2014
12.14

Voting is now open in this year’s Australian Tumbleweeds 2014. Now in its 9th year, the Australian Tumbleweeds hails the failures (and occasional successes) of this nation’s comic talent.

Your online voting form can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/tumblies2014

You have until midnight at the end of Friday 10th January 2014 to vote. Please only vote once. Full rules and instructions can be found with the voting form – it’s a slightly different system this year, so please read the rules carefully.

The winners will be announced on or about Australia Day.

As always, the official hashtag is #tumblies.

2014
12.10

From just about every perspective that doesn’t involve writer / director / star Paul Fenech cashing in, bringing the worlds of Housos and Fat Pizza together makes no sense. And not just in the traditional “ugh, Aliens versus Predator really messed up both franchises” way that bringing different worlds together in the one movie is almost always a massive artistic fail because… look, it’s Paul Fenech we’re talking about here, ok? Both shows are just about him and his mates running around swearing their heads off, right?

But Fat Pizza vs Housos turns out to be surprising in one unexpected way – yeah, we kind of guessed that there’d be new depths plumbed here, so that “surprise” doesn’t count. No, the big surprise here is that it’s conclusive proof that Fenech’s wacky full-bore style of comedy is actually, measurably getting worse.

Much as we like to sneer dismissively at Fenech’s work, we try to do so for reasons apart from the usual “ugh, he’s making shows about poor people” and “this show is just a thrown together mess” reasons so beloved of the tiny wedge of the Australian media that actually pay attention to his work. So one thing that didn’t surprise us about Fat Pizza vs Housos is that it actually has a real story: the film begins with former Fat Pizza owner Bobo (John Boxer) leaving prison after serving a 15 year stretch for chainsawing someone who annoyed him. Now he (and his mother) are on a mission to rebuild the Pizza business. Only problem is, over those fifteen years away rents and wages have skyrocketed (by their standards), and the only place crummy enough to be affordable is Sunnyvale, home of the Housos.

As you’d expect, having an open and functioning business in their neighbourhood messes with the Housos’ do-nothing ethos, even if they do like the pizzas. Things get worse once Bobo’s mum starts pulling strings at the local Centerlink to first get the locals working there for free as a work-for-the-dole scheme, then have their benefits paid in food vouchers that they have to spend at Fat Pizza.

Meanwhile recent anti-bikie legislation has de-fanged the local bikie gang (who now have to travel everywhere by maxitaxi), allowing Habib (Tahir Bilgic) – now back working at Fat Pizza – and his drug dealing mates to corner the market by peddling drugs inside the pizzas. So while half the locals want to tear the place down for messing with their dole, the other half are hanging around looking to score. As they say in news reports, it’s a volatile mix.

Keen-eyed readers will have spotted that while that’s an actual story, it’s one that at most takes about ten minutes to tell. So Fenech pads it out with the usual Housos stuff: “thongings” (Frankie has developed a boomerang version), topless women, swearing dwarves, fat cops pigging out, sex dungeons and songs that involve people shouting the name of the TV series – though most of these songs are holdovers from Fat Pizza. There’s even a brief Swift & Shift Couriers cameo at the start, for the two people that watched that deservedly unloved Fenech series.

It seems like just the same loud cartoony stuff he’s been serving up for close to twenty years now, which is why he’s received close to zero real critical attention for close to twenty years. But in bringing back the original Fat Pizza cast of characters – Sleek the Elite returns halfway through after spending the last fifteen years in Gitmo, while Fenech plays both Houso’s thong-wielding sex machine Frankie and Fat Pizza’s hopeless Paulie, who also spent the last fifteen years away (in his case, trapped in a sex dungeon) – it becomes clear that Fenech has gotten a shitload lazier over those twenty years.

The Fat Pizza characters might be face-pulling morons, but they’re actual comedy characters of a sort: Habib is a dodgy guy trying to get rich the easy way, Sleek the Elite… ok, he’s just a shit rapper, and Paulie is a hopeless loser constantly getting into trouble. Oh, and Bobo’s a thug obsessed with chainsaws. There’s not much to work with there, but it’s at least possible to build stories around them.

The Housos cast, on the other hand… well, they shout a lot. Frankie slaps people (usually authority figures) with his thong, the cops chase him but they’re too fat to catch him, a lot of people in wheelchairs zip around, “The Junkies” try to steal shit, “The Bikies” yell a lot and sell drugs, Habib and his crew try to sell drugs, there’s a cranky grannie and a lumbering idiot and the rest just blur into one mass of shouty morons. It’s a live-action cartoon; this is not a good thing.

