Rove: Nothing personal, please

BY MICHELLE LALLO
Last updated 13:28 17/08/2009
Rove McManus
NONE OF MY BUSINESS: Rove McManus reckons the public has no interest in his private life.

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Rove McManus places his white Converse sneakers on the coffee table and nestles into a leather couch in his enormous Abbotsford office. The room is festooned with pop-culture paraphernalia: action-hero figurines, celebrity photos and a collector's edition Bart Simpson plate. Despite its size, the office feels cosy and jovial.

Yet McManus is guarded. It's not that he's unfriendly - far from it - but there's an undercurrent of suspicion. It's almost as if he's waiting for the inevitable invasion of privacy - not surprising given the media scrutiny he endured during the illness and death of his wife, Belinda Emmett, in 2006.

I don't intend to grill him about his personal life. But even when I ask about the media storm surrounding his wedding to actor Tasma Walton in June, he gives a sarcastic laugh, as if to say, "Nice try". Then he crosses his arms and raises his eyebrows.

But just how does it feel to be hounded by the gossip magazines?

"It's like a mosquito. It's annoying. It doesn't actually do you any harm. But every now and again, it can get very irritating."

Do they ever fabricate stories about you?

"Yeah, absolutely they do! Case in point: the week before Tasma and I got married, they ran a story called 'Wedding Countdown'. They took a quote she said in some interview and ran with it. But all it did was prove how full of shit they are because the following week, they had nothing on the actual wedding that they had rumoured was about to happen."

Is there an expectation that you'll be open about your personal life because you're a public figure?

"Yes. From some people. Not people on the street but journalists. And when I don't give them what they want, they say to me, 'Oh, the people want to know'. No they don't. People on the street respect that my private life is my private life. They don't want to know the ins and outs because they're polite," he says.

The subject is dropped and McManus finally relaxes.

Rove has just reached its 10th year, which is a remarkable achievement for any program. Far from looking tired, however, the program is at its peak. It attracted 1.5 million viewers recently, boosted by the success of MasterChef. But even before that, its ratings hovered around the magic million mark - well above the 800,000 viewers it had before its 2007 revamp.

"In terms of the format, we're almost back to where we started," he says. "It's a host-driven ensemble program where your regulars come and present segments. We became very guest-heavy for a while. It almost became a talk show, which didn't leave much room for anything else. And there were times where it was more of a variety program. But if you had to put a label on it now, I'd say it's a comedy show."

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It's also a show that the Australian prime minister loves. So far, Kevin Rudd has appeared on Rove three times - yet opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull has never been a guest.

"We don't necessarily invite them on," says McManus. "It's more that their people give us a call and tell us they're available. Turnbull can come on if he wants. I don't care. He's more than welcome. But if I were Mal, I'd get in pretty quickly."

Perhaps it would be wise for the embattled opposition leader to appear live?

"That's right. He wouldn't want to do a pre-recorded interview because he might get the phone call before it goes to air - and it would be hard for us to get Joe Hockey into the studio on time."

But not everyone is happy about our political leaders appearing on the program. Laurie Oakes, for instance, recently complained, "Rove and his ilk in Australia throw soft balls".

"Part of me felt like saying, 'I think it's your job [to ask tough questions] Laurie, not mine'," he says. "And I don't expect you to be funny. We're an entertainment show."

McManus has lived in Melbourne since 1995, when he moved from Perth to pursue a career in stand-up. In 1997, he began hosting The Loft Live on C31, where he met Peter Helliar. Rove launched on Nine two years later and moved to Ten the following year.

His early stand-up shows, however, were not always quite so successful.

"When I did my first Comedy Festival, I remember the ticket guy would run in before the show and say, 'What's the smallest number of people you'd play to?' And I'd say, 'Oh, I don't know, maybe five?' And then just before I was meant to start, he'd come back in and go, 'Will you perform to four?' And of course, I'd do it."

But these audiences were still 400 per cent larger than his smallest gig, which had a crowd of one.

"I was booked to perform with a few other comedians and only three people turned up, so they cancelled it," he says. "But there was this one guy who said, 'I've had such a shit day and I was really looking forward to having a laugh and being cheered up'. So my mate and I each got up on stage and did our bits, then we did a bit together, then we sat in the audience and made the guy go on stage. I think he went home happy ... It was one of my all-time favourite gigs."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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