Comedian Mark Trevorrow, a.k.a. Bob Downe, has reflected on the moment he “reluctantly” came out on Australian TV, as well as the homophobia in the industry in the late 1980s.
The entertainer appeared on ABC’s One Plus One program and opened up about his long career to host Courtney Act.
Trevorrow said after years performing as camp alter ego Bob Downe, it was an insistent producer of ABC comedy panel show Good News Week that gave him the courage to come out on national TV as himself in the late 1990s.
“[Producer] Ted Robinson had started Good News Week on the ABC and asked me to do it as one of the panelists. I said, ‘I’d love to,’” he recalled.
“But he didn’t want me to do it as Bob, and I didn’t want to work as myself because there was a sort of a lingering self-homophobia. Who wants to see a poof on TV? I was scared to be myself.
“And Ted Robinson, bless him, said ‘No, no. We have character people doing skits like Flacco and Sandman. We need people to be themselves on the panel.’
“So against my better judgment, and really reluctantly, I appeared as myself.”
Mark Trevorrow recalled during his first Good News Week episode, regular panelist Mikey Robbins told a joke to host Paul McDermott.
“[Mikey] said, ‘Do you know Paul, that dugongs – apart from human beings – are the only creature on the planet that make love face to face?’
“And I went, ‘Speak for yourself, Mikey!’ And it was my coming out moment on television. The reaction was explosive.
“I remember the laugh that it got and I was so proud of myself for being so fast and jumping in.
“Ted just hugged me and hugged me. Then of course I started singing regularly with Paul McDermott [on the show]. It added a whole second string to my performing bow.”
Mark Trevorrow recalls stigma of HIV/AIDS in 1980s Sydney
During the One Plus One chat with Courtney Act, Mark Trevorrow recalled his start with musical cabaret troupe the Globos, before he created his camp Bob Downe character that made him famous both here and in the UK.
Trevorrow also reflected on losing dozens of friends during the AIDS crisis in 1980s Sydney. Among them were Holding the Man author Tim Conigrave, who tragically “just couldn’t hang on” until antiretroviral medication arrived in the mid-1990s, Trevorrow said.
He said he only realised years later that his tall and thin appearance meant people frequently assumed he was living with HIV in the 1980s.
“Whenever I did gigs on television, and I was mixing in the straight showbiz world, there was a kind of weird thing that I couldn’t ever work out,” he said.
He recalled one moment backstage on Hey Hey It’s Saturday that summed up the stigma at that time.
“I was in the corridor with Daryl chatting and the guest star that day was Donny Osmond,” he recalled.
“Daryl said, ‘Oh Donny, this is one of our local comedians on the show, this is Bob Downe.’
“Donny Osmand finally focused on me and he put his hand out to shake. But then he looked at me and he [pulled it back]. He refused to touch me.
“Of course what was so indicative of the time – this is the late 80s – I was in trouble. I was the one that had embarrassed Daryl. That was the vibe.
“Daryl wasn’t angry at Donny Osmond for not shaking my hand. I had embarrassed, Daryl.
“Isn’t that incredible? Doesn’t just sum up the time?”
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