The reason why the words “live-action cartoon” fill viewers with dread is because cartoons and live-action work in different ways. Cartoons are animated: animation means a lot more of the energy a comedy needs can come from having the characters do things that real-life people can’t. You don’t need to give characters in cartoons a lot of depth – though Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are a lot closer to real people than anyone in Housos, and they’re cartoon animals with only 7 or 8 minutes per classic episode – because you can do all manner of crazy stuff with and to them.

Housos seems designed to work the same way a cartoon does. Even the minor depth of the Fat Pizza characters is gone: Housos just features no-dimensional characters having slapstick adventures in a crazy setting. But the team at Warner Brothers who made the Looney Tunes shorts were bona fide geniuses working in a medium where they could put literally anything on the screen: Fenech is marginally competent director who thinks creating characters who run around swearing is all he has to do to get laughs. He’s even given up using his imagination when it comes to slinging insults: if you laughed at “fucked in the face” back in season one of Housos, Fenech hasn’t bothered coming up with anything new – let alone better – here.

Rumour has it Fenech’s movies’ profitability comes more from their cheap production costs than their box office take. But make money they do and so Fenech shows no sign of quitting, even though he’d be doing us all a favour if he did. Fat Pizza vs Housos ends on a cliffhanger (of sorts) and the news that the story will continue in Fat Pizza vs Housos vs Authority. His shit was barely tolerable when they were giving it away on SBS: he’s fucked in the face if he expects anyone to pay for it now.

 

2014
12.05

As is the way of things, the ABC likes to backload their comedy output for the year, piling on the shows through October and November then bringing things to a screeching halt the first week of December when the ratings period ends. With so much going on and our desks still looking pretty cluttered – we spent good money seeing Fat Pizza vs Housos and we’re going to review it, dammit! – we’re forced to shovel dirt over a bunch of shows loosely tossed into a kind of internet mass grave rather than giving each of them the dignified burial they deserve.

And on that delightful image, let’s get shovelling!

*

The Chaser’s Media Circus: “disappointing” is probably an understatement here. The Chaser have always been guys that do their best work when they’re putting in a whole lot of work, and this lightweight panel game show didn’t exactly reek of effort. Sure, there was a lot of research on display and many of the clips and skits were funny, but it was still a show largely built around a bunch of media tosspots sitting on a couch trying to make each other laugh.

As political satirists The Chaser have always been extremely good at acting like they don’t really give a shit about politics – whatever motivates their comedy beyond discovering it was a cushy gig back at university has never been readily apparent – but having Chris Kenny on episode 7 was a new… well, not “low”, but definitely something in that general direction. Sure, Kenny cracked a few decent lines, but having him on (after he sued them and forced the ABC and The Chaser to make a grovelling apology over what was clearly a joke) signalled that they don’t really mean – let alone give a shit about – anything they say or do.

Now that they’re all buddy-buddy with Kenny, either they’re guys who casually called someone a dog-fucker for no reason, or they’re guys who did it for a reason which they later ignored because… they needed a guest? Either way, they’ve kicked away the foundation of their comedy and there’s nothing left but a bunch of guys in snappy jackets: if you’re not going to mean what you say you need to be a shitload funnier than this.

*

It’s a Date series 2: Like so much of Australian comedy, this was a good idea from a production stand point, not a comedy one. By being a series of sixteen fifteen minute sketches, it could draw in big names who didn’t have to make a long term commitment. Trouble was, we got sixteen sketches based on the same idea: people out on a date. And as that was the same idea that had pretty much been run into the ground with the first series, this was looking pretty tired long before the finish line. Which might explain why we don’t have much to say about it here; after a while, all the episodes just blurred into one, and even Shaun Micallef as a theatre restaurant Dracula couldn’t stand out from the crowd.

*

Upper Middle Bogan series 2: See? Making a decent sitcom isn’t that hard. You just have to come up with a bunch of funny characters that are actual characters with distinct personalities and then play them off against each other. The big problem with Australia’s small scale production model is that sitcoms work best once we’ve had a chance to get to know the characters and how they’ll react. A lot of the laughs in later seasons of US and UK sitcoms comes from the audience anticipating how the characters will deal with the latest crappy situation – and the real shame about Please Like Me getting such a lengthy run is that Josh Thomas has no idea how to write distinct characters so his show fails to get funnier as it goes along.

