Rove McManus on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton

Everybody knows my next guest but we don't know much about him. At the age of 29, he's got to the top of a notoriously brutal profession. He's so successful that only his first name will do, and he's won more gold Logies than I've had hot enemas. Please welcome Rove McManus!

Rove McManus: Hi.

Andrew Denton: How are you? Welcome to the show. To make you feel comfortable on ABC Television, every five minutes we'll stop for three minutes and stare like this.

Rove McManus: That'd be wonderful. Thank you very much.

Andrew Denton: There's your commercial break. Here you are on the other side of an interview. Are you nervous?

Rove McManus: No. But I probably don't like it as much as being on that side.

Andrew Denton: Really? I'll be very gentle with you. I'll start with an easy question to bat back. I find this hard to believe. As a kid…

Rove McManus: Yes?

Andrew Denton: Is this true that you high-fived the Pope?

Rove McManus: As a kid, yes. I was in Grade 7, so I guess you'd still say I was a kid. I went to a private school — a Catholic school — and it was the year of the Papal tour. And he left from Perth, which is where I was…where I grew up, and so our school took us all down to the airport to wave off His Holiness, and I was about three kids deep and the Pope has come past. What he was really doing was having his hand up for people to get a blessing. You grasped the hand of the Holy Father. But I just leaned over, and, "Yo, P.J." Slapped the hand. So technically I high-fived the Pope. He didn't high-five me.

Andrew Denton: I see. And…

Rove McManus: I'm sure it's on his resume as well.

Andrew Denton: Yes. That wasn't the same tour he stage-dived, was it?

Rove McManus: No. That was the year after.

Andrew Denton: He didn't tour much after that.

Rove McManus: No, surprisingly, the hat caught people in the eye.

Andrew Denton: Now, you…you were not born Rove. You were born John.

Rove McManus: Yes.

Andrew Denton: But Rove is a fantastic name.

Rove McManus: Isn't it, though?

Andrew Denton: How did you…? It is. How did you select it?

Rove McManus: Well, I didn't. That was the thing. My sisters gave it to me when I was younger, so I've just grown up being called that by members of my family bar my grandmother and my parents.

Andrew Denton: Who has no idea who Rove is.

Rove McManus: Yes.

Andrew Denton: "Who is this Rove?"

Rove McManus: "He keeps coming to family gatherings."

Andrew Denton: Why did they call you Rove?

Rove McManus: I really don't know. I've never told the story because it's actually so boring for… There's really no story behind it. I think — my theory is because I wasn't there to hear how it all happened — is that it started off as something else, and just evolved into Rove at the end of it, so they just went, "Right, we'll stop adding to it." Although, even now, as a nickname, people still say 'Rovey' or 'Rovey Povey' or… Don't you dare call me Rovey Povey.

Andrew Denton: Rovey Povey Dovey, as if I would.

Rove McManus: There we go!

Andrew Denton: As a kid, you apparently kept to yourself a bit.

Rove McManus: Mmm.

Andrew Denton: What was in the Rovey Povey mind?

Rove McManus: I used to, uh…I used to love climbing trees. I used to sit in my room quite a bit and draw, mainly cartoons. I used to just copy drawings of my favourite cartoon characters off TV, to the point where what I did as a kid when I was sitting in my bedroom — I used to have what I called my cut-out box, where I'd draw, you know, if it was Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny, I'd draw it and colour it in like on TV. But then I'd cut it out and actually then perform little scenes and things like that in my own room, creating my own story lines that I was happy with, if I wasn't happy with the outcome of that week's cartoon.

Andrew Denton: So the early producer was born?

Rove McManus: Exactly right. So I used to have this little cigar box that my pop gave me with all these cut-outs in it.

Andrew Denton: And you just entertained the house?

Rove McManus: No, no. Myself. It wasn't for anybody else's benefit.

Andrew Denton: This was obviously before you discovered masturbation?

Rove McManus: Exactly right. Little did I know!

Andrew Denton: You're also into birdwatching.

Rove McManus: (Laughs heartily) Not into birdwatching. I, um…

Andrew Denton: Bird spotting?

Rove McManus: I like birds.

Andrew Denton: That's alright.

Rove McManus: I…

Andrew Denton: Say it loud, say it proud.

