Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

A Weekly Is a Long Time In Show Business

Well, don’t we look like dickheads. There we were just a few weeks back boldly claiming that it was plain to all and sundry that Charlie Pickering’s The Weekly was going to:

…make a much more concerted effort to rip off The Daily Show. You know the drill: wacky opening monologue, slightly more in depth report on something (presumably from Kitty Flanagan and / or Tom Gleeson – you know, the cast members not featured in that clip – which will in no way prompt comparisons with John Oliver), a guest from the real world, then roll credits. Remember all those times you got Charlie Pickering and Jon Stewart mixed up? No? Better not tell the ABC that.

Of course, now that we’ve seen the show it’s obvious that… oh, right.

Word is that around at least a few ABC corridors The Weekly is being described as “A John Oliver type show”. You know, in much the same way that Tonight Live with Steve Vizard was “A David Letterman type show”. But hey, it’s a perfectly good format that no-one in this country is using, so clearly it’s fair game. Especially when the media around here kept running stories like:

Will Charlie Pickering’s The Weekly Be The Home-Grown ‘Daily Show’:

“never underestimate the power of ridicule to keep the powerful under control. If someone in a position of power, whether it’s a politician or a very wealthy businessman or a sports star, if they’re just one step away from the entire country laughing at them, then they tend to behave themselves a little better… It actually means I think, to some degree, that power stays with, you know, the people.”

The Weekly is not The Project on ABC:

“It will be the funniest take on the week’s news that we can muster with the resources of the national broadcaster behind us: a high speed internet connection and a room full of comedians,”

Charlie Pickering Is A Total Legend:

(oh dear, The Vine.com seem to have realised the error of their ways with their link-based praise-fest and taken it down. Jump on the google cache while you can)

While he denies wanting to compare The Weekly to shows like The Daily Show in the US, the demographic is essentially the same. And for a generation who trust comedians more than traditional journalists to tell them about what’s going on in the world, Pickering’s integrity tour is exactly what he needs to capture the audience.

With a now slightly embarassing headline, here’s The Guardian with: Charlie Pickering on The Weekly: ‘There is plenty to joke about in the news': ABC’s new host on the ‘complicated calculus’ of satire, Aunty’s creative freedoms (and tough standards) and why he’s not remaking The Daily Show (presumably because Last Week Tonight was a slightly less obvious show to rip off):

“The fodder is the news and there is plenty to joke about in the news. But our fodder is also issues … Everyone is stuck in the 24 hour news cycle so they have to talk about the news straight away and we’ve got a bit of time to sit with it maybe. We can connect a few stories.”

And our personal favourite, from John Safran himself, Chasing Charlie Pickering:

“Someone asked me about my old job, The Project, and asked why I left,” he ranted into the microphone. “I just couldn’t watch the news any more.  It never changes: bad theatre by poor actors every night in perpetuity, it’s always the same.”

Guess he must have got over that.

As The Weekly wore on it became obvious that this was a show aimed at an Australian audience desperate for something like The Daily Show yet completely unaware that The Daily Show is a thing that actually already exists. Which seems fairly cynical, even for Australian television. When Pickering told TV Tonight “I want a format that I’m allowed to throw out”, maybe he should have considered exercising that option before the first show went to air.

But format aside, did the show work? Well, there was an opening swoop over a cheering audience. Really? Isn’t it enough that we just hear them cheering? Oh wait, this is the nation where a legion of dickheads spent half a year claiming that Mad as Hell used a laugh track. Let’s move on.

And here comes Charlie, cheerfully informing us that “We’ve got a big show tonight”. And right there our dreams of seeing anything even remotely original died a death. No, you don’t have a big show tonight: you have your first show tonight. And maybe you should have started it without using the oldest cliche in the book. Yes, the thanks you gave to Micallef and to us for tuning in were nice. But not as nice as starting with a joke. And then we got fan reactions to the Star Wars trailer. Isn’t showing YouTube clips The Footy Show‘s thing now?

All of this no doubt seems kind of petty to you; it did to us too. And then we remembered that this is the most important part of the most important episode of The Weekly ever. Sure, it might improve in the weeks ahead. But with the way television works in this country in 2015, there’s a very good chance it will never have a bigger audience than it does for the first few minutes of this first episode. Star Wars fan reactions, people. And then a “Margaret & David” joke. And then a “Walt Disney on ice” joke followed by “yes, I know that’s an urban legend”. Is it such a great idea to make a joke and then tell us the joke is based on something that’s not true? Does it make for a funnier joke, or does it make you wonder “why tell that joke”?

The big problem here wasn’t the format, or a bunch of jokes that seemed weirdly stale (a Tony Abbott VB ad? Do they even still use that “matter of fact, I’ve got it now” jingle?). It’s that the show just wasn’t as smart as it needed to be. Take the extended segment on piracy, which bought out and bought into this somewhat dubious argument trotted out by the big corporations: every time someone illegally downloads a movie (in this case the small Australian horror films 100 Bloody Acres and Wyrmwood) that directly equals one ticket to those movies that wasn’t sold.