In a just world this would get at least a third series to capitalise on all the hard work that’s gone into the series to date, but from what we hear that, uh, doesn’t seem likely. Which is a massive shame: this wasn’t brilliant, but it’s the kind of thing that could run and run given half a chance. Lord knows the ABC needs a new crop of reliable laugh-getters now that The Chaser seem to be angling for a vacation and former golden boy Chris Lilley is a joke in all the wrong ways.

*

Black Comedy: In the end this turned out to be a surprisingly trad sketch show – perhaps seeing Mark O’Toole in the credits should have tipped us off there. That’s not a bad thing, of course: solid sketch shows are pretty rare these days, and by having the gimmick (that all sketch shows are seemingly now required by law to have) be “the cast are black”, the cast and writers were then free to just do the stuff they thought was funny. It may not have been all that memorable – it was more hit-and-miss than it really should have been, even for a bunch of first-timers – but it showed enough promise to leave us hoping the ABC’s seemingly iron-clad law of giving everything a second series applies here.

*

Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery: It’s probably not that hard to make a show that leaves us feeling stupider for having watched it – we have to spell out the big words on The Bolt Report – but this was as dumb as a box of rocks. If we wanted to read New Idea profiles on comedians overcoming trauma to make people laugh *sob*, we’d have done that instead of wasted our time with this.

The occasional snippet of insight or interesting use of file footage couldn’t make up for a production team determined to hit the same note – gee, childhood really fucks you up, right guys? – over and over and over again. As maybe a 50 minute doco made up of the good stuff this would be worthwhile; otherwise this is a delivery that needs to be sent back.

*

Soul Mates: As we said when this first aired, our expectations here were pretty darn low. The Bondi Hipsters are not our favourite comedy team – they’re not even in the top fifty – and having one of the guys behind Beached Az involved didn’t really seem to be setting the bar that much higher. So imagine our surprise when… actually don’t bother, we’ll just tell you: in the end, this wasn’t half bad. Sure, repeated slow pans over one of the lead’s abs while he’s tasking a shower is the kind of douchey crap that put us off the Bondi Hipsters in the first place – way to kick off your final episode guys – but overall this managed to change up the jokes just enough across the six episodes to keep the laughs coming.

Yet again, coming up with actual comedy characters turned out to be a pretty good idea when you’re making a comedy. While the show itself gradually turned into a drama of sorts (the caveman stuff stayed a one-joke idea; guess they can’t all be winners) the ridiculousness of the characters kept things funny enough to keep us watching. The New Zealand stuff went off the boil for us quickly enough – action parodies are best kept short and to the point – but it was different enough from the other two plots to prevent any of them from feeling stale.

All this was pretty basic stuff, mind you, and if Soul Mates wasn’t competing against sitcoms like Utopia and Please Like Me where wordplay (Utopia) and fuck-all (Please Like Me) were prized above characterisation and the occasional decent visual joke there’s a good chance this might not have looked so good. Still, credit where credit’s due: this didn’t totally suck arse. High praise indeed!

 

 

2014
12.02

Surprisingly – or not, depending on how closely you’ve been paying attention – for a news satire the final episode of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell contained a lot of swipes at other comedy shows. And well deserved swipes at that, whether the targets were lazy ABC “comedy” panel shows (the ‘Blather’ sketch even contained a reference to the number of episodes pre-recorded by our old nemesis, Randling), the random chatty nature of shows like Media Circus, or Dave Hughes – though the impersonation there was more affectionate than the rest.

Like the previous paragraph said, this was only surprising if you’re one of the numerous lazy Australian television writers who keep wondering why Mad as Hell isn’t a clone of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. For one thing, Mad as Hell has never just been a political satire; for another, if you expect good comedy to come from people writing about stuff they’re interested in, then presumably comedians are going to be a little interested in other comedy shows (as are people who watch comedy). And Mad as Hell has always parodied other television shows – remember all those digs at Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries?

It’s important in comedy to provide a way for your audience to get their bearings. Are you making jokes about “stop the boats” because you think we need to stop the boats, or because you think “stop the boats” is a jingoistic catch cry used by unreconstructed racists? Usually this kind of thing is pretty obvious from the joke itself, but occasionally dodgy values – for your own personal value of “dodgy”, of course – can slip through.

