Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

This is serious (Mum!)

Most TV documentaries take a chronological approach to their subject, charting its history in strict order whether that tells the viewer anything or not. Others organise themselves by theme, usually finding they have to uncomfortably crowbar one or two parts of the story in so as not to leave them out. But most of the time history is messy, contradictory and hard to compartmentalise, and Stop Laughing…this Is Serious, a new three-part documentary on Australian comedy, at least gets it right by keeping its themes as broad and all-encompassing as possible:

Episode 1, Look at moi, look at moi, “looks inwards at the importance of our ability to laugh at ourselves”, examining suburban, rural, ethnic and female comedy and comedians such as Dame Edna, Kylie Mole, Dad and Dave, Paul Hogan, Kenny, Kevin Kropinyeri and Denise Scott.

Episode 2, Faark, Faark, “looks upwards at those in authority”, including an examination of the work Graham Kennedy, The Chaser, Les Patterson and Tim Minchin.

Episode 3, Hello Possums, “looks at Australian comedy on the world stage”, and shows how performers such as Barry Humphries, Adam Hills and John Clarke have gone international.

Having said that, the themes of this series don’t entirely work; they’re too general to really tell us much, and some comedians and comedies are examined over and over again while others are left out entirely. There is also a heavy bias towards ABC comedies (usually more edgy and less mainstream), while high-rating and populist comedy/entertainment shows of their eras such as Hey Dad..! and Hey! Hey! Its Saturday are barely mentioned.

Okay, we get why mentioning Hey Dad…! wouldn’t be a great idea in 2015, and we do see its writer/producer Gary Reilly discussing his other hugely popular sitcom Kingswood Country, and there are one or two clips from Hey! Hey! in the series, but even after one episode of Stop Laughing… it’s clear that this won’t present a definitive view of the subject and, as much as we’re pleased to see Daryl Somers excluded from anything, that’s kind of a shame.

There’s also very little in the way of new information for hardened comedy fans, and when you’ve gone to the trouble of interviewing more than 60 comedians that’s…kinda crap. And if you were expecting that significant and popular radio comedies such as Martin/Molloy or Hamish & Andy would be covered…keep waiting*. Still, there is a fairly sizable sequence where Nick Giannopoulos and Mary Coustas discuss their work, which makes you wonder how The Late Show got away without being sued by them for their legendary sketch Beware of Wog: The Lou Interligi Story…

…and the sections on female cabaret/comedy and the work of Aboriginal comedians do make you wonder why these topics have been overlooked or underplayed in almost every previous Australian comedy documentary or book.

Overall this is a solid if unsurprising and incomplete look at the history of Australian comedy, which will make you wonder why more archive comedy isn’t available on DVD or iView, or anywhere else for that matter. Or why no one seems able to or willing to fund a definitive account of the topic. Is Australian comedy really that difficult a topic to define or discuss? Even in three hour-long shows?

 

* There’s a brief mention of the TV version of The Naked Vicar Show, but that doesn’t count.

Reading Between the Lines

Did anyone else see this article in the Fairfax press about Australian sketch troupe Aunty Donna? It’s the usual mix of information and (justified) praise for the guys ahead of their Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, but tucked away in paragraph four was this little gem:

They can now announce their selection as one of five groups to make a pilot through ABC TV’s Fresh Blood comedy initiative.

Can they now? It’s the first we’ve heard of the ABC actually commissioning pilots off the back of last year’s Fresh Blood program, and a hasty google search turns up a grand total of zero other announcements about these five greenlit pilots. And weren’t those short Fresh Blood series meant to serve as pilots anyway?

Despite the lack of independent confirmation, this article certainly seems determined to act like the Aunty Donna boys are working on a traditional half hour pilot:

“For us, the challenge is tricking people into thinking they’re not watching sketch. The Fresh Blood pilot tells the story of our fourth member, Adrian, leaving the group.”

Writing a TV-episode length narrative for Fresh Pilot is new for the men, who have been focusing their efforts on live performance sketches of about five minutes and YouTube sketches of 90 seconds.

And now you know exactly as much as we do.

Ok, so assuming all this is legit and the Aunty Donna guys haven’t totally jumped the gun with this announcement, does anyone have any ideas as to who the other four finalists are? Or when these pilots are meant to be going to air? The ABC certainly doesn’t seem to be in a rush to let us know…

Live and Snickering

Maybe we’re growing soft in our old age – or maybe we’re just pleased to hear that Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven has finally scored funding – but we really don’t have anything all that snarky to say about Fairfax’s current wave of comedy coverage. Yes, it’s almost entirely focused on stand-up (supporting the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which starts this week) which puts us on shaky ground anyway, but the fact remains: for once a batch of comedy coverage seems fair enough to us.

