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”.