On the surface of things, Sammy J and Randy’s Ricketts Lane looks like the sort of high concept sitcom we get every couple of years. As per the Rebel Wilson-penned Bogan Pride the characters break in to song and dance numbers every so often, and like Frank Woodley’s 2012 solo vehicle Woodley this is a show about failing relationships and disappointing lives in a quirky old school suburb. Hey, look! Curtains from the 70’s. And other retro stuff you used to see ‘round your grandparent’s house. Actually, that could be the house in Please Like Me. Anyway…
Ricketts Lane actually comes out of various live stage shows that Sam McMillan (Sammy J) and puppeteer Heath McIvor (Randy) have been presenting at comedy festivals for more than five years. The material, the schtick and some of the songs are therefore fairly well-honed, and on screen work reasonable well by setting the action in a heightened reality universe of broad brushstroke characters (the bastard boss, the bitchy ex-wife) and odd situations (the bastard boss and the bitchy ex-wife enjoy bondage with each other).
It’s the kind of show you imagine would work well on ABC2, but instead the entire series is premiering on iView. Apparently this is because ABC2 don’t broadcast new shows anymore, and as it’s presumably too niche to just put out on ABC (?) here it all is. Sammy J and Randy’s rusted-on fans, and maybe you dear reader, have watched it all by now. Sadly, we’ve only had time to watch the first episode, which is what we base this review on…
It’s census time! And both girlfriend-less Sammy J and unhappily divorced Randy are desperate to restore some pride by being able to place a tick in the married box on their household’s form. So Randy heads off to try and woo back ex-wife Victoria Vincent (a hard-nosed tabloid TV current affairs host) while Sammy J asks his secretary Wednesday to help him find a wife…and having missed the signs that Wednesday would happily be that wife, Sammy J ends up with a mail order wife called Smilté, an East European bodybuilder with an aggressive teenage son and a pet llama.
With so many ingredients for comedy gold present, this really should be funnier than it is. Many of the songs, which were probably a hoot in the stage shows, fall flat when performed on camera, and the main laughs come from the short interactions between bastard boss Borkman and his subordinate Michael (played by Little Dum Dum Club favourite Dilruk Jayasinha). Adapted for TV some of this may be, but successful on TV it isn’t. Not quite, anyway. Instead it falls in to the classic high concept sitcom trap of letting the high concept dominate. Compare this to something like Utopia, which while not high concept is very much about being a political satire, and it’s notable that getting laughs from gags is at least as important in the writer’s minds as producing satire.
In other words, what Ricketts Lane needs to do is to place more emphasis on getting laughs from dialogue, and writing song and dance sequences which work well on camera. There may be some of this coming up in future episodes (the save the trees plot in episode 2 looks promising) but this may also be one of those series which needs to throw off what’s worked in the past in another medium (stage) and look at how it can work in the medium it’s trying to work in (TV).
So we picked up a copy of Greg Fleet’s latest book These Things Happen pretty much the moment it hit the shops. Why wouldn’t we? Fleet is a comedy titan: a legend of the local stand-up scene, a regular on television for close to twenty years, and always good for a laugh on radio show Get This. Trouble is, this isn’t really a book about that stuff: this is a book about his extensive career as a professional junkie.
So, as comedy fans first and junkie fans last, how does this stack up? This isn’t a full review – the book only came out last week and we’ve barely had time to dig beneath our initial impressions. But we figured those impressions are still worth sharing, even if we reserve the right to bang on about this book in more depth later on. Bring on the bullet points!
*okay, so we all know the book is about drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Fleet estimates he spent “millions of dollars” on drugs over the years, and considering he estimates at one stage he was pulling in $400,000 a year ($300,000 from radio, $100,000 from stand-up and other performing work), that seems more than plausible. And if you’ve come for a steady stream of stories about horrible drug-fucked behaviour, congrats!
*Far be it for us to suggest that Fleet’s two decades worth of hard core drug use has dented his attention span, but this is a book that wanders all over the place and all over his life, though there is a rough chronology to the overall sweep of things. There are snippets on bad gigs, being paid as a comedy guru, drug-fuelled tour stories and so on, and they’re all good stuff. But they pop up seemingly as they come to mind rather than part of a well-structured story.
