He’s been accosted by Ray Martin, arrested for piloting a remote control seagull onto a cricket pitch, and received an exorcism on camera. And this is just the short version of the curious tale of John Safran, documentary-maker, broadcaster, and professional prankster.
Recently, Safran delved deep into a different curious tale, which resulted in his first true crime novel, the acclaimed Murder In Mississippi, which he’ll soon bring to life on the stage of the Yarraville Club on Saturday, 15th November as part of an exciting multimedia event.
But before Safran takes the stage, we’ve decided to go back and look at a few of the best music moments of his storied career. For those not in the know, in addition to being a presenter on 3RRR in Melbourne and enjoying a brief career as a rapper, Safran was the host of SBS cult-hit documentary series John Safran’s Music Jamboree.
Get Into A Club By Dressing Up As Slipknot
After familiarising ourselves with Safran’s irreverence on Race Around The World and other projects like ‘Not The Sunscreen Song’, we knew his then-upcoming exploration of the music world, John Safran’s Music Jamboree, was going to be witty, tongue-in-cheek, and illuminating. However, we had no idea it would also be practical. In one of the series’ most famous segments, Safran managed to get nine average dudes into one of Sydney’s most exclusive night spots by dressing them up as nu-metal veterans Slipknot. Genius.
John Safran vs Beastie Boys
Having enjoyed his own tenure as a hip-hop “star” as part of the imperishable Melbourne hip-hop duo Raspberry Cordial, it’s safe to say that when it comes to hip-hop, Safran is something of an aficionado, reserving a particular affinity for legendary New York trio The Beastie Boys.
By his own admission, Safran bought “all their singles, all their albums, most of their 12-inches, and a picture disc”. However, the fandom suffered a blow after the group’s then-tour DJ, Hurricane, allegedly slept with Safran’s girl. Now a famous TV personality, Safran made sure the same would not happen again.
Eminem Helps Out A Childcare Centre
It was 2002 and there was no bigger star in popular music than Eminem, having slipped into the mainstream consciousness like a whoopee cushion under a teacher’s chair via his unforgettable 1999 single ‘My Name Is’ before ascending right into everybody’s grill with the 2000 cultural flashpoint ‘Stan’.
It was only fitting then that Safran open his music documentary series with a parody of a the controversial rapper. The resulting sketch, in which the rapper is driven mad by children’s writer Dr. Seuss in lieu of duplicitous baby mama’s, does a pretty sterling job of capturing Em’s cadence and style.
Who could forget? Before he was a novelist, before mending race relations, before he took on God, before he dissected the music business, before he was a radio broadcaster, even before he was on Race Around The World, Safran was a bonafide rapper.
Just check it out below. No, this isn’t just some forgotten Music Jamboree sketch wherein Safran was made to look younger thanks to creative CGI a la Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Safran phenomenon really all started here and like any good rap song, it was inspired by life on the streets.
The Average Club Night In The ’90s
So much of Safran’s work and particularly Music Jamboree has been informed by nostalgia. Whether he’s returning to his alma mater to liberate the students in the style of Footloose or reflecting on his days in Raspberry Cordial, Safran is always up for looking back. One of the most memorable (see what we did there?) instances of such reminiscing was Safran recalling what a typical club night was like in the ’90s, with Safran reenacting various scenarios from your typical night out at the height of Britpop and the popularity of Trainspotting.
Everyone Is Better Looking Than Joey Fatone
Part of what made Music Jamboree such a talked-about cult hit was the fact that it would regularly hip you to little-known tidbits about the music industry that you could whip out at a party or a work drinks night (like the in-cahoots relationship between major labels and Australian Idol).
However, one of the best and most laugh-out-loud funny was when Safran opened our eyes to what was in front of them all along (or at least as long as the late-’90s boy band craze lasted): everyone in the world is better-looking than N*Sync’s Joey Fatone.
TISM Play Greek Traditional Instruments
For those of you who are too young to remember, but insist on referring to yourself as a “’90s kid regardless”, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, every show on TV was a music video program. Just ask your parents, you couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing one. If Rage wasn’t on, Video Hits was blasting the latest Hype Williams joint right into your face, if that wasn’t on, then Pepsi Live was taking care of your music video and live performance needs, that is, of course, if you hadn’t taped Recovery. Since it was the style at the time, Safran’s music show naturally ended each episode with a live performance, though with a special twist.
Besides the practical advice and the awesome party trivia, Music Jamboree was great because it asked the hard questions. For example, with Christian music raking in millions upon millions for independent and major labels alike, and having dipped their pie-loving fingers into every genre of music imaginable, from heavy metal, to bubblegum pop, why have religious labels not pursued an all-Jewish boy band as a viable enterprise? Sensing a terrible wrong in the music landscape, Safran immediately sought to ameliorate the situation and assembled what he dubbed Jew Town.
“A Dog Could Get A Video On Rage”
Remember how we said that every single show on television in the early 2000s was some iteration of a music video program? We weren’t lying. Having monopolised the television-sphere, producers soon faced the problem of just what to do with all of those hours they now controlled. It led to some pretty shocking videos coming into rotation. Rage — still running and quite honestly, the best of the lot — was in particular trouble as it ran all night. It led Safran to formulating a hypothesis: even a dog could get a video on Rage? Believe it or not, he wasn’t wrong.
‘Not The Sunscreen Song’
Raspberry Cordial wasn’t Safran’s only foray into making his own music. In fact, Safran found arguably even greater success with his 1998 parody of Baz Luhrmann’s nauseating spoken-word single ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ titled ‘Not the Sunscreen Song’, which peaked at No. 20 in 1998 and was nominated for an ARIA Award.
A far more sardonic and bleak tract than Luhrmann’s, ‘Not the Sunscreen Song’ featured such unforgettable lines as “Never live in Adelaide, it’s a hole” and “Remember, you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex”.
Exploring The World Of Rock Scientologists
This memorable sketch may well have been the seed that sprouted John Safran vs God. After exploring the theory that confirmed Scientologist Beck may be a Scientologist by unfurling a tangled web of secrets and subterfuge that all lead back to the towheaded alt-rock icon, Safran dresses up like the Devil’s Haircut hit-maker and attends one of the organisation’s famous personality tests in-character in order to uncover Beck’s Thetan level. As he pursues the truth, Safran also addresses the surprising amount of popular musicians active in the Church.