Why Denton is making his TV comeback now
ANDREW Denton orders a breakfast of smoked salmon, fresh avocado,eggs and soy linseed toast, apologising for the spectacle he promises the sight of him eating will be.
Feeding the hungry beast, as it were, is a reminder of two things, as he does double duty promoting his new Channel 7 series, Interview.
Still recovering from a triple bypass last November, when he was forced to step back from his passionate euthanasia advocacy, just as Victoria was passing historic assisted dying legislation he'd helped craft, Denton is clearly more heart smart these days.
But a decade after farewelling prime-time TV, when he was working 17 hour days meticulously researching and recording his last talk show series, Enough Rope, he's back in the hot seat - arguably, with a wiser head on his shoulders, with a weekly exercise session logged in his diary, and lead by his 23-year-old personal trainer son, Connor.
When he returns to prime-time tonight, Denton knows the media landscape he will find has also changed dramatically since he was last on the box.
"It's always been a competitive market, but it's not just competing with other networks now," he tells News Corp Australia, "it's competing with the whole way people consume media."
Equal parts larrikin and intellect, Denton has built his career on comedy and current affairs that challenged the norm, embarrassed the establishment, or skewered those abusing power and privilege.
Now, the audience and the way it reacts to that, has changed.
"We basically live in an age, through social media, where offence-taking is weaponised. If you're unhappy with something, you can go to the level of organising boycotts or take-downs and public shamings. And this can happen two, three, four times a week, it depends what's coming down the pike," Denton argues.
The man who hilariously sat on the lap of his then media boss, James Packer, like a ventriloquist dummy when hosting the Logie awards on the mogul's Nine Network, is the same who points to his Enough Rope interrogation of America's Cup hero and disgraced business man, Alan Bond, who Denton still furiously calls a "robber."
Misplaced outrage, he says, has now become a national sport, as evidenced by the recent ball-tampering scandal that engulfed cricket.
"Steve Smith was an interesting example. Yes, a big story and yes, a terrible act of cheating but first of all the outpouring of loathing which suddenly, when that [apology] press conference happened ... collectively the nation went 'oh, I think we've gone a bit far here' and there was a pulling back."
"It was just an example of the sheer power of the noise" where "shouty" passes as national debate, the 57-year-old says.
Adding his voice to that televised - and scrutinised - conversation, is not without a fear factor.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't apprehensive about it, but I don't think about it too much because my job remains the same," he says.
"The necessary task of the show will be to talk to a whole range of people who will have very different takes on life, many of which won't be my take on life and what I'm looking to do is try to create that space where we can have those conversations before everyone starts shouting about it."
On his first episode, he has recorded interviews with Led Zepellin front man Robert Plant, Commonwealth Games golden girls, Bronte and Cate Campbell and others.
So why he wants to return to TV now, is both the challenge of calming that rabble and delivering "slow cooking in a takeaway time."
"The world's got so interesting," he says, simply.
"It's a completely different world to when we finished up 10 years ago. Social media being the main thing that's changed it. I think most people look at the world now and see it as darker and scarier and more volatile than it's ever been in our lifetime. You can see intolerance and racism and fascism and nationalism, all those dangerous isms are on the rise all over the world. A lot of that is just the march of history ... but one of the things I really want to do in this series is to reach out and remind people where is the good. Good people who are getting through ... who are transcending dark times."
His time away from being "capital me" was spent exploring the lighter side of life, including learning to scuba-dive and ticking things off his travel bucket list.
"There was a moment I was out in a little tin boat, north of [Papua] New Guinea, with three other guys" he recalls.
"Nothing on the horizon and I remember having this clear thought: 'this is the exact opposite of what I was doing before and this is exactly what I was looking for. I kind of think, I have no idea what happens after we die. My sense is nothing, who knows, nobody knows the answer to that, so I just think, take a ticket on every ride."
That's included six trips to Antarctica, proudly declaring himself an "ice slut."
"It's the nearest thing I've been on this planet, that is otherworldly and it's deeply wild. You know that you're not in human domain. You'd think 'aw, it's just white' but in fact the blues and the greens and skies and the wildlife are really, awesomely beautiful."
In researching his adventures, he also discovered it was a passion shared by his Seven boss, Kerry Stokes.
"I went to a photographic exhibition of [British explorer, Captain Robert Falcon] Scott and I bought the book. When I got it home I realised most of the photographs were Kerry's, so I wrote him an email and said 'I've just discovered' you're an ice slut too."
That familiarity probably explains why, when Denton approached the media owner with the idea for "interview" the deal was done in a day.
Turn the tables on Denton and ask him about his other job - as a father - he's more circumspect and drops the jokes.
"I'm flawed, like most people," he says.
Prodded to answer when he's at his best, he offers, honestly: "when I'm quiet and I'm listening. When I'm patient and when I'm kind. Sometimes when I'm really busy or I'm really stressed, I'm not those things."
Asked what he loves most about his best co-production, with broadcaster wife, Jennifer Byrne he nominates two things.
"He's beautiful with his friends. He's there for them and takes care, which I really like," Denton explains.
"And he's awesomely good at just walking into a room and just talking to people in a way that I'm not. I'm not actually very good at small talk. But it's more than small talk, he's incredibly comfortable with people and I watch him sometimes and his mum's good at it, but he's better than his mum. I think, 'wow, that's a life skill.' It's more than charm, he just connects and I love seeing that about him."
Sounds like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Denton's Interview airs tonight at 9pm on Seven.