Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

MC Scat Chat

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a show that’s just a jumble of unrelated parts, but there is definitely something wrong with The Weekly. No, we’re not talking about the way its listed as a comedy yet features straight news segments asking why isn’t dentistry covered by Medicare (hilarious!), or the fact it was allowed to go to air this week without Kitty Flanagan, AKA the only part of the show worth watching. We’re talking about interviews.

Everybody knows the celebrity interview is bogus. It’s an act: the guest has something to sell, the host needs to fill time, and the funnier and more entertaining the end result the further it’s gotten from the truth. Which is fine, because entertainment is what the celebrity interview is all about. But you have to decide up front what kind of entertainment you’re going to provide.

Each week The Weekly provides viewers with two diametrically opposed forms of celebrity interview. Charlie Pickering usually does the “straight” interview, where he plays nice with the guest and in return the guest gives lengthy, seemingly open replies to his softball questions. It’s cuddly, pointless TV: even when the topics are difficult, the interviews themselves never are. As for finding out anything exciting or new… you’re watching The Weekly; get outta here.

Then The Weekly serves up Tom Gleeson’s segment Hard Chat, in which he asks supposedly difficult questions and milks it for all the awkwardness he can. This week’s installment with Andrew Denton – there to promote his own interview show – was the kind of edgy television that seems edgy right up until the moment you actually think about it. Asking Denton about getting Rolf Harris to sing Stairway to Heaven? Reminding him of Randling? Suggesting he tries to make people cry on his interview shows? Does anyone really think this was the first time in his life that Denton was asked about this kind of thing?

But Hard Chat – a one joke segment that stopped being funny two seasons ago – does serve one minor purpose: it points out how tame and ineffectual Charlie Pickering’s interviews are. Hard Chat isn’t edgy television designed to make us squirm: more often than not it’s the bare minimum a legitimate interviewer should do. Denton trying to make guests cry has been a running joke for a decade – any serious interview with him about his current show should cover that area, and the fact that kind of question is shunted off into a joke segment shows just how pointless and soft most “serious” celebrity interviews are.

Boring interviews are as much a part of television as hair spray so we’re not blaming The Weekly for that. But when you run a soft puff piece interview back-to-back with a segment making fun of soft puff piece interviews, there’s something wrong with your show. What, holding up a sign that says “this segment is bullshit” during the interview was too difficult?

You could perhaps argue that this is what internet-era television looks like: discrete segments that bear no relation to each other aimed at an audience savvy enough to accept this disconnect as the equivalent of scrolling through Facebook. Or you could argue it’s the result of a sloppy, slap-dash show latching onto literally anything that seems even slightly entertaining and throwing it all at the wall to see what sticks.

You don’t need us to say which side we’re on, do you?

Generations

Well, our worst fears came to pass: despite starting at 7.30, Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation ran just long enough to overlap with the start of Have You Been Paying Attention?. Comedy fan crisis! Fortunately TAYG is being repeated this Wednesday night (weird that HYBPA? is currently one and done screening-wise though), plus there’s all the various online catch-up services that may or may not work depending on the mood at the network.

And the show itself? As host Shaun Micallef pointed out, Nine wanted back the exact same show that aired on Ten almost a decade ago – only with a different logo, different opening, different set, different team captains… and maybe different host, lets wait and see on that last one. So despite a lot of the core elements remaining consistent with the previous version (same producers, same host, same writers), this definitely felt a little like a show finding its feet.

Back when TAYG began on Ten, there was a mildly spirited discussion around the comedy traps as to whether we should be a): glad to have Micallef on our televisions in any form, or b): annoyed that Micallef was wasting his time on an otherwise fairly average comedy game show. As the show became wackier over the years, the b): fell away a little, but there was always the sense that out of all the things Micallef could be doing with his time, hosting a game show wasn’t the top of the list.

So not bursting out the gate like a maniac was a bit of a problem with this revival, because TAYG is a pretty basic gameshow at its core and what made it work the first time around was that the creative side of things were confident enough to go very big and very crazy. So a version of TAYG that’s playing things relatively restrained is not the best TAYG.