Hang on a sec: do you know anyone who happily downloads stuff that they’d never actually pay money for? Those guys kind of throw the whole “every illegal download is a lost ticket sale” argument out of wack. And do you know of any cinema near you that was even screening either 100 Bloody Acres or Wyrmwood so you could pay to see them if you wanted to? Wow, this whole piracy thing is a bit more complicated than it first seemed. Maybe just focus on the jokes next time.

It was the same problem with Kitty Flanagan and Tom Gleeson. Their bits were good as far as they went – they just didn’t go far enough. If you’re really going to do news-based comedy – even in Australia, where Mad as Hell and The Hamster Wheel made a decent fist of it in living memory – you have to be smart. Not smug, smart. Not “hey, we made a joke based on an urban legend and now we just pointed out that we know it’s an urban legend,” not “hey look, I’m making dumb jokes about something smart and complicated, the joke is that I’m too dumb to realise this is more complicated than the simplistic approach I’m taking”. Actually smart. And based on the first episode of The Weekly, it just isn’t smart enough.

Watching The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, you’re never going to die wondering about the issues that those involved with those shows feel passionate about. Even watching Mad as Hell, there are enough moments where clearly someone was mad as hell about something (even if it’s the way giant supermarket chains treat their produce suppliers) to give the show some bite.

The Weekly felt like a toothless operation complied by a bunch of cosily comfortable comedy professionals (head writer: Tom Gleeson – hey look, Pickering’s old co-host from The Mansion days, Michael “Chambo” Chamberlin’s got a gig here too) who are perfectly happy to wave at issues with an ornate feather-laden novelty comedy fan rather than let us know how they really feel. Because they feel nothing beyond paying their bills? These days, who does?

Gleeson’s vaccination rant towards the end of the show was a perfectly decent piece of comedy business that even managed to raise a chuckle or two at Tumbleweeds HQ. But we never got the impression for a single solitary second that Gleeson gave a shit either way about the issue. Sure, we’ve never got the impression Gleeson really gives a shit about much of anything; like Kitty Flanagan, he’s just not that kind of comedian. So what is he doing on this kind of show?

Maybe this’ll improve in coming weeks. We doubt it. The ABC have put together a team of safe hands to do what they’re best known for doing; so far they’re doing that just fine. And if the result is a largely insipid, dumbed-down take on an all-encompassing media environment where everything else – commercials, politicians’ gag writers, our corporate masters, tumblr activists, the guy sitting behind you on the bus – is so much smarter than this aspires to be… well, guess we’re the idiots for expecting a Daily Show rip-off to rip-off what really makes The Daily Show work.

 

*update*

 

Dammit Fairfax, we called it a rip-off too!

Charlie Pickering says he wants to create TV similar to that made by veteran presenter Clive James, but some viewers think he’s trying to be like US host, John Oliver.

Pickering’s new ABC show The Weekly aired for the first time on Wednesday night, during which Pickering and co-presenters Kitty Flanagan and Tom Gleeson took a satirical look on the issues of the week, including internet piracy and vaccinations.

Before the show aired, Pickering revealed he had been re-watching old episodes of Australian presenter Clive James’s TV show on YouTube.

“As a kid I used to watch the TV that Clive James made and think it was the best in the world,” Pickering said.

However, Pickering has been criticised on Twitter for trying to emulate US satirical host, John Oliver who presents Last Week Tonight.

(at least one of those positive tweets comes from a media comrade of Pickering’s, by the way)

 

 

 

 

 

Vale Mad as Hell (again)

Once again the internet was flooded with an outpouring of grief at the news that the current series of Shaun Micallef is Mad as Hell will be the last. Well, a few people mentioned it. To us at least. Fortunately this seemed based largely on Micallef ending the series pretty much the same way as he’s ended every other one – like he wouldn’t be back. What else is he going to do, say “see you next year” halfway through April? Even the ABC don’t know what they’re planning for 2016 yet.

That said, there are two fairly obvious scenarios that could play out: either The Weekly becomes a hit and is the ABC’s first choice for news-based satire, or it tanks and Mad as Hell is left as their first choice (the third option involves The Chaser wanting to do another news-based show, but that seems a little unlikely at this point). Sure, the ABC could keep both on – they had both Mad as Hell and The Hamster Wheel for a while there – but giving twenty weeks to The Weekly is a pretty firm sign that the ABC want it to step up to the lead role.