Of course, the real question is how long this will remain the case, with rumours already reaching our ears that this year The Age is shifting all their Festival coverage “in-house”. Which if true means that the experienced freelance live reviewers you’ve grown to love or at the very least respect – plus Helen Razer – are out and the motoring writer guy who figured a couple of free tickets to Judith Lucy might be worth a laugh even though he’s never actually reviewed live comedy before and isn’t even sure that women can be funny is in. Oh goodie.

But while we’re waiting for a wave of ill-considered reviews, let’s take a look back at a weekend of halfway decent comedy coverage. There was this look at joke theft:

Joke theft is perhaps the greatest crime in the world of comedy. “It’s just wrong,” says fellow comic Nick Cody. “You’ve put all this thought and effort into a thing and for somebody to swipe it is just lazy. I don’t know how people do it. I’d feel terrible.”

“It’s just like working in an office and doing all the hard work only to have someone you’re sharing a cubicle with going up to the boss and going ‘I did all that,'” says Chandler. “They’re taking all the credit for your work.”

There’s an article about comedy influences that’s notable largely for the comedians who don’t want to name their influences. Also, everybody loves Sam Simmons:

One of the names that keeps recurring is Sam Simmons. “Simmons is a good example of the way in which your idea of an `influence’ changes as you develop your act,” Watson says. “In my earlier days, I was mostly intent on seeing people like myself, observational comics, ideally male ones with bad hair and a university degree, like me, and picking up their tricks, but the longer you go on, the more you gain from watching people who challenge and subvert your own ideas of comedy, going off in directions you couldn’t have anticipated.”

Celia Pacquola tells a similar story. “A lot of the time I really like stuff I couldn’t do, like sketch. For me, it’s usually the ones where I go, `I don’t know how you’re doing that.’ If I thought of it, I probably wouldn’t think it’s funny. A lot of stuff that Sam Simmons does, I never would have thought of it and, if I had, I would have gone `nah’, but it’s so funny.”

It’s nice to see Dave Taranto (of RRR’s The Cheese Shop fame) getting name checked here, though the real laugh is the article headline:

m21-cover-box head here

There’s an interesting look at comedy double acts here:

It’s been almost nine years since Lano and Woodley called it quits, but Lane is still seen by many as “missing” his other half. It’s both a measure of their success and, one suspects, a thorn in his side.

About the time of their final tour Lane was entertainingly blunt about the reasons for his split with Woodley after nearly 20 years. “I used to be a Frankophile because I loved everything Frank, but now I’m a Frankophobe,” he deadpanned. “He’s a dickhead in real life. So, sometimes, that gets a little bit tiresome.” Woodley, clearly amused by Lane’s explanation, offered his take by saying “we knew the cracks were forming when we’d get to an airport to book in and the person behind the counter would say, ‘Look, I’m sorry but we can’t sit you two together,’ and we’d both go, ‘That’s OK’.”

These days Lane is a little more philosophical about the split. “We each evolved during our partnership. He became smarter and I became stupider.”

With a quartet of duos singled out for extra attention here:

Dring says the appeal of working in a team lies both in supporting each other and in refining ideas through that collaborative tug-of-war. “There are compromises and sometimes it’s hard to find the time together, but comedy can be a bit lonely and demoralising by yourself: it’s nice to be able to support each other and have someone to bounce off.”

And finally, here’s David Dale talking about Garry McDonald and saying something extremely silly yet again (and no, we don’t mean the missing “of” in the first line either):

If you created a list the five greatest TV comedies ever made in Australia, Garry McDonald would have been in three of them. Or four of them if you insist on calling Offspring a comedy, even after they killed Patrick.

Yeah, Offspring is clearly a far superior comedy than The Games or Frontline or Kath & Kim (series one) or everything Shaun Micallef has done or a random episode of The Gillies Report (or even everything Chris Lilley has done), for sure. Way to make Ben Pobjie look like the good Fairfax TV critic.

She’s All Woman, Hear Her Roar

One of the least laugh-out-loud funny sketches in last week’s Mad As Hell was Jezebel Scream, a not-at-all-disguised send-up of Judith Lucy. It’s not that we didn’t laugh at this parody out of recognition, it’s more that no one who isn’t Judith Lucy can be as funny as Judith Lucy, even if they’ve got a ridiculous brown and grey curly wig on their head and are making a reasonable attempt to do her sing-song, sarky voice.

Judith Lucy’s spent the past six weeks exploring womanhood in Judith Lucy Is All Woman, and what have we learnt? That it’s virtually impossible to answer any of the questions she set out to explore? Yep! But mainly that she should be on TV more often doing what she does best.

Judith Lucy should have her own chat show, stand-up showcase, sitcom, sketch show – anything – but instead she got a comedy-documentary. And like a lot of hybrid programs, comedy-documentaries tend to be the worst of both genres: not that funny and not particularly informative. Of the two – funny and informative – our preference is always for “funny”, so it was good to see that …All Woman went for it as much as possible. Who else would be cracking gags while someone’s injecting botox in to their G-Spot?