Yes, this episode did feature Robyn Butler licking a window blindfolded while revealing that the most exciting letter to lick is “G” and the whole thing wrapped up with a tractor cleaning contest that largely featured Andy Lee throwing eggs, but compared to the Golden Age TAYG things were barely rolling downhill.

Obviously there’s some bedding in to take place. The original TAYG had a surprisingly strong dynamic between Micallef and the team captains – strong enough to give both Josh Thomas and Charlie Pickering substantial career boosts, which is even more impressive considering we’re talking about Charlie Pickering and Josh Thomas. And this version has a stronger foundation: Robyn Butler and Andy Lee are both proven comedy quantities who’ve worked with Micallef before, while Gen Z captain Lawrence Boxhall will presumably be ruthlessly mocked for being an infant just as soon as is reasonably possible.

On the plus side, the show does have (in common with HYBPA?) the feeling that pretty much everyone involved is having a fair amount of fun. Micallef himself has sharpened his skills as a host after all that work in front of the live Mad as Hell audience, so there’s more going on than just fake keyboard skills and answering fake phone calls from Eddie McGuire.

And to be fair, coming down more on the side of the basic quiz stuff was probably a good move for the first episode back after an extremely long break; we might have wanted it to be zany right from minute one but throwing in a few basic quizzes based on pop culture history first didn’t really hurt.

The thing with TAYG is that it’s always a bit of a high-wire act. Unlike HYBPA?, which really just needs a group of funny people to get comfortable shouting out news-related quips, it’s a show that has a lot more moving parts. It took a fair while on Ten before it really became something special, and this run doesn’t have that long to get up to speed. It’s still a fun show and Micallef is a great host, but when you’re up against Have You Been Paying Attention? fun alone isn’t enough.

The path to paradise begins in hell

On the surface, Corey White’s Roadmap to Paradise looks like another of those shows, in the tradition of John Safran, which uses comedy to make a point. Except it isn’t; Corey White takes a different approach. He’s got actual solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing our society – the state of democracy, excessive capitalism, affordable housing – solutions which could really make a difference. He wants to make us laugh too, and he succeeds, but mainly he’s making a point.

Corey White's Roadmap to Paradise

This approach feels very timely. The 90s/00s attitude of giving it to all sides because they’re all dreadful, and not taking a firm stand on any serious political issues, has clearly got us nowhere. Also – and we’re about to say something we don’t often say here – sometimes comedians have to be serious about things to be effective. Sometimes, going for laughs would ruin the show.

When White’s talking about the problems he sees in our society and his solutions to them, the absolute worst thing he could do is chuck in some zingers in the middle of his argument. Instead, he lays out the facts as he sees them, trusts the audience to go with him, but, equally, isn’t afraid to throw in a few irreverent laughs when they won’t detract from what he’s saying.

Corey White is a comedian who really understands how and when to use different tones. And Roadmap to Paradise is a show worth watching, with arguments worth thinking about, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.

It’s a shame The Weekly with Charlie Pickering can’t get the balance as right as Corey White (or even Tonightly with Tom Ballard) does. Serious points plus silly gags works well, serious points plus smug self-righteousness less so. Or, to put it another way, Corey White (and Tom Ballard) are playing low status and punching up or speaking truth to power, while Charlie Pickering’s playing high status and telling us all what to think and do. We all know by now which is funnier.

What’s going to be interesting with Corey White’s Roadmap to Paradise though, is later episodes in the series when White talks about problems he has personal experience of – domestic violence and foster care. These episodes are likely to be even less about laughs and more focused on solving the problems. But then, as we said, laughs aren’t the point here.

If it ain’t broke, it’s Have You Been Paying Attention?

Making a one-off funny show is relatively easy; making a long-running show is also fairly easy. Combining the two is where it gets a little difficult, and not just because of the generally held belief that a comedy that starts strong is bound to drop off quickly (aka the Fawlty Towers defense). So hats off to Have You Been Paying Attention?, a comedy panel show that features both extensive cross-promotion and actual advertising live reads and yet still somehow remains funny and entertaining as it heads full-steam towards its fifth year.