For example, both The Chaser and Working Dog have spent much of the last decade or so basing a lot of their political comedy on the idea that “they’re all basically the same” – you know, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, a politician always gets in” and so on. The trouble with jokes based on this kind of thinking is that while its a certainly a point of view, the only people who think Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are interchangeable are wealthy upper-middle class types who just want the government to get out of the way of them making money (unlike actual upper class types who know that government does make a difference to the tax breaks and handouts they get). Which means their whole “what’s the point of even having a government anyway” deal is less about fixing a broken system and more about not wanting the government bothering them because they’re getting along just fine without it. Unlike poor people.

So when Mad as Hell points out that ABC panel shows are a bit shit, it’s a massive relief here at Stately Tumbleweed Manor. Because as far as we’re concerned, they are a bit shit. After all, the best (inadvertent) joke in the Blather sketch was the way you could tell it was a parody because the panel was female-dominated. Zing! Then there was the throwaway gag about the low budget for The Chaser’s Media Circus in the penultimate episode of Mad As Hell, which wasn’t so much criticism of The Chaser as a subtle dig at declining ABC comedy budgets forcing comedians down the panel show route.

But the Blather and the Media Lounge Room panel show parodies in the final episode were all the more biting because a) they come during a time of budget cuts when presumably we’ll get more and more cheap panel shows and b) it was a pretty accurate pisstake of the sort of (and indeed actual) panelists these shows are littered with.

(On a similar theme, and worth checking out, is this sketch from a recent BBC mockumentary, which also takes the piss out of the repetitive and generic cheapness of panel shows. It’s all the more poignant in an Australian context given that Australian panel shows are usually less funnier than their British equivalents, but, judging from this sketch, even the British seem to think their panel shows aren’t good comedy!)

Perhaps what partly motivates this is a genuine fear in the writers room of Mad As Hell (and presumably also its audience) that quality topical sketch shows like this are unlikely to return in a public broadcasting climate that sees long-running current affairs shows and vital rural radio stations axed. And if sketch comedy does end up being gone for good, where else are we going to get our T.I.S.M cover versions from?

2014
11.30

We were going to talk a little about the surprise revelation that Fairafx’s chief TV writer thinks Australia is crap at comedy

What shows like Black Comedy and Mad as Hell do, however, is demonstrate that despite the persistent belief that Australia cannot “do” comedy, our funny bone is actually in pretty good shape, and that a tradition which was born in vaudeville and given voice in Australia though true masterpieces such as The Mavis Bramston Show and The Naked Vicar Show is alive, well and in good hands.

– because seriously, we all know that when a writer says “persistent belief” they usually mean “my persistent belief”. Does anyone really think Australia cannot “do” (presumably as opposed to “make”) comedy? Sure, we’re often shit at it, but does anyone not named Michael Idato think we haven’t made anything decent – let alone a “true masterpiece” – since a bunch of shows thirty five years ago? Heads up, every single person currently making comedy in Australia: lift your game. And maybe hire Noeline Brown.

But then we realised hey, what better way to counter this dumb point-of-view than with an example of a funny Australian show made since 1979? Unfortunately, all we could find was Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which now has its own website here: https://www.heyhey.tv/

Welcome to our big, bright and beautiful new website, the home of all things Hey Hey It’s Saturday! This is where you’ll find fun-filled clips from the show, all our latest and greatest news, and full episodes of Hey Hey. Take some time to make yourself at home – check out clips of some of our most popular interviews, comedians and sketches along with our favourite games and segments.

We’ll be adding new content every single week to keep you entertained. It’s all here, and it’s all free to watch.

News? Apart from a list of obituaries as cast members drop off and perhaps the occasional “still not coming back, you guys”, we can’t imagine there being a whole lot to report as far as new Hey Hey news goes. But the arrival of this website is news, because thanks to Somers Carroll holding onto the copyright of Hey Hey for all these years they’re now able to put up clips and segments – and, if you’re willing to pay a subscription fee, entire episodes – of the classic comedy series. From what we’ve heard, the visual quality’s great. As for the quality of the show itself… that’s a lot more subjective.

For the moment all the available full episodes seem to be from the late 90s (or worse, the 2009-2010 revival), AKA the  “Death Ray Daryl” era, when actually making a funny show came a distant second to making sure everything went according to the increasingly autocratic Daryl’s iron-fisted rule. But there’s enough promises about “the entire 28-year run” for us to be hopeful that eventually they’ll get around to the episodes from the 80s – you know, when the show was really funny.

