Interview: Brian Nankervis on the television show turned stage show extravaganza RocKwiz Live

Interview: Brian Nankervis on the television show turned stage show extravaganza RocKwiz Live

RocKwiz Live returns this April, hitting up stages in Warragul on Thursday, April 21, Bendigo on Friday, April 22, Geelong on Saturday, April 23 and Narre Warren on Sunday, April 24. 

After 14 seasons, 117 episodes and countless tours around the nation, the television show turned stage show extravaganza RocKwiz is considered by many to be an Australian music institution, with many music fans trading pre-gig drinks on a Saturday night to stay at home and watch the show instead. This adulation has led to the show’s beloved hosts Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis nowadays being regarded as supreme music industry operators.

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Fresh from bringing their unique blend of kwiz, comedy and live music to Cairns back in February, Brian, Julia, Dugald and the rest of the RocKwiz team will be in their element when they hit the road this April with four very special regional tour dates.

“I was just talking to Julia the other day and we were just saying how much we loved being in Cairns,” says Nankervis, RocKwiz co-creator, producer, adjudicator and writer. “We hadn’t done a regular RocKwiz live show for a year or so and we were saying after the show that it’s funny how we just slipped back into it instantly. And I think it’s a bit of muscle memory, you know?

“We’ve done so many of these tours where we do it night after night. I think in 2017 we did about 25 shows and so when you do it night after night, it’s really exciting because you find something on the first night and then the next night after the show, you think ‘oh that worked well, let’s do it tomorrow night’. So you put it in and it might work again, or maybe it doesn’t quite work and then by the third night you tweak it again and so that’s what we are doing with these regional shows.

“It’s really good for us because we like to change it up. Julia’s background is in improvising and that’s one of her strengths; I change the questions each night so the performers don’t get complacent. So it’s all very exciting.”


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While Cairns proved to be special for the RocKwiz family, this will be RocKwiz’s first proper tour since before the pandemic, having only performed a few very select live stage shows over the past three years.

“We were supposed to do a 28-show tour in 2020, and then of course that got postponed and that became a 2021 national tour and then that got postponed, and they were pretty big extensive tours going all over Australia. So we’ve had to do a bit of modifying in these new times and we’re going to now do shorter runs. So we’ve got four in a row in Victoria and then I think later on in the year we’re gonna Queensland and we’re doing four in a row up there.”

Based on the successful television format, the upcoming live shows will see Zemiro, Nankervis, RocKwiz Orkestra and the human scoreboard, the housewife’s choice Dugald all take to the stage, with high profile stars and up and coming artists rubbing shoulders with contestants (or should that be music trivia tragics?) selected from the audience.

As usual, Zemiro, Nankervis and the team will then lead the night with all the manic fun we’ve come to expect from the revered quiz show.

“I’ll be in the foyer before the show so if people think that they’ve got what it takes to be part of the show, they should come and find me and I’ll run a little test,” Nankervis explains of the audience participation.

“This way I find about 18 potential contestants. And then once we get into the theatre, the first half of the show is me working with the whole crowd and then working with the people on stage. It’s great, we get people singing, we get people dancing and it’s all pretty funny.”

Presenting a show free from studio constraints, Nankervis credits a lot of the RocKwiz tour success to Zemiro who brings sharp wit and stagecraft honed after years of theatre to the show. The French-born TV presenter (and Nankervis too, for that matter) has a knack for playfully having a dig at the contestants and causing uproarious laughter at the same time.

“I’ve got all these routines that I do in the first half but Julia then really drives the second half. And audiences just adore her. I mean they know her from the TV show for all those seasons, but they also know her from ABC shows, like Home Delivery and a range of other shows and they feel connected to her.

“People become very loyal in a way to the show and they watch it and they watch repeats. And then I watch them as they come into the theatre and they look at the curtains and the desks and they see Dugald doing what he does as a roadie and they just can’t believe it. They think, ‘hang on, suddenly I’m in my favourite TV show’.

“But then they discover that it’s a bit bigger and it’s a bit louder and then rather than going for 40 minutes, it goes for an hour and a half and mistakes happen and unexpected things happen and there’s no editing. There’s no tidying it up for TV. So it’s really exciting; it’s just a complete joy to do.”


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While the shows’ drawcard is its rotating list of Australian rock royalty and a rocking house band, the forthcoming tour will see a brand-new band take to the stage for the first time in RocKwiz history, due to scheduling conflicts with Paul Kelly’s regional tour.

“This is going to be interesting for us because three of our band members are in Paul Kelly’s band and Paul had to reschedule a whole lot of shows and it just so happens, we’ve crossed over the dates for these regional shows.

“So, we’re taking a new band out with us for the first time. Clio Renner, who’s been our keyboard player for the better part of the last 10 years, is now our musical director and we’ve got a couple of new band members and I have to say, I think it’s going to be good. It’s good to shake things up.”

“But as always we’ve got Julia, we’ve got Dugald and myself and we’ve got three very special guests. Now of course I can’t tell you who they are. That’s the RocKwiz with tradition. It would spoil that beautiful moment when Julia says, ‘who can it be now?’

“But I can say that there’s a mixture of newer artists and household names.”

Capturing an untapped audience of Australian music aficionados who had outgrown Video Hits and Channel V, and were starving to be taken seriously, the SBS programmed music trivia show not only provided music lovers with a chance to enhance their knowledge for more than a decade, but it also introduced new artists who may be guests on the show, something which Nankervis says has remained intrinsic to the show’s enduring appeal.

“One of the first shows we filmed, we had Paul Kelly, and we asked if there was anyone he would like to perform with. And he said, ‘Well, there’s a new band out of Perth that I quite like called Little Birdy. So how about we get Katie Steele, the singer?’ We did, and it worked so well and it set the template for what RocKwiz is.

“There was a household name coupled with someone that people didn’t necessarily know yet. That became the blueprint. We realized pretty early on that audiences do like the idea of discovering new talent.

“I think it’s important not just to have sort of the same old artists. It’s important for the artists who’ve been around for a long while; people do love them and I think it’s important to support them, but it’s equally important to have new artists.”

There are so many things RocKwiz does well. Beyond being a vital part of Australia’s homegrown TV landscape and an entertaining creative outlet for artists who appear on it, these unique RocKwiz live events are one of those things that happen just enough to make them a special event, without wearing out their welcome.

“We did 117 episodes of the show in old Gershwin Room, but now we’ve been able to adapt that to a live show and it’s just all felt very organic and still very special to this day,” Nankervis says.

“We all started as live performers; Julia in theatre and improvising and my background in standup comedy and then the band, they are all live performers so it felt pretty natural to go out on the road.

“Even though at first it was like, well, ‘is this going work away from the small room?’, once we did that first show for Moomba, then the Palais Theatre and The Enmore Theatre and Homebake Festival, we quickly realized what this show could do and how well it works in theatres and at festivals.”

“We give anything a go and, and I think because of our experience and the fact that people love the show, it generally works.

And it truly does.

Whether you’re a RocKwiz fanatic or not, this is destined to be a special event. Purchase tickets to the RocKwiz Live Tour here.