We’ve covered what makes it work pretty extensively over the years – it’s fast paced, it features a decent roster of quick-witted contestants, the news jokes are reasonably strong, the cross-promotional guests aren’t treated with kid gloves, it doesn’t care about the score, and so on – but it’s important not to under estimate the importance of on-air chemistry. Not everything out of the Working Dog stable has been a hit, but their biggest successes have all shared one thing in common: they look like shows people enjoy being a part of.

You only have to look at… eh, lets say Show Me the Movies… to see how difficult this sense of fun is to manufacture. Wacky “games” won’t cut it unless you’re Shaun Micallef and the games are so crazy everyone is laughing at the fact they’re actually going to show this stuff on television. Lengthy anecdotes from one panelist will only bore everyone else, complicated questions are boring, taking too long to explain the set-up for a segment is boring… you see the problem.

And yet week after week for close to half a year HYBPA? rotates through a reasonably large body of panelists – some of whom have been consistently awful elsewhere – and makes it look like a bunch of friends just piss-farting about. Regular panelists Ed Kavalee and Sam Pang and host Tom Gleisner provide a steadying influence, and there’s usually at least one long-time Working Dog member or buddy on the panel as well, which means that the other two slots are either taken by people who work well with them or tap into the general vibe fairly quickly.

(that vibe is also slightly more edgy than you might expect from Australian commercial television, even in 2018. There was at least one “fuck” dropped last night, and while “too soon” isn’t exactly what you’d expect to say about a joke about Princess Diana twenty years after her death, the audience reaction last night suggested otherwise. But fuck them; it was a good joke)

Whether at least some of the news jokes are either scripted or worked out beforehand doesn’t matter: there’s enough going on here that arises naturally from the set-up to make this feel like, as we’ve already said, a bunch of mates piss-farting about. The news angle definitely helps, as it’s the kind of “play along at home” element these shows need. But Working Dog have been making fun of the news since the 80s, and that bedrock level of confidence in their material definitely doesn’t hurt either – it’s hard to be relaxed about what you’re doing if you’re not really sure what you’re doing.

There’s probably more to be said here about the difference between shows you laugh at and shows you laugh with, but whatever: HYBPA? is a funny show that’s also just plain fun, and Australia could do with more of both. Long may jokes about Tom Gleisner’s age run!

As funny as cancer

SBS’s much-promoted Homecoming Queens, a seven-episode series about two millennial women living with chronic illnesses, is currently available on SBS OnDemand. Why do we mention it here? Because it’s been described as a comedy. Is it funny? No.

Homecoming Queens

Homecoming Queens joins a few other recent millennial “comedies” (Please Like Me being the best known) in not feeling the need to actually be funny. What it really is, is a dramedy. And even then, the drama side is more towards the soap end of the drama spectrum, so this is as light-touch on the various issues it tackles as can be.

Chloe (Liv Hewson) is recovering from breast cancer, she has a job in a bra shop and she fancies this hot chick. Michelle (Michelle Law) has been in Sydney working in children’s TV but has come back to Brisbane after she developed alopecia, and ends up moving in with old mate Chloe. There’s a love interest for her too, a guy she knew from school, except she doesn’t want him to know she doesn’t have any hair.

Basically, this is all about dating, partying, falling for people you think are out of your league, friendship and dealing with life’s challenges. This is about issues, not gags. And let’s face it; if you want to tackle issues, cramming a load of gags into your show is probably going to prevent you from doing that.

As a nice little show you watch online, fine. As a nice little show about being in your 20s, or dealing with a chronic illness, fine. Hey look! She has cancer/alopecia but her life isn’t over – there’s a positive message there for us all, no matter how old we are. But this isn’t a comedy. Please stop calling anything that isn’t a gritty drama a comedy. Either that, or put some goddam jokes in!