But because it wouldn’t be us talking about Hey Hey It’s Saturday without a grim note of pessimism, we should also note here that by leading off with the later, shithouse episodes, Somers Carroll have actually made it less likely that we’ll ever get to the good stuff. The subscription fee – “Premium Memberships cost just $6.95 per month, or $59.95 for a whole year” – is good value when good episodes are available. But if they work steadily backwards from the show’s end, even if they release four episodes a week we’re looking at maybe two years to get back to the 80s.

Even for hardcore fans – and going by the ratings for the 2010 revival, there aren’t that many hardcore Hey Hey fans left –  that’s a long wait for the good stuff.

 

 

2014
11.25

The new Australian film The Mule is an interesting piece of cinema in a lot of ways, one of which is that it’s just been released but you can’t actually see it in cinemas. It’s one of a growing number of local films released via platforms such as iTunes, where (in theory) it will find its (presumably) niche audience and have a longer lifespan. Good luck to it.

The film itself is set in 1983 and focuses on Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson), a very ordinary guy who lives with his parents in a working class, outer suburb of Melbourne, works in a TV repair shop by day, and plays footy in the local team on weekends. Local nightclub owner Pat (John Noble), a mate of Ray’s Dad and Ray’s best friend Gavin (Leigh Whannell), and a supporter of the footy club, puts down the cash for an end-of-season team trip to Bangkok, except part of the deal is that Ray needs to smuggle in some heroin on the return trip.

Having never been overseas before and having never smuggled heroin before, Ray’s nervous but agrees to do it. After swallowing around a dozen condoms full of white powder he has an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking return flight, and by the time he gets to Tullamarine the stress gets too much, he panics going through customs and security stop him. As a suspected drugs smuggler he’s taken in to the custody of the Federal Police, who plan to keep him in an airport hotel room until he produces the heroin…except that Ray’s determined that his body will never produce the heroin.

As Ray spends day after agonising day fighting his body and hiding anything that does slip out from police officers Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie), Pat and Gavin both try to get to Ray and the heroin, Pat sends his goons after Dad and Gavin, a left-wing police-hating legal aid lawyer tries to fight Ray’s cause, and the Americas Cup is captivating the nation. If you came in thinking this would be a hilarious gross-out comedy about a guy who’s trying not to shit himself, you’ll be disappointed. Much of the comedy in this film – and there are quite a few funny moments – come from the clash of social classes, tribes, ideologies and nations: lawyers vs corrupt police, criminals vs battlers, underdogs vs the establishment, the working classes vs the middle classes, left vs right, footy blokes vs everyone else, and Americans vs Australians.

The result is an intelligent drama/comedy, that gets the mix of drama and the comedy just right, has a very clever plot and some well-rendered characters. Unusual for an Australian film, that. Seeing The Mule may not be as easy as heading down to your local multiplex but as it’s one of the better Australian films for a while you should make the effort.

2014
11.24

Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery is the kind of show that’s perfectly watchable so long as you’re willing to overlook all the things it isn’t. It’s a show that promises a bunch of behind-the-scenes background information on comedians, but delivers pretty much the same thing week in week out: tearful tales of tough times and heartache. And with a lineage that stretches back to Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope – a show notorious for ensuring no guest escaped dry-eyed – we really shouldn’t be surprised. And yet, here we are.

The other thing that you have to overlook if you’re to extract any enjoyment out of Home Delivery is the way it’s perhaps the premier example of the way Australian television is happy to give comedians all kinds of work so long as it doesn’t involve them being funny. The stories that provide the spine of episode after episode of Home Delivery – tough times at school, rough home lives, long struggles to become established in their careers – could come from just about anyone. And week after week they do, on the non-comedy themed Australian Story.

But because Australian Story is often dealing with non-performers, they have to put some effort into each episode: they speak to friends and family and experts, they put their stories in a wider context, they have more of a structure than just “we drive funny people back to their childhood homes and try to find a parking spot”. You don’t need that crap with comedians: they’re funny and they’re performers, so just wander around filming them for a while and you’ve got a show. Unless you don’t.

“You’re so hairy and tall and lovely” says Zemiro upon meeting Simmons outside a bakery. And right away the show is revealed to be somewhat flexible with the truth, as we go from an outside shot of Zemiro and Simmons entering the bakery to an inside shot of them walking in. Wait, didn’t they just arrive? When did the camera crew have time to go inside to film them walking in?

