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 person 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 is 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.

2014
11.11

Press release time!

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE JOINS

7.30 TONIGHT

After years of researching, writing and reporting for acclaimed ABC programs such as The Checkout, Hungry Beast, Gruen Transfer and The Hamster Wheel, the extraordinarily talented Kirsten Drysdale joins 7.30 tonight.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be working at 7.30,” Kirsten said.

“It’s my dream job, I hope I can meet the program’s high journalistic standards and only resort to silly costumes in extreme circumstances.”

Kirsten is renowned for her quirky take on serious subjects.

And tonight she turns her unique talents to the much anticipated “shirt-fronting” prize-fight between Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, when the pair is expected to meet today on the sidelines at the APEC summit in Beijing.

The build up has promised so much – but will the showdown match the hype?

Find out tonight on ABC at 7.30.

And here we were concerned the ABC would run low on shitty news jokes after axing The Roast.

Obviously we disapprove, because we disapprove of pretty much everything. Well, not of Drysdale herself – she’s been good in all the shows listed in the press release (was she on-air on Gruen?), and if this was a straight news appointment we’d be fine with it. It’s this that’s set off the warning claxons in the Tumbleweeds bunker:

Kirsten is renowned for her quirky take on serious subjects

Ugh.

Mostly what we disapprove of here is this numbnuts idea that adding comedy to news somehow isn’t just a massive waste of everyone’s time. Does anyone seriously think the funny stuff in Mad as Hell is the news coverage? Looked at another way, has there ever been a “comedy news program” which has been halfway as informative as the actual news?

Wacky news coverage where the news comes first – where they have to try and make fun of the big stories of the day rather than having leeway to cherry-pick the stories that can be made the most fun of – almost always sucks arse because information and comedy are two completely different things. That old line “it’s funny because it’s true” is an old line because a big part of comedy is comedy of recognition – people get the joke because it’s about a situation they’re familiar with.

But to make fun of news (especially when the news is timely and being presented to an audience for the first time) you first have to inform the audience as to what’s going on. You know how jokes are shit when someone explains them to you afterwards? Imagine how shit a joke is when someone has to explain it to you before they can even tell it.

And yet this kind of thing is bound to continue in the Australian media, as the television audience dwindles and more and more shows are expected to be all things to all viewers. At least in the old days the funny stuff – John Clarke & Bryan Dawe take a bow – was the capper at the end of the week: after having watched four or five nights worth of news about the current political situation, they’d come along and put some spin on the stuff you now knew.

Yes, you needed to be informed to get the joke, but it was also a stand-alone segment (as we’ve since seen after 7.30 gave it the heave ho). If you missed it you still had a dose of perfectly good straight news from the rest of the show, and if you just tuned in to see them presumably you were already informed about the weeks goings-on from elsewhere.

But forget all that, because now news is all about a “quirky take on serious subjects”. And who knows? Maybe combining quirk with news will bring in fans of both quirk and news, rather than pissing off news fans because they take news seriously while also setting fans of quirk (in this equation that’s us) to teeth-grinding because the quirk on offer is deliberately feeble and half-hearted in an attempt to not completely piss off the news fans.

Long story short, mixing comedy with anything only gives you watered down comedy; don’t we already have enough of that on our screens?

*edit* And having now seen the segment in question… well, it’s not exactly the best environment for comedy when after your segment the host says “there is a serious side to this story though”.

2014
11.07

It’s taken us so long to get around to reviewing Black Comedy that we might as well just cut to the chase: it was pretty good. Any sketch that features Moses saying “These laws are the word of God, dickhead” is a winner with us, and while – as most of the online reviews we saw pointed out – the show was fairly uneven quality-wise, that’s (to us at least) something of a strength in a sketch show. The whole point of doing sketches is variety: if you’re trying something different each time, you’re bound to have an uneven result.

