Talking to Fairfax, McDermott admits “there could be thousands” of such incriminating missives out there, all sent from the past via “a fax machine that we could use to destroy ourselves in 20 years’ time”.
“Destroy” might be too strong a word, but “derail” is not.
The Sutton story broke just as the reformed Allstars (with Paul “Flacco” Livingston in place of Fidler) was about to hit the road with the show they had performed in Edinburgh in 2016, where they were presented with the Spirit of the Fringe award. Suddenly, the tour was off (and, to date, remains off).
“Personally I think we should have gone ahead,” McDermott says. “I prefer to confront things head on. But Tim felt he was under stress – and stress can be very damaging to someone with MS.”
Ferguson first detected strange physical symptoms in his late teens, and by the time he announced he was leaving the Allstars in 1994 – just as they were on the brink of major overseas success – he could no longer ignore the impact multiple sclerosis was having on his body.
But he didn’t tell his colleagues about it. Nor did he mention his condition when they reunited briefly in 2003. In fact, Fidler says in the documentary, he only learnt Ferguson had MS in 2006, by which time he needed a cane to walk.
These days, Ferguson gets around in a wheelchair. Anyone who remembers the absurd, anarchic and physically demanding performances of the Doug Anthony Allstars from The Big Gig or DAAS Kapital might think that would be the end of them as a live act. But McDermott contends it actually gave them a new lease on life when they began performing again in late 2014.
“There was a fear it would be this hodgepodge of nostalgia and three sad, desperate, ageing men trying to reclaim some aspect of their glory days in front of a fawning audience,” he concedes. That it wasn’t was down to the fact they so directly addressed the elephant in the wheelchair, making Ferguson’s condition the centrepiece of the show.
“There has been a lot of joy with the Allstars but a lot of pain as well, and it’s great to be able to confront those things honestly,” says McDermott. “Even though we have one fellow who doesn’t speak in the show [Livingston] and one who doesn’t move [Ferguson], it was the soul of the Allstars reborn after a gap of 25 years.”
Time, though, is not on their side – hence the title of the documentary. “It’s about seizing life, it’s about doing the things that you want to do and need to do, and doing them now,” says McDermott. “Any delay is problematic.”
Ferguson’s condition is a terrible thing, but McDermott has nothing but admiration for the “brave and resilient” way he has continued to strive to work and to make people laugh.
“Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand,” he notes. “The deeper the pit, the higher the highs. And it’s been darkly rewarding investigating this world in a comic way.”
Tick F—ing Tock is on ABC on Tuesday October 2 and October 9 at 9.30pm.
Karl has been a journalist at Fairfax Media since 1999, in a variety of writing and editing roles. Karl writes about popular culture with a particular focus on film and television.