Confessions of a Smart Arse – My Brilliant (Game Show) Career: Episode 3 – (C)Rockwiz – Spare Us The Cutter

After the disappointments of 1975 and 1984, I vowed that my TV days were over.

Not that there were many opportunities anyway, with Sale of the Century having ditched Tony Barber for the über-bland Glenn Ridge, a bit like replacing Gary Ablett with Austin McCrabb.

So I dutifully avoided the great temptation to audition for such gems as The Weakest Link (reminded me too much of my footy career), Shafted (too painful), Deal or No Deal (didn’t want to relive my negotiations for the sale of a business venture) or Family Feud (which I thought was a documentary).

Game shows were even less cool than they were in the Bob and Dolly years, until from nowhere came two popular music related shows, Spicks & Specks and Rockwiz.

To get a run on the former, you had to be either a musician or a comedian (or both in the case of Weird Al Yankovic, or neither in the case of Meshel Laurie).

Rockwiz plucked punters, chook-lotto style, from the floor of the Espy on the night of the taping, adding to its seat of the pants allure. I watched it faithfully each Saturday night, flicking between it and the footy, allowing my imagination to grow wild that one day, I too would be on show.

I had mentally rehearsed what I would say if (when) Julia asked me about my first concert and album etc:

“First concert, 1975, Adelaide Festival Theatre, Ayers Rock and Split Enz, but we left before Ayers Rock came on because we had to catch the 490 bus back home to Elizabeth.

First album, Living in the 70s.

First singles, Because I Love You / Let It Be / Boom Sha-La-La-Lo (10th birthday presents).”

I subscribed to the Rockwiz email list, which kept us up to date with upcoming taping dates, but initially didn’t pursue the dream.

Finally, along with (not the dual Norm Smith Medallist, instead the ex-Hawks stats man and Ascot Vale Cricket Club god), my pal Andrew McLeod, the plunge was taken in early 2009.

Just getting a berth at the taping is a task of Mick Nolan-like proportions. When applying, you need to specify a taping date and nominate either as a table of eight or as individuals. There were ten or so tables available per date, with a guaranteed spot in the pre-show selection trials for one occupant of each table. The individuals, if selected, get into the Gershwin Room, standing room only.

The application process is a virtual raffle, you send in an email, you wait, you find out. According to others we had asked, the tapings are vastly oversubscribed, so it was a case of (Bernard King’s) Pot Luck.

We scored standing room tickets for a mid-July taping. When we came in from the Melbourne mid-winter cold, we had no expectations other than a top night in the crowd. During our first refreshments, Andrew spied quizmaster Raymond J Brian Nankervis, standing out like an inquisitorial isthmus. He was cruising the floor looking for potential contestants, so my hand went up higher than Geoffrey Edelsten’s hair dye bill.

Brian rapidly fired off a series of questions to assess my suitability for the next step. With nary a stumble, stagger or stammer, I named the lead singers of Even (Ash Naylor), The Sports (Steve Cummings), Milli Vanilli (trick question) and sundry other outfits until I received the nod from the man with the second weirdest hairstyle in Melbourne.

The next stage was a quiz-off between the two dozen hopefuls, all vying for one of the eight spots available, four each for the two shows being taped that night.

I was in the first batch of six beat the buzzer contestants; to that point I wasn’t sure whether I could or, in the words of Echo and The Bunnymen, “…couldn’t cut the mustard…”

Six questions later, with me having buzzed in first and answered correctly for five of them, Brian told me:

a) not to answer any more questions
b) I was in
c) nobody likes a smart-arse

with the emphasis on c)

While the remainder of the preliminaries were conducted, I texted home to my eldest offspring, thinking I was pretty fly for an old guy. Her response, on behalf of the entire family was “Oh shit – don’t embarrass us”.

The octet chosen for the night’s tapings was assembled in the Espy loading bay for our riding instructions. We were given a release form to sign (more MEO 245 than AOD 9604), some rudimentary do’s and don’ts, and for the first time, we met Julia Z for a brief bonjour. She had certainly kicked on since the days of spruiking pizzas and feminine hygiene products.

And the final word to us all from the production staff: “This is a TV show, so it doesn’t look good if someone dominates. Nobody likes a smart-arse”.

Around now I was regretting my lack of preparation in the clothing department. I was about to be electronically immortalised and I looked like I had just walked in from Melbourne University’s Raymond Priestley Building (which I had), dressed in my daggiest Rivers half-zip jumper and chinos. With a little bit of forethought I could have packed one or two of my many Ramones t-shirts but I went with academic administrative apparel instead.

As the first four of us were herded towards the narrow walkway behind the plush red velvet curtains, I resisted the urge to yell out “Hello Cleveland”. We could hear Brian introduce us a “four ordinary Australians” and we burst onto the stage like the 1963 Cats minus Happy Hammond.

