Hello, and welcome to Part Two of my three-part trip down Memory Lane to 1999, and my time working on the 5:30 weekday game show All Star Squares.
Last week, I introduced the show, and the fact that one of the other question / gag writers Adam Richard and I used to come up with alternatives to the opening line of the show’s theme song:
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Examples of furniture? Tables and chairs!”
Anyway, today I move on the production process, and the part that we writers were required to play, after submitting our questions….
After the questions were all compiled, the writers would each be assigned a celebrity or two for that week’s record. We’d then meet with the celebrities in the Green Room before the show, and go through all the questions they could potentially be asked in the upcoming shows, along with their correct answers, their incorrect answers and their joke answers. This part of the process was quite consultative; the celebrities could choose whether they wanted to answer correctly or incorrectly in the show, and whether they wanted to do the joke we’d provided for them, or – in consultation with us – to come up with an alternative joke to do, once they were on set.
One of my favourite celebrities to do this with was Tim Smith. Tim was a comedian and comedy writer himself, so he was really appreciative of our efforts, and working with him and writing with him was a sheer joy. He was such a lovely, generous collaborator and we always came up with joke answers for him that were way better than the originals. We also laughed a hell of a lot during the process. Working with Tim this way was extra special for me, as he was a mentor for me when I started doing stand-up comedy back in 1987, at the age of 17. He took me under his wing and welcomed me to a few stand up venues around Melbourne, and I will always be in his debt for that. Such a funny, fun, warm generous man.
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! My favourite depilatory lotion is Nair (TM) !”
By contrast, some of the greener celebrities, or celebrities who were not performers, were absolutely terrified before the show. Often they were athletes, or people who were not accustomed to telling jokes or speaking in public for a living. On these occasions, I would try to be as empathetic, gentle and reassuring with them as possible in the Green Room; we never insisted that they do the jokes answers, because jokes were clearly so far out of their comfort zones.
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Most Bond villains live in an underground lair!”
Appearing on All Star Squares was not necessarily an easy gig for a celebrity. There was pressure to keep the wacky, zany energy up, there was the potential to look a bit silly by either not knowing the answers, or delivering the jokes badly, or just generally appearing self-conscious. And it could be argued that it would be hard not to appear self-conscious, sitting behind a desk, dancing around as best you can, while being surrounded by a giant spice rack, populated with eight other celebrities.
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! In Poker, a Straight Flush always beats Two Pair!”
Nor was this an easy gig for the producers. In a country as small as Australia, with an entertainment industry as small as ours, it was a challenge for them, week in, week out, to find nine celebrities for the show who’d be willing to do it, and do it well. In fact I remember the great comedian Tony Martin doing a bit of stand up about this, wondering out loud… what happens on those quiet weeks when the producers can’t rustle up nine celebrities? Do they just cover the top three squares with tarpaulins and soldier on?
The show did have its regulars, though; Tottie Goldsmith, the aforementioned Tim Smith and Melbourne based comedian Kim Hope. I had known Kim for a number of years through Melbourne comedy circles, and it was around this time that we started going out together. This added an extra layer of frisson, excitement and romance to that initial (and as it turned out only) season of All Star Squares.
The fun and the laughter, indeed…
Sorry to get all personal and sentimental at the end there, but hey – this is my blog, and they’re my memories, so there.
Next week, as this How To Win Game Shows Behind-The-Scenes Reminiscence – or HTWGSBTSR (TM) – concludes, I look at a couple of memorable bloopers that (thankfully) never made it to air, as we wrap the whole thing up.
Until next Tuesday!
“Aaaall…. All Star Squares! Stockbrokers advise you to buy Blue Chip Shares!”