*Some chapters, like “Exile on Christmas Street”, are just ramblings – if you ever wanted to get the impression of a book where they threw everything in to hit the word count, here you go. But they do give an insight into Fleet’s “voice” – there’s not much reason for them to be left in, but they do sound a lot like what it might be like to spend time with Fleet.
*While Fleet’s focus might wander, there’s no denying that he’s sharp as a tack when he wants to be. Those of you who remember the Mick Molloy / Tony Martin feud from close to a decade ago might be wondering which side Fleet – who’s worked with both men – is on. On the one hand, Fleet never even mentions it. On the other, an comedy anecdote starts with this:
“The show featured myself, The Empty Pockets (Matt Quatermaine and Matt Parkinson, a successful double act and long time partners of mine), Mick Molloy, and the hardest-working man in showbiz, the greatest comic mind I have ever seen, Tony Martin.”
You get the idea. No superlatives for Mr Molloy.
*Those who remember Get This might remember a catchy little ditty “Pushed off or stabbed off” (sung to the tune of the I Dream of Jeanie theme). Fleet doesn’t: he remembers a version that goes “Stabbed off or fell off”
*Remember Fleet’s previous successful shows about his drug use?
1. They were lies. I was still using when I did them and was desperately trying to convince people that I was clean
2. I changed events to make myself look like a victim, or a better or more rational person than I was. I wanted to have done all of that stuff and still be everyone’s friend. Clearly, that is not going to happen.
*There’s quite a sad chapter where Fleet reminisces about much-loved Get This producer Richard Marsland, but it does feature this bit:
“Something I have never discussed is that I find it impossible to form a picture in my mind of Richard’s last moments. My brain and heart just won’t let me imagine that scene.”
Never discussed until now, you mean. Also, who tries to imagine stuff like that?
*It’s very much a “warts and all” portrait, and not just because of his massive drug use and often appalling behaviour. It’s also very revealing of the kind of guy Fleet is. Which is to say, if you’ve spent much time at all wondering about what kind of person would choose to stand in front of a crowd and try to win them over for a living night after night, this gives you a pretty good idea.
*While his partner is giving birth to their child, he steals $100 from her purse to go score heroin. There’s a lot more of this kind of thing in this book but that’s pretty much all you need to know right there about what being a junkie is about. And for much of this book, Greg Fleet is a junkie.
*Fleet knows all this. He talks about how his bond with Lawrence Mooney is based on a mutual need for approval (while also trying to shock and appal), he talks about how all authors are wankers because they snubbed him at a publishing event – but then he turns that into a joke against himself, which doesn’t exactly hide the fact that his most severe vitriol of the book is directed towards a group of people who didn’t embrace him.
*Comedians are largely named. Fleet’s junkie friends are not. Guess who “The Actor” and “The Movie Star” really are! Here’s a clue: they were junkies around St Kilda during the 90s. Also, if you tell us who they are we promise not to print your answer because we’re not that keen to dig our own grave just yet. Supposedly The Movie Star was really disappointed he didn’t get to join in on a (fake) gay sex session between Fleet and The Actor. Remembering this makes Fleet smile every time he sees The Movie Star playing a tough guy role.
*It’s also a very patchy book, with lots of chapters starting off with stuff like “I’m writing this in Adelaide 2012”, which doesn’t really add much to proceedings apart from the feeling that this could have done with a really rigorous edit. Then again, a rigorous edit might have involved pointing out that at least some of this gear is old rope for long-time Fleet fans.
Although Fleet has been claiming to be newly clean in every interview he’s done in the past decade…
Oh wait, we meant to quote this bit:
He’s strip-mined his own life for material, writing shows about his relationship breakdowns, his disastrous holiday in Thailand (the basis for his book Thai Die), and the story of his deadbeat American father, who abandoned the family when Fleet was small.
Anything he does, and every person he comes in contact with, is scrutinised for potential comedic fodder. His life, it seems, is set permanently on a track of “Can I use it or not?”. His shows and stand-up routines are not so much written as born out of verbal sparring with fellow comedians.