Rove McManus: As much as the rumours would say otherwise. Um, I, uh… Yes, one person got that. I, um…I've always been fascinated by animals. I'm a bit of a nature nut. For some reason, birds, I just seem to enjoy more than anything else. I don't really know why. I had three galahs and some twenty-eights, which are like a smaller parrot, not such a cockatoo.

Andrew Denton: Twenty-eight?

Rove McManus: Twenty-eight. Two twenty-eights.

Andrew Denton: They're called twenty-eights?

Rove McManus: They're called twenty-eights. I think they're also called Port Lincolns, depending on what State you're in. And so we had a couple of those, and corellas, which are the white cockatoos with blue eyes.

Andrew Denton: What is it about birds?

Rove McManus: I don't know. It's mainly parrots and cockatoos, for some reason. They're larger. They can talk. I don't know whether that was part of the fun. You could teach them to speak, although mine never did. I had two galah chicks that I raised almost from just after they'd hatched out of an egg. And the first thing they learnt to do was bark. They never learnt to speak. But because our dog used to sit barking at the birds, these poor birds got a complex where the first thing I heard them do was go… (Barks gently)

Andrew Denton: Are they good eating?

Rove McManus: (Laughs) I wouldn't know.

Andrew Denton: Oh?

Rove McManus: I've never eaten parrot or anything like that. I'd still eat chicken or duck.

Andrew Denton: They're our mortal enemies. They must be killed.

Rove McManus: Yes. Yes, they will.

Andrew Denton: I'm not sure how old you were, but you were part of an ABC TV series called 'Kaboodle', and as it happens, we have some of that right now.

Rove McManus: 'Marty Makes A Move'.

Andrew Denton: Yes.

Girl on archival footage: Trust Sharon to break her arm.

Girl 2: What are we gonna do, sir?

Mr Bowden: Why don't you ask Marty to play?

Girl: You've gotta be kidding, Mr Bowden.

Boy: Not Marty.

Girl 3: He's a drongo.

Mr Bowden: How about it, Marty?

Rove McManus as Marty: Eh?

Mr Bowden: You'll have to play. Marty: Oh, they don't want me to.

Mr Bowden: They don't have much choice. It's up to you.

Rove McManus: "Yes. Maybe I will."

Andrew Denton: (Laughs) Were you always at home in front of the camera?

Rove McManus: No, not really. I got into acting, I guess — or performing, I'd prefer to call it, I suppose — with…I had a teacher when I was in primary school, in Grade 3, who actually said to my parents that he noticed that I had quite a creative mind and he was worried that if I didn't have an outlet for it, with drama classes or something like that, that, uh, I would rebel. I don't know how you rebel at Grade 3, but that was his theory, that I'd maybe switch off and just think school's too boring and so just wouldn't participate.

Andrew Denton: Did you ever rebel against your parents — was there ever that teenage angst?

Rove McManus: No, and that was the strange thing. I've always gotten on tremendously well with my parents and all of my family. We're very close-knit. And when you get to those teenage years — 14, 15, sometimes older — everyone else is talking about, "Oh, my mum and dad don't understand me," and "Oh, God, they're stupid." And I used to think, "Wow, mine actually get along really well and they get along well with me," and I actually felt on the outer because I got along well with my parents. In fact, that episode for 'Kaboodle', I was the only child on set whose parents were still together. And I felt out of place because of that.

Andrew Denton: Did you have to get therapy for this?

Rove McManus: No, because I had my birds and my cut-outs, so I was OK.

Andrew Denton: So you were just 'fine'?

Rove McManus: Oh, yes.

Andrew Denton: Your first stand-up gigs — were you as confident at them as you appear to be now on television?

Rove McManus: I was awful. Awful, awful, awful. I'd like to think I gave off the impression that I felt confident up there, but I wasn't. And the very first gig I ever did was terrible. I died a terrible death.

Andrew Denton: Yeah?

Rove McManus: And worse than actually dying, the audience was talking. And that's worse… Silence is actually OK. Down the track you realise silence — at least they're listening. When they're talking, they're not even paying attention anymore.

Andrew Denton: It wasn't material about corellas, was it, or…

Rove McManus: (Laughs) How about those twenty-eights, huh? Wah-hey!

Andrew Denton: Boom, chh!

Rove McManus: Uh, no, nothing like that.

Andrew Denton: You were clearly very determined despite a scarring first experience, because you didn't just come east, you decided to come east performing on a cruise ship, which is usually what you do when you're about to die.

Rove McManus: (Laughs)

Andrew Denton: That's every comedian's…

Rove McManus: I was hoping to meet Captain Stubing, but no luck.