Gruen to Audience: Get Plucked

Look, we all know News.com has an agenda as far as the ABC goes, and that agenda is “shut it down”. So despite us reprinting pretty much the whole thing because it’s hilarious, you should maybe take this shocking report with a grain of salt.

FUNNYMAN Wil Anderson has been accused of being not funny at all and in fact downright rude to the audience during the filming of the episode of panel show Gruen, which aired on Wednesday evening.

It’s claimed he berated the audience for not laughing at his jokes, told one woman watching the recording to “f*** off” when she said the segment was boring and later stormed off stage.

One audience member told news.com.au Anderson appeared to have a “meltdown”.

“It was a complete dummy spit. To be honest he was a bit of a brat.”

For his part, Anderson said it was a “terrible audience … just sitting back in their seats”.

The ABC played down the incident and said there was “nothing untoward” during the filming and it was simply Anderson’s regular audience “interplay”.

“Funnyman Wil Anderson has been accused of not being funny at all”. That’s comedy gold, that is.

It’s claimed things went south quickly at Tuesday’s filming during the first segment of the show, an analysis of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.

While it appears on screen for only minutes, the segment on Wednesday’s show took a full 40 minutes to film with few laughs coming from the bleachers.

Anderson was not happy, said the audience member, who asked not to be named.

“Afterwards, Anderson stood up and said (words to the effect of) ‘that took 40 f***ing minutes to film. I don’t want to be out of line but you guys are the worst audience I’ve ever had’”.

A plucky audience member then appeared to take Anderson on, saying the reason there had been little in the way of laughing was because the segment had been “boring”.

A “plucky” audience member you say? Are you sure they weren’t “feisty”? Or even “nuggety”?

“When one woman called out the topic was boring, (Anderson) was like ‘why don’t you f*** off then’”.

The audience member that news.com.au spoke to said the berating worked up to a point, with the next two segments taking far less time to film.

But when the show was done, rather than hanging around for selfies, Anderson went off in what appeared to be a huff.

“Storming off at the end made him seem like a real pr***.”

People at the filming, in the ABC’s Sydney studios in Ultimo, were taken aback by his abruptness, said the audience member.

“It was a complete dummy spit. To be honest he was a bit of a brat.”

Let’s be honest, Anderson does have a point – complaining about being bored at a taping of Gruen is like complaining you’re getting wet on the Titanic.

On Triple M Sydney on Tuesday morning Anderson continued berating the audience putting the blame on them for “sitting back”.

“We were doing Gruen last night and that audience was just a terrible audience,” he told The Grill Team.

“Usually we have a fantastic audience and it wasn’t that they were bad people, but they were just sitting back in seats not giving you the energy that you need so you try to rev them up. I literally just told them they weren’t doing a good job.”

He said if they wanted to “sit back” they could do that at home.

The ABC said the interaction with the audience was Gruen business as usual.

“There was nothing unusual or untoward about last night’s live recording of Gruen,” a spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.

“Wil interplays with the live audience on a regular basis to ensure high energy in the room and the audience feel engaged and entertained. Last night’s audience took this interplay with the good humour with which it was intended and Wil thanked them for their enthusiasm at the end of the recording.”

Gruen is one of the ABC’s highest rating shows and is a backbone of the network’s schedule.

So Anderson is actually some kind of… energy vampire? Guess that explains the hair.

*and yes, for those playing along at home, this week’s episode of The Weekly did once again keep that bizarre “here’s Charlie’s upcoming monologue topics” list on screen during his opening chat. Why?

Clash of the Titans

It’s been a very long time since there was enough Australian comedy on our screens for anything to clash scheduling-wise, but here we are:

Now sure, Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation might very well be on at 7.30 (we’ve only had the day confirmed as yet), and Masterchef always runs long so Have You Been Paying Attention might not start until well past 8.30, clash averted, we all win. But it seems reasonable to guess that if you’re going to put your Australian panel comedy show on the same night as another Australian comedy panel show, you’re probably going to put them on head-to-head.