*At our first glance the most interesting comedy bit is where he explains his use of the phrase “they look good, like a faggot in a ditch”. Basically, it’s an inside joke – he and Mooney were trying to horrify each other and the phrase stuck. Then Fleet tries to explain how this particular inside joke works, which is interesting because “Inside joke” or “you had to be there” is usually all most of us need to understand that a): something was hilarious for b): reasons that can’t easily be explained. But explain Fleet tries:
It seems what makes the joke work is the tension between the horrible things being said and the actual moral views of the person saying them. A random stranger saying something awful is awful; someone that you know is kind-hearted and generous saying something awful about poor people can be funny. It’s not an amazingly profound insight, but the fact he works hard to explain it goes some way towards showing how devoted Fleet is to comedy, even in a book largely sold on his scary tales of drug excess.
*So is it worth it from a comedy point of view? For sure: Fleet has been there and done that and what he’s got to say is always worth a read. And while we’d have much preferred a more focused book looking at his comedy career, it’s the horrific tales of junkie-dom that have been getting this particular book all the attention. And some of those stories are pretty funny too.
Long story short: We paid recommended retail for These Things Happen, and we haven’t regretted it yet.
It’s hard to know what to think when the ABC’s Australian Story decides to focus on a comedian. Once side of the coin is that Australian Story is a massively popular series with a huge reach: putting on a comedian is a great way to remind people that Australia actually does have professional funny people out there.
The other side is that Australian Story is pretty much 100% focused on horrifically grim tales of suffering with only the occasional ray of sunshine. If you’re a comedian and you’re on Australian Story, your tale might as well be titled “Tears of a Clown”.
And so it proved to be this week, as Corey White – winner of the Best Newcomer Award at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival – decides to team up with his sister and revisit the family haunts while recalling their mother’s massive drug abuse and their dad’s violent assholery. Yep, that’s what comedy’s all about in this country. Apropos of nothing, anyone grabbed a copy of Greg Fleet’s new book yet?
In 2003, as a member of the 2Day FM breakfast radio team, Fleet and his family, along with his co-hosts and a bunch of radio listeners, were flown to the Gold Coast to experience the different theme parks. But Fleet became desperate for a hit: “I told my wife and child that I was going out to get cigarettes from a nearby shop. I then kissed them both goodbye, walked out of the hotel, got a cab to the airport, flew to Sydney, scored heroin and made it back to the hotel about ten hours later.”
To be fair, Corey’s grim childhood is the actual subject matter of his successful comedy act, thus making it slightly more appropriate for the Australian Story treatment. To be unfair, the first we ever heard of Corey White was this article, which seemed to go out of its way to make him seem less than hilarious:
All of my stand-up has a moral point. Ethical question are the only things I’m truly passionate talking about in stand-up. I’m not Seinfeld, I don’t care about socks going missing, I care about suffering and pain and our obligations to one another as human beings. I’m interested in injustice, my hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of broader society, the gap between lovely words and the horrible world. I’ve always liked that old saying, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That’s always resonated with my anal chakra.
Don’t worry if that sounds too confronting, because Australian Story‘s brought in knockabout larrkin Tom Gleeson to present this hard-hitting ep:
TOM GLEESON, PRESENTER: Hi. I’m Tom Gleeson.
The first time I saw this guy was at a comedy gig in Bendigo. We were on the same bill together and he charmed the audiences with tales of his harrowing childhood.
He got comedy out of nowhere.
This is Corey White’s story.
If you feel like taking a day off work sick tomorrow, ponder just how much Gleeson was paid for saying those four sentences. Even if he did it for free, it’s too much. Sure, he turns up later on as well, but there he’s part of the story – a co-worker in comedy, if you will. Up front, he’s Tom Gleeson, Presenter. Four sentences. The last two are more like sentence fragments.
And for those of you who thought we were slandering Australian Story by suggesting it was only interested in the grim and ghastly when it comes to choosing which “Australian Stories” to tell, this is the second line Corey says in this episode:
COREY WHITE (voiceover): I thought I’d be dead by now.
Still, we do get to see some of Corey’s award-winning stand-up material, so it’s not a complete loss.
COREY WHITE: I think the hardest thing about growing up in foster care is, as an adult, trying to relate to the childhood difficulties of middle-class people. “Oh, your parents divorced when you were 17. That must have been tough. ‘Cause, ah, when I was six my Mum tried to set my Dad on fire.”