Of course, there’s uneven where the difference is between great sketches and brilliant ones, and then there’s uneven as in the first episode of Black Comedy. But even then we’re talking about sketches that were, you know, actual sketch comedy. Housewives of Narromine might not have been built around a brilliant idea – a bitchy mum discusses how selfish her daughter-in-law is, and by “selfish” she means “gave birth when the mum wanted to go to bingo” – but an ending where everyone makes repeated tisk tisk sounds like a Skippy the Bush Kangaroo impersonation competition was a capper to what we’d seen and funny in its own right. Pay attention, Australian sketch comedians: sometimes it’s a good idea have an actual punchline.

The other big strength of Black Comedy is that it’s making jokes about real things. Much as we love the work of Shaun Micallef, he could be considered a bad influence on a lot of sketch comedy in this country: he can make surreal twists and random asides work because he knows just when to use them (and doesn’t use them all that often – it’s just that “release the Kraken!” and having his science advisor be a charred skeleton are the kind of things people remember). But if you don’t have his skill to back it up – and you’re already a fan of the kind of whimsical comedy the UK’s been punching out ever since a whole bunch of guys misunderstood the work of Chris Morris – it’s way to easy to just make random jokes that don’t mean shit.

So there’s a reason why “Blakforce” was the sketch that people were talking about from Black Comedy: jokes about the idea of “acting black” are funny because it’s a real thing in our society – and most of us are aware, if only vaguely, that while there isn’t an actual police force driving around enforcing it, it is a rule that our society takes seriously. Australia in a lot of ways is just a big country town, and in country towns everyone has to know (and stay in) their place. It didn’t hurt that they built up to it with a solid minute’s worth of dead serious reality police-style television just to make it hit home harder. Plus trying to smuggle your mates into the footy in the boot of a car is the kind of real (and real dumb) thing that’s a solid capper to a sketch where a guy’s forced to dance to prove his blackness.

That said, there was plenty of the usual “LOL random” stuff going on here too – you’ll know it when you see it – and while it’s not to our taste we did say something earlier on about sketch shows needing variety and we can’t deny that having a couple of gay guys gyrating around constantly saying “what’s dis den slut” is probably the kind of thing someone (else) finds funny. And a restaurant sketch? Guess there’s a few people who didn’t get a lifetimes’ worth of those back in the Full Frontal days.

So while overall this was good rather than great, the stuff that worked on the whole worked pretty well. After the nadir of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting and This Is Littleton, we’ve had a few sketch shows now (well, this and Kinne) that seem to have realised it’s not simply enough to have a quirky point of view – that point of view’s got to be grounded in real life situations.

Black Comedy isn’t quite up there with the 80s classic BabaKiueria when it comes to pointing out the cultural divide in Australia, and as sketch comedy it’s more on par with Kinne than The Micallef P(r)ogram(me). But we laughed and we’ll happily watch it again: for a sketch show on the ABC that’s a pretty decent result.

 

2014
11.04

Remember The Roast? Remember how it started in 2010 as entertainment show parody WTF! before turning up on ABC2 and Foxtel’s Comedy Channel as a daily two minute news parody before being expanded this year to a full ten minutes four days a week? Remember how to any of the hundreds of struggling comedians in this country the chance to make that much comedy on a regular basis would be a massive opportunity? Remember how comedy is such a tricky business to get even a toe-hold into that loads of provably decent comedians go years between television shows? Remember how bonafide comedy geniuses like Tony Martin can’t even get their own show on television? Remember how when The Roast got the chop after four years they said this:

“we were hoping because we were the lowest budget production in the history of the planet and produced more original comedy content than any other show in the country right now, we’d skate through unscathed.”

And then this:

We’d also like to wish young, promising comedians like Shaun Micallef and The Chaser the best of luck as we pass the torch down to them.

Remember when you first realised The Roast really were the smug unfunny jerks they appeared to be on their own smug, unfunny show?

*

Look, we get that having your show axed is tough, especially when you give off every indication of being overly entitled upper-middle class types who’ve never been told “no” in your lives. But seriously, what is wrong with these guys?