Obviously they first filmed themselves walking in, then put a camera person inside and walked in again to get the second shot. No biggie. Except that it suddenly makes it clear that this isn’t just an improvised ramble filmed in one long bit from start to finish where two people are having a chat. It’s a constructed piece of television – so when Simmons goes on about the various kinds and lengths of roll available at this bakery, you realise that you’re not watching an improv’d ramble they had to leave in. Someone somewhere decided this – and not, say, any kind of structured look at Simmons career and influences (isn’t his high school well known for its focus on music and performance? Maybe they could have mentioned that?) – was something worth putting to air.

The polish is worn through in other spots too. “Sam Simmons doesn’t tell jokes,” we’re told, right before footage of him on stage telling a joke about being bitten on the neck by a camel and then having the scab split open and hundreds of baby camels burst out. So when we’re next told that after a “break out appearance on Conan, he’s poised to crack the US – the hardest comedy market of them all”, we raised an eyebrow or two. And yet, this is the good stuff, because this is actually about his comedy career – you know, the thing that’s made him worth doing a half hour television show on?

Simmons does manage to get out the occasional insight into his comedy – Monkey and The Goodies were big influences on the 37 year-old – but when we’re brought into his family home with the news that he hasn’t been inside since he was 16 the alarm bells start ringing like the crack of doom. Single child, single mum, doing a lot of “man chores”, Simmons creating hand-drawn pornography, cross-dressing, his High School music teacher… this is all the stuff we skip past when reading biographies because we want to get to the part where the famous person actually starts doing the shit that they’re famous for.

Like we said at the beginning, Home Delivery is a show it’s perfectly possible to enjoy so long as you don’t expect it to do around 60% of the things it promises to do. It’s biography, but biography that’s only interested in the tear-jerking, hand-wringing stuff (the producers must have had to change their pants twice once Simmons started talking about his childhood). It’s about comedians, but only because they can make a show about bugger-all seem entertaining. And yet this episode focusing on one of Australian comedy’s more interesting and offbeat characters turns out to be as bland and dull as all the rest.

Well, apart from the bit where Simmons says “You’ve seen what I do on stage, I’m pretty annoying”.

2014
11.21

Press release time!

Comedy Duo Sammy J and Randy

Run Rampant in Ricketts Lane!

 

ABC TV is pleased to announce that filming is underway in Melbourne on the six-part narrative comedy series Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane, written by and starring the Barry award-winning musical comedy duo Sammy J and Randy.  With their unique brand of comedy, music and puppetry Sammy J and Randy have played to sellout audiences across Australia and overseas.

Sammy J (Wednesday Night Fever) is an obsessive, socially inept and altogether hopeless junior lawyer scrambling to hold onto his last ounce of dignity while clinging to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.  Meanwhile his slovenly housemate Randy has seen the world from all angles.  He’s an opinionated, unemployed opportunist, desperately trying to win back the affections of his glamorous ex-wife.

Oh, and Randy is also a purple puppet.

While they’re loyal, eccentric and prone to burst into hilarious song at any given moment, tensions between the man and puppet will soon rise.

Supporting Sammy J and Randy in their first television series is a terrific cast of established and up-and- coming acting and comedic talent including; Nathan Lovejoy (This is Littleton, At Home with Julia), Georgia Chara (Wentworth, Home and Away) and Samantha Healy (Mrs Biggs, McLeod’s Daughters).  Some familiar faces will also be tripping through Ricketts Lane including Genevieve Morris, Wilbur Wilde and Anne Phelan, while top comedy director Jonathan Brough (It’s a Date series 1 & 2) is helming the series.

Sticky Pictures Producer Donna Andrews says “I’m thrilled to be kicking off production on Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane.  The series is a brilliant comedy, a daring musical, a groundbreaking concept and it has a puppet in it.  Honestly, there is nothing like it!”

ABC TV Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski says “I have no idea how this got commissioned, but rest assured we’re looking into it.”

Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane will be filmed on location over the next five weeks and will air on ABC in 2015.

Usually at this point we’d point out that Rick Kalowski was head writer and producer on Wednesday Night Fever, the recent and ill-fated sack of crap that Sammy J hosted. Which makes that joke of his about not knowing how it got commissioned somewhat ironic.

But for once we’re going to lay off the snark. Sammy J and Randy have been the best thing in bad shows for a long time now (what with Wednesday Night Fever and GNW, they deserve some kind of medal), and it’s good to see them finally getting a solo project. We’re going to officially file this one under “highly anticipated”.

