The Fred Dagg Award is for the best show in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. Think of it like the man of the match award, except we only have one match a year and it's three weeks long and there are 180 people playing.

But more than recognition of excellence, the trophy (a gumboot, of course) now sits in my office as a quiet challenge: to make comedy that is worthy of being associated with John Clarke.

The character of Fred Dagg first appeared over almost two decades before my birth, and even by the time I got to high school every kid knew who he was. I don't think people appreciate how remarkable that is.

John Clarke's Fred Dagg set the bar for comedy. Photo / Supplied
John Clarke's Fred Dagg set the bar for comedy. Photo / Supplied

It would have been easy for a comedian to rest on his laurels, (if you can call creating the most successful comedy character the country has ever seen "resting"), but John Clarke had other things to do.

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And what followed was decades of work that celebrated and pushed the art of comedy, from the deadpan silliness of farnakeling to the sarcastic rage he wielded with such precision in the Clarke and Dawes.

And then in 1998: The Games. A comedy masterpiece more than quarter of a century after his first -- any comedian would dream of having that longevity of creativity and impact. And yet John Clarke managed it.

(My favourite moment: a phone call he puts on hold multiple times. It's one of the best pieces of physical comedy I've ever seen.)

If my career makes half as many people laugh as anything John Clarke made, I can die happy. The Fred is not so much an award, as a reminder where John Clarke set the bar for 40-odd years -- a bar that has yet to be surpassed.

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