“Lowest budget production in the history of the planet” they say, seemingly never having even watched a single second of the literally billion times funnier work of John Clarke & Brian Dawe. “Original comedy content” they say, somehow confusing “original” with “funny” while also confusing “original” with “the same kind of half-arsed news parody everyone’s been doing since the dawn of time”. At least they haven’t pulled out the old “we’re giving the next generation of satirists a chance” line yet, so we can’t point out it’s been the same core team since the show started so that “new generation” they’re talking about is themselves yet again.

It must be difficult putting together a shithouse news parody at a time when Shaun Micallef is consistently making a really good one. And also when Shaun Micallef is a comedian who’s succeeded through hard work and years of effort, constantly working to hone his comedy skills, always out there trying something new in the rare periods when he’s not working on his own regular comedy gigs. And also when Shaun Micallef isn’t, for example, some utterly unremarkable guy in a suit whose only comedy work seems to have been on a show that only lasted this long because the ABC could buy it in bulk.

Oh yeah, and despite The Roast dropping hints a-plenty that they were dumped for budget reasons, other more reliable sources seem to suggest it was because the ABC finally watched an episode:

While decisions about ABC programming are being affected by looming government funding cuts, Fairfax Media understands the axing was part of the normal programming review process.

It went for four years. It had a good run. It’s over. And “jokes” like this at the expense of the only network that would have aired your crap:

In an announcement on the program on Monday night, The Roast team said: “It’s still unclear what show will replace The Roast on ABC2 but being ABC2 we can assume the current frontrunners include insightful documentaries like I Married My Staircase, My Penis Is A White Collar Criminal and Dawn Porter: Almost Fell Over in the Shower Today.”
Just go a really long way towards making you look like a bunch of petulant unfunny twats who shouldn’t let the door hit you on the way out.
2014
11.03

Yeah, you heard us:

Who knew there was an upside to massive budget cuts? Guess even entrenched failure cruising on autopilot can’t last forever.

*is lynched by an angry mob while leaving Tumbleweeds HQ*

Ok, look: in theory the demise of any comedy show is bad news – it means less comedy, after all – but after literally years and 100’s of episodes which started out as a thick slice of smug shit from untalented blow-ins then failed to improve in any real way (trust us on this, we were watching Charles Firth’s pet project back in 2010 when it was an entertainment parody on Go! called WTF!), it’s clearly for the best for all concerned that the cast and crew of The Roast are now free to take on new challenges. Like filling in a dole form.

Oh wait, they’re all young white Sydney guys from upper middle-class backgrounds: they’ll be back with a new series of “viral videos” within a fortnight. And it’s not like the team don’t have other ways to earn a quid.

And yes, we noticed how they made it clear they wouldn’t be back “on the ABC”. Someone’s not letting the dream die just yet…

2014
11.03

Hang on a second, just let us get open the bumper book of media cliches… ah, here we go:

It’s getting to that time of year where Australian radio stations all start playing musical chairs. Only the music they’re playing sounds a lot like Nickelback. Still, the use of the word “beloved” in this story is pure comedy gold.

HUGHESY and Kate have been poached by a rival radio network to take on Hamish Blake and Andy Lee.

The beloved duo of Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek will be heard nationally in the drive timeslot on Kiis FM, switching from their long time home at Nova.

The pair quit Nova’s breakfast show after 12 years in November last year.

Scoring the pair is a costly coup for Kiis, who will use their new stars to re-brand the network currently known as Mix in Melbourne.

Kiis did the same thing last year when they lured Kyle and Jackie O from a rival network for their Sydney breakfast shift.

It means Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek will go up against Hamish and Andy, who announced their return to drive radio for Austereo last week.

Oh yeah, that:

After weeks of speculation, Southern Cross Austereo today announced that from July next year Hamish and Andy will return to the lucrative national drive timeslot (4pm — 6pm) that they dominated so convincingly for five years until 2010.