… though when your sitcom sounds a lot like a lot of other recent sitcoms – swap out “musical numbers” for “silent comedy” and the quirky suburban setting does sound a touch like Woodley (whatever happened to sitcoms having actual situations?) – then “groundbreaking concept” is a phrase best left on the shelf. Dammit, that snark just keeps creeping back in…

2014
11.19

If there’s one thing the Australian media likes reporting on, it’s the Australian media. Just look at us: the last few weeks we’ve been so busy reporting scurrilous gossip and unfounded speculation we haven’t had time to actually review any comedy. So why start now?

A continuing source of tension at the ABC is the now infamous Putin sketch which got 7.30 and Leigh Sales into so much trouble last week. The irony is that 7.30’s executive producer, Sally Neighbour – not known for her sense of humour – recruited The Checkout’s Kirsten Drysdale to join 7.30 as the resident clown because she was under pressure from above to add some light touches.

Internal critics say 7.30 has become quite one-dimensional under her watch and the ratings have slumped. “Sally is so deadly intense, she took the direction literally,” a source said. “She flicked the switch to vaudeville in the most bizarrely ill-judged way.”

Thanks to the Guardian’s new media column for that bit of smirk-inducing gossip. We’ve made our views on this kind of “news satire” well known – the tl;dr version is that any comedy show that doesn’t put being funny first is never going to be funny at all – so it’s hardly surprising that actual news professionals have held similar views.

Not that they can do anything about it: when comedy clearly rates well but hiring writers to come up with it is beyond the budget, “news satire” is always going to be lurking around ready to fill the gap. Just look at The Chaser’s Media Circus: it’s clearly from the same people who made the far superior Hamster Wheel, but in trying to cut just a few corners – get guests to improv reactions to dumb news rather than sitting down and coming up with them themselves – the end result is, well, a bit below expectations.

And this is what always happens with news comedy: unless you’re willing to hire the regular comedy amount of writers to actually write proper gags about the news the same way you’d get writers to write jokes for a sitcom about relationships or social oh wait you already outsourced that with the Agony Guide to Life.

Fuck.

2014
11.12

From the ABC’s press release trumpeting their 2015 line-up:

Comedian CHARLIE PICKERING returns to ABC to present a news comedy show that promises to be opinionated and outspoken

Well, at least they didn’t say “funny”. According to websites much closer to actual news sites than ours:

Humorist and self-avowed political junkie Charlie Pickering will host 20 episodes of a news comedy show.

And that’s where the 2015 budget for The Roast went. We wouldn’t have thought it was possible to do worse than The Roast, but then 7.30 did their bit for dumbing down the news media of this country last night and now all bets are off. Who knew Australia’s news was so hilarious? It mostly seems to waver between car crashes, outbursts of racism and politicians trying to distract us from the fact that they and their business cronies have decided Australia is a place that grows shit in the ground or digs shit out of the ground and everything else can go to hell. Laugh? We barely know where to begin.

Ah bugger it, here’s the whole spiel from the press release:

A decade and a half after he began his broadcast career at Triple J, Charlie Pickering, political junkie, former lawyer, elegant gentleman and seriously funny stand-up comedian, is back where he belongs at the ABC. In 2015 he will premiere a news comedy show, a tonight show, a chat show and a panel show all in one. Sharing the set with guests and fellow comedians, Charlie will get back to his comedy roots calling bullshit on newsmakers, special interests, politicians and other charlatans. Hilariously outspoken, it will shamelessly turn the hypocrisies and idiocies of the world into the least cheap laughs the Australian taxpayer can afford.

Feel free to pick holes in it yourselves, we’re not in the mood.

Of course, the ABC has a bunch more stuff lined up for 2015, and much of the hilarity in the Fairfax coverage is their “but where are these shows, hmmmm?” tone, which suggests they plan to spend a large chunk of 2015 asking the bleeding obvious. To wit:

Notable in their absence from the extensive list were series including Upper Middle Bogan, Kitchen Cabinet, anything from The Chaser team, the ground-breaking series Black Comedy, and more.

