neil simon
Neil Simon, right, on the set of The Cheap Detective with Dom DeLuise. (Image: AP)

Up in Bendigo a couple of weekends back, I passed the writers festival, and saw on a poster that Jeff Sparrow, former member of the Austudy Five (far-left activists arrested in dawn raids on dodged up pretexts in the Kennett years) was in conversation with former Quadrant editor Robert Manne. "Ah," I thought "the Sunshine Boys playing the provinces again".

Call that moment a tiny tribute of sorts to Neil Simon, the playwright who has died aged 91, and whose play of that name has two chalk-and-cheese old stand-up comedians reunited by their children to get them out of the house. That begins with an obituary riff too, as Al and Willie (played by George Burns and Walter Matthau in the movie) discuss the passing of a hack songwriter -- "he wrote 'Lady, Lady, Be My Baby' -- he rhymed “lady” with “baby”, who does that?". It is probably the acid test of something or other. If you don’t find the idea of a song called 'Lady, Lady, Be My Baby' utterly and inexhaustibly funny, you’re not going to like Neil. Also, there’s no hope for you.