Actually we’re just assuming that’s his material, because his non-comedy material is pretty much along the same lines.
COREY WHITE (voiceover): I only have one good childhood memory. There was a man walking his dog down the street. The man fell over and he just squealed as he fell. That was my first memory and that’s a happy memory.
The second memory is walking in on my Dad raping my mother. I heard Mum crying and I opened the door and I saw.
It’s repeated tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 10am on ABC1, and then again on ABC24 on Sunday at 6.30pm. Or any time you like on iView. Or read the transcript here.
Next week’s Australian Story is about dressmaker Collette Dinnigan. She must have lost her hands in a pinking shears accident or something.
Somewhere along the highway between Penola and Mt Gambier, not far from the Coonawarra wine region and the South Australia/Victoria border, is a sign pointing towards the small town of Kalangadoo. It’s a place which almost no one would have heard of were it not for its famous fictional resident Roly Parks, whose letters have been a fixture on ABC radio for the past couple of decades. A collection of these Letters from Kalangadoo has now been released by University of Western Australia Publishing.
Written (and performed on radio) by satirist Bryan Dawe, the letters are addressed to Gene, Parks’ son, who lives in London with his partner Ahmed, a Moroccan dancer formerly with the Royal Ballet. Roly himself also has an entertainment background, and once toured in variety-type shows with his wife Sonia. Now retired and separated from Sonia, his letters to Gene give news of the family and various characters from the local area, and hint at the pain he feels about the break-up of his marriage and some of the frustrations of getting old.
It’s probably best to describe these letters (actually monologues, written to be performed) as bittersweet, rather like a rural version of Barry Humphries’ character Sandy Stone, revelling in the minutiae of dull, ordinary life one minute and full of barely expressed emotional anguish the next. Roly’s description of a relationship counselling session with Sonia shows him to be the classic Aussie bloke who finds it hard to talk about emotional matters, a fact which comes out clearly when towards the end of this collection Roly takes a fancy to a friend’s sister but then coyly explains to Gene that they’re just friends and that’s that. Sure they are.
As far as the comic side of Parks’ letters goes, Kalangadoo is your classic country town, full of weird and wonderful folks who gossip, get pissed and come up with crazy schemes (why not plan your visit to Kalangadoo to coincide with their Carrot Festival, which Roly assures us is a huge event and one of the highlights of the year). Yet taking the piss out of struggling country towns and local “hick” characters isn’t really what these letters are all about. They poke gentler fun at rural Australia and do it with a lot of affection, with most of the comedy coming from the characters and the language. It’s the kind of comedy that only really works in radio or print, where character and language are pretty much all you have, and it’s very much a rarity in 2015.
To get anything interesting or affectionately funny out of a lead character who’s as emotionally stiff and dull as Roly Parks is impressive, yet because he’s such an accurate reflection of so many men of his era he’s instantly recognisable. And sometimes hanging a comedy on a familiar character is an approach that really works – more than 20 years on ABC radio is testament to that.
In the first episode of the new series of Utopia the team at the Nation Building Authority are back after the holidays…and nothing much has changed. In between, er, something about infrastructure, Tony (Rob Sitch) et al have to deal with new swipe cards which don’t work, a new e-mail system which also doesn’t work, and new Health and Safety rules which make it almost impossible to work. Meanwhile Katie (Emma-Louise Wilson) is selling raffle tickets and a 50 Shades of Grey-inspired calendar to raise money to repair the swimming pool in her small hometown in the Mallee.
But as colleagues lay down their cash for the raffle tickets (the calendar featuring middle-aged rural women in bondage gear proves less popular), Nat (Celia Paquola) has a brainwave: what about a new government fund to help rural communities maintain local sporting facilities. Tony likes it and gives her the greenlight, but suddenly this simple idea takes on a life of its own as Head Department Secretary Jim (Anthony “Lehmo” Lehmann) and PR lady Rhonda (Kitty Flannigan) realise how well it will play externally. Cue a meeting room crammed full of Canberra’s finest all enthusing about the scheme…if a few changes are made, and a promotional video featuring happy, smiling people enjoying sporting facilities in the bush.
