I Spent Months Rewatching Two Decades Of Rove And I Think I Saw The Face Of God

Contributor: Patrick Marlborough

Have you ever seen the blurry footage of Rove McManus appearing as a hologram at the Telstra Clear conference in Auckland’s Vector Arena in 2009? No? How about the clip of him and Kevin Rudd squaring off in a game of handball in a segment of Rove’s immediately cancelled comeback variety show, Saturday Night Rove??? Also no?!? How about an old classic: Rove, at the height of his fame, lowering himself into a bathtub filled with baked beans, sensually pouring more over his head?


Bless your virgin eyes, dear reader. For I have seen such things, and other wonders that have left me as uncertain as to the whereabouts of my soul, my mind and that of the nation’s.

For I, more than any other, have beheld Rove in all his glory so that I may become him.

Over the past six months, Rove McManus has taken over my life, my body and my spirit, to the extent that I no longer know where Rove ends and I begin. It started innocently enough: I was rewatching old episodes of Australia’s long lost #1 talkshow, Rove [live], as research for my then upcoming Fringe show, which I’d ominously named Killing Rove.

The idea for the show had been kicking around in my head for a while: a multi-media comedy “experience” that was designed to simulate the nature of manic and/or autistic thought (dear reader, I am both!) while dissecting mainstream Australian culture in the 2000s and its post 9/11 psychosis, by way of the era’s perfect little avatar, Rove McManus.

It seemed simple enough: I’d watch as many episodes of Rove [live] that I could get my hands on,dip my toes into the deep end of the wretched Howard years to try to remember what it was like to be an avid consumer of Australian TV back then, and what it was like to be a product of that moment in Australiana on the whole.

This was my plan, and, despite a few close shaves, I pulled it off … but…

I’m writing this a month into what seems like the longest dexie comedown in history, and I’ve mustered enough strength and clarity to type out this warning: do not try this at home. Do not watch hours and hours of old Rove episodes, clips and ephemera. Do not try to plug yourself into the Australia of the mid 2000s like some 1800-REVERSE ¾ denim shorts Morpheus. Do not create a floating deep fake Rove head and commune with it like its the Oracle of Delphi.

Turn back NOW! Lest ye become more McManus than man…

Two minutes at your house…

Despite my show’s title, I bear no ill-feelings towards Rove. I absolutely adored him as a kid. I would tape every episode of Rove [live] and spend the week building up to the next episode repeatedly rewatching the last. He was a Perth boy, like me, who had managed to become the biggest phenomena in Australian television by doing that one thing I was certain I wanted to do for the rest of my life: comedy.

He was, in effect, my childhood hero. Beyond that, he is entangled with my childhood memories, be it watching Rove [live] by my dying grandma’s hospital bed or rehashing his bits for my bored and bemused classmates on a dreary Wednesday recess — Rove seemed to be an inextricable part of my personal narrative and my sense of self. Someone who 10-year-old me strove to emulate.

Who would you turn gay for?

Revisiting Rove [live] is like dunking yourself in an acid bath of peak noughties nuttiness. You forget how bonkers things were back then; how everything walked a schizophrenic tightrope of being extremely banal and extremely bizarre.

I would be up until 2 AM, working on the show and watching Sarah Maree (also from Perth) of Big Brother season one fame dancing the bum dance, or Steve Irwin wrestling an inflatable crocodile in a ball pit or Rove’s pretty dang good John Howard impression or an incredibly young Caleb Bond sending Rove and the studio audience into hysterics through the power of his sheer adorableness. Moments like these played out before me like a million dying stars, booming and burning out for me and me only as I whizzed by in the good starship YouTube.

HYPEROVEALISATION from Patrick Marlborough on Vimeo.

I watched a cavalcade of now has-beens boost their long forgotten blockbusters, albums, and ghost-written memoirs at the peak of their fleeting stardoms, none knowing that their immortality would be banished to the purgatory that was the years 2003-2006, living on as that guys and who’s thats in the shadow of The Crazy Frog, sealed in a VHS tape which has been ripped and uploaded to a youtube channel with 27 followers.

