Chaser's funnyman looks to Internet publishing to deliver serious message

Manic Times publisher Charles Firth talks about how he went from a career in IT to funnyman and now publisher

Charles Firth is renowned for his satirical treatment of current affairs, and his talent for capturing the stupidity of people in comedy shows such as CNNNN and The Chaser's War on Everything. More recently he has resurfaced as publisher of thirty-something news site Manic Times.

Before all of this Firth was a budding IT operator and programmer. He still dabbles in programming today and is exploring how the Internet can help deliver his message. Andrew Hendry finds out more.

So you were a tech-head by trade? Tell us about your background in IT?

I was! When I was about 13 I went to a computer store called Super Ram on Chandos street (in the northern Sydney suburb of St Leonards) and I bought a computer. I just bought the components because I wanted to put it together myself, and when I didn't call back the next week with any troubles putting it together, they went 'oh do you want a job?'. And so initially I was a technician out the back, putting together computers for sale and repairing computers.

I learnt quite a lot: everyone else had done engineering degrees so they taught me all about the hardware. But then after a while I got promoted to being a front office person where I did a lot of computer sales and stuff like that. Then I ended up leaving Super Ram and setting up my own computer company, called Glebe Computing. At its peak when I was in about Year 11 and Year 12 I was doing over $100,000 a year in revenue, which is not a huge amount of money.

But not bad for a Year 11 or 12 student...

Yeah, and that was mainly just fixing people's computers. I had my own computer brand and everything like that.

What was it called?

I can't tell you that, its too embarrassing!

So was there much ammunition for satire in the computer industry?

Actually, I used to read PC World, PC Magazine, APC, Your Computer, and Byte magazine dating back to the mid 1980s. I actually found my entire computer magazine collection on the weekend - I still have them all! The first thing I wanted to do was to work at a computer magazine funnily enough. But there was no satire there, it was all deep and serious.

Although, before the Internet there was FidoNet, and I had my own Bulletin Board which was called the Big Bang Burger Bar BBS - which was a reference to Douglas Adams [Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] - and we had lots of satire on that. Bulletin boards are like Web sites I suppose, but you would setup your phone line and a modem and people would just call in and it would just be a one-to-one situation. It wasn't called email, it was called Echomail; there was personal messaging, and it was all done at night. It wasn't a continuous thing. People would call in and send messages and then the computer would bundle all that up and once a day you would call up to another computer and it would start routing it through, so actually Email would take about a day to a day and a half to deliver, it was great!

So how then did a tech head become a satirist and comedian?

Well, I went to an all-boys school, and I made a very active decision to pursue all things computer. At the end of Year 12 I could have just continued on with my computer business - and at this stage I would have been a billionaire by now! But instead when I went to uni I decided to go and get drunk and pick up. I thought it was a bit too daggy being into computers, so that's when I started doing all the comedy stuff.

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