Armidale resident Nich Richardson’s passion for drama and film is surely paying off. Not only is he working beside Charles Firth, one of the founding members of The Chaser comedy team, but their latest comedy documentary has just been nominated for a 2009 Logie award.
> Tell us about your early script-writing efforts …
The earliest I can remember writing something to perform was when my cousin and I used to put on plays in our backyard based on famous movies – Aladdin, Little Mermaid and Grease. Shame was not an emotion I developed until much later in life.
We’d force our parents to come and watch, and usually my sister would be roped into performing the token female part (usually, but not always – back to the shame thing). Probably our most successful performance was a one-act, anti-smoking play – it was controversial, but I think we saved some lives.
Of course, once I started at TAS, ripping off (song-for-song) Disney films wasn’t on, so I began writing my own stuff. Not as easy. I made a video for my HSC drama project and ended up spending most of Year 12 following people around with a video camera, documenting our final year.
> How did your career develop from there?
It was a weird turn of events. When I moved to Sydney I was looking for a job, submitted resumés everywhere, and I accidently ended up applying at a temp agency. The woman there told me that she’d be able to find me plenty of work, so to celebrate I decided to go buy myself a ‘Nich Got A Job’ present.
I was in David Jones, and this guy who was apparently the state manager for Tommy Hilfiger came up and started talking to me because I was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt (weird). Long story short, he offered me a job as a store manager in Chatswood, starting the next day (very weird).
I was on the train on my way to my first day there when the temp agency woman called me up and told me that she had found me a position as an assistant to a producer at the ABC, if I was interested, but I had to start that day.
I had a small moral dilemma – did I take the job I want, or honour my commitment to what I’d already agreed to do? I did what any man would do … I
called up Tommy Hilfiger, told him I had a family disaster and had to go back to Armidale that day, called all my family to make sure they were OK and didn’t have a terrible illness, and I headed off to the ABC.
Is that how you met Charles Firth? I spent about 8 months or so working as an assistant to a producer who was close to the Chaser guys – and Charles especially. About a year later, Charles started up a new satirical newspaper, Manic Times. He called me to come and write for it, and it went from there. The paper doesn’t exist any more – apparently print is a dead medium – but we’ve continued writing together since.
> Explain ‘Mr Firth Goes to Washington’?
Charles and I thought to ourselves: we need a show that will be evergreen, live on for years in syndication, be seen by millions and provide a constant stream of royalty cheques for years to come. So, of course we settled on writing a one-off, one-hour, satirical political documentary about the US elections that aired on SBS.
The show is about us spending a few months in the US, following the candidates around on the campaign trail and examining the relation between politics and Hollywood.
> What was your role in the documentary?
Well, Charles and I wrote the show, and I also acted in it, although thankfully we ended up cutting out most of my storyline. The idea for the show started about a year before we headed to the US, but television is a slow mistress, and it took forever to actually get the go ahead. Since we had other things on at the time, we couldn’t write the show if it wasn’t green lit – which didn’t happen until two weeks before we had to go over. So we wrote the show during that time … something I think I will never do again.
You can write a sitcom episode in two weeks, but with a documentary you’re burdened with irritating things like ‘facts’ and ‘an argument’. Then of course you go and interview everybody you need to, all of whom say the complete opposite of what you thought they’d say, so you go back and rework it again.
> What was the most memorable day during the filming of Mr Firth Goes To Washington?
They are all kind of blurred into one, since we were on an incredibly tight schedule, with the election approaching fast. After our first week in LA we were due in Phoenix, Arizona by 6pm for an interview, but missed our flight. So I drove us there – a six hour drive that took 3 1/2 hours, because I forgot miles were faster than kilometres, and I was hitting about 170 km average in a SUV the size of my house!
Or on our last night over there, we were in New York. We had been shooting for 13 hours straight, got back to the hotel around 8pm and were about to finally get an early night when we remembered we had booked tickets to see The Police play at Madison Square Garden in their last ever concert. We rushed to make it there in time, but fell asleep after the third song!
Then the next day, when we were in the QANTAS lounge at LAX waiting for our plane home, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman about the Olympic opening ceremony – only to realise it was former Presidential candidate John Kerry. He was about to give us an interview when his plane got called and he had to leave, which was a shame. Still, I got a photo in which one of us is grinning stupidly. I won’t say who.
> Where can readers see the documentary?
I believe that SBS is re-airing the show, but they haven’t nailed down a firm day yet. They’re also putting it back up on their website the week or so before the Logies go to air, so that’s probably the best bet.
> What are your feelings about being nominated for a Logie award?
Terrified. Terrified for the industry. Terrified for the future of Australian television. If we can be nominated for this, then anyone could get nominated for anything. I suspect we have probably destroyed the credibility of the award. Of course, on the other hand, we totally deserve it, so I’m in two minds about it. It’s obviously a huge honour, very exciting, and quite unexpected, so I’m very humbled.
> What other projects are you working on?
I’ve got two shows in development at the moment. The first is another series for SBS called “The Complete and Utter History of Australia”, which is a six-part mockumentary covering 60,000 years of Australian history. We’re writing that right now. The second is “Writer To Fix”, a sitcom with the ABC about six writers who write every film in Hollywood.
> Do your parents still live in Armidale, and how do they feel about your achievements?
Both my parents are still living in Armidale. They’re quite proud about the show, although Dad is probably taking credit for the whole thing, and Mum will still be trying to work out how to turn on the DVD player to watch it!
> Thank you Nich.