(as an aside, has anyone else noticed that that a): it’s always the shows that come from management rather than creative that get the massive episode runs on the ABC, and b): it’s always the shows that come from management rather than creative that are the long-running disasters on the ABC? Of course, the shows that come from creatives are often disasters too, but at least then there isn’t a massive stockpile of episodes to burn off)

Having the ABC position The Weekly as Mad as Hell‘s successor is a little bit irksome, because despite being easily the funniest news satire show the ABC’s had this century, Mad as Hell has never quite been the one in the spotlight. For most of Mad as Hell‘s run The Chaser were still seen as the ABC’s go-to guys for making fun of the news (with The Roast inexplicably kept in the mix there somewhere) ; now that they’ve finally stepped aside, here comes another show getting the big boost.

Some may say that this lower profile enables Micallef and company to get away with more. No doubt not being the ABC’s main political comedy was a help early on – The Hamster Wheel did all the “proper” news comedy while Micallef messed around releasing the Kraken and dropping pianos on guests and so forth. But as pretty much the only Australian comedy show this century to actually improve over the years, now really should have been its time to shine.

Then again, has anyone else noticed a small but growing number of people stepping forward to say that they “don’t get” Micallef? A lot of TV critics have started peppering their “Australian comedy is stronger than it’s ever been” bullshit with lines like “Micallef’s Mad as Hell has its fans”, which is critic-speak for KILL IT WITH FIRE. And didn’t Fairfax waffler supreme David Dale recently say Micallef was reaching his use-by date? Geez, if people in the media have use-by dates someone might want to tip Dale over and check the number stamped on his arse.

We’d see their comments as more than just a nasty whisper campaign if they actually backed it up with, you know, the occasional reference to the actual show. Is it so hard to write “Micallef’s increasing reliance on references to his own back catalogue – less of the Micallef Tonight sign, guys – worn-out running gags (the Kraken’s been unleashed one too many times) and Blade Runner jokes signals a show that’s increasingly insular.”? Look, we just did it then and we don’t even believe it.

Because the fact remains – and it is a fact, all that crap about how it’s impossible to critique comedy needs to go into the bin, to coin a phrase – that Mad as Hell is the funniest show on Australian television. Sure, it’s not funny at all if you don’t find Micallef and co’s kind of humour amusing, but that’s a pretty good sign your idea of a laff-riot is a double feature of chin-stroking during The Agony of Piles and The Gruen [subject to be confirmed]. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Mad as Hell features non-stop jokes that range from wordplay to political observations to silly character stuff to the kind of “hey, this SBS report about the Reserve Bank is illustrated entirely with slightly different shots of the outside of the bank” bits that used to make The Hamster Wheel worthwhile. There’s a live audience to keep the energy up, there’s Micallef gurning away to do the same, there’s material that actually has an impact on the wider nation – the focus on Bill Shorten’s amazingly poor zingers really has shaped the perception of him out in the community – and there’s a reference to The Baldy Man that we’re deeply ashamed we got.

It’ll be missed.

 

The Agony of that thing on after Mad As Hell

You know how when you’re watching the Agony series and you’re not laughing? That was intentional this week. At least for the first 15 minutes of the show, because they were talking about the burka. Yes the burka, a Muslim thing that you definitely can’t joke about in case ISIS are watching and will become so outraged that they’ll blow up the ABC.

Okay we know that the cultural sensitivity on display here was well meant and that Muslims don’t have an easy time of it out there in the land of the fair go, but this was a pretty odd gear shift for a show for which glib attempts at comedy are its raison d’etre. Especially when they started talking about bikinis in the second half of the program and it was basically wall-to-wall middle-aged blokes dribbling and leering at the mere thought of young ladies wearing the skimpy bathing costume in question. Imagine Sid James in a Carry On film reacting to a young woman in a skimpy outfit, except it was Steve Vizard reacting to whatever was happening in his evil mind. Ugh.

On the other hand, as it’s rare for the Agony series to have a point in existing beyond being a holding pen for out-of-work stand-ups and weird old black and white footage of domestic scenes, we should possibly praise it for teasing out all the contradictory opinions one can have about the burka and for airing them on primetime television in a way that wasn’t politically loaded. A similar dissection of this issue in almost any other televised form would have been a shouty, biased, pointless shit fight – whether on Channel 9 or ABC Local radio – yet when it was this particular bunch of celebrity talking heads mulling it over, the discussion was weirdly sensible. Likeable even, if somewhat incoherent.

Normally talking heads take a topic and ruin it for us all, turning it in to a pile of pointless mush. But here the “Aunts and Uncles” managed to take one of the most controversial topics in modern day Australia and neutralise it. We’re almost grateful.

But then they turned their attention to the bikini and, yep…Steve Vizard. Over the next few weeks Steve and chums will be discussing God, secrets and flirting. We’re not promising to watch.

Seek your own pleasure without justification from critics

We disagree with pretty much every word of this, but it’s still definitely worth a look if you’re interested in the mindset of Helen Razer, one of Australia’s more high profile comedy reviewers.

