”
Amongst Martin’s other recent projects have been working for Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler on both The Librarians and an unnamed script, plus developing Judith Lucy’s new series.
Martin says he is happy being behind the scenes.
“I’ve never felt a massive urge to be on television. I love making TV shows but if I was going to be on television as myself, I’ve never been a solo act. The ABC asked me to do radio shifts and I said ‘I’m no good on my own. I always need someone else to bounce off.’
“I’ve pretty much been working on TV continuously for the last year and a half but almost none of it has gone to air yet!
“But people can get very sick of you if you’re on TV all the time. I think this is my 25th year of working TV, but I’ve never been overexposed. I won’t name names, but there are people on Australian TV who you think ‘They’re doing another show?’”
Martin is reluctant to reveal the subjects of later episodes, but promises A Quiet Word is, as the title suggests, not looking to become the next Tonight show.
“Just the fact that I’m doing an interview and wearing glasses people say to me ‘Is this like the new Andrew Denton show?’”
A Quiet Word with Bill Bailey airs 10:05pm Tuesday September 28th on ABC1.