The Day I Met Bugs Bunny
2nd Oct 2020
Keith Scott is a terrific impressionist. He went to Hollywood to provide the voice of Bullwinkle (and other voices) in the animated 2000 movie Rocky and Bullwinkle. The movie also starred and was produced by Robert De Niro. And I tell you, Keith got a kick out of ringing home to say…
“I just got back from a barbie at Bobby’s…”
Keith also provided all the male voices on How Green Was My Cactus and took over doing many of the voices for Looney Tunes when Mel Blanc died in 1989. That’s how I met Keith – when Doug and I were hired to write for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and the gang.
Just a quick aside. Warner Bros cartoons were the cartoons of my youth. I couldn’t get into the Disney stable at all. Mickey and Minnie Mouse were wimpy little things, both vocally and the way they were drawn. Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck likewise. No one could understand what the duck was saying. It was probably something like, “why am I wearing a top and no trousers?”
But Daffy Duck – there was a duck with attitude! They all had an edge – Bugs, Daffy, Elmer, Pepe, Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, Wyle E. Coyote, and even that pathetic little bird, Tweety. “I tawt I taw a puddy tat” indeed. But Mel Blanc and the animators made them all work.
Keith Scott has also done a lot of stand-up comedy with routines packed with his impressions. I have sometimes wondered if he knows what his own voice sounds like or whether he does an impression of Keith Scott. I have seen him work live at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and at Kinsela’s nightclub.
Another comedian on the Entertainment Centre bill was Sandy Gutman who is better known as Austen Tayshus. Austen is the same age as me and, as Sandy, he was educated just a punchline away from me at Vaucluse High School. He had an enormous hit in 1983 with the Billy Birmingham pun-riddled single, Australiana. He was having trouble following it up and was in search of new material so our paths crossed twice, once at a coffee shop in Kings Cross and once at his home in Darling Point. He seemed a nice enough bloke but was a bit too confrontational as a performer to suit Doug’s and my style of writing.
That’s the thing with comedy – different jokes for different folks.
I mentioned Kinsela’s nightclub. It was once Kinsela’s Funeral Parlour but was converted into a bar, restaurant and performance space in 1982. It overlooks Taylor Square, just off Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. Doug and I were approached to write a Sydney-focussed satirical revue-sketch show and we accepted the challenge. Getting a slice of the door with a long running show can be very financially rewarding.
We decided that it would be best to hold some auditions to get an idea of a potential cast before doing serious scribbling so we could write to the acting talent’s strengths.
That was the first hint that we may not see eye-to-eye with the producer and director.
Peter Fisher, who played Craig Bullpitt in Kingswood Country, was one who auditioned. We knew his range, knew he was good at remembering lines, and knew his comedy timing. We could work with him. Those calling the shots dismissed him out of hand and we softened the blow by saying that singing The Ballad of Lucy Jordan was a brave choice for a comedy audition.
One actor favoured by both producer and director was Andrew McFarlane. The director, John Barningham, had worked with him on a TV Show called The Sullivans and had produced the tele-movie The John Sullivan Story, starring Andrew. Andrew was a fine actor. And a big name at the time. But he was a dramatic actor. We couldn’t see a comedic bent at all.
We said we’d go away and come back with some sample sketches, ideas for a format and a name or two for the show. The name of the show was the next hurdle. We put forward either a play on 2001: A Space Odyssey, calling it 2001: A Postcode or a play on Waiting for Godot, calling it Waiting for Lotto. Funny, clever, verging on ‘arty’ we thought.
Two lead balloons there. They had already come up with a screamingly hilarious title, A Nightingale Sang in Taylor Square.
I didn’t discuss it with Doug, or indeed even glance at him. I just said firmly that it was obvious that we were on a different wavelength and that we were withdrawing from the project. The look of relief on Doug’s face was palpable and he thanked me profusely for making the decision.
I don’t believe they ever got a show off the ground and John Barningham died, from AIDS, in 1987 aged 44.
And while I am thinking about Kinsela’s, stand-up comedy and impressionists: Richard Carter.
Ric was in my year at Scots College. He was a good rugby player and had a keen sense of humour. He lived in Clontarf, not far from my then (and still) friend, Dave Burgess, and future friend, Kev Golsby. Ric dabbled in doing impressions – the usual ones like Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Jimmy Cagney – and he was very good. After we left school, around 1972, I bumped into Ric at Warringah Mall where he was working in a pet shop. I asked how the impressions were going and he rattled off a bunch of new ones, which indeed made an impression on me. I told him about a talent quest night being run by radio station 2SM at Balmain Leagues Club that coming Friday and suggested he give it a crack. We agreed on a time to meet there. We met, he performed and he won. From memory the prize was a television, but there was a far bigger win in discovering a potential career…
Fast forward to 1980 and I saw that Ric Carter was performing stand-up at Kinsela’s. I decided to take my newly-wedded wife to see a show that was starring a friend of mine.