The thought that reviewing comedy is a misuse of the alphabet occurs to me often. As I submit reviews for publication, most profusely in three festival weeks of each of the past 14 years, I can’t but concede that the only beneficiaries of this labour, apart from myself, are (a) comedians who need a pull-quote for their promotional posters and (b) anonymous bloggers who need to say that I am, particularly when compared to them, really shit at reviewing comedy.

As much of the latter half of this article is about the importance of being paid, and considering that Razer is paid for her comedy reviewing (though she says that “writing about comedy pays almost as poorly as comedy itself”), we’d have to say that – by some standards at least – she’s doing a heck of a lot better at reviewing comedy than we are.

Vale Stop Laughing…this is Serious

The final episode of Stop Laughing…this is Serious, three hour-long documentaries about Australian comedy, aired last night. And while we’re as delighted as anyone that 180 minutes of ABC time were given over to programs on this theme, they were sadly rather unsatisfying surveys of the subject.

“Australian comedy” it turns out is a massive topic, and even though it was pretty much narrowed down to the TV era it still felt like the makers had barely scratched the surface of what the Australian sense of humour is and how TV comedy has impacted on Australia and the world, let alone said anything new or interesting about any of it. Or to put it another way, this was so feather-light and crammed with ill-informed talking heads it might as well have been called The Agony of Australian Comedy.

Here at Australian Tumbleweeds we know quite a lot about Australian comedy – we’ve even spent time in libraries researching it – so perhaps we’re the type of people who were never going to be satisfied by this. But neither it seems was TV Tonight, and like we said a couple of weeks back it’s inaccurate to do a survey of Australian TV comedy and leave out key players and shows, even if you do kinda make up for it by including sections on lesser known themes such as Aboriginal comedy.

Yet even when the right subjects were chosen Stop Laughing…this is Serious felt like a tick list of Australian comedy documentary cliches. A recent episode of Justin Hamilton’s podcast Can You Take This Photo Please? highlighted the problem, when Tony Martin described being interviewed for the program and how he was prompted to talk about the things most people know about Graham Kennedy already – his crow calls and the sketches where things fall on top him – rather than the broader context behind why Kennedy dominated comedy in the early years of Australia television. For anyone who wasn’t around at the time, Kennedy’s popularity is still a bit of a mystery and some extra insights in to his work would have been helpful. Or, how about something about how acts like Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton went on to influence later comedians? Not that Bert was in this at all…

There were some parts of this series which did work. Noeline Brown discussing The Mavis Bramston Show‘s satire of the cultural cringe was pretty interesting, and the section on the bicentenary Australian comedy “invasion” of the Edinburgh Festival, Oznost, was honest enough to admit that most of the acts who went on this taxpayer-funded trip ended up playing to no one. Footage of Wendy Harmer dying on her arse on Ben Elton’s Friday Night Live and Rod Quantock, mid-bus tour, getting hassled by the local police as a BBC film crew look on, was also fun.

When there were interesting stories like these to tell this documentary nailed it, but sadly it spent a lot of its time trying to cram in too much, making glaring omissions, and grouping together various semi-unrelated topics via a series of logical leaps and generalisations. In the final episode, about the impact of Australian comedy overseas, it was concluded that what success there was (in the UK at least) was down to the popularity of Neighbours. Right… Later there was a nod to today’s comedians putting their stuff on the internet, yet no examples of Aussie online success in the international market were cited. (Hello, The Axis of Awesome!)

Overall, this was an erratic and misguided series that would probably have been better off as six half-hours, having more focused themes, or simply narrowing the focus to look at a particular time period, or even a small number of key stories. There are potentially fascinating shows to be made about how the live the scene of the 70’s and 80’s led to the TV comedy boom of the late 80s and early 90s, how that boom was a virtual bust by the end of the millennium, and how panel shows rose up and resurrected TV comedy a few years later. Speaking of which, where the hell was Spicks & Specks, probably the most-watched Australian comedy of the past decade, in all of this? You guessed it, nowhere.

Also, why in the section on The Castle did Steve Vizard say more about the film than Santo Cilauro? And did they seriously go from Mavis Bramston to Ja’mie with “funny voices” as the link? And did anyone actually fact-check or question anything any of the famous comedy talking heads had to say? What the hell was Rove talking about when he said that we should look to radio for funny people because that’s where Graham Kennedy came from? Is he aware it isn’t the mid-50s and that comedy on radio these days is just people gabbing about their lives? Why the hell would we want to see them on TV? Oh, and what was that thing about YouTube being great because it offers “instant feedback”? Have these people read any YouTube comments?

Look, all we wanted from this program was to get a new perspective on the history of Australian comedy, learn a few new things and for it to have been properly researched. We know it’s not a documentary about World War I but if you’ve got three hours to play with there’s no excuse to make this much of a mess. As per the title, it would have been nice if they’d taken Australian comedy seriously.

