14 Apr 2017

John Clarke's former comedy partner pays tribute

6:37 pm on 14 April 2017

Over the past week, Bryan Dawe, the long-time satirical partner of John Clarke, has felt the kind looks of strangers wherever he goes.

For more than two decades the pair appeared on Australian television, sharply sending up politicians with parody interviews in their weekly Clarke and Dawe satirical sketches.

Clarke died suddenly from natural causes while bushwalking in Victoria last weekend.

Dawe said the outpouring of support he had felt since Clarke's death had been overwhelming.

"I was on a tram and that was hard, but people are wonderful. They just looked at you, they smiled and they just acknowledged in their own way how they felt without coming up and saying anything," he said as part of an ABC television tribute, John Clarke: Thanks For Your Time.

"It will take a long while to understand the depth of what he did and the effect he had on people's lives."

Dawe said he and Clarke maintained a special relationship with their audience.

"John told me once an old man had said to him: 'You know what you two do? It's a secret between you and the audience'.

"I thought John loved that and I think that's true. We always respected the audience and they respected us."

'It was about rhythm, what we did'

The duo first started working together when Dawe hired Clarke in the late 1980s while head of radio comedy at the ABC.

He said the long-running Clarke and Dawe sketches were a natural fit from the start.

"It was quite obvious from the first recording what our roles were," he said.

"I just had to be straight, as straight as a die, and I loved doing that anyway. So it was easy and John was the clown and off he went."

The pair found their flow and a comedy legacy was born.

"Very early on I got the rhythm, it was about rhythm what we did," he said.

"It was so on the money."

Dawe said Clarke's work on ABC comedy series The Games was one of the "best things" he had ever been involved in.

"John pulled off what I think was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing and that was when he did the John Howard apology," he said.

"When I read it I started crying because that was the apology [to the Stolen Generations] we should have had, he wrote it, it was there. That he found the actor John Howard too, it was genius."

His eyes 'had a twinkle'

But it was not always easy keeping a straight face.

"The trick was to never ever look at John's eyes. Always forehead, so I trained myself to look at [his] eyebrows and that's how I got away with it," Dawe said.

"He just had a twinkle, he'd just bring you undone."

Clarke has been remembered widely for his great warmth and geniality.

"A very dear friend of his from New Zealand said to me on the phone the other day, 'John won't be in heaven yet'. I said 'Why is that?', and he said 'He'll still be at the gate talking to the gate keeper'," Dawe said.

"That's how John was, he'd talk to anyone.

"I remember early on we were at a golf match and this guy came up and I thought it was his brother-in-law or someone because I didn't know John that well then, and he talked to him for about 20 minutes and he left and I said 'Who was that?', and he said 'No idea, never met him before'."

But the thing Dawe said he would miss most was Clarke's friendship and generosity.

"It was the in-between that was important with John, the phone calls, the friendship, the emails - always funny, always giving you a perspective on something that nobody else would give you and that's probably the biggest thing I'll miss," he said.

"If you were sick or something had happened to someone in the family the man would be on the phone three or four times a week to make sure it was all okay and would do anything.

"He was just a generous spirit. He was different to anyone, you couldn't possibly live up to that standard."


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