Patrick Marlborough admits that the poster for their Sydney Fringe show Killing Rove – a Face/Off-style splice of their and Rove McManus’s bodies with a shooting target overlaid on top – was probably a mistake.

“It looks like a death threat,” they say, laughing. “My famous comedian friends refuse to share it because they’re all friends with him and they want jobs in the industry. But I think if Rove came, he’d actually have a pretty good time.”

During the hour-long show, Marlborough creates an alternative world where Good News Week host and comedian Paul McDermott causes 9/11 in reaction to McManus’s success with Rove Live, the Channel 10 talk show that ran from 1999 to 2009 and saw McManus win three Gold Logies. Naturally, this leads to McManus’s murder in 2009. “He dies as a beloved revolutionary martyr,” Marlborough tells Broadsheet. “There’s nothing in the show that’s mean about Rove.”

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Killing Rove is many things: it’s part stand-up, part Adam Curtis-style political video essay, part fan fiction, part absurdist sketch. Marlborough plays a version of themself that believes they’re McManus reincarnated, though a floating deepfake of co-host Pete Helliar’s head tries to convince them otherwise. Things get weird(er), but Marlborough never wanted to flatten out the oddities. The mania echoes their thought processes as a person with bipolar and autism.

“It’s meant to be this barrage of thought, experience and overstimulation. I wanted neurotypical people to leave the show feeling like they could get an autism diagnosis,” they laugh.

“My frustration as a crazy person is that to survive in the art and comedy world, it’s about accessibility, but it all goes one way – you have to make yourself accessible to neurotypical people. I’ve always been more of a Sonic the Hedgehog person: ‘Gotta go faster’, and you’ve got to keep up.”

At the same time, they promise it’s not a Nanette-style look at autism and mental health: the show is free-flowing and fast with the punchlines, just like Rove Live was. It might not even be that much weirder than its inspiration – looking back on the talk show in 2022 is a wholly disorientating experience. Between trying to get then-PM John Howard to flick the lights on and off at Kirribilli House, McManus jumping into a tub of baked beans for no reason or asking celebs who they’d turn gay for, the show was a slightly daggy, comforting product of its time.

“You’d just be watching Rove interview Hugh Jackman about Swordfish, and be like, ‘What’s happening?’,” Marlborough says. “You couldn’t make it now – not in terms of offensiveness, but I mean [its] quality, not to knock it too much.”
If anything, the show is an hour-long tribute to the monolithic hold Rove Live had on Australian culture in the 2000s, while wrestling with the millennial nostalgia for a “simpler time”. McManus was something of an idol for Marlborough; as a pre-teen, they would tape each episode and recite the jokes verbatim at school the day after.

“I wanted to be a comedian. A lot of the show is about autistic identities and autistic masking and mimicry. [As a child] I was very good at pretending to be somebody else … I would pretend to be somebody that was charismatic [like Rove] and people would like it.”

The dream, of course, is to get McManus to the show. He didn’t make its runs at Perth or Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but Marlborough is holding out for the Sydney Fringe shows, though isn’t sure about inviting everyone that features. “If Paul McDermott came, he might sue me, which would be fair enough.”

Killing Rove plays at the Factory Theatre, Marrickville as part of Sydney Fringe, on September 1 & 3 at 9.30pm, and September 4 at 8.30pm.