Vale Maximum Choppage

This post’s been sitting on the shelf for a few days because… well, we figured we said pretty much all we had to say when we covered the first episode. Especially as pretty much all our predictions for the future of this series came true. Diminishing results as week after week our heroes are dropped into yet another ‘wacky’ situation where the laughs are meant to come almost entirely from the (increasingly forced) absurdity of the situation? You don’t need to be Nostradamus to see how that future plays out.

We don’t know enough about the rules of the annual Series Mania television festival to know whether entering Maximum Choppage in it as a drama is just a quirk of the entrance requirements or something deeper, but it certainly seems reasonable to us. Maximum Choppage was the kind of “comedy” where the laughs are meant to come from the crazy setting (and characters taking the crazy setting seriously) rather than actual jokes, which in our book means it was basically a drama based on a silly idea. That’s fine; that also makes it a drama.

We’ve gone on record before as not being huge fans of “high concept” comedies (*cough Danger 5 cough*), largely because they almost always leave us thinking the high concept would have worked better as a one-off sketch. Maximum Choppage has done nothing to change that view. Sure, it was a polished production with solid performances and the occasional decent laugh; there are plenty of other reviewers who’ll give you the thumbs up for vaulting that low bar.

For example, this guy:

Maximum Choppage is undeniably groundbreaking – in an act of “soft power” it puts a new spin on a working-class suburb better known for its history of drugs and gangs. White characters take a back seat to Asian leads: the show’s real hero is an Asian female; there’s a male Asian character with a white girlfriend; and the token dork is a white character with an Asian fetish called Egg (white on the outside, yellow on the inside). With its purported 90% Asian Australian cast, the show is both a breath of fresh air for Asian actors and a welcome change to the monoculture that is Australian television.

While the show does an admirable job of exposing national audiences to Asian Australian culture, it also indulges in a few cringe-worthy oriental stereotypes. In the first episode the characters sing a bad karaoke rendition of Kung Fu Fighting; the “tiger mother” speaks in a heavy accent (“kill dem!” is one of her catchphrases); and there’s a character called Le Bok (like Reebok – supposedly Asians can’t say their Ls properly) who employs children to make sneakers. When we poke fun at a culture we’re trying to portray are we perpetuating stereotypes?

Both of which are good points (“undeniably groundbreaking” seems like a stretch, mind you), especially as neither of them make any kind of gesture towards the idea that Maximum Choppage was all that funny. But when your conclusion is:

Humour is a great way of injecting Australian television with some much-needed diversity. Too much of it only leads to enforced stereotypes, no matter how intelligently they’re being riffed upon.

That’s when you lose us. We want more diversity on Australian television because it’ll lead to a greater range of humour, not the other way around. And to claim that you could ever have “too much” humour on Australian television suggests you haven’t really watched all that much Australian television.

We’re not the kind of reviewers to give out gold stars just for participation. If you really want to break down the ethnic barriers in Australian television, it’s not good enough to just widen the pool of available actors and stories – if you’re making a comedy, it’s also got to be funny.

And a wacky high concept that gets stale by week three isn’t the way to do it.

Blasts From The Past

Who the hell ordered a Full Frontal for the 2010’s? Foxtel apparently, reports TV Tonight

Foxtel’s upcoming local sketch comedy finally has a name, Open Slather.

The series, under the watch of Rick McKenna (Kath and Kim) and Laura Waters (Summer Heights High, It’s a Date) will premiere 7.30pm Sunday May 24th on the Comedy Channel.

The cast includes much-loved comedy performers Magda Szubanski, Gina Riley, Jane Turner, Michael Veitch, Glenn Robbins, Michael Veitch, Shane Jacobson, Marg Downey and Stephen Curry plus Ben Gerrard, Ben Lomas, Dave Eastgate, Demi Lardner, Emily Taheny, George H. Xanthis, Hannah Bath, Holly Austin, Ilai Swindells, Jay K Cagatay, Laura Hughes and Miles O’Neil.

Filmed in front of a studio audience the 20 episode series will be a no-holds barred send-up of Australian culture, identities, celebrities, and politicians. Filming is already underway.

Foxtel Director of Television Brian Walsh recently told TV Tonight, “It will combine some of the biggest names in Australian comedy with some of the new, emerging talent in a weekly one hour show. It will tap into topical subjects, great Australian characters, and I think it will be fresh, funny and we are sparing no expense in terms of investing in the production of the show.

“We’ve commissioned the show with the intent that it becomes a long-running marquee title for Foxtel.”

“Australians love a laugh and particularly to laugh at themselves, and in present times we could use all we can get. We have assembled a fantastic comedic team who will deliver plenty,” said Rick McKenna.

“The most important part of making a comedy show is that you’re having fun, and we are having a blast! It would be hard to find a better group of people in the country to laugh with, and so far, we are pissing ourselves,” said Laura Waters.