In the end, like all good ideas proposed in workplaces, this simple plan to fix one small thing becomes a bloated, PR-led extravaganza so far away from its original intent as to be barely recognisable. Oh, and Katie’s hometown can’t apply for the scheme in the end because it’s suddenly just for new projects. It seems selling raffle tickets to get the pool repaired wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Anyone who’s worked just about anywhere can laugh bitterly at this. Yet it’s the sub-plots and the asides which raise the big laughs in Utopia, including Tony’s cycling outfit (putting Rob Sitch in something tight, colourful and sporty always equals comedy gold), the over-zealous security guard (Jamie Robertson) who questions Tony about his swipe card, the Health & Safety training session (led by Louise Siversen as trainer Linda) and Amy (Michelle Lim Davidson) and Scott’s (Dave Lawson) disastrous interpretations of it.
As first episodes go “A Fresh Start” is a good, solid one, and with any luck there’ll be more like this to come. As we’ve pointed out before Utopia is formulaic, but as it’s a formula that works that’s fine with us.
ABC announces plan to replace The Chaser’s Media Circus with cat videos
From Thursday 10 September at 8pm on ABC
Tuesday, August 18, 2015 — ABC TV management has confirmed it hopes to replace the second series of The Chaser’s Media Circuswith cat videos.
“As soon as we can find enough left wing cats who instinctively hate Australia, they’ll be replaced,” said an ABC representative.
Media Circus – the game show about the news game hosted by Craig Reucassel with Fake Fact Checker Chas Licciardello – returns to ABC on Thursday 10 September at 8pm. It is produced by the creative team behind The Chaser and The Checkout, including Ben Jenkins, Zoë Norton Lodge, Scott Abbot, Andrew Hansen and Julian Morrow.
ABC management confirmed that for the second series the show has been moved out of the news division to allow it to be more biased and have less rigorous vetting of the studio audience.
Filmed in front of a live audience each week shortly before broadcast, The Chaser’s Media Circus brings together journalists and comedians to dissect the week’s news through a time-honoured technique of media criticism: the trivia quiz.
Last year’s guests included George Negus, Senator Nick Xenophon, Lenore Taylor, Chris Kenny, Ellen Fanning, Tracey Spicer, Hugh Riminton, Peter Berner, Dave Hughes and Tom Gleeson, a number of whom have not yet refused to return for Series Two. The new series will also feature Media Circus first timers including Peter Greste and John Safran.
Prime Minister Abbott has confirmed he will allow government front benchers to appear on the show. But the producers are lobbying him to have this decision reversed.
The Chaser’s Media Circus is produced by Giant Dwarf wasting taxpayers’ money.
And slightly less news-ish, this from a day or so ago:
GRUEN: We’re back. Spin Free.
Returns Wednesday September 9 at 8.30pm
Monday, August 17, 2015 — The Rose d’Or winning series returns for its 12th incarnation: Gruen.
Back when we debuted in 2008, Blockbuster and Borders were flourishing and Australia still manufactured cars. Needless to say, stuff has changed.
We’re still the show that analyses what most other shows are there to sell: advertising. But we’re also the show that knows you can’t click on a link without surrendering all your personal data to a corporation trying to sell you shampoo. Gruen will run an X-Ray over advertising, spin, branding, positioning and image control, wherever they are found.
The selling of ideas and products will always amuse, bewilder, and irrationally annoys us – but now it’s more sophisticated, targeted and occasionally downright creepy. Mostly it just understands you better, so we’re here to provide you with the tools to understand it.
Wil Anderson will continue as host, and Australia’s favourite advertising execs – Todd Sampson and Russell Howcroft will remain. But we will be seeking other new panelists from spin doctors and marketing gurus both in Australia and visiting.
Zapruder’s have delivered The Gruen Transfer and Gruen Nation, which broke the mould and enjoyed the dedication of a wide audience that’s thirsty for that creative edge and great entertainment.
Each week we will be dissecting the spin of a topical story that has made headlines either in Australia or overseas. Classic segments will return, such as ‘The Pitch’, where some of Australia’s most creative agencies attempt to complete an impossible brief.
“After the show took a well-earned break in 2014, we’re seriously excited to have Wil and Gruen back, lifting the lid on advertising, spin and marketing, examining how we are sold to, and how we are sold.”
