Chaser's Charles Firth: Master of satire, and computer repairs

Manic Times founder Charles Firth on his double life as a raging tech head

Charles Firth is renowned for his satirical treatment of current affairs, and his talent for capturing the stupidity of everyday Americans on CNNNN and the Chaser's War on Everything.

But the founder of Manic Times, a gonzo wielding print and online news publication, almost lead a much less exciting life in IT.

"The first thing I wanted to do was to work at a Computer magazine, funnily enough. But there was no satire there, it was all deep and serious," Firth recalls.

His career in IT began at age thirteen, when he bought a computer from a store in North Sydney.

"I just bought the components because I wanted to put it together myself, and when I didn't call back the next week with any trouble putting it together, they went 'Oh, do you want a job?'."

Firth started out as a technician, repairing and building computers after school.

He worked his way up to sales, before leaving the store to set up his own computer company while still in High school.

"It was called Glebe Computing. At its peak when I was in about Year 11 and Year 12 I was doing over $100,000 a year in revenue."

Firth got his first taste for satire during those years via FidoNet, which was a global network of bulletin boards popular before the Internet took off.

"It was called the Big Bang Burger Bar BBS, and we had lots of satire on it...You would setup your phone line and modem and people would just call in," Firth explains.

"It wasn't called email, it was called Echomail. People would call in and send messages and the computer would bundle that all up and once a day you would call up to another computer and it would start routing it through.

So actually, email would take about a day, a day and a half to deliver - it was great!"

But by the time he was at university, Firth felt his true talent lay elsewhere.

"I had to make a decision at the end of Year 12. I could have just continued on with my computer business - and at this stage I would have been a billionaire by now! - but instead I decided to go and get drunk and pick up.

"I thought that it was a bit too daggy being into computers, so that's when I started doing all the comedy stuff.

"When I left University I started at the Chaser and went from there."

But his background in IT would serve the Chaser team well. In fact it was Firth who designed the Content Management System for the show's Web site.

"I actually wrote a CMS for the Chaser Web site, in ASP, and that served the Chaser very well for seven years before we went to Drupal," he explains.

"I really love elegance in design in computer programming. You know, a really light load on the database, light pages and things like that. And doing it from the ground up means you can be as elegant as you like."

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Andrew Hendry

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