So it was true, we were all going to be part of Rockwiz Episode 94. I responded to Julia’s standard introductory questions by rote (see above, minus the question about the singles), eliciting a chuckle from Brian as he asked why we failed to see the distance (but he missed the chance to retort with “Hooroo Uluru”).

My team-mate Lee, and opponents Sandra and Rick were similarly grilled, then it was time to guess the guests. After a lengthy rap-sheet was read by Julia, Lee picked Jenny Morris as the mystery performer. On she came to perform the rather tedious “Break In The Weather” (I would have preferred Body and Soul) then joined our team table.

The Kiwi theme was continued with Mutton Birds singer Don McGlashan, who unfortunately none of us had heard of, and despite us being worded up pre-taping, it took two guesses/takes to get his name right. Don was a pretty funny bloke and he went alright with a guitar in his hand also.

The questions commenced, the first theme being the artists behind one-word album titles

“Low” (I buzz) – David Bowie

“Berlin” (I buzz) – Lou Reed

“Woodface” (I buzz) – Crowded House

A few more correct answers, I get an early “freakazoid” from Julia and my life’s work was done.

Conscious of the smart-arse reminders and my family’s earlier warnings, I then went into my shell, content that the half a dozen or more questions I had answered correctly would look pretty good when the episode was shown.

Don, Sandra and Rick go alright as well, Sandra’s version of Prince’s Kiss, with lyrics seemingly courtesy of William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, adding to the entertainment.

With Dugald absent from human scoreboard duties that night, our show had Andy, a youngster who looked like the spawn of Joey Ramone and Lisa from the Veronicas.

At the first break it was Them:80 Us:50

Round 2 was my weak link – Million Dollar Riff. Although it is my favourite part of proceedings, I am generally outdone by Mrs Swish when watching at home.

I was way too slow on the first one, but instantly recognised James Black’s synthy early 80’s na-na na-na na-na na-na na na-na as a Human League number, but then went blank and could only blurt out “Don’t You Want Me?”. Rick pounced on my feeble attempt, to steal the other half of the question. The irony immediately hit me – “Love Action” was the ring tone of the pregnant lady sitting a few pods away from me at work and it always gave me a chuckle when it rang.

Rick used his superior knowledge of cocaine-fueled 70’s acts to snag the third riff also, putting a big gap between “Don’s Team” and “Jenny’s Team”.

After round 2 it was Them:105 Us:55

The third round Master Blaster format ensures that the celebrity guests earn their appearance fee and us punters just sit there and try not to fall over or yawn.

Don regaled us with some witty word-replacement songs, to wit, “When A Man Loves A Wombat” and “American Wombat”.

This took me back to 1977, where my Matric class invented Armadillo hangman to while away the wet winter recess times. My favourites were “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Armadillo” and “Is This The Way To Armadillo?” – I guess you had to be there.

After Round Three it was Them:112 Us:65

At this point my competitive juices kicked back in. Sure, we weren’t playing for anything, so the score was irrelevant, but in my first post-internet televisual appearance, whatever I did would be digitised and available to the world forever.

Julia opened the final round with some cryptic clues – Rick was all over the first one, “a bovine Go-Betweens song” was of course “Cattle and Cane”.

“an equine Ross Ryan song” – (I buzz) “Pegasus”

“a canine Led Zeppelin song” – (I buzz) “Black Dog”

“a porcine Black Sabbath song” – (I buzz) “War Pigs”

I was back in town, the early 70’s were good to me. I was flying, more questions, more correct answers, increasing audience adulation, and even better, I had avoided embarrassment so far.

The undoubted high point was to follow – Julia would issue forth a single word and we had to answer by singing a song containing that word.

“Queen” – (I buzz) – “She’s a killer queeeeeeen”, justifying Mr Dow’s decision to kick me out of choir in Grade 7.

“Drink” – (I buzz) – “I’d love to have a drink with Duncan” – delivered with a Slim Dusty like drawl, although technically the word “drink” doesn’t appear in that line of the song.

“Star” – (I buzz) – “There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’ll blow our mind”

The crowd roared with laughter (with me or at me, who cared, the room was alight).

That was the first and last time I’ve ever sung on TV. It was liberating to think that I was carefree enough to go with the moment (…“sing like no one is listening” …).

With no live scoreboard, it was only when the siren sounded after a final flurry from Rick, that I realised that yet again, I had been dudded on the last question. This time though it was a technicality, as there is nothing to win or lose apart from respect or dignity on Rockwiz.

Final Score Them:152 Us:150

Don and Jenny continued the Kiwi theme with a rollicking rendition of “It’s Only Natural”, the contestants exchanged thankyous and it was back into the crowd.

