Peter Saxon goes two to one with the Today Network’s National Drive duo
They’re acutely aware of the talent that’s gone before them. Fifi and Jules, Hamish and Andy. Both hard acts to follow. Yet, while Dan and Maz are on holidays, Hamish and Andy are filling in for them.
This pair couldn’t be less alike. Maz Compton, 34, was born in the U.K. and grew up in Sydney. Her first job in radio was at Nova 969 as a producer for Merrick & Rosso. She went on to MTV before she was offered an on-air role back at Nova. Although she sounds very funny, she doesn’t see herself as any sort of a comedian.
But her co-host Dan Debuf does. Like all good comics, he’s a keen observer of life and questions everything. I ask him a simple one, “How old are you?” He tells me 29, then turns it to shtick by demanding to know how old I am.
I tell him. He laughs as if 61 is a particularly funny number (believe me, it’s not). I ask, “Why is it that in the news, they always have to tell you how old the perp or the vic or whoever is?”
Without a moment’s hesitation Dan observes, “It’s because you compare where they are in their life to where you were at that age. Like I hear, ‘blah, blah, blah 24’ and I go, OMG when I was 24 what was I doing?
“Or if it was someone really successful and they say ‘blah, blah, blah 38,’ I go great, I’ve got nine more years to get to that position or I’m a failure.”
He grew up in Perth before moving to Melbourne to ‘spice up his life,’ “I was at law school, it was getting boring so I decided law wasn’t for me. I want to do comedy.”
I mention that it’s funny how many lawyers end up doing that – and Dan spontaneously rattles off a bunch of names: Sean Micaliffe, Steve Vizard, Charlie Pickering, Andrew Keith, Sammy Jay, to name a few.
radioinfo: There’s a lot of comedy teams come out of universities, like Monty Python.
Dan: I guess I’m a comedy nerd.
radioinfo: Because you’ve studied comedy at university?
Dan: You can over analyse comedy so much. Somebody once said it’s like a frog, the more you dissect it, the less you learn and the frog dies in the process.
radioinfo: Maz, you don’t have a stand up background…
Maz: No. It’s hilarious isn’t it. I did stand up once for a radio show, it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. It was then I decided that I absolutely don’t want to do that for a living.
radioinfo: So does one of you kind of generate the material and the other react – like who’s the comic and who’s the straight man?
Maz: We both crack each other up equally.
Dan: My background in comedy is from improv. And the golden rule in improv is that you should make the other people in the scene look as good as possible. If you concentrate on how you look, you’re always going to fail.
But, if I’m always trying to make Maz the funniest person and she’s always trying to make me the funniest person, then the two of us will be the funniest people.
radioinfo: Your first collaboration was on the Nova network?
Maz: We were called The Action Battle Team. We were national, based in Sydney.
radioinfo: And now you’re the national Drive show on the Today Network. Let’s go back a little further…
Dan: When I first started out in radio, I listened to Hamish and Andy all the time, I could hear what they were doing. Meanwhile me and my best friend were doing a show together and we felt we were kind of like them. And wouldn’t it be funny if one day we were doing something like what they were doing.
And like fast forward seven years and I pinch myself. I’m literally sitting in the same seat they’d be sitting in. We’ve got Sam Cavanagh (their producer) and it’s the national Drive show. And I go whooo!
radioinfo: Now that you’re doing this iconic national show out of Fox in Melbourne, does it have a different feel when you walk into that studio which has had so many talented people work there before you?
Maz: We didn’t magically become this show. We’ve been working really hard at our relationship on air and at our chemistry to get to this point. We’ve been cracking each other up for nearly five years, we just get to share it with all of Australia now… that’s the difference.
Dan: We still treat the brainstorms and everything the show does now and feels now the same as when we were doing 10 till midnight.
radioinfo: At the risk of over analyzing and dissecting what and how you do what you do, how do you do it?
Dan: (We start with the premise that) Any idea should always be bigger and better. They’re the two words that are used a lot in planning meetings. It’s not necessarily like, ‘what stunt can we do?’ or whatever. It’s more like if it’s something really great like a phoner or a moment… or even if it’s just a sentence that one of us says… we’ll take that and doing something else with it and take it in a different direction or find more people that feel that way.
We try to make every moment special and really magical, Nothing is there just because. Nothing is throw away and nothing meaningless.
Maz: I think the biggest asset that Dan and I have is that we are totally different people. We are not best mates. We see one thing in two completely different ways.
I find Dan the weirdest person I’ve ever met. He feels equally like that about me.
radioinfo: So, you don’t spend a lot of time together on the weekends?
Maz: No we don’t. We lead separate lives and we have very few common interests.
Dan: I think we’re really curious about each other. Like I’ll find a topic and all I want to know is, how does Maz feel about this? So I’ll tell a story that I think is funny for a certain reason and Maz will find it funny for a completely different reason. And she’ll do the same to me.
Maz: On the other hand, Dan thinks he’s normal and I think I’m normal. So, a topic might come up and he’ll say, ‘what’s weird about that?’ And I’ll say, ‘how can you not see that it’s totally weird?’
Dan: And then we ask Australia what do you think about this? And it splits. People aren’t 50/50, they have more than one side to their personality and you can get caught up in going, well, here’s what everyone thinks when it’s not true.
One of the great things about our show is that between us we can cover so many different points of view and ideas that we’re not pigeonholed.
radioinfo: Listening to your show, I get the impression that the gender differences are underplayed.
Maz: Dan’s probably more feminine than I am.
Dan: We could go like, blokes love footy and chicks like knitting…
Maz: But we’re not that show…
Dan: The reality is, Maz loves to go out and do extreme sports and I’ve got a bloody Chihuahua and don’t even know how to drive.
Like you know, they (sales people) go, We’ve got a motoring client, a car brand, let’s get the guy to spruik it.
Maz: That what they did with the Grand Prix this year.
Dan: I’m the one coming in and getting into trouble for taking too many photos of their brunches.
Whenever somebody goes, Get a real job you girl, I say, sorry, I’m not stereotypical.
radioinfo: Who’ve been your greatest mentors?
Maz: For me, I’ve got to say Merrick Watts. He and Rosso took me under their wings when they were just rising to fame at Nova. I worked with them for three years and when I got my job at MTV, Merrick was the first to run into the office and congratulate me. And he constantly checks in with me. We have had really good relationship where he’s nurtured me for over ten years.
Dan: I’ve moved around a lot and my mentors have mostly been programmers. I’ve had great bosses at both Nova and SCA. In fact, a lot of the Nova people are now at SCA, like Adam Williscroft and Irene Hulme.
It’s always inspired me when a boss takes a punt on me and says, You can do this, you can do this amazing show and they’ve helped me to do it.
The people who inspire me creatively are the guys I work with, the Lords of Luxury guys like Matt Saraceni and Luke Ryan who’ve been my long term creative partner. I work with those guys once a week and talk about comedy ideas.
And then there’s Wil Anderson who’ll come in for a 10 minute chat and it will turn into 45 minutes of thinking about radio ideas – he’s been a real inspiration for me.