Andrew Denton: That's every comedian's idea of hell. What was it like performing to the same audience every night, most of whom were trying to have sex with other people?

Rove McManus: That's what I thought it'd be like. It was actually quite easy. The first cruise I went on went for almost a month and I was thinking you have to be Friday, Saturday, Sunday shows at least, maybe even a matinee show somewhere. So I got on board and only had so much material because I'd only been in the comedy industry a short time. So I had maybe 20 minutes, an hour of really good stuff and the rest of it I could pad if I had to. So I talked to every passenger and got stories of other… "If you've been on a ship before, what can I expect? Give me some stories." Walked around, had a look and wrote lots of new material based on the ship, which I didn't end up using. First week went by and I asked the organiser, "Should I be planning anything?" 'cause I thought they'd knock on the door saying, "Show time in five minutes." They said, "Don't panic. We'll tell you when you have to do anything." First week went by, didn't have to do anything. I'm lapping up the sun and the pool, and because I wasn't actually a member of staff, I was allowed to use all the facilities. So I was loving it.

Andrew Denton: Fantastic.

Rove McManus: Second week went by and they finally said, "Yeah, come on, do a show," so did a show and then we got another week off. Did a show again, and by this stage I was…it was… a walk in the park. You'd say, "Hey, how bad are the bread rolls on board?" And they'd go, "Yes!" (Laughs) "He's done his homework." So it was a piece of piss. It was fantastic.

Andrew Denton: There you go. You've certainly changed my impression of that kind of gig. When you got east, when you got to Sydney and Melbourne, you auditioned for Channel 31 — community TV in Melbourne — and ended up hosting the show you were auditioning to be part of, 'The Loft'.

Rove McManus: That wasn't even an audition. They were actually scouting at a stand-up room that I wasn't even booked to be in that night. But a friend was running the room and someone had failed to turn up and he said, "Look, I've got a spot free." And normally I would… obviously you like to have something prepared rather than just turn up on the night, but I said, "Look, if no-one turns up, rather than leave you with a hole, I'll do something. It might be old material, but I'll get up."

Andrew Denton: "I've got this great material about bread rolls…"

Rove McManus: (Laughs) Yeah, didn't go down so well with the landlubbers. And I got up and did a good spot, but, you know, it was material I'd done before and afterwards the scouts for Channel 31 said, "We're doing a pilot for a TV show and we need a stand-up spot, would you mind coming in?" And I thought, "Sure, help them out." So I went in, did the spot, and they actually called me the night before the pilot and said, "Look, we're also thinking we might get a spot at the end of the show, where you come back and talk about the news of the week with the host, just to sort of help wrap up the show." So I did that as well. They didn't like the pilot and they didn't like the host. So they said, "We'd like you to host it, because we want a younger feel. Are you interested?" And I thought, "Well, sure." And at this stage I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was in limbo a bit. I was sort of headed in a stand-up comedy career but that wasn't really my dream. It didn't quite seem to be where I should be headed. And I started to host this chat show, and I thought, "Well, this is great — I get to write new material every week, I get to perform scripted stuff which you know is going to work, you actually get to show your improvisational skills, by…you have plenty of moments to adlib, and at the same time you get to chat to people more famous than yourself."

Andrew Denton: Even on Channel 31?

Rove McManus: Even on Channel 31. We had the likes of Larry Emdur and Glenn Ridge, which for us…

Andrew Denton: Sorry!

Rove McManus: ..was a very big coup.

Andrew Denton: I didn't realise you had a big guest budget.

Rove McManus: Oh, yes. Our budget was \$50 every week, which I had to pay to the make-up lady.

Andrew Denton: (Laughs) I pay a lot more than that to look like this.

Rove McManus: But I would've seriously been happy to do that forever.

Andrew Denton: You eventually ended up at Nine. You did lots of other television appearances. When that gig first came along, that must've been very exciting.

Rove McManus: It was very exciting. And the initial meeting…in all honesty, I thought they were full of shit. When they came and said, "We're thinking of starting a show. We've seen what you've done on 31. We've quietly been scouting and getting tapes." I think Ridgey took some back, just quietly. I thought, "Oh, OK. Yeah, sure, sounds great. Whatever." Because you soon learn in the entertainment industry — but it's also with comedy — when you're starting out and trying to get any gig you can, you hear, "There's a new stand-up show starting up soon, which we're trying to get comedians for and you'd be great for it," or there's this or that, and usually they all fall through, or even the ones that do come through end up being completely different to what you're told they'll be. So I just thought…I thought they were just blowing smoke up my arse and maybe they had something else for me in mind, or I thought they might want to sign me to the network and just keep me away from everybody else.