I was greeted with a string of “high-fives” and “goodonyers” from the crowd. I’m never going to see those faces again.

We stayed for the next taping, guests Jim Keays and Bertie Blackman, pausing at half-time to purchase a memento t-shirt (no diamond set stick pins for Rockwiz contestants).

Gee, can’t wait to see how this looks in a few months’ time I thought in the taxi home.

Epilogue

The episode was slated to screen in October. I had talked up my performance to all and sundry, and had invited a houseful of acquaintances around to watch.

The show starts. I’m introduced, but the bit about my first album is not aired.

It continues.

“This is the round where Julia calls me a freakazoid after I answer all these questions”, I advise.

And then reality bites. The first round is over, and, according to the TV, I only answered one question, without a freakazoid in sight.

Yeah, right Dad, said the kids.

The adults are more circumspect, but I could sense their doubt, did I have Lyin’ Eyes?

My second round travails were laid bare for all to see.

How much of round four would be spared by “The Cutter”?

As it turned out, about half of my efforts in the final stanza made it to air, the cryptic clues and the singing.

Up until then, I wasn’t (Steve) naïve enough to think that the final scores were audited by a large multinational accounting firm like Arthur Aanensen, Touche Turtle or even Deloitter Intent, but I had foolishly expected that every question and answer would be aired intact.

Instead, the world only knows me as an old campaigner in a dud jumper with a crappy voice.

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right

Comments

  1. Stuart Hunter says

    Swish…..absolutely brilliant. I went to a taping with some mates 3-4 years back and a member of our crew got chosen after answering questions from Brian that left me floundering. Many congrats on doing so well and bringing back a memory of a great night

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done Swish entertaining good fun read . I have been on tv once representing
    Ad Uni FC on a footy quiz show hosted by , Graeme Goodings in which you will be happy to no we knocked off , TTG winning on the last q by naming , Centrals Captain
    Dean Mobbs winning the club a tv ( I was surprised by how nervous I was )

  3. Still better than my last two tv efforts. First was being interviewed for ‘Wombat’, a Brisbane afternoon kids show being interviewed about pocket money after getting off the train at Indooroopilly station. I was about 13 and so nervous I didn’t put my saxophone down resulting in a lopsided, Quasimodo impression.

    The next effort was in the early to mid 80s when The AIDS was beginning to get airtime. Channel 0, before they became 10, did a 1 hour documentary on how scary it was. To close the show, they started with a voiceover of how it could affect anyone who had unprotected sex, blood transfusions, etc, while the vision was a wide angle shot of a crowded Queen St Mall, slowly zooming in to yours truly in mohawked glory, probably with a Ramones tshirt. I should have sued them…

  4. Brilliant Swish.

  5. Brilliant Swish, real street cred in getting on Rockwiz. I, like many others, have rehearsed what I’d say to the first album/concert question and enjoy sitting on the couch yelling answers at the TV.

    My only similar appearance was, after again years of yelling asnwers at the TV, summoning up the courage to do Sale of the Century, with the above mentioned Glenn Ridge in the host’s seat.

    Had a great time , got my head on telly, was a smart-arse I suppose , (might be worth an article myself?)

    Anymore appearances?

    Sean

  6. Great yarn Swish. Lots of insight into the show’s production too. The wife and I met Brian at a music-themed show he did at the Adelaide Fringe. He was excellent, but for us will always be

    I care no longer for your petty problems
    I make my own decisions now
    Today I laugh, I joke, I chitter chatter chitter
    But tomorrow, tomorrow I go to Phillip Island

  7. Great story Swish. I’ve also been on Rockwiz and it’s a great fun night isn’t it? In my case I was glad for the edits, as the bits they cut out of my show would have been more toward the mortifying end of the spectrum.

    My phone still goes off with SMSes whenever the episode is rerun.

    Without remembering as much detail as you, I still have the lingering impression of the taping being remarkably close to the feel of the broadcast show in terms of pace and spontaneity. Don’t know why I was surprised by that, but I was.

  8. Loved it Swish.
    Went to the Espy years ago for a taping of RockWiz and never put my hand up which was just as well. Great night though!
    Having heard so many lame answers to “first concert” (mine was Three Dog Night/Guess Who at the old Apollo Stadium in Adelaide) , I took my 12YO son to AC/DC when they were out here at Etihad a couple of years ago so he’d at least have some cred if ever that question was asked!

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for all the kind responses.

    I think the series I was on had shorter episodes for some reason (~40 minutes), which maybe explained the cuts, or not.

    I should have given more credit to the band, they have a lot to do with the ‘vibe’ but there was no opportunity to interact with them apart from the show itself.

    One more yarn to come.

  10. Warwick Nolan says

    Actually, I like smart arses.

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