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John Safran

John Safran (born 13 August 1972) is an Australian documentarian and media personality, well known for pranks and indelicate handling of controversial issues. He is known for his outlandish stunts such as rummaging through Australian television personality Ray Martin's rubbish in John Safran: Media Tycoon (an early pilot for a TV series), placing a temporary fatwa on the life of Rove McManus, and sneaking nine young men into an exclusive Melbourne nightclub by disguising them as members of American nu-metal band Slipknot.


Early life

Safran was born in Melbourne, Victoria. After attending North Balwyn Primary School, Safran was sent to Yeshivah College, an Orthodox Jewish high school in Melbourne. When Safran was 9, he embarked on a trip to Cambodia with his uncle which would leave a dramatic and everlasting effect on Safran's life.

In Year 12, he formed the hip-hop group Raspberry Cordial with his friend Chris Lumsden. They played to some success, receiving high rotation airplay on the city's community radio, playing many gigs in Melbourne, and coming second in the RMIT Battle of the Bands competition. Their debut album was Melbourne Tram, of which Safran apparently has hundreds of unsold cassettes in his bedroom to this day.

After winning a government youth music initiative, they followed up with Taste Test, of which 500 copies were pressed. Of those, only 93 sold, so the remaining 407 had to be crushed. A song from Taste Test, "University Elevator Music", is legally downloadable from the Triple J website. Interviewed on Andrew Denton's Enough Rope show in 2003, he said that Raspberry Cordial "broke down the wall that Eminem's been able to walk through".

Safran attended RMIT to study journalism, a career he tried for a while but eventually dropped, without completing his degree. He then began work in advertising for Clemenger Harvie. During this time he wrote jingles for Mazda, Village Roadshow and Sea World.

Launch to fame with Race Around the World

Safran's first taste of national fame came via Race Around the World, a television competition for young documentarians run by the ABC. Safran's segments scored well with both the judges and the public audience, Safran topped the viewer poll. However, Safran was disqualified for a segment taped in a confessional booth (the program forbade hidden camera footage), the disqualification of the segment and loss of points because of it meant that Safran finished last in the first season of Race Around the World.

Safran started the race off timid and tame, being locked inside an Osaka subway station in his first entry. He soon however broke what he called the "fear barrier" to film his now infamous segments. These included: streaking naked through the streets of Jerusalem wearing only the scarf and beanie of his favourite football club, St Kilda; being baptised in Africa; placing a Voodoo curse on his ex-girlfriend; sneaking into Disneyland via a work area and attaching information plaques he made about founder Walt Disney to a display (highlighting little known Disney "facts" such as Walt Disney's alleged early support for Adolf Hitler); and getting a Catholic priest to review death metal music.

Regular judge Tony Squires labelled him as "mischievous", whereas Idiot Box director David Caesar called Safran a "smart-arse westerner taking the piss out of a soft subject" and his work "shithouse".

After the race

After this brush with fame the ABC commissioned two 30 minute TV pilots from Safran.

One pilot called John Safran: Media Tycoon focused on the media industry. It became infamous for a segment where Safran turned up to Ray Martin's home, then host of A Current Affair, and harassed him in the tabloid style characteristic of A Current Affair and its peers. Ray was in contact with the ABC and specifically warns Safran in the segment that he's spoken to Roger Grant the then Head of Corporate Affairs at the ABC. Martin's connection with this executive at the ABC is suspected to be a reason the series never made it to air. The Ray Martin segment was later played on Media Watch on the ABC and on Enough Rope.

The second pilot was titled John Safran: Master Chef. This pilot focused on the food industry. Notably it featured a cooking segment where Safran prepared a beef dish. The twist comes when he arrives in an abattoir and shows detailed footage of cows being slaughtered to complete the dish.

Though all unsuccessful, the pilots became hits via the Internet among university students. Safran also recorded a parody of Baz Luhrmann's motivational song "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" entitled "Not the Sunscreen Song" which includes lines such as "Never live in Adelaide, it's a hole" and "Remember, you can't get pregnant the first time you have sex". It peaked at #20 in 1998 and was nominated for an ARIA. In Triple M's 2005 Greatest Songs Ever Written and Performed Since the Beginning of Time poll, "Not the Sunscreen Song" came in at #706 - one spot above "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder.

Safran also presented segments for the Seven Network's now defunct Late Report, some were also screened in the United Kingdom with Channel 4's Disinformation program. Never escaping his wild side, Safran attained infamy and police attention for a stunt to try and coerce cricketer Shane Warne into breaking a "no smoking" clause in an advertising contract with a nicotine gum manufacturer. Safran drove a remote controlled seagull with a cigarette onto the pitch during a match. He was arrested for "pitch invasion", but the charges were dropped.

As of 2002 Safran had been a regular host of Melbourne community radio station 3RRR (Triple R) on its morning show "Breakfasters" but now is no longer one of the main team. Additionally he currently co-hosts the weekly radio show Sunday Night Safran on national youth radio station Triple J with Father Bob Maguire.

The era of SBS documentaries

In 2002, Safran launched his documentary series John Safran's Music Jamboree. The show was a novel approach to documentary genre, combining Safran's comedic talent, personal passions, and typically outlandish stunts with solid information and interesting trivia. He at times raised the ire of his former high school principal. On one occasion Safran and his crew stormed the courtyard of his former school and amid shocked religious students and teachers, he and his crew began to dance to the song "Footloose". Screened on SBS on Saturday nights, it opened Safran's work to a whole new generation who had not seen the original Race Around the World material. The show impressed the Australian Film Institute so much that it won two AFI awards in 2002; "Best Comedy Series" and "Most Innovative Program Concept".

In August 2004, he debuted his new show John Safran vs God, also on the SBS television network. The first seven episodes were typical Safran informative satire, but the series' finale was something else. It featured Safran being exorcised of demons which had allegedly possessed him during his dabblings with world religions. The exorcism was performed by well known Christian fundamentalist Bob Larson. It has been claimed that it was all faked for cameras, but Safran has neither confirmed or denied these rumours. However, in an interview with an Australian radio personality, Safran did say that he "felt something was going on", and that "there was something about the expression on my face". In an interview on Andrew Denton's Enough Rope program, he claimed that he had no memory of the events during the exorcism, and stated that the footage shown on the show was merely the most interesting from hours of footage. John Safran vs God won an award in the 2005 AFI Awards for "Best Comedy Series".

Before the exorcism, Safran had gone to Mozambique to have a curse, previously placed on the Socceroos by a now-deceased witch doctor, lifted. He was covered in chicken's blood in the process. Consequently, on 16 November 2005, Australia qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1974.

In 2005–06, Safran co-hosted a television talk show entitled Speaking in Tongues with his collaborator Father Bob Maguire, a Catholic Priest who Safran met during the filming of John Safran vs God. The 12-part series broadcast on SBS Television and began 7 November 2005.

John Safran Saves America

Safran spent portions of 2007 in Los Angeles shooting a pilot John Safran Saves America for American MTV in which he tried to convince emos to fight in Iraq, hit the couch with therapists who claim they can cure people of racism, and attempted to become gay to increase his standing in Hollywood. Safran stated in an interview that he hasn't heard back from the production company Reveille Productions whether the program has been purchased for production or not but as the months go on, "the answer isn't getting any yesser".


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