John Clarke, one of Australia's funniest men, has died

John Clarke. Photo: ABC

Comedian John Clarke, who spend nearly three decades sending up Australian politics and business in a weekly current affairs sketch on ABC TV, has died. He was 68.

The ABC has confirmed John Clarke died of natural causes on Sunday during a hike in the Victoria’s Grampians National Park. ​His colleagues and fans have been posting their tributes all morning.

The New Zealand-born satirist first came to prominence in the 1970s with a character called Fred Dagg, a typical Kiwi country bloke, and later, with Max Gillies on The Gillies Report, were his reports on the fictional sport of “farnarkeling” revealed his subversive genius for combining sport and its cliches with wry observations on global politics.

For 27 years, he appeared alongside Brian Dawe, pretending to be prominent politicians and others, while always appearing as himself, it a satirical sketch that for many years was part of ABC TV’s 7.30 (having originally started in 1989 on Channel 9) and continued to feature weekly on the ABC.

Here’s their latest, with Clarke as treasurer Scott Morrison.

And a week earlier, “Cyclone Malcolm”, turning the weather into Queensland into a comment on Australian politics.

And here are the duo seven years ago in a timeless send up of the banks and interest rates:

Clarke will be best remembered in Australia for the mockumentary series The Games, a send up of planning for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, which ran over two series in the lead up to the event. It was memorable for dealing with a 100-metre track that was “about” that long. Some foreign reporters missed the satire and reported the plot lines as news.

Here’s a sample of the show.

While a genius in observing and making fun of Australian and New Zealand society, Clarke was also a writer, from stage to screen, author, actor and poet.

He co-wrote the film Lonely Hearts with its late director, Paul Cox, as well as the mini-series Anzacs, and helped turn the works of children’s author May Gibbs into musicals.

Clarke’s love of sport resulted in a three-part documentary series for the ABC exploring Australia’s obsession titled “Sporting Nation”.

He wrote nearly 20 books including mock Australian poetry compilations, The 7.56 Report and the 2002 novel, The Tournament, about a fictional tennis tournament in Paris between philosophers, business leaders, poets, writers and artists, including a doubles match between Henrik Ibsen and Claude Monet vs. Henry James and Mark Twain.

Clarke’s film credits range from “Crackerjack” to “Blood Oath” and most recently “A Month of Sundays”. He adapted the Murray Whelan novels of author Shane Maloney into two telemovies, “Stiff” and “The Brush-Off”, and almost made cameo appearances in them, as well as directing “Stiff”.

A decade ago, Clarke appeared alongside expat Australian Clive James at the Melbourne Writers Festival discussing the poetry of W.H. Auden.

He appeared regularly at festivals reading poetry.

Clarke was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame in 2008, presented to him by Dawe.

His family has released a statement saying: “John died doing one of the things he loved most in the world, taking photos of birds in beautiful bushland with his wife and friends. He is forever in our hearts”.

They thanked people for their expressions of sympathy and love and requested privacy.

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie said Clarke’s unexpected loss would be felt by everyone at the ABC and by audiences who loved “his biting sense of humour”.

“Australian audiences have relied on John Clarke for always getting to the heart of how many Australians felt about the politics of the day and tearing down the hypocrisy and at times absurdity of elements of our national debate,” she said.

“We have lost a giant presence on our screens. Our hearts go to John’s family.”

The ABC’s head of comedy, Rick Kalowski, hailed Clark as “our greatest ever political satirist” and counted himself among those who “were inspired by his brilliance to want to work in comedy”.

Kalowski said Clarke was shooting for ABC TV on season two of The Ex-PM up until Friday.

“It’s almost impossible to believe he is suddenly gone. The chance to get to know and spend time with John was an honour, and ABC TV Comedy joins so many others in offering John’s family our sincerest sympathies,” he said.

The Weekly’s Charlie Picking said he was giving four copies of “The Tournament” by four different people on Christmas.

“It goes without saying that he had a huge influence on me and our show. How can he not? If you are going to have the nerve to make jokes about the news in Australia, you do so knowing that you will never clear the bar set by John Clarke. And his work with Bryan Dawe over decades has been as good as anything put to air anywhere in the world,” he said.

Pickering said he recorded a tribute to Clarke and Dawe with Tom Gleeson last year as “a thank you for being our favourite thing on TV”.

“I rang him to ask permission. The conversation got away from itself and we ended up talking about how writing a good comedy script was somewhere between poetry and physics. Whatever that middle ground is, John Clarke deserved the Nobel Prize,” he said.

John Morrison Clarke is survived by his wife, Helen, their children, Lorin and Lucia, and two grandchildren.

Brian Dawe presents John Clarke with his Logies Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Picture: Getty Images

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