Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Wintec Press Club: Jesse Mulligan edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, some people from Metro, other persons of interest such as Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, and me.

After a very funny introduction by Steve Braunias, who teaches part of the Wintec course, Jesse Mulligan spoke for 20 minutes or so about his life and career, a bit about radio and stand-up comedy but mostly about Seven Sharp. This is TVNZ’s replacement for Close Up with Jesse, Alison Mau and some chap I have honestly never heard of. (I am of the same view as Noël Coward, who said that television is for appearing on, not for watching.) Seven Sharp was attacked in the press during the two weeks before the first episode and for many weeks afterwards but seems to be rating OK now.

Steve insists that at these events Chatham House rules apply so nothing that is said can be reported, but I have never paid attention to him before (see my accounts of the lunches starring Paul Holmes, Winston Peters, Michael Laws, Greg King and Robyn Malcolm) and don’t intend to start now.

In his introduction, Steve was very rude about Martyn Bradbury and there was no argument from the audience.

As the main course, Jesse was terrific. He was funny when he wanted to be but was mostly serious about his work and about dealing with criticism, especially from anonymous people on Twitter. He was good too at answering questions from the journalism students, and very open about which aspects of the job/career are hard, and about things he has done – e.g. replying to stupid tweets when tired and cranky – which he could have done better. He was especially interesting about how the MSM uses social media. I am sure the students got much more value from him than they did from the raving egotists Holmes, Peters and Laws.

I was seated between Auckland media mavens Sarah Sandley (magazines) and Caroline Vennell (TV/radio). Both said they thought that Jesse would have a long career because he is good, funny, serious and thoughtful. (What they didn’t say was that he is quite handsome, which can’t hurt either.) But what really impressed the three of us was how he described taking the knocks, admitting mistakes and keeping on so that the next show would be better. 

And then Steve joined us three. He had said in his introduction that when he read Jesse’s first contribution to Metro, a string of one-liners, he had thought, “Wow, she’s really funny.” I said that in the late 80s and early 90s I wrote the jokes in Metro (with James Allan) and when I saw that same piece I knew it was by a bloke and thought, “You bastard. You are better.”

Rubbing salt into the wound, Steve then suggested to Dr Sandley – who is the chair of the Auckland Writers’ Festival board – that Jesse would make a good chair for a session next year. This year’s festival is the first one at which I am neither a chair nor a panellist, so that’s another job of mine he can take over. Face it: he is younger, handsomer and funnier. As Steve says, we should all hate him but we can’t. 

Well, maybe just a bit.

On the way out I got talking with an attractive young blonde, as one does. She ascertained that I was a writer and asked if I would be available for freelance work. “Always,” I said. “Who is the client?”

“The Conservative Party,” she said.

I made my excuses and left.

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