Andrew Denton: A bird-oriented game show, perhaps?

Rove McManus: Perhaps, which wouldn't have been too bad at all.

Andrew Denton: 'Spin the Corella'.

Rove McManus: Exactly. So, um… But then they were legitimate. They said, "We want to do this show," and they came in, and it was all a bit of a whirlwind.

Andrew Denton: Why didn't it work out? What did they tell you? Because they gave you a short season, then…

Rove McManus: At the end of it, they said, "We love what you're doing," and next year, talks of prime time or, "We'll slowly move you up to a better timeslot," and all this sort of thing. But then we went into a meeting — and the previous meeting three days before was, "Next year, next year, let's do this, let's do that" — then the following meeting, I can't actually remember what was said, but I remember coming out and asking my manager, "Do you get the feeling we're not coming back?" They just gave this vibe of suddenly it's, "Well, we're not sure," and, "We'll develop it some more," and just all the terms they use that give you that smell that something's not quite right. Then before we knew it, talks fell apart, our contract expired and basically we saw the writing on the wall and by the time they told us to leave, we'd already packed our bags and left and taken many a desk lamp with us.

Andrew Denton: At this time also in your life, you met Belinda.

Rove McManus: Yes, towards the end of the series. Yes, we did.

Andrew Denton: Do you remember when you fell in love with her?

Rove McManus: Uh, probably the night, on our first date when I turned up and my pants were pulled so incredibly high…I was tucked in and pulled so incredibly high and she didn't knock me back and I thought, "Well, she's a keeper…"

Andrew Denton: Is this how you judge women, if you wear the pants high and they still like you?

Rove McManus: It was on purpose, you see. She'd probably say I was just not fashion-conscious. But it's a wily little trick I have.

Andrew Denton: Very interesting courting technique.

Rove McManus: Yes, yes.

Andrew Denton: Of course, you've since discovered that Belinda has cancer. Now, your life up to this point had been a really great life — really no dark clouds, unless you're hiding something from us, unless a bird had died that we haven't heard about. How did you deal with something that was very dark in your life?

Rove McManus: Well, you just have to. And I guess that's really all… That's a very tough thing for me to talk about because it's a very personal thing. It's something I don't normally enjoy talking about, because it's… Same as anybody else, if they had to go through it, they would just have to. And if they had to go through it, they probably wouldn't want to be walking up to complete strangers and say, "Well, here's what we've done this week, and this is how we feel." So it's just one of those things we've just had to…and we do.

Andrew Denton: For a lot of people, who look at you and see the confident exterior, though, there is something to be learnt from how you deal with the experience. Uh, for example, a friend of a friend of mine died of liver cancer a couple of years ago and what he and his wife did when they realised he had liver cancer, they wrote a list of all the people they thought deserved cancer ahead of him…

Rove McManus: (Laughs)

Andrew Denton: ..which was one of the ways they dealt with it. Have you found that humour is a way…a technique of dealing with…

Rove McManus: Humour probably is. I mean, we have a good sense of humour with each other anyway — we always have — so certainly that hasn't changed, no matter what the circumstance.

Andrew Denton: Has this… I know this seems like a peculiar question, but has having cancer in your life made your life seem richer?

Rove McManus: Um, I felt my life was fairly rich anyway, and, uh, I guess it's… It's like anything — people have tragedies in their life, and, you know, you just… it makes you appreciate what you've got, that's for sure. I will say that, definitely.

Andrew Denton: Is there a spiritual side to this for you? Are you a spiritual man?

Rove McManus: I'd like to think I'm a spiritual man anyway. Um, it's been printed in places that I've said, "With God's help we'll get through," but that was something I never said, which is…at the risk of not wanting to be a difficult guest, because I know what it's like to be at the other end of asking people questions they don't want to answer, but I'm also very…I'm also very, very wary of the fact that, um…something like this is the sort of thing that the media… We've asked if people could, obviously, respect our privacy, and for the most part, people have, which is great, and we're thankful for. But I feel there are people ready with their…the story's printed and they're ready with the trigger finger, just to hit 'print', and it wouldn't take much of a spark to start a fire. So I'm very reluctant to…to share too much in that regard. And I have found that with this one instance, someone that just wrote a quote that was a work of fiction — something I never even said — and before you know it, it actually becomes…it's out in the open and it's up there for public consumption, and next time you read an interview or even a story that was written without your consent, that quote's in there as well.