Jon Casimir, ABC TV Head of Entertainment.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be working with the amazing team at CJZ on a new
series of Gruen. And I’m even more grateful they didn’t replace me with Adam Hills.”
Wil Anderson, Host & Executive Producer
We’ll revisit the backbones of branding like beauty and beverages, and spend time in the nervous system of 21st century life, giving online marketing, celebrities, sportspeople, and world leaders the full Gruen treatment.
Gruen: the show that knows nearly as much about advertising as advertisers know about you airs at 8.30pm, September 9th on ABC TV.
Jesus, just when you think you’ve hit peak smug that hits your inbox. “Broke the mould”, they say. “Combined Worlds Funniest Commercials with a panel show and have acted like they fucking cured cancer ever since”, we say.
And then there’s this: “We’re still the show that analyses what most other shows are there to sell: advertising”. Say what? Technically that’s kind of right – you come for the show, stay for the advertising – but who really thinks, say, The Block is “selling” advertising? They’re selling products via advertising on the show… and if we can figure this out but a press release for a show ABOUT ADVERTISING can’t get it right, how shit must the show… oh wait, it’s Gruen, we don’t need to guess how shit it’ll be.
Not that another go round with the half-baked Media Circus seems any more appealing. It’s really not the best sign in the world when your press release is packed with self-deprecation. mostly because it feels just a little bit like you’re trying to get in first before anyone else can point out your flaws. Here’s an alternative: if you know your flaws, why not try to fix them? If your press release points out that news trivia quizzes are kind of lame… maybe don’t make one?
But let’s be honest here: this is all good news for the ABC. Everything new they’ve tried in comedy this year – and it’s only been a handful of shows – has either flopped or stunk. We pretty much expected that from the panel side of things and The Weekly, but what happened to scripted comedy? Remember when the ABC used to make that stuff? Now Please Like Me is bought and paid for by a US cable network and they can’t even get Sammy J and Randy’s show onto a free-to-air channel.
So being able to remind people of that magical time when audiences actually looked forward to the ABC’s comedy output is a big win for them. Not for viewers, mind you: both these series are clapped out beaters dragging themselves around the paddock to give everyone a chance to see what “collecting a paycheck” looks like. But if they can bring back enough of their old fans one more time, the ratings might be enough to stave off disaster in 2015.
2016, on the other hand, is not something any of us should be looking forward to.
So Dirty Laundry Live wrapped up for 2015 last week, and the fact it’s taken us until now to mention it should give you some idea of how difficult we found it to have anything of note to say on the subject. And just because we’re saying something now, don’t think for a second we solved that problem.
To get the positive stuff out of the way first, it’s easily the best Australian panel show on the ABC at the… oh, it’s the only panel show on the ABC at the moment? Well, it’s still pretty good. It’s a weird fit for the ABC circa 2015, where pretty much all comedy programming aspires towards the bland, but that’s a plus for those of us who like their comedy to contain actual comedy.
It’s still too long, mind you, and while the panel banter remains more hit than miss thanks to a rock-solid core that work well together, a lot of the segments are increasingly chummy in a way that suggests new viewers aren’t all that welcome. But it’s at that stage of its lifespan where new viewers probably aren’t much of a possibility, so why not go for in-jokes and mates laughing at each other because they’re mates? And there’s still outside guests joining them on the panel often enough to bring people in that way.
Really, the only thing we’d add from our review at the start of the series is that it seems even more obvious now that it’s topped out as far as any kind of wider appeal goes. The quirky throwaway comedy on ABC2 has failed to become the next Spicks and Specks or Glasshouse on ABC1. No-one’s embedding DLL clips on their website saying “The Dirty Laundry Live crew just nailed it!”
Sure, that was obviously never their intention (and never all that likely either) but no doubt there’s a few people at the ABC who wouldn’t have minded in the slightest if that had somehow magically happened with the shift to the main network. It’s not like any of their other comedy panel shows have made any kind of impression on the nation since 2008.
The question now becomes: is there still space for a show like Dirty Laundry Live at the ABC, or will it be bumped for some sack of crap with “wider appeal”? Is being a funny panel show good enough these days, or is there only money in the kitty for shows that are (or have the potential to be in the eyes of the ABC) big hits? Guess that depends on what value ABC management puts on being funny over being popular.
