FRINGE INTERVIEW: James McHale
As fabled as Tony Galati’s eyebrows, and more elusive than Kevin Parker, James McHale is a man whose reputation mainly exists in myth and whispers. Sightings have been rare, even leading people to speculate whether James is actually a real man, or just a product of the ABC’s hologram department.
Yet, in light of Perth's Fringe World Festival, the man behind the legend has stepped forth from behind his taxpayer funded news mantle to ask fellow 'Perthonalities' some not-so-hard hitting questions. As James himself puts it, he’s “asking the people [he’s] always wanted to question, the questions [he’s] always wanted to ask”. It doesn’t get more concise than that.
My path to interviewing the shoeless news anchor was not an easy one. Surrounded by a security escort at all times and with no clear lines of communication to the man himself, it took over 4 months of encrypted emails and several phone calls from disposable prepaid SIM cards for me to convince him to sit down with me for a chat.
James, it’s great to finally get the chance to have a chat. Obviously you have numerous fans salivating over the opportunity to see you live. How exactly do you plan on entertaining them?
Likewise! Apologies for the security. I did spare you what I call 'ordinary rendition'. You're walking down the street then BAM: hood on, ferry to Rotto, 24 hours in a budget chalet with only warm mid-strength beer, new recipe BBQ Shapes and re-runs of awkward 9 News Perth weekend newsreader banter for sustenance.
That's a very good question, and one that has occupied my every waking moment, and haunted my dreams since registering the show. It's an opportunity for the audience to get an insight into my personality and sense of humour (such as it is), and to bring them along while I chat to some interesting people doing cool things. Plus, a few games and the chance for them to ask me any questions they want. We also have a FRINGE WORLD performer on every night, so there's something for everyone. Except for the alt-right, anyone whose self-describes with the phrase 'tells it like/how it is', and people who feel emasculated by women in groups asking for things. There's nothing for them.
Do your guests have any idea of the questions you’ll be asking them prior to the show?
I'm totally upfront with all the guests regarding the topics. I meet or speak with them beforehand, tell them what I'd like to discuss, and consolidate whether there's anything they want to raise, or avoid. I'm not looking to catch anyone on the hop, and I want the guests to feel comfortable and enjoy the experience as much as the audience. I don't give them specific questions, though. That's partly because planning them in advance kills the organic, conversational thing I'm going for.
How exactly does one "talk real"?
I've poached it from its original usage of affirming an accurate statement (EG Youth 1: "James McHale has amazing hair!"... Youth 2: "Real talk, player. Real Talk": a typical conversation between two Perth 'youths'). As far as I am concerned, it's about having an honest, open discussion — whether that's to figure something out, learn, or just for the sake of it. It's also more about listening than talking. I'm fed up to the back teeth of the way people talk to each other, in public discourse, and even privately. There's so much hyperbole and focus on conflict and drama, it's like we're all missing the point. I do it too, and this is my way of getting out of that habit. It's not hard-hitting or heavy, but it's the start of me talking to people I admire, or to the people I'm just interested to chat to, about things that have (previously) been floating around in my mind tank.
What inspired you to create “Real Talk”?
It came to me in a dream. Literally, I had a dream where I was hosting a FRINGE WORLD chat show and the Hon. Stephen Smith was a guest. I woke up, reflected on it, and thought it wasn't actually a bad concept. It started out as a chat show with guests, and kind of morphed into a month-long, high-stress exercise in self-growth. I wanted to test myself to see if I could actually pull it off. I wanted people to get some insight into who I am and what I find amusing. Most of all, I wanted to see if I could go totally off-script, connect with the guests, let the conversation just flow and follow my curiosity in a way that a live audience would enjoy.
The hardest part is actually wrestling my brain to let me do me. When I resolved to be really honest and authentic with the audience, it was quite a process to figure out what that looked like. We all put on a persona to some extent, but in my role and industry, anything less than total confidence is seen as weakness. It's actually a really cathartic experience to stand up there and honestly say how grateful and humbled I am that people would not only come out to see this ridiculous venture, but pay for it. Also, to admit how terrifying it has been. If you want to test the limits of your emotional spectrum, put on a show with your name in the title.
What’s next for James McHale?
The response has been great, so I'm clearly onto something that doesn't totally suck. I'd love to take the show on the road, maybe do a country tour. Post-festival I'm going to go back and have longer chats to some of our guests (some of who couldn't make it on the show) for an RTwJM podcast series.
This first iteration is deliberately light, positive and (hopefully) entertaining. That's fun, but it's perhaps not as impactful as it could be. I'd like to tackle some more challenging guests and issues. For example, of all of the problematic elements with public discussion, hypocrisy is the one that I find the least constructive. I'd like to find a way to use humour to expose some of that. Then find a way to cut through the noise the hypocrisy creates, so people will hear it. Then find a way to make bucket-loads of cash. Baby steps.
Oh, and I've always been fascinated with people who have very strong opinions. I've always felt I didn't know enough about anything to have that kind of unwavering clarity regarding something. I really enjoy talking to those people, asking them questions to work out why they think the way they do. The most interesting cases are the people with the more controversial views. I'd love to sit down with some of them.