Don’t all race to get Foxtel at once, folks!

Seriously, this sounds desperate. Ensemble sketch shows featuring a mix of old and new talent get launched every other year and yet somehow they never quite fly. People might look back on Full Frontal with nostalgia because Shaun Micallef and Eric Bana started there, but if you were watching at the time all you remember is the sheer number of half-arsed TV parodies and restaurant sketches you had to sit through before a David McGahan’s World sketch would come on (trust us, it was a lot!).

At least with a large group of writer/performers on board there’ll be a lot of material generated, but the promo image for Open Slather from that TV Tonight article doesn’t fill us with hope that it’ll be any good, or much different from week to week. Is that Marg Downey and Magda Szbanski as elderly tennis players with Martina Navratilova? Gee, we wonder if those two elderly ladies are regular characters, and if each week they annoy a different tennis identity.

As much as we respect the work history of many of the experienced members of the cast, and are interested to see what the newbies have to offer, 20 weeks of Open Slather seems somewhat excessive. It also seems a weird come-down for Jane Turner and Gina Reilly after Kath & Kim. Or maybe this is their new Big Girls Blouse and they’re hoping to workshop a few characters for a new sitcom? At least it (probably) won’t be the usual ego-driven improv we’ve come to expect from a Laura Waters project. As it’s Easter, we’ll be grateful for that small mercy.

Last On The Scene To Bring You The Latest News

Press release time!

More Fresh Blood Coming to ABC iview

ABC iview is pleased to announce that more exclusive content is on the way, with the second phase of Fresh Blood kicking off in Melbourne and Sydney. Five talented and creative teams have eagerly started filming their comedy shows for the Fresh Blood Pilot Season to screen on iview later in the year.

Fresh Blood is an ABC TV and Screen Australia initiative created in 2013 to kick-start the careers of young comedy writers, directors and performers. Fresh Blood Pilot Season is the second phase of the three-year initiative on iview.

In the first phase, 24 young creative teams delivered more than 70 sketches for Fresh Blood which screened on ABC iview in June 2014 and attracted more than 900,000 views. Following the success of the sketches, the 24 teams were asked to submit ideas for half-hour comedy pilots. From these submissions, five teams were selected to make their pilots. In the third and final phase of the initiative, the best pilot will be awarded a series commission.

ABC Director of Television, Richard Finlayson, said: “The ABC has always been the home of groundbreaking Australian comedy. Fresh Blood underlines the ABC’s commitment to new talent and to nurturing long-term relationships with our most creative people. With a series commission up for grabs, Fresh Blood gives a bunch of super talented individuals the funds and a platform to take their ideas and skills to the next level, all on Australia’s number one internet TV service.”

Screen Australia’s Interactive and Multi-platform Investment Manager, Mike Cowap, said: “It was a challenge to select the original 24 teams from the overwhelming mountain of 500 submissions. The resulting content packed a hefty comedy punch and helped the talent build their online audience. Their quality and popularity made the job of selecting only five from the 24 even more of a challenge. We’re thrilled as ever to be working with the ABC, who share our passion for fast-tracking careers.”

“Fast-tracking careers”? Isn’t this a three year plan? Also, explain this bit again:

In the first phase, 24 young creative teams delivered more than 70 sketches for Fresh Blood which screened on ABC iview in June 2014 and attracted more than 900,000 views. Following the success of the sketches, the 24 teams were asked to submit ideas for half-hour comedy pilots.

So everybody from round one got a shot at round two? Nobody at ABC HQ said “yeah, some of these ideas aren’t worth following up”? No wonder it’s going to take them three years to end up giving Aunty Donna a show.

Oh right, in case you haven’t already picked up who the five shows are from the various winners having already announced it themselves over the last few weeks while the ABC PR department was on an early Easter break, the five winners are:

Fancy Boy is plucked from the depths of the disturbed minds of the winners of the prestigious Golden Gibbo Award at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The team’s sketches are pithy, unapologetic comedy rooted in dark perspectives and uniquely bold premises. Fancy Boy is an oddly enjoyable back-hand to the face from a distinctive new comedy collective.

 

The Record is a black comedy written by and starring Veronica Milsom and Steen Raskopoulos. Based around couples striving to achieve or maintain world records, the humour flows from the characters’ unrelenting desperation to be recognised and remembered throughout the history books. For some, their record is their greatest achievement. For others, it’s a source of shame.

 

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am is a twisted sketch comedy, created from a uniquely female perspective. The show offers a satirical take on the common feminine archetypes we see every day on film and in the media and turns well-known TV genres on their heads. Written, directed and starring Skit Box’s Sarah Bishop, Greta Lee Jackson and Adele Vuko, the show is an eclectic mix of outrageous and thought-provoking comedy.