“We are taking an actual break,” said Hamish to news.com.au.

“We’ve made the decision to not officially commit to another TV show next year … but we just haven’t had a bit of time off in a very long time. Between doing radio and TV for the last few years we just wanted a bit of space and to work on a few other things that we’ve got bubbling along that may or may not amount to anything.”

The radio duo wouldn’t say how long their new contract with Southern Cross Austereo is but Andy did suggest that he’s keen to tweak the show slightly before they kick things off in July.

“I’ve put in an application to have it changed to Andy and Hamish,” he joked.

Hamish and Andy quit the drive show in 2010 after five years, during which they broadcast from Afghanistan, travelled around Australia in ‘Caravans of Courage’ and even crossed the Bass strait in a tall ship.

But they’re sure they’ll be able to come up with new ideas that can top what they’ve achieved in the past.

“At the end of every year I always felt like we were out of ideas,” said Hamish.

“And then by the sheer process of turning the mic’s on and turning up each day and having a chat with each other, funny things just seem to arise, mostly driven by our listeners.

“You can’t write out five years of ideas on paper now but that’s what we love about radio, that once you start doing it adventures arise and it’s a great format that you’re able to explore those adventures in.”

Hang on a sec – didn’t that first story say:

Hughesy and Kate will get a crucial head start, with Hamish and Andy not on air until July, after they’ve filmed another chapter in their travel TV series.

What happened to taking “a bit of time off” to “work on a few other things that we’ve got bubbling along”?

There’s two ways to read this. The first is that News.com.au got their facts wrong and just assumed Hamish & Andy are filming another instalment of their travel show when in fact they really are taking a break. Seems fair enough. Move along folks, nothing more to see here.

The second way is that when you’re talking about Australian commercial radio you can never ever go wrong expecting more of the same. Look at the names in those stories: they’re the same old tired pros, perfectly capable of churning out the same old bland radio they’ve been doing for the last decade or more. When was the last time anyone even realised they were listening to Matt Tilley? Who would have guessed those shithouse “gotcha” calls were the only trace of personality he had?

“that’s what we love about radio, that once you start doing it adventures arise”. Who is Andy Lee trying to kid? Once you start doing radio in Australia your soul dies. And that’s the way pretty much everyone involved likes it. Why else would every show sound exactly the same – thirty seconds max between songs for the hosts to bark at each other about what they did on the weekend then it’s time to take some calls! But first three minutes of ads back-to-back and a bunch of Taylor Swift songs only slightly sped up and with the last 30 seconds faded down so we can get back to the ads.

These days the hard-core nutter fanbase of Get This – maybe give the Rex Hunt and “people want ducks” references a rest guys, it has only been seven years – has largely overshadowed just how funny that show was. And it was a radio show! That was popular and rated well! But who wants to put in that kind of effort to make good radio comedy these days? Better to just hire yet another double act who ran out of things to say to each other a half decade ago and get them to take a bunch of slightly awkward calls from the kind of people who call into radio shows to talk about the weirdest place they had sex.

Ugh, we’re even depressing ourselves here. Let’s give the last word on Australian radio to Tony Martin:

‘I’ve never met Kyle Sandilands and he certainly does a different kind of radio from what I have done, but I will say for Kyle Sandilands: there is nobody that says more true things about how commercial radio works.

”People in commercial radio are generally terrified to speak honestly until they’re sacked, whereas Kyle Sandilands said something a few years ago, which no one in commercial radio had been brave enough to say, which is that commercial radio is the only job where your boss is someone who has failed at your job, which is literally the case. I think a lot of people cheered when he said that.”

2014
10.29

True story: when this week’s episode of The Chaser’s Media Circus came on, one of us got up from their seat, walked out the back door, walked up the driveway to the street, and then stood there for a full minute wondering exactly what it was they were doing. We’re not saying Media Circus is a show that we’d rather leave the house than watch; this is a case where actions clearly speak louder than words.