Andrew Denton: We'll re-edit this interview so that you're saying, "With God's help, I'll wear tight pants to get us through," but aside from that, trust us.

Rove McManus: And "Spin the corella."

Andrew Denton: Yeah, that's right. How aware are you of the fact that you now wield power within this industry? You're 29, damn you to hell, and…

Rove McManus: (Laughs)

Andrew Denton: …you've got now your own show and two other shows at Channel Ten. Rove the businessman.

Rove McManus: Mmm.

Andrew Denton: How aware are you of the power you wield?

Rove McManus: I…I don't feel like I'm very powerful. It always comes from other people saying that to me or if… There was a list printed where it said I was the most powerful man in showbiz, but that was voted by the editors of a magazine to sell their magazine, which did well, and…

Andrew Denton: And it was, in fairness, a bird-fancying magazine.

Rove McManus: It was, and I thought I was worthy of that number one spot. And things like that, I mean, they're good in that regard, because, I think, "Well, that keeps…it keeps people aware of what we're doing." The same as winning three Logies certainly doesn't hurt the prestige of the show and what we're trying to do, because you don't want to…

Andrew Denton: Please stop mentioning all the Logies you've won.

Rove McManus: But all that…it's not done for… It's… (Laughs) ..and, you know, counting… counting the one we won the year before, that's four. (Laughs) Oh, Andrew…

Andrew Denton: Rod, security, somebody — get this man off my set!

Rove McManus: But it's…it's not so… Again, that was never something I intended to do, and even with having a production company, it's really — for the first four years of the production company — it was to produce this one TV show, and if that TV show fell over, then so did the production company. And now we're very blessed in that we've been able to branch out into producing some other shows. But it's not a power thing. It's also…I get a thrill out of it in having other people that I know who are very talented, and having the ability to give them the opportunity that I wish I could have had when I was starting out. I remember when I was knocking on people's doors, they were saying, "What do you want to do?" I said, "What I'm doing on community television but to a wider audience." And I remember one guy laughed in my face and said, "Other than hosting your own 'Tonight Show', what do you want?" I said, "Nothing," and meant it. I would have been happy on 31. There were times like that where I wouldn't have minded someone having faith in me, seeing what I could do, and thinking, "I'll take a punt on you." And that's kind of what… I don't see what I do as being anything business-minded. I don't see myself as being a very shrewd businessman. I've never done a business course. Any decisions I make are based on what do I, as a TV viewer, enjoy watching and what would I like to see, and what do I like, and, in that regard, that's where I kind of come from. I don't see it as being any kind of all-powerful being or anything like that.

Andrew Denton: Whatever you say.

Rove McManus: (Laughs)

Andrew Denton: Did anyone from Channel Nine congratulate you when you won the Gold Logie?

Rove McManus: No.

Andrew Denton: Really?

Rove McManus: No.

Andrew Denton: Well, there you go. You're better off at Channel Ten, aren't you?

Rove McManus: Certainly am, yes.

Andrew Denton: Yes. Where do you think you're going to be at 40? What's the picture?

Rove McManus: I don't know. I'd like to think I'll… I mean, I'll still keep doing the show as long as people keep watching it.

Andrew Denton: Don't mention the Logies again.

Rove McManus: (Laughs) And so I'd like to think I'll still be doing 'Rove Live' — I really, really do — but, again, that's up to the people who watch, and if they stop watching, I'm sure we'll be booted out quite swiftly. Other than that, I'd like to think that I can just take it easy if I'm not…if I'm not still working.

Andrew Denton: You view life as that cruise ship, don't you?

Rove McManus: Yes! There are many bread roll gags for all.

Andrew Denton: Ah. You kindly gave me a T-shirt when I came on your show, and I'll return the favour with an Enough Rope T-shirt made for you. (Holds up T-shirt with 'Enough Rope' imposed over an erased 'Rove Live')

Rove McManus: (Laughs) Oh, that's beautiful. That is fantastic!

Andrew Denton: Rove McManus, thank you very much.

Rove McManus: Thank you very much, Andrew.

Andrew Denton: My best wishes…

Rove McManus: I will take that.


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