 

BedHead is a rom-com about Nick and Sophie, two best friends who sleep together and agree it definitely (probably) doesn’t mean anything. As they take on the scary world of modern dating, they’ll sleep with all the wrong people to prove there’s nothing between them. BedHead takes a cheeky peek under the sheets at the horrendously awkward and embarrassing things we get up to in the pursuit of love and sex.

 

Aunty Donna is a narrative-to-sketch series following the fantastic and surreal lives of Melbourne sketch troupe Aunty Donna. Rocked by the sudden departure of their most popular member, the three remaining members must prove to their agent, their fans and themselves that they can make it on their own. The pilot merges two different worlds: a day-to-day narrative and a heightened, fantastical world. Logie-nominated ‘Best Newcomer’ Miranda Tapsell guest stars.

Like we said, congrats to Aunty Donna on getting their own series in a year or so’s time.

I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy pt. 82

So a few days ago this happened:

A comedian appearing in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival has come under fire for telling an audience member to “die” after they staged a silent protest in response to a joke about rape.

Ray Badran, who is appearing at the festival for the first time, has been the centre of a social media storm, in which comedians have defended his on-stage behaviour.

It’s kind of interesting that “comedians defend fellow comedian” is seen as news-worthy here. What, should we expect that when the audience turns on a comedian – even for a rape joke – comedians should cut him or her loose? Is the vaguely antagonistic relationship between comedians and their audience (see also: hecklers) really that unusual these days?

To be honest, despite this story running and running in various parts of the internet, we’re struggling a bit to work out why it’s news-worthy (aside from the whole “look, Melbourne has comedy controversies too!” angle). Comedian makes rape joke: audience member(s) react with disapproval; comedian doubles down instead of backing down. Haven’t we heard this all before?

Others, as you might expect, have had more to say. From the guy running the night where it happened, this:

The notion that rape is not funny has been put forth many times in the last few days, and this is absolutely a straw man argument. Of course it isn’t funny. No one is saying that. This joke wasn’t making fun of rape, nor was it even about rape. I have seen thousands of hours of stand-up comedy, and plenty of terrible rape jokes, but not once have I ever seen a comedian making the point that rape itself is funny.

Some comics mention rape and use humour to deal with their own terrible memories. Some comics mention rape in the context of dark or absurd wordplay. Some comics mention rape for shock value.

Ray Badran should feel comfortable knowing that his joke is in no way making fun of rape victims, or makes the point that rape is funny, and the very idea that he would perpetuate rape culture is absurd.

And with a different take focusing more on maybe why Badran reacted how he did:

My point is that stand up is stressful. It’s terrifying. The great people (like Jo Enright, actually) make it look easy. They manage hecklers with aplomb, because they practice and craft and rehearse. Dying on stage is like pooing your pants at an interview. It’s mortifying. If I’d been able to blame my stage death on someone, I’d have gone for them. I’d have been enraged instead of merely shamed.

In rage, we have no control. I have no doubt that the comedian in question is feeling pretty bad about himself right now. I’m almost certain he has experienced at least one moment of ‘I wish I hadn’t said that’ shame. In a public forum, he was brought up short by the realisation that not everyone finds his rape joke funny. I don’t know if it’s funny. I didn’t hear it. What I’m interested in is his response to the woman’s lack of co-operation. Shamed and enraged, he lost control. Rage got the better of him and he told her he wished she would die.

Our reaction to all this is a bit more underwhelming. It doesn’t sound all that offensive a gag, really. Some people hear “rape” and freak out, which is fine, but his reaction to the audience reaction was far from the best. It was a kind of shitty gag, and he was being massively over-sensitive about it. Sure, stand-up is (in part) about being in control of your audience, and a comedian who apologises for a gag on stage – or responds to a heckler with “yeah, good point” – is probably about to have a very bad gig unless they’re really, really good. But that doesn’t mean you have to turn on your audience every time they don’t laugh.

On the flip side, comedians really do need to stop being in denial about why audiences object to rape jokes. It’s because rape is the worst thing ever (well, the worst thing someone in a comedy show audience might have experienced at least). They should expect that when they’re dealing with material that charged and powerful there are going to be people who react strongly and without nuance. In 2015 it’s hardly news that rape gags are going to get a bad reaction and if you’re a comedian going down that path you have no excuse for not having a sensible response to that kind of reaction.

In a wider sense what seems to be going on here is that society’s values are changing (or continuing to change), and there’s more of a feeling out there amongst the kind of people who go to comedy that things that they see as being not acceptable are not to be tolerated. The older “oh well, it takes all kinds, guess this isn’t for me” live and let live view of controversial material is fading; the new style is to think more along the lines of “representation = endorsement”.

