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Austen Tayshus biography hits a raw nerve

24 June 2011 1,708 views No Comment

THE new biography on iconic Australian comedian Austen Tayshus has one particularly tough critic: its subject.

“I don’t like it, Tayshus says, leaving a comedicly deliberate pause.

“No, I do like it. I think they’ve done a terrific job of putting a lot of stuff in there which is untrue.”

Austen Tayshus: Merchant of Menace by Ross Fitzgerald and Rick Murphy does have at least one positive review, from Tayshus’s mother, apparently.

The book explores the life of Tayshus, also known as Vaucluse resident Alexander “Sandy Gutman, from his early years growing up with his holocaust survivor father through to his recent foray into federal politics running against opposition leader Tony Abbott for the Australian Sex Party.

Dropping his comedy act momentarily, Gutman praises the book for its insights.

“It’s a good historical perspective on what I’ve been doing and what and how I came to be the comedian I was,” he said.

Austin Tayshus made his most indelible mark on the Australian comedy scene in 1983 with his spoken word recording Australiana. He has since been a stand-up favourite.

Fitzgerald, a friend of Gutman, said Tayshus was a titan of Australian comedy, his only near equal a man in a pink wig.

“I believe that Austen Tayshus and Barry Humphries are Australia’s two greatest … living comedians,” Fitzgerald said.

“Not Barry Humphries so much,” Gutman adds.

Another serious moment, and Gutman expresses his praise for Humphries and his disdain for Australia’s current crop of comedians.

“I actually think he’s the best entertainer in the country, in comparison to the rest of the comedy galaxy in this country, well there is no comparison,” he said.

Fitzgerald says Gutman is strongly influenced by his father’s holocaust experience and, as a result, an aggressive adversary of authority and intolerance.

“I hope [readers] understand what a dangerous performer he is and what a subversive performer he is,” he said.

Gutman hadn’t seen the book before it was released, a proviso of Fitzgerald taking on the project. While it was hard to read about himself, he saw positives in the new novel.

“Ultimately it’s a good thing for my career, which is dying in the arse,” he said.

Adam Priestley, The Wentworth Courier, 11 June 2011