So what to do? Repeats and online catch-up services mean the idea of having to watch a show as it airs is a thing of the past, but let’s be realistic: free-to-air ratings still count. If they’re on head-to-head, whichever one you watch “live” is going to be the show you’re showing your support for. Which is a problem, as they’re both great shows and we want both to do well because there’s literally nothing else we’re going to be watching on commercial television that week. What to do?

HYBPA? is the show most likely to survive – it’s been going for ages, it’s a ratings juggernaut, it’s a local success at a time when Ten doesn’t have a lot of them. TAYG is the newcomer, the show with something to prove, the breath of fresh air up against a show that’s been around for a while – but the whole series was filmed last year so if it tanks in the ratings now it’s not really going to matter. They both deserve our support. What to do?

To be honest, we’re stumped. Dig out the VCR from the shed and tape them both?

Vale Tonightly with Tom Ballard series 1

After almost six months, we’re going to declare Tonightly with Tom Ballard a success. Not in terms of ratings

Tonightly, which aired four days a week on ABC 2, pulled low ratings during its debut run. An average episode got less than 50,000 people watching, which meant it didn’t make it into the top 20 shows on any given day.

Not one to let any opportunity for a joke to slide, however, Ballard poked fun at the show’s ratings on air.

“I don’t know why I’m talking… nobody’s watching,” he joked at one point.

…but definitely in terms of comedy.

Tonightly with Tom Ballard

We watch/listen to various satire programs from around the English-speaking world and Tonightly is up there with the best when it comes to laugh rate – something all the more astonishing when you remember that it’s on-air four times a week.

If you’d told us a year ago, or even six months ago, that we’d be saying this, we’d have laughed in your face. For one thing, Australia has almost no heritage of doing this kind of thing successfully. For another, up until Tonightly aired, we’d not been great fans of Tom Ballard.

So, why has this show worked? Basically, it’s about attitude. Tonightly is a show that first and foremost wants to be as funny as it possibly can. It’s the kind of show where you suspect the team are putting in overtime to make the show as good as it can be, rather than working the hours they’re paid for and then downing tools.

It’s also a show that isn’t full of itself. It’s punching up; partly because it wants to, because it’s angry about the terrible things that politicians, big business, etc. are doing, and partly because it’s got a budget of about five cents.

And if you’re in any doubt, this is the sort of attitude a satire program should hold, and the sort of position it should be in. If a satire program isn’t speaking truth to power – and sometimes that means calling a member of the Australian Conservatives a c*nt – it’s not doing its job. And if it’s so drowning in budget and obsessed with slickness (rather than good writing) that it builds itself a shiny set and commissions expensive new graphics that tell you what topics the host will be talking about in his opening monologue (to the extent that you can guess the jokes before he does them – oh hai The Weekly with Charlie Pickering) then it’s got its priorities wrong.

Tonightly is a show that wants and has to make you laugh any way it can – archive footage, YouTube clips, lighting effects, sound effects, on-screen graphics, props, cheap costumes, running gags…and it worked. Tom Ballard did that “I’m just going to have a nice glass of refreshing water” gag at least six times, and it was still funny. Ditto, showing that mattress dominoes footage during the Commonwealth Games, footage so perfectly bizarre that here it is for you to enjoy in full:

Of course, it’s not all been good. The sketches have been a weak point of the show and few have been really, truly funny. We hope this is something the team can improve in series 2.

Perhaps that’s one of the things Dan Ilic intends to do when he becomes showrunner?

Or maybe his plan is to make more of the show’s sketches and segments NAIL IT to the extent that they go viral?* Whatever. As long as Tonightly still approaches the issues of the day with the right attitude, we’re onboard.


* Despite its low ratings, a surprising number of Tonightly sketches have been circulating online and turning up in all sorts of places, so kudos.

The Weekly Gruen

So it took maybe ten minutes into 2018’s first episode of Gruen for someone to say “doing no advertising is silly” and fuck, how did that massive foot-shaped hole suddenly get in our television screen? And this was during a segment on the current banking royal commission, which – from our half-arsed reading of the news (thank god Have You Been Paying Attention is back May 14th) – is largely about just how bad aggressive selling of expensive, faulty, useless products to the general public is. Like advertising. You know advertising? That thing Gruen worships?