It’s a view that runs like this: making jokes about rape normalises rape and fosters rape culture – a world where rape is something to be dismissed and laughed at. This is bad, so therefore all rape jokes are bad. And must be protested against, because staying silent in the face of a crime is to accept that crime. Basically, a lot of people are becoming less tolerant. Which isn’t automatically a bad thing if what we’re less tolerant of is shit rape jokes.

That said, we should also be a bit less tolerant of this kind of “controversy”. Bad jokes aren’t something that need to be protested; not laughing remains a viable and powerful option. And if you’re really not happy, the exits are usually clearly marked. Staying and messing with everyone else’s night because you personally don’t like the show is kind of a dick move.

And speaking of dick moves, did anyone else notice in all the applause for this much-praised “tough” review of Jim Jefferies in the Herald-Sun that the review didn’t appear until after his season was over – thus ensuring it did zero harm to his ticket sales? Guess at least now we know he sucks for the next time he’s here… unless he develops some new material between tours. Like pretty much every comedian working since 1984 does.

 

Separation of Powers

Over twenty four hours later and we’re still trying to get our heads around this:

In case you don’t know, Ben Pobjie is a professional, five-day-a-week-TV critic in the only newspaper chain that still runs daily TV criticism. He’s also publicly complaining that he’s not currently working with a TV comedian. You know, one of the people he’s paid to pass judgement on?

Maybe he’s just joking. Humour us a little here: what exactly is the joke? That he’s depressed over the sad state of his comedy writing career? That he’s depressed that he’s not good enough to work with Shaun Micallef? Hang on, isn’t this the guy who writes serious articles about his serious struggles with the serious topic of depression?

“I’m sitting in my car, late at night, watching the blood well from the lines I’ve just sliced into my arm, and I’m wondering just why I did it. In hindsight I’ll manufacture some kind of explanation, but in the moment all I can think of is, I’ve got to find a reason for someone to care.”

Not really seeing the joke there.

It’s not like he doesn’t have form with this kind of vaguely passive-aggressive social media chat either:

[it’s an article about Australia’s funniest twitter personalities. It doesn’t include Ben Pobjie]

[Racism?]

So this probably isn’t a “joke” in the commonly used sense of the word. But then what is it? Is Fairfax’s main TV critic really publicly complaining that one of Australia’s top comedians – and one who it’s presumably somewhat difficult to get work with, considering he’s been working with the same handful of writers (plus Francis Greenslade) for close to two decades now – hasn’t given him a job?

(It’s also worth wondering exactly why would Micallef want to work with Pobjie. This isn’t a slight on the quality of Pobjie’s work, but c’mon: he doesn’t have a background in sketch writing, or extensive TV credits to his name, and he doesn’t really do political stuff – at least, not stuff more pointed than the usual generic “ugh, Tony Abbott!” online stuff. It’s like a moderately talented pub guitarist publicly wondering why The Rolling Stones haven’t given him a call.)

Pobjie is a professional television critic. As such, his job is to tell his readers whether a television show is or isn’t worth their time. This is a job that has a certain amount of power, because when a television show has no viewers it is taken off the air. So for someone with that kind of power (even only in theory) to say “I’m depressed that I don’t work with Shaun Micallef” is, as the kids say, “problematic”.

Nobody is saying that Pobjie is suggesting that unless Micallef hires him he’s going to start giving his television shows negative reviews. He’s just publicly unhappy that he’s not working with Micallef. And he’s a TV critic who reviews Micallef’s television shows. His reviews could influence the amount of viewers Micallef’s shows get. His reviews could, in an extreme case, put Micallef out of work. Is anyone else worried about this?

It’s no secret that Pobjie is an aspiring comedian. It’s also no secret that writing TV reviews is how Pobjie currently pays his bills. The third totally-not-a-secret thing here is that it seems like those two jobs are rapidly becoming incompatible. This isn’t a case of a reviewer praising comedy then going off and making his or her own comedy; this is a reviewer publicly saying that he wants someone he’s reviewing to give him a job*.

And why would you even want a job under those circumstances anyway? If Micallef suddenly did say tomorrow “why sure Ben Pobjie, let’s work together on a project”**, wouldn’t there always be a worry in the back of your mind that perhaps you didn’t get the job because you’re the best possible comedy writer Micallef could be working with?

If that doesn’t matter to you – if what you’re interested in is not providing the best possible service you can to your audience but instead fulfilling your dreams of getting to hang out with your idols – then perhaps you might want to think about exactly what kind of service it is that you’re meant to be providing for your audience.

*in theory Pobjie could be saying “I want to work with Micallef as an equal, not for him as an employee”. But as Micallef isn’t part of a double act and everyone who’s worked “with” him since the late 90s (aside from his brief radio stint) has basically been a writer or co-star who was working for Micallef in some capacity (he’s the star of the show), that’s an extremely unlikely theory.

**here’s how you solve the whole “but maybe Pobjie was joking?” question: if Micallef did offer Pobjie a job working with him, do you think Pobjie would say no?