12 June 2015, John Pinder celebration, Circus Oz Spiegeltent, Melbourne, Australia
I’m sure I heard about John Pinder before I met him. I think that was probably par for the course for someone like John. I was a little young for the TF Much Ballroom, but I loved Daddy Cool and knew they’d played there and besides … how cool was that name? T F Much … too fucking much!
In 1980 I was teaching at Wesley in Glen Waverly and my friend Deborah Hoare was managing the Last Laugh … front of house, in the booth, assigning duties. She rang at 5.15 pm on a Friday afternoon and asked if I wanted to work as a waiter. Sure, that would be great, when? Tonight! Be here at 6 pm, wear something weird and be prepared to be yelled at by Andre in the kitchen. I could carry a tray couldn’t I? Write down orders? Could I spell Osso Bucco? If I was any good I could DJ from the record booth after the show and we’d probably go to L’Alba café in Carlton when we finished and I’d be home by daybreak.
I was playing a staff v student cricket match and I was just about to bat. I was torn -- play a heroic innings (against 11 year olds) or throw my wicket away and enter a mysterious, seductive world in Smith Street, Collingwood; a world I’d witnessed from the outside but wanted to know more about. I was caught on the boundary and in the Wolseley by twenty past and looking for a park in Langridge street by 6 (ish) -- always late!
I wore runners, blue and red tights, a medieval cape, make up applied by Rinski Ginsberg, a fish mask that Dave Swann had made for a Swinburne film and an ice cream container with a revolving propeller in honour of Ross Hannaford. The show was Mommas Little Horror Show, directed by the great Nigel Triffet and it blew my tiny, primary school teaching mind. I met Roger Evans who was charming, well dressed, friendly and welcoming and at some point I met John who was not necessarily any of those. John was slightly scary … a big unit … an unmissable flamboyant figure, all untucked shirts and bad trousers, standing up the back of the main room in front of those heavy, swinging double doors, smoking and clapping, laughing uproariously and encouraging, urging, willing the whole room to embrace the craziness …
And so began a decade of being a waiter and a performer and seeing shows like Fairground Snaps, The Brass Band, the Whittle Family, The Bouncing Cheques and Los Trios Ringbarkus downstairs and Shane Bourne, Rachel Berger, Wendy Harmer, Found Objects, Tony Rickards, Blind Billy Polkinghorn and a tiny, crazy, elderly woman who played piano and sang show tunes from the 40s called Elsa Davis. Roger asked me to drive her home one night and a week later she sent me a handkerchief in the mail as a thank you.
John and Roger and Tory McBride produced Let The Blood Run Free upstairs at Le Joke and they gave us complete freedom and total support and not very much money but we loved it and ended up downstairs on that hallowed stage, then in Adelaide at the Fringe Festival where John arrived out of the blue and helped with the bump in … putting up Phil Pinder’s beautifully painted sets (with Lynda Gibson’s Matron Dorothy Conniving Bitch running up the hallway into infinity) … John on his hands and knees. Smoking, telling stories, pontificating, laughing, telling more stories, urging us on. Make it big! Make it loud … and then, make it bigger and louder!”
The Last Laugh was a whole alternate world of wonder and whacked-out whimsy … created, nurtured and set free by John and Roger. A starting place for so many ideas, acts and possibilities. I loved working there. I made so many friends, so many life long friendships and I learned so much about doing shows … and I met the love of my life, Sue Thomson, at the Last Laugh and I’ll thank John (and Roger) until I too go to that great green room in the sky.
After the Last Laugh I saw John occasionally and it was always a pleasure, always exciting to hear his grand plans and check out the colour of his glasses. Sitting on milk crates at a café in Bondi … or one slightly bleary night in Adelaide where we talked for ten minutes and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in fact I wasn’t Warren Coleman from The Castanet Club.
The last time I saw John was a few years ago at Roger Evan’s funeral and he, like all of us, was a little shell shocked. There was a vulnerability … a sense of loss about how they had drifted apart, but finally a sense of fierce pride in what they’d achieved. John cried and laughed and showed a heart as big and as significant as the personality we saw when he was on fire at The Laugh … doing deals, schmoozing the press, throwing an osso bucco over his shoulder when someone had the cheek to suggest that it was completely and utterly inedible, standing up the back in front of those doors, laughing outrageously and encouraging, urging and willing all of us on. We will go on!
Thank you John Pinder … you changed our lives!