“I apologise for nothing” Wil Anderson said a few minutes later, and considering this is a show that takes clips out of context for cheap gags we’ve got nothing to apologise for either. That out-of-context-quote really sums up Gruen‘s approach: it’s a show that snuggles up tight to the beating heart of the worst excesses of capitalism and then tries to distract viewers by trying to throw every other aspect of capitalism under the bus. “Ha ha, we were only joking when we lauded corporations for treating you like idiots”.

This is a show that had an extended segment full of (not great) jokes about how shitty the banks are for selling people things they don’t need, then basically said “oh yeah, they’ve totally got to take out ads to manage this situation”. Far be it for us to tell a successful long-running ratings smash hit how to run their business, but this blog would be nothing but a lot of blank space if we didn’t: Gruen is not a show that should be tackling the banking royal commission in any way. Gruen is built on the idea that problems can be solved by image management; telling people who’ve been fucked over by the banks that the banks need to work on their image is the kind of thing only a really, really shitty show would do.

Of course, there’s a difference between advertising and marketing. They’re spelt differently for one thing. And while advertising is about selling people things, marketing is more about selling people a slightly less useful kind of thing. So when Gruen examines marketing, it’s not talking about people getting rich off selling useless junk to other people against their will, oh no. No. Nope. Not at all.

And as Gruen staggers into it’s, what, fifth decade?, it’s long since covered everything even remotely interesting about the business of advertising, because advertising is dull as fuck. So it waves its coke-clogged nose towards other, bigger social issues and views them through the totally different lens of marketing. But the job of marketing is to make problems go away (or at least, cover them up) by selling people an image you’ve created – and as Gruen as a show is pro-marketing (still waiting for anyone not working in advertising and marketing to appear on that panel), their take on social problems is “how can marketing solve these problems”. Let’s save you some time: it can’t.

*

Speaking of marketing, how about that opening of The Weekly where Charlie Pickering was standing up? And that new format where they put up a list of the topics they’ll be tackling so the excitement can build for upcoming jokes about “Coach Charged” and “Korean Buddies”? Though those Korean jokes were pretty much covered by everyone else close to a week ago. But this was a show that just showed a clip from breakfast television and figured adding “what an a-hole” at the end somehow made it prime time viewing; let’s not get too excited.

Remember when The Weekly used to get outraged about current affairs? Well, forget that: The Weekly is now a show that covers general issues like robotics and AI in a way that makes you wonder exactly why they bothered. Were there great jokes they had lined up? Was it a burning issue that had to be covered the first week back? Or was it just something one of the producers read a story about on Salon over the break and thought “we’ve got to warn everyone!” Because it was fucking pointless and we feel dumber for having watched it.

And then what – a segment on the history of GPS? Briggs would be turning in his grave if he was dead, which we’re not ruling out considering how little they gave him to do in the opening segment of this terrible show. Look, much as we dislike Gruen for all manner of reasons – even if you don’t give one single solitary shit about the “evils of capitalism”, as a panel show it’s kind of boring and Anderson’s interjections are pretty hit-and-miss – we respect it for having a point of view and sticking to it. It makes us feel something, even if that something is anger and disgust. It’s about something; it has a reason to exist.

The Weekly though, is now barely a show. The faux-outrage from Pickering that once gave it a semblance of life has faded away as all involved seem to have figured out going viral is no longer an option, but there’s nothing there to replace it. No real surprise there, as Pickering is a generic TV host first and not much else second, but as he’s on the air 70% of the time it is a problem that he’s become an empty suit with no distinguishing characteristics beyond a vague and completely unjustified smugness.

Well, it’s not a problem for Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan, both of whom come out looking good next to Mr Nobody. Flanagan is still easily the funniest thing about this show, simply because she knows how to be funny; Gleeson, who mostly knows how to act like an annoying jerk and let context make people think he’s joking, at least has an act. And when Briggs returns in week, uh, seven(?) he’ll be a stand out too, because he actually has a personality that comes across on air.

