It’s been quite the ride chatting to David over these past 17 weeks, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! We’ve discussed his early love of quiz shows, his screenwriting career, his World-Record-setting quiz show win in 1986, his many years as a question writer and adjudicator, and his return to the studio floor as a contestant in Beat The Chasers in 2020…
SH: Now that brings us up to the present day, and you’ve recently returned to standup comedy… all these years after your baptism of fire on Star Search. Why is that? And how’s it going?
DP: I started doing it again in 2015 because at that stage, I was still working on Millionaire Hot Seat, but that was a part-time job and I wasn’t enjoying it. So I was glad I got the sack from there, ultimately. And I thought “I need something to do with my time,” and I started coming out with funny lines that started popping into my head. And I remember thinking “Oh, that’d be a good line in stand up”.
DP: Back shortly after my Star Search experience, I did a couple of open mics at The Comedy Store in Sydney, which were really brutal, brutal experiences. And I put it out of my mind; I thought “I just don’t hate myself enough to do that on a regular basis!” It was just too horrible for words, you know? That’s it, done that. And I didn’t watch comedy or listen to comedy; it just wasn’t an area that interested me. But now, all these years later it’s suddenly just clicked… and also, I’d had years of frustration writing scripts, and nothing had happened. I just thought “This is really stupid. Either I’m just not clever enough or I don’t have the application or my ideas aren’t good enough or I’m not meeting the right people; I’m just banging my head against the wall… But I still like writing.”
And so, I thought I’d give it a go. And so, I did it. And again, it was very nerve–wracking. I did an open mic, I got some good laughs, but it made me realize it was going to be a lot harder to get better at it than I imagined. I’ve seen it in the years since 2015, I’ve seen time and time again, people who don’t necessarily have good material, but just through dint of perseverance, getting up and being on stage, they’ve got the confidence and they’ve got the charm that you’re no longer nervous in their presence. And so they’re actually quite skillful. And if they have good material, too… boy, watch out! And the ones that do have that sort of performance – that skill and ease – and good material, well, they do best of all.
SH: So are you concentrating more on the stand up now?
DP: Yeah, I’m just happy to do as many gigs as I can. And I’m in a group called 10 Comedians.
SH: In addition to your stand up, you‘ve just finished working on The Weakest Link. Do you see yourself doing more quiz question writing and adjudicating down the track?
DP: Oh, yeah, I’ll happily do it if it comes along. After I got sacked from Millionaire Hot Seat (along with a couple of other people, because we’d all gone to work for Pointless as well), there’d been very little work. I think I was down to 400 bucks a week or something, so getting sacked didn’t really worry me. And also, I didn’t like the hierarchy, the managerial side of their question department; it was really unfriendly to the writers. And so, I’m glad that’s in my past. And so then Pointless came up, then Think Tank. Then Mastermind – we’ve done three series of that – and now, The Weakest Link. There’s talk of another Mastermind series. I‘d be happy with that sort of work coming in now and again – more than happy.
SH: That’s a good way to be.
DP: Yeah. I’m doing an open mic tonight. I did two on Tuesday. I’ve got other gigs now and again… I’m sort of in that semi-pro range, where I’m still doing as much open mic as I can just for experience, and trying out new material. I’m not a headliner. I’m old, you know; I’m typed as ‘The Old Guy’.
DP: I’ve got to accept that it’s a young person’s field, so generally people don’t book people of my vintage. I think I work better with an audience aged 30 up rather than 30 down.
SH: Right. Well, on that note David, it just remains for me to say thank you so much for your time today, and for sharing all your stories with us. It’s been really, really interesting. Thank you.
DP: Excellent. I’m glad that you enjoyed it. I look forward to reading it – it’s been a lot of fun!
I really can’t thank David enough for his time, for all those amazing memories, and for his endlessly cheerful candour! I’ve absolutely loved this opportunity to talk to one of the true greats in the history of Australian quiz shows, and I sincerely hope you’ve found it entertaining and illuminating too.
If you’re a keen comedy-goer here in Australia, check your local gig guides – there’s a good chance that David will be playing somewhere near you soon. (Pandemic permitting, of course.)
And so we bid a fond farewell to that most impressive screenwriting, record-setting, question-adjudicating, Chaser-beating, cheerful autodidact, Mr David Poltorak.
Join me back here in a fortnight’s time…