Let’s answer this for you: Kitchen Cabinet is an idea that’s both run its course and is too small to hold the break-out star that is Annabel Crabb; The Chaser have seemed increasingly disinterested in actually putting on a television show this year and presumably the ABC have noticed (plus they’re moving into behind-the-scenes production)(and their shows are often announced later on, as they tend to appear towards the end of the following year), Black Comedy was a one-off experiment that was on ABC2 (*correction: it’s still airing on ABC1) and so will struggle like crazy to get a second series like everything else there – apart from Please Like Me s3, which has already been bought and paid for by Pivot in the US so of course it’s coming back – and as for Upper Middle Bogan, may we direct your attention here:

Also, scurrilous gossip time: a rumour currently doing the rounds of at least one capital city’s comedy scene is that the aforementioned new Head of Comedy flew the producing team behind one of those three shows to Sydney to inform them that he was not only not a fan of their series, but that he is so big a not-fan of them and their work that under no circumstance will there be a third season of their series – and this before the second has even gone to air.
But obviously Fairfax already know all this, otherwise why would they have mentioned those shows and not, say, It’s a Date or The Moody’s or any of the various Agony series, none of which seem to have rated a mention as yet.

And in more good news, despite the aforementioned scurrilous gossip Gristmill do have a comedy series lined up for 2015 – only it’s aimed at kids:

LITTLE LUNCH – a comedy about what happens in the primary school playground at snack time

The other big news so far is that Shaun Micallef’s doing a sitcom:

Shaun Micallef stars as our third longest-serving prime minister in THE EX-PM – a narrative comedy that fixes its beady eye on the world of grounded high-flyers struggling to stay relevant

And from the press release thingy:

As our third longest-serving prime minister, Andrew Dugdale (Shaun Micallef) was a man who mattered. He dined with presidents and kings, co-hosted world summits and changed the lives of millions of his fellow Australians. But since his publicly-mandated retirement, this not-so-elder statesman has far too much time on his hands and no one to waste it on. What’s a former Man of the People’ to do? This narrative comedy series fixes its beady eye on the world of grounded high-flyers and benched heavy-hitters. How do they make sure their elephant stamp on history remains indelible? What do they do when someone goes through their cupboards and finds all those skeletons? And does anybody want anything from the shops? A tale of redemption somewhere between House of Cards and One Foot in the Grave. THE EX-PM is created, written by and stars Shaun Micallef.

Mad as Hell is also going to be back, but probably just for the one series – got to leave room for Pickering’s new show, after all. Gruen (in some form or another) will also be returning, as will Utopia.

New ABC1 series include Judith Lucy is All Woman (“It’s a timely exploration of where women are at in modern Australia – and what that means for men – told from the unique perspective of someone who’s been a woman for most of her life.”) and Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane (it’s a six part sitcom), while on ABC2 we’ll be getting (finally – these have been a while coming) 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, a comedy set inside an Alice Springs community station and Maximum Choppage, a comedy series written by and starring Lawrence Leung.

Also of interest to us and hopefully you is the three part doco Stop Laughing, This is Serious:

In the mid 1980s Australian comedy was booming. Emerging from the margins of theatre, circus, vaudeville, cabaret and pubs, our comedy scene exploded. This series tracks the comedy revolution in this country and explores the way it has intersected with Australian culture, politics and identity through stand-up, sketch, panel shows, sitcom, musical and variety. Featuring some of our leading comedians and drawing on an extensive television archive, this series explores the maturation of Australian comedy, unpicking our cultural cringe, poking fun at our national identity, confronting hard truths and uncovering our taboos with our greatest weapon – our ability to laugh at ourselves. Stars Barry Humphries, Paul Hogan, Judith Lucy, Andrew Denton, John Clarke, Tim Minchin, Noeline Brown, Denise Scott, Kevin Kropinyeri, Jane Turner, Mick Molloy, Wendy Harmer, Julia Zemiro, Chris Taylor, John Safran, Nazeem Hussain, Dave Hughes, Sean Choolburra and Shaun Micallef.

Is it just us, or is that line-up surprisingly light on figures from the D-Gen / Late Show / Comedy Company / Fast Forward / Big Gig? You know, the pointy end of all this 80s comedy hoo-ha? Plus there’s a few too many fresh young faces there to explain to the kids why this comedy stuff used to be important for our liking: just show the Fast Forward clip of Steve Vizard corpsing while trying to say “fukirri rug” and they’ll get the point a lot quicker.

Still, they did also manage to say “drawing on an extensive television archive”, so fingers crossed it’ll be heavy on the classic clips and light on the “our greatest weapon – our ability to laugh at ourselves” malarkey. When was the last time a comedy show even tried to make us laugh at anything even remotely taboo? Good luck even pointing out that any non-flagpole-related use of the Australian flag has largely been co-opted by racists or that our refugee policy is blatantly built around the government running concentration camps, let alone making jokes about that stuff.

Guess that’s what they hired Charlie Pickering for.