It’s pretty difficult to find anyone online willing to utter a harsh word against Charlie Pickering and The “nailed it!” Weekly. That’s because The Weekly is happily doing a shitload of their work for them: when The Weekly runs a segment on, say, how people who boo Adam Goodes are racist, or how rape culture is A Bad Thing, all they have to do is take that clip, slap “The Weekly nails sexual harassment!” on it, and hey presto – fresh content.
So thumbs up to Clem Ford over at Daily Life – a site not exactly estranged from the concept of praising Pickering’s work – for pointing out the obvious:
Charlie Pickering delivered a reasonably good rant about rape culture this week on his ABC show The Weekly. His scriptwriter did a nice job skewering stereotypes about how women ‘ask’ to be assaulted by the way they dress and behave. Pickering finished by suggesting that a better approach would be to tell men not to rape (a great point that’s been stated by thousands of feminists before him, none of whom are quoted in this segment). The segment finished with a neat song performed by Geraldine Quinn, Miranda Tapsell and Angie Hart called ‘Don’t Rape’.
Less than 24 hours later, the video had been written about in at least three news sources with comments posted urging for international recognition of the work and talking about how important men like Pickering are (not dissimilar to the reaction he got a few weeks ago when he said what tons of Aboriginal writers and thinkers had already said about Adam Goodes).
Ford’s point is that women – lots and lots of women – have said exactly the same thing to resounding media silence, while Pickering gets all the praise simply because he’s a dude. It’s a totally valid point, but we’d like to make a slightly different one: Pickering and The Weekly pull this shit on every single topic they cover.
Week in, week out Pickering and The Weekly not only tackle issues with clearly defined “right” and “wrong” sides – what, you expected him to come out and say Rape Culture was ok? – they tackle issues that have already been done to death by smarter, funnier people elsewhere. And by “elsewhere” we mean “elsewhere online”, because The Weekly seems to be put together based on the assumption that every single one of their viewers has spent a sum total of zero time online over the past week.
Pickering is a one-man smug-fest all on his own, but being the frontman on a show built around acting like widely-discussed internet topics are in fact deeply buried social issues they’ve uncovered all on their lonesome doesn’t help one bit. If you’re going to take that approach, it helps to actually be giving audiences something new: one of the numerous ways in which the late, lamented Hamster Wheel shat all over The Weekly is that with The Hamster Wheel The Chaser had a bunch of people actually doing original research into the Australian media. That way, even if the jokes tanked there was a pretty good chance you were being told something you didn’t know.
In contrast, The Weekly has failed to break a single story, failed to highlight an issue not already covered better elsewhere, and failed to create a single moment of comedy that might excuse any of its other many, many sins. It’s a show that hasn’t had an original thought in its life: it seems it’s really easy to nail it each week when you’re just handing out opinions your fans already agree with.
Just to make it perfectly clear, while we fully agree with Ford – and anyone else who’d like to point out that everything The Weekly does has been done better and earlier elsewhere – the biggest sin here as far as we’re concerned is that the show simply isn’t funny. It’s a series of plodding news reports with some strangulated faux-outrage smeared over the top: either be more informative and give up on comedy entirely, or take the time to come up with some real jokes about the state of the world today.
Of course, this is a problem all news comedy shows face. The more obscure the news covered the less funny the show is going to be because of the whole “having to explain what the joke is” problem, while only covering the really big stories means that your show is both dull (everyone having already heard the news) and competing with everyone else for the good jokes. It’s a tricky balancing act, and it’s one that hardly any show gets right all the time.
And yet The Weekly never gets it right. Every week it serves up generic opinions on topics covered more fully and successfully elsewhere, and then it fails to actually wring any humour out of them. Our advice is simple: if you can’t be original, be funny. And if you can’t be funny, presumably The Weekly is still hiring.
Umbrella recently released the DVD Studio 9 – The Home of Australian Television, featuring golden moments from Channel 9’s glorious past. As you might expect this includes yet another opportunity to see Graham Kennedy’s set falling over, plus all the other classic Channel 9 clips that get dragged out every time they do one of these retrospectives. And who isn’t prepared to spend $17.99 to watch all them again?