It felt like sitting down to dine with ghosts as I sat through old commercials like the “the rains are ‘ere!” McCain’s ad, teaser trailers for tomorrow night’s Neighbours, and that pulsing nausea of the animated tongue in that Toohey’s Extra Dry ad, pulling said beer across a crowded dance floor.

Subjecting yourself to this barrage of spectral brands and ghoulish reality stars is jarring in a way I’m still struggling to come to terms with. I was blasting myself with the realisation that one day I will die, and one day everyone who knows me will die, and everything we knew will pass, and so it is, that all passes into nothingness. And I was thinking this because I was watching Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno violently attempted to grab Rove’s dick! How the mind reels, dear reader.

But so it goes with Rove, who carries within him a million histories, and reflects infinite pasts. This is the fate of every late night host who lives out their topical observations in the looping infinity of the 3am rerun or the obsessively curated youtube fanpage. They are history in both the lived and the immediate sense, its mirrors and its reflection, echoing their prophetic clarion call: “hey, did ya hear about this?” down the long hallway of pop-culture.

I was watching Rove when 9/11 happened. Rove was hosting a live episode (ft. special guest Haley Joel Osment spruiking Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence) when the first plane hit the tower. The show cut to Sandra Sully, and Rove had to deliver the unfolding news to his studio audience. My Rove-poisoned mind immediately remembered him shouting what the!? as the defining moment of the 21st century took place, something which did not at all take place, but which nonetheless ricochets around my poorly skull as my most prominent Rove based false memory.

I began this project wanting to link Rove and 9/11, so to discover that he was already somehow tangled in it was quietly surreal.

More surreal still is to watch Seth McFarlane tell Rove his infamous 9/11 story (McFarlane had a ticket for one of the flights, but slept in) on an episode of Rove L.A., which from what I could find was the first instance of him telling it publicly. Which is a fact that doesn’t mean anything to anyone other than me but it felt it like a harpoon through the spleen whilst months into this project, my sanity by then with one hairy leg slithering out the door, not unlike that torturous Toohey’s tongue.

In my quest to replicate manic/autistic thought – that is the Jenga tower of intersections and connections that often easily constructs itself in the manic/autistic imagination – I had found myself merely living it, going further into myself in my quest to summon this other man, who was by all accounts, unlike me, completely sane.

Say hi to your mum for me…

Mania is a funny thing. It can be hard to recognise it from the inside, believe it or not. Two weeks before the premiere of Killing Rove, I was sleeping around 4 hours a day, spending the other 20 hunched over my computer editing hundreds of hours of Rove footage together while also animating a deep-faked Peter Helliar head and programming it with 10 pre-recorded phrases (what I call the Peter Hell-A.I.).

It was in the last week, which I largely spent in a state of heightened ultra-tension talking to no one else but the deepfaked Pete (who I’d come to love as a brother and a son), that I reached the gentle conclusion that through my works and creations I had succeeded in becoming Rove.

On stage, I felt his energy brimming within my bones: I was charming, I was quick, I put the audience at ease, yet I seemed capable of all kinds of madcap stunts and pranks all at once — I was Rove, reincarnated.

My partner gifted me tickets to see Rove [live] (live!) week after my show ended, which was also a part of Perth Fringe Festival. There, sitting dead centre so that I felt as though I was watching myself in the mirror, I sat unblinking and uncertain for two hours, not a laugh passing my lips as a kaleidoscopic montage of the months of Rove content whizzed through my mind like I was strapped down inside a Howard-years Wonka tunnel, spinning out at the energy and intersections I had drawn from this man who had hosted a TV show I liked as a small boy, and who, like me, came from Perth and considered himself funny.

I wanted to turn to the woman next to me and say: you have to drive me to the hospital… like… now!

But instead I said, aloud, to no one, again and again:

What the!?

Patrick Marlborough‘s KILLING ROVE will be at Melbourne International Comedy Festival April 11-17, and The Rechabite Hall in Perth April 1st. You can buy your tickets here