Matt Nippert - Bigger than (the historical) Jesus, Auckland

Saturday, November 27, 2004

I Palin Comparison

Rumors of my multiple mystery personalities have been greatly exaggerated. I inhabit only one body, can barely organise one life, and run only under one name - pseudonyms are for cowards, obscenity peddlers, and those stuck working as mouthpieces for The Man. Lyndon Hood is his Own Man, although I am tempted to appropriate his name, and location for that matter. With my sweater on, prowling through Epuni with my homies, I'd be "Hood the hooded hood". Killah. All you can do with Nippert is "Nippert's on the buds."

I'll keep this short, as the baton looks to have multiplied in the past week. Aaron needs to find himself a job, playing content manager of the global interweb doesn't fit his talents (may I suggest Breakfast newsreading, or perhaps the Wanganui mayoralty?). Lyndon is a very funny boy, and Hamish can ghost-write my battleraps any time he likes. Dogbitingmen look have a great career ahead of them as event managers. Case closed and onto real news...

The SIS allegations are very entertaining. A serious journalistic enterprise from Hager and Hubbard (not to mention the back-room contributions of Brett and Tucker) is followed by their competitors trying to discredit, what seems to be, one of the scoops of the year. It's interesting to note the catch-up game being played by the Herald, and the degree to which Clark is able to use Old Granny as a personal mouthpiece. Still, it's all still on. Two out of three sources remaining, as appears to be the case, ain't bad. The Sunday Star-Times deserve credit, albeit only grudgingly from competitors.

Speaking of the Herald, whoever approved their web relaunch have done their paper a huge disservice by removing the search function. The depth of content, accessible up until last week, was unparalleled in New Zealand. I suspect you will see far fewer serious visitors to the site, and subsequently far fewer mentions of Herald reports in other media- including academic publications. New Zealand has lost a highly valued, and extremely useful, research tool. One question: Why?

UPDATE: Words taste good. It appears the site is still under construction, and the search function being rebuilt. A relief for sure...

And, as alluded to in my last post, I have the pleasure of scooping Damian Christie, with my Michael Palin transcript. (Speaking of scooping the competition, it is interesting to see month-old features migrate to the front page of the NBR.) Palin here covers topics that couldn't be squeezed into a shortish piece of the Listener; cricket, Mao, the British Empire, old-school Peel and inflammable canines.

Matt Nippert: Circuses have clowns, acrobats, lion tamers and ringmasters. What role did you play in the Monty Python Flying Circus?

Michael Palin: I think probably one of those dogs who jump through hoops.

Would the hoops be on fire?

Yes, certainly if John Cleese was holding it it’d probably be on fire. He likes spicing things up a bit. I never really liked the clowns in circuses, I wouldn’t have been a clowns. I think one of those very versatile small animals, who can balance a ball on their nose and jump through flaming hoops, just a creature of all trades.

You travelled through Nepal and met the King in the course of your Himalaya series. Wasn’t there that strange incident in 2002 that saw eight members of the royal family – including the then-King – killed by a “malfunctioning” AK47?

Yes, “accidentally discharged”, by a mad crown prince who was as high as a kite. That’s a very odd thing, because I met the king, he was about the only survivor of this massacre. There are all sorts of theories about it, but no one seems absolutely certain. Of course, there are some who think the current King was involved, so you really don’t know.

And where do the Maoists fit in with this bloody monarchy?

The monarchy in Nepal is quite … in a way it’s quite powerful and respected, a lot of people want to monarchy to survive. But the monarchy is at loggerheads with the Maoists in rural areas, and it seems to be quite a serious situation. While the Maoists seem to be sporting a discredited political philosophy, they have adapted it what they see as the problems of corruption and illiteracy and poverty in the rural areas. Kathmandu is quite middle-class, with well-educated people, nice shops and all that, while the rest of Nepal is quite different, because it’s a backward rural economy and the Maoists want to change that. So nothing’s getting done, which is why they’re going head to head. Something’s got to give, I don’t know quite what.

Did you encounter much anti-western feeling in the region?

Much, much less than I expected. This was just after the Iraq war. I thought that they’d be waving their fists like you see on television, shouting “death to the infidel!” and all that, but mainly people get on with their own lives, they’re fairly preoccupied. I think you could whip up a crowd there fairly easily if you wanted to, but there were some great moments. We were in Rawalpindi, in Pakistan, and this guy comes up to me and says “you CNN?” And I said “No, we’re BBC.” And he said, “Good. BBC good, CNN shit.” And he was wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap, and he said to me “I have something for you. Videotape. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omah. Together, never seen before. Everyone is looking for them, all over the world, I give to you. Tape.” It’s just so strange, I said “Not at the moment thanks.”

I understand you're a train enthusiast. What’s the attraction?

Are there trains in New Zealand?

Not really up here in Auckland, we mainly use them to transport cattle.