To put this in a little context, the golden moments package is actually a program from 2004 called Inside Studio 9, a celebration of live TV broadcast from the famous GTV-9 studio where shows such as In Melbourne Tonight (both versions), The Don Lane Show and The Footy Show were made. Hosted by Don Lane, it does (mercifully) include many, many clips you probably haven’t seen before, including performances from well-known local and international acts, talent show contestants making dicks of themselves, live ads going wrong, and some really quite dodgy clips of Sam Newman and his footy-loving co-panellists doing their thing*.
If the latter turns you off, at least most of the clips last less than 20 seconds. On the other hand, if you want any sort of context for the clips forget it – one joke from a comedian, or one chorus from a singer, or one short anecdote from a chat show guest are all you’re gunna get. As clip show packages of this ilk go it’s pretty good, although what with all the incredibly short clips and with Lane’s links being so short as to barely be worthwhile, you wonder if the producers were on speed when they put this together.
Also on this disc is the notorious Don Lane Celebrity Roast from 1978. Inspired by The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, this is Channel 9’s first attempt at the genre – and as Roastmaster Bert Newton jokes “If this doesn’t rate there’ll be another roast next week…in Kerry Packer’s office!”
Helping Bert to roast Don in the studio are Paul Hogan, David Frost, Whitlam-era Minister Fred Daly and Don Lane Show writer Tim Evans, plus (on film) Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Thring and Toni Lamond. As roasts go this is a fairly gentle affair, with Frank Thring’s section, in which he reads out telegrams from various notables who couldn’t attend, being the only point at which things get truly vicious.
Hoges, Bert and Evans have some pretty funny things to say about Don’s history, professional achievements and personal life, and Sammy Davis Jr and Toni Lamond do their best to be funny in their pre-filmed segments.
David Frost’s appearance is quite interesting, particularly as he spends much of it barely trying not to look as if he has somewhere better to be. A reasonably large proportion of his speech about Don consists of jokes about himself, and when it concludes and Bert holds up a copy of Frost’s (then new) book about his famous interviews with Richard Nixon, it’s hard not wonder if Frost was treating this like a chat show appearance. Or wonder if he’d ever met Don at all!
But despite Frost and the politician-trying-to-be-funny stylings of Fred Daly, this is well worth setting aside 45 minutes to watch. And coupled with the Studio 9 clip fest, it’s several hours-worth of (almost) consistent laughs – and who isn’t prepared to pay $17.99 for that?
* Speaking of dodgy, there are also two clips featuring Rolf Harris in Inside Studio 9.
The last episode of Ryan Shelton’s latest Instagram series Cliff 2 (the sequel to his previous Instagram series Cliff) will be uploaded today to his Instagram account. What will happen? Has Rebrecca killed Cliff? And is there a future in this kind of thing?
Before we vaguely answer at least one of those questions, just a reminder that Instagram only allows you to upload between 3 and 15 seconds of video. And when someone starts to play it, it plays on mute (the user has to tap again to hear the sound). And as soon as the video ends it starts playing again, and will keep playing on a loop unless the viewer taps to stop it or scrolls away. As if less than 15 seconds isn’t restrictive enough for a sitcom episode, in Cliff Shelton can’t have anything important going on sound-wise for the first 1-2 seconds because many people won’t hear it, and he’s got to create a clear endpoint or deliberately structure the ending so he can use the loop back to the start to his advantage.
That’s a lot to think about in a short video, but those restrictions lend themselves to comedy pretty well. Comedy works best when its pacey and loaded with gags, and here Shelton has no choice but to tell his story quickly and to look for any opportunity to insert humour. In Cliff 2 the characters are deliberately odd, with stupid wigs and outfits, who talk in bizarre language and suddenly do strange things – plenty of funny there!
This isn’t necessarily a fair comparison, but it’s a welcome contrast from the sketch shows which stretch out one weak gag over multiple weak sketches (Open Slather) or the sitcoms which waste time on half-arsed, waffly dramatic sub-plots (Please Like Me returns soon!). Perhaps the people with social media-era attention spans have the right idea about comedy after all – get to the gag as soon as possible!
And in the spirit of Cliff 2 we’ll keep this review brief and end it here… Or will we? (Yes – Ed.)