Despite what the ABC promotions department seems to think, The Weekly team is not a tightly knit comedy family we love seeing back on air. If Mad as Hell can chop and change supporting cast members over the years, why can’t The Weekly get some new faces on? A lot of new faces? Like a whole new cast? And a new approach to comedy that involves trying to be funny? And a new title? And just be literally any other comedy show the ABC has on offer? Because we’d rather watch anything than this faintly moaning see-through ghostly fart of a show.

Vale Mad as Hell yet again

We’ve just sen the back of season eight of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, and seriously: is this show ever going to drop off? Australian television isn’t known for giving comedies long runs, but we’ve had almost ninety episodes of Mad as Hell now and the quality shows no signs of fading. How much longer can they keep this up?

Not that it hasn’t gone through some changes over the years – and if you really want to feel old, find some episodes of the previous version Newstopia. That was a great show too, but watching it now it’s just close enough – but different to – Mad as Hell to come off as a bit stilted. Largely that’s because Newstopia was a sketch show with news jokes mixed in: Mad as Hell is a lot looser, faster-paced and more designed to be viewed as an entire 30 minute whole than you’d expect from watching any other segment-focused news comedy currently on air.

(it’s funny to think we were worried at the time about the addition of a live studio audience. Considering the way Micallef’s timing is almost always off when he doesn’t have one, it really lifted the show to a new level)

It’s tempting to say Mad as Hell was ahead of the times there for a while, so let’s just say it: Mad as Hell feels suited to today in a way that it didn’t quite a few years ago. The best things about Mad as Hell – at the moment at least; for all we know when it comes back it could just be The Kraken Sports Report or something (remember when Mad as Hell used to do regular sports jokes? Weird) – usually come from the way it’s a show that keeps coming at you. These days interviews are cut to their bare essentials, Micallef will happily mug to camera to spice up a bit, his rants will run for ten minutes basically uninterrupted (the fake ad breaks are appearing later and later each episode), the meta-comedy has more layers than most multi-story council carparks, and so on. And it’s been like that for a while.

But not so long ago the whole point of news comedy was to come up with discrete bits that could “nail it” and “go viral”. The Weekly was the kind of show that (supposedly) people wanted, with Charlie Pickering taking apart topical issues in a way designed to get the internet firmly onside because they’d already said exactly the same thing. By comparison, Mad as Hell‘s firehose of gags lacked structure (and the obvious scolding of the internet’s chosen bad guys); how could you cut the opening of Mad as Hell into a three minute issue-tackling clip that would be shared worldwide?

You couldn’t. Fortunately, Mad as Hell was funny, and it stayed funny when the “nailed it” fad fizzled out. These days The Weekly is the show out of touch, and it knows it; a tired comedy interview segment with Tom Gleeson wouldn’t be the focus of a large chunk of their recent promotional push if they had anything better to offer. We no longer need comedy shows to tell us the news is hilariously bad; the regular news has that market cornered. We need comedy shows to be funny to distract us from the fact our leaders are both idiotic and venal… and if they can get a few laughs from pointing out those characteristics, so much the better.

So how much longer can this go on? The thing is, Mad as Hell is a show that seems to get funnier as each season goes on – it actually feeds off and responds to the news in a way that creates running gags as well as specific bits, plus the writing team aren’t afraid to amuse themselves to keep things interesting. Occasionally they’ll run a bit into the ground, but it was always funny in the first place. It never feels like it’s running out of steam towards the end of its run… maybe because it saves its most savage swipes at the ABC for the final episode.

In contrast, a lot of satirical shows start out strong each season before fading fast in a way that makes it pretty clear the writers need six months off to come up with a dozen good jokes. Which is fine: we need more good jokes. But we also need people who can write good jokes based on the D-grade material our politicians supply week-to-week. Mad as Hell has them: at the rate it’s going, it’ll breeze past the hundred episode mark and just keep on going.

Which isn’t saying much as Micallef has already said there’ll be a ninth season towards the end of the year. Hurrah!