- Would That Be Funny? Growing up with John Clarke. Text, $35
When the news broke that John Clarke had died in April 2017, the whole country stopped for a moment.
It was, as always when someone you know dies unexpectedly, impossible to grasp, at first, what it would mean.
And I say "someone you know" advisedly; just two days after Clarke died suddenly while walking in the Grampions with his wife, his daughter Lorin gave a remarkably composed interview on ABC radio.
As anyone who knew her could attest, Lorin Clarke was exceptionally close to her father; the whole family had an unspoken policy of privacy when it came to the famous dad.
But Clarke was one of those comedians everyone thinks they know, who had an unmistakable voice and an irresistible glint in his eye - a wholesome satirist with - as in The Games, the mockumentary he co-wrote and starred in about the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics - a dagger wit.
There was, Lorin remembers now, a need for someone, anyone from the family, to front up and reassure everyone. Of what, exactly, she still doesn't know - her father had died quickly, of a heart attack, and nothing could have been done to save him.
"I think the ABC was a little bit surprised by how many people connected with him," she says, more than six years later.
"The phones exploded and people were saying things like, we should name a comedy festival after him, we should put a statue in the town square, and things like that.
"And so the [ABC] producers called me up and they said, look, it's up to you, we completely think that you're probably going to say no to this, but we've noticed that there's a bit of a sort of hunger for something from the family to just tell people, not necessarily what happened, but just for the family to help them in a way to figure out how to grieve him or something."
Or something - it's a useful and vague addendum to all the love that poured out for John Clarke, both in his native New Zealand, where he had created the hilarious 1970s character Fred Dagg, and in Australia, where he was a familiar fixture on Thursday nights with his long-running interview segment with fellow satirist Brian Dawe.
Lorin has finally written a book about him, not, she says, that it was ever an inevitability. She is a writer herself, known for her beloved podcast series The Fitzroy Diaries, a fictionalised version of something resembling her own life in the inner-city Melbourne suburb.
It took her a long time to come around to the idea of documenting her father's life.
"I was a little bit reluctant coming to it because I'd avoided for so long doing stuff that was personal and so on," she says. "But then when I did start it, it fell out of me. It was a really cathartic experience. It was a lovely thing to do, to be able to talk about him.
"I think people see the little tip of the iceberg when there's a parasocial relationship, when they look at somebody in the public eye, and they think, I can only see the very tip of that iceberg. I wonder what the rest of it's like?"
Would That Be Funny? is a narration of family life with her dad in the centre - not quite chronological, but divided into themes. She writes about his troubled early years, with parents who were trapped in a difficult marriage and traumatised by the war.
She charts his journey to his own diffident stardom, and how half the time, it seemed to happen by accident. The way Clarke told it, he drifted through his early post-school years, unable to decide what to do with his life. Meeting Lorin's mother, Helen, and her family, gave him a newfound belief in himself, but he still seemed to sidle into everyone's hearts with little effort or intention.
The familiar Clarke and Dawe sketches usually involved him playing a character - a real-life politician or celebrity - but with no costume or even the slightest effort to alter his own very distinctive voice. Dawe has said he was never able to look Clarke in the eye during these for fear of dissolving into laughter.
"I think that connection between him and his audience was actually kind of unfettered by things like the media power structures," Lorin says.
"He managed somehow for 30 years, 35 years, to sort of sneak a little position where nobody got in his way, and people there were making a news show, so they weren't going to tell him what was funny or not."
Turns out the man who emerges from Lorin's book is both exactly how you'd imagine, and full of surprises - devoted to Lorin and her sister Lucia, determined not to repeat the mistakes of his own parents, but utterly free of bitterness or regret.
Lorin herself decided, after her father died, not to have regrets - about the things she never told him, or never knew about him.
"I reckon if he ran the local milk bar, he would have still been an interesting person to have in your life," she says.