Ric was good. Material was good, delivery was good. Subject matter very drug-related but I already suspected that he dabbled. We met up after the show. Long-lost friends. Invited him back to our place.
He parked himself at the dining table and started knocking back neat bourbon. By about 3:00am he was getting quite belligerent.
“Hey, woman, make me some bacon and eggs.”
Eventually I called a taxi and got him to the front door where he promptly urinated on our doormat and disappeared into the night. I followed his career from a distance. He was going okay as a voice artist and actor. He became a favourite of director/producer, George Miller who cast him in Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet Two, and Mad Max: Fury Road (as The Bullet Farmer).
I last caught up with Ric in person in Newport in the mid-1990s. I dropped into his place, met his wife Lindsey and their small child. He seemed to have mellowed and found sobriety but there was still an evil glint in his eye so he wouldn’t be welcome at our place even though I’m sure he had no memory of the night we had previously crossed paths.
We last spoke after he had finished shooting The Great Gatsby (2013) and Fury Road (2015). He had moved to Armidale and he phoned.
Just a catch-up with an old schoolmate.
He was feeling mortality creeping up. Was waiting for a liver transplant. Those years of drugs and booze had caught up with him.
Ric died in July, 2019.
“What’s up, Doc?”
Back to Bugs…
Doug and I were commissioned to write a radio series to help launch Warner Bros Movie World on the Gold Coast. Called The Looney Tunes Radio Show it consisted of 65 episodes of mayhem with the Oscar-winning ‘wascally wabbit’, Bugs Bunny, and the rest of the gang running amok in Australia. It was voiced by Keith Scott with occasional characters by Robyn Moore. Robyn and Keith had worked together on Blinky Bill, and Robyn did all the female voices on How Green Was My Cactus. They made a good team.
The series was an irreverent audio cartoon aimed at adults. For example, episode one was the flight from Hollywood to Australia with all the characters on board… the Tasmanian Devil was zipping about in the overhead lockers, Porky Pig was enjoying his first taste of airline food, Pepe Le Peu was chatting up the hostie and, of course, Tweety tawt he taw a puddy-tat.
When they arrived at Sydney Airport, Bugs did a head count on the team bus and the little black duck was missing. He had been taken to a room by Customs officers for a random strip search for drugs. On emerging, Bugs asked, “Did they find anything?” And Daffy replied…
The show had the desired result for Warner’s advertising agency and we decided to give America the opportunity to share in our enormous writing talent. Hey, we were nothing if not generous!
We re-recorded sketches using American voices and made appointments with radio syndication houses in Chicago, New York, and with Warner Bros in Hollywood.
We arrived in Los Angeles and were given a somewhat VIP welcome with a guided tour of the Warner Bros back lot before a scheduled meeting at the studio offices with one of the programming executives.
Coincidentally, Keith Scott was also visiting Tinseltown. He told us he had been to The Comedy Club on an open-mic night and didn’t exactly have them rolling in the aisles. Might have been the competition. We visited The Comedy Store and saw Andrew Dice Clay and Eddie Murphy doing open-mic. Small fish, big pond perhaps?
Arriving at the Warner Bros Executive Floor, high up in a shiny glass and chrome building, we were greeted by an effusive Afro-American receptionist who made us welcome with iced water and took us to the boardroom.
The huge table with leather chairs and magnificent views over Los Angeles told us that we were about to meet someone important. The important, young, suited executive arrived and he was also effusive – he LOVED the Looney Tunes radio concept and would be pitching it at the programming meeting the following Tuesday.
And that was perfect timing because we had appointments across the country and would be back in LA on the Monday evening.
In Chicago we received a lukewarm reception in our meeting with three people from a radio syndication company but fared way better in New York. The executives there welcomed us ‘funny guys from Australia’ and even quoted lines from the sketches we had sent on ahead.
They were happy to purchase sketches that could be delivered by fax (email hadn’t been invented) … but when we discovered that the pay was about half what we were already earning, part of the American success dream bubble burst.
In fact, in a barroom post-mortem, Doug said he would rather write Cactus for the rest of his life. Middle name Nostradamus? But… at least we had Warner Bros back in Hollywood to give us our big break!
We returned to Los Angeles for the Warner Bros board’s decision. At the designated meeting time we rode up the lift to the executive floor only to be greeted by a very non-effusive Afro-American secretary with no iced water. She rose from her desk, turned us around and accompanied us back to the ground floor.
It was best we leave, she said, because the executive who put the radio concept forward had been fired for even thinking that the radio series would enhance the Looney Tunes brand.
I put the lack of enthusiasm from Warners down to one word…
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