I was born and bought up in Sheffield and did trainspotting, and love the trains. It was partly school, collecting numbers is a big sort of competitive thing – don’t ask me why, but it did – and the other thing was my father was quite keen on trains, loved train travel. I’ve never particularly enjoyed driving, especially on big crowded motorways, I’d far rather go by train. You can sit there, someone does all the work for you, unlike a plane where you’re strapped in like a battery hen. You can walk around, and go out to the bar, and go to the restaurant. I love train travel, it’s a great way to see the countryside, I just think it’s rather sensible, we should encourage it.

Also, in terms of the programs I do – it’s a good way to meet people and get the feel of the country. Go on a train, people are more relaxed, you can’t really interview people in a car on the road, nor in a plane. That leaves boats and train, trains are good, people seem to be quite jolly and relaxed. It seems to be some sort of limbo time, they’re all going somewhere, for a while everybody’s just in a little bit of limbo, they’ll talk and get food out– it’s a very pleasant way of life.

You attended High School with John Peel, didn’t you?

Yes. I was at what they call in England a public school, which is a private school, yes. I was there for one term with him, he was older than me, and we just sort of overlapped by one term.

Even over here the tributes flowed long.

He was very popular here was he? It was quite odd, there was this real feeling of loss in England as well, it went on and on. There’s something about him, he just did his job really well. And he knew so much about music, and he helped so many people. I can remember than when Terry Jones and myself did an rather extremely obscure album called Diversions - we wrote some songs that were recorded by a man called Barry Booth - the only airplay we ever got was on the Peel Show. It was a song called ‘He’s Very Good With His Hands’ which Peel rather liked and played two or three times. And that was all he wanted really, he didn’t go over the top, he was a man of very good taste actually, and never believed in any hype of any kind. I think people really respected him for that, and in a sense, that’s what left a bit of a gap in these hype-filled days, just rather low-key, humorous, but kind of a gentle wit, and very knowledgeable.

Has the declining English empire been a boon for comedy? Perhaps, if not necessarily making the country a laughing stock, perhaps it’s given you a larger stock of laughter – as there's no need to take yourselves so seriously anymore…

I’m not sure if it’s true that that’s caused people to laugh at themselves, although maybe laugh at themselves more. I think the British people have always been quite good at criticising whatever was going on in the country, even at the height of Victorian times there were lots of people writing racey stories, even back to Jane Austen who was quite satirical in a way. If you feel reasonably comfortable and at ease, this is my theory, you can attack in a sense more deeply because people well go “we can cope with that, we can deal with that”.

And then of course in the 60s everything began to fall apart, pink bits, red bits, dropped off the map. I think for a while, certainly the 60s and 70s, there was such an oppressive rump of the old authority system – the army, the church, the monarchy – all these sorts of things were very strong, but they were losing a little bit of relevance. They weren’t able to adapt to the way things were changing in the 60s, everyone was loosening up a bit, and the reaction from authorities was “Shock! Horror! Well, we can’t allow this, close that down.” We had a Lord Chamberlin who made sure we didn’t say anything rude on stage – one completely forgets the amount of censorship there was. It was very good, there were people like Monty Python who thrived on being told not to do something, it certainly makes you want to do it.

I think for a while, that’s when some of the best sort of comedy was done, Peter Cook came along, and even the Goons – although it doesn’t seem to be obviously commenting on the situation, it was actually when you looked at it, you see lots of pompous figures reduced. Those years it seemed as though comedy was an essential part of the loosening up process.

And then the 70s and 80s the decline became far worse than anyone had expected and the entire country was in a terrible mess, completely chaotic, and then the attack switched away from comedy to something like music. Punk came along, and punk had the attitude, "rah, rah, Fuck the Queen". And now, after Thatcher, it’s all a "me" society, it’s all about me me me, as we coast serenely into 90s on a wave of Starbucks coffee and general comfort and materialism, I think it was quite harmful for comedy now. Comedy nowdays more seems to be with certain individuals and certain attitudes that comes down to “Do you like gameshows? Do you like reality shows on television? There are disgusting, shocking!”, says some people “We’ve got to send these up!” Which is a bit superficial. I think what was genuinely in the 50s and 60s and early 70s a feeling that there was a repressive, authoritarian view out there, if you were a thinking person it was your duty to take up cudgels against it.

You managed to get cleaned up first ball playing cricket in Pakistan. How has cricket managed to be so successfully exported to the subcontinent when it is viewed with bemusement by America?

I think cricket's one of the few games England actually invented. Most of them they purloined from other places, like snooker, billiards, polo, all which seem particularly English, taken form India, the Persians, and then given rules and made into British sport. Skiing was just what Sheppards did in the Alps, the English went out, put a few poles in the way, and go round it, and suddenly “We’ve got a new sport! Skiing!"

But I think cricket did begin, as far as I know, in England, a long time ago. The same roots as rounders and baseball and all that. It just caught on in India certainly, and they’re tremendously keen on it now, in Pakistan as well. You find it played all over the place, on waster ground, half-ay up a mountain. It’s quite now, it’s now, through sport and success, of the Indian and Pakistan teams, in that most British of games, cricket. It’s a way of saying “Now we’re the countries to be reckoned with and we’ll scare the life out of the Brits.” So it’s got a slightly political role as well.