The Chaser have never been afraid to cosy up to the groups they’re making fun of, so seeing a bunch of commercial television presenters on the couch for this week’s episode wasn’t exactly a surprise. But it did hammer home our initial suspicions: this isn’t so much a satirical look at the week’s news – and the way it’s being reported – as it is a comedy panel show based on the news. Presumably somebody somewhere likes these things; it’s certainly rating well.

As we said when we looked at the first episode, the big problem with this format is that while the hosts get to talk shit on a couch, those at home get a lot less actual comedy per minute. Making news jokes first requires you to tell the news story; Mad as Hell gets away with it by being tightly scripted and fast paced, which are two things no-one is saying about Media Circus. Plus being a quiz show means there’s more dead air while people actually answer the quiz, and then – maybe – you get to a joke.

So in week two they extended it to thirty-five minutes and going by that logic, Wednesday Night Fever would have been brilliant if they’d let it run for three hours a night. Then for this week’s third installment they added a few more members of the commercial media and occasionally let them talk about how the media works. Well, at least it was more informative than the “horse race or military operation” quiz.

Hey, remember when Randling would do “Either Or” where teams would have to guess if a name belonged to (say) a Shakespearean Character or a Car? That’s right: we just compared Media Circus to Randling. Bam. At least Media Circus is smart enough to get both teams competing to answer the same question rather than drag this unfunny shit out for minutes at a time. Still, Randling comparisons: that’s shiver down the spine stuff.

And then there’s the couch banter. To date there’s been three main food groups here: Chaser members, Chaser: The Next Generation, and old media pros. Notice anything missing? That’s right: where are the funny other comedians? Sorry, Peter Berner doesn’t count. Obviously this is a Chaser production and they’re the ones creating the laughs, but it wouldn’t hurt to drop in the occasional seasoned pro just to grease the wheels.

In part that’s because the C:TNG crew are, well… not really living up to expectations. They’re not unfunny, but it’s the same problem Working Dog had when they started with The Panel: panel shows are fiercely competitive and when you have a bunch of mates and professionals gunning for air time anyone not up to scratch is going to be left out. The new guys usually hold up ok on The Checkout, but here they’re being thrown in at the deep end and it’s not a format where “young smartarse” is really the face you want to put forward.

(Then again, what do we know? That was pretty much the persona projected by The Chaser for most of their careers and look how well it worked out for them.)

Over on Channel Ten they’re currently repeating episodes of Have You Been Paying Attention?, and it’s interesting to compare the two: for one thing, HYBPA? moves like greased lightning. The jokes there are broader (read: less “ABC”), based more on general news and pop culture (which means they don’t have to explain the context for everything), and the banter between contestants is never less than snappy. Obviously in going for depth The Chaser have to slow things down to explain what’s going on, which is… oh wait, who gives a rats? Be funny or get out.

The Chaser’s Media Circus is a weird mix of sloppy tossed-off stuff and well-honed comedy chops, which is why it’s difficult to dismiss it outright. They’ve built up a formidable research machine over the last few years (as seen in the oh so much better Hamster Wheel), so the clips they build their gags on or use to underline a point are often spot-on. The stand-alone segments (usually involving Andrew Hansen) are solid stuff too, and we’ll always have time for Chaz – his fact-checking snippets also have the advantage of being joke-based rather than setting up bad couch-based material.

But then there are long stretches made up of firmly average couch banter, riffs that go nowhere –

– for example, host Craig Reucassel brought up the weirdness of television news having traffic reports because no-one watches TV in their cars so this “news” is of no use to the people who actually need it, which is a good point only no-one answered it and there was no joke at the end so wow great observation there guys –

– quizes that drag out and a general feeling that in 2014 at least some of The Chaser wanted to make a television series that, unlike their previous efforts, didn’t require a huge amount of ongoing preparation. Guess what? It’s preparation that makes them – and just about everyone else on television – funny: if you don’t want to do the work to make a really funny television show, what exactly are we tuning in to see?