(Sidebar: To get back to that Jezebel Scream parody for a second, the only way you can get laughs parodying Judith Lucy beyond doing her voice [which is a side-splitter in its own right] is if you play up her more feminist side, i.e. “Gee Doctor, you must be the only man alive who knows where the G-Spot is!”. Except, there’s way more to Judith Lucy’s comedy than feminism. Also, Frontline parodied her feminist side in 1995, and that was like every parody of a feminist comedian ever: she did a tampon joke.)

But for a comedian who’s often thought of as being a bit “out there”, Lucy’s past documentary comedy work has been kind of restrained. Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey saw her explore all sorts of weird and crackpot belief systems, and even participate in a few, yet she was never quite, um, rude (?) enough to tear their proponents the new ones they so richly deserved. What made …All Woman a better series, in terms of having lots more potential for comedy, is that the topics explored were less personal than religious belief – it’s much easier to take the piss out of wedding cakes than it is a spiritual practice – which meant Lucy could let fly in the only way she knows how.

In Judith Lucy Is All Woman we saw Lucy look at a topic that’s always been a big part of her stand-up and get a whole bunch of new material out of it. Which turned out to be a pretty good formula for a comedy show, happily.

Weekly As Piss

So we now have this to look forward to:

If somebody doesn’t put together a sketch where *all* the cast members of Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation are hosting identical news comedy shows, we’ll… well, we’ll continue to throw all our sketch ideas into the bin where they belong.

Ok, let’s be realistic here: Shaun MIcallef can’t do everything on his own and with him having a sitcom lined up for the second half of the year it’s totally reasonable for the ABC to find another show to tick the much loved “satire” programming box. But another fake news show right on the back of Mad as Hell? Even if Mad as Hell has wandered a bit down the ever-reliable Micallef rabbit hole and away from straight-up news jokes, do you really want to encourage direct comparisons with the best news satire show this country has seen in over a decade?

But of course, there’s this:

[it’s] a news comedy show, a tonight show, a chat show and a panel show all in one

Which at least goes some way towards explaining why that promo seemed remarkably joke-free. While Mad as Hell is basically a sketch show disguised as a news parody, it seems likely that The Weekly is 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.

It’s the chat show part that has us worried, mostly because… well, let’s let this guy dig the hole for us:

Hopefully what Pickering will deliver is something that takes a critical eye to the dealings of Australian news, including the Federal Parliament, but also will give an opportunity for our beloved Joe Hockeys and Tanya Pliberseks to contribute gags coming from the witty nature of politician matched with comedian, rather than just at the leader’s expense.

This is the worst idea in the history of comedy. Every single time any comedy show lets a politician on for whatever reason, the politician uses their appearance to try and bullshit the general public into thinking they’re not a massive arsehole. And we’re not being anti-politician here: it simply does not matter what the politician is like in real life. No doubt many of them are decent human beings who only want the best for us all. Even if their idea of “best” involves recording everything we do on the internet and banning funding for public transport.

Whatever their personal qualities, the fact is that they are part of a system that time and time and time again fucks over the general public. Anything that makes them seem more human only serves to encourage the general public to let their guard down as to the true nature of our society. They are the rulers, we are the ruled, and the second we sympathise with them they will take everything we hold near and dear and give us a good kicking on their way out the door.

Does that sound a bit excessive? Guess what: being excessive is how comedy works. There are no laughs to be had in a calm and reasonable take on the week in politics. And if you’re going to be excessive, you’re going to be taking swings at politicians because oh wait no you’re not because they’re sitting on the desk with you and you’re lobbing softballs at them because otherwise they won’t come back and having politicians on is part of what makes your news comedy show different from all the rest. So congratulations: you’ve made a comedy show that can’t actually be funny.

Not that this is news to the ABC: after all, they gave Charlie Pickering the job. Could this actually be the first comedy show that sides with politicians against the general public? Could Pickering finally let his sneery undercurrent of smirking contempt for the common man off the leash and give us week after week of him having a chummy laugh with Malcolm Turnbull because he’s someone Pickering feels is actually on his level? Not that we’re saying that would be a bad thing – we’ll save saying that for when we’ve actually seen an episode of The Weekly.

After all, if we’re this snarky after a 30 second promo, by the time we actually review this sucker we’re probably going to blow the roof off.

Online (da da da da da da) Goes Through My Mind

Press release time! Hope you brought a lunch, it’s a big ‘un:

Seven edgy stories supported through Screen Australia’s Multiplatform Drama program

Friday 13 March 2015

Screen Australia will fund seven unconventional series through its Multiplatform Drama program. The program supports risky projects with unorthodox formats. They utilise non-traditional platforms for distribution – making them accessible to global online audiences.

The innovative slate features stories from an Emmy® Award–winning team, a popular cult comedian, an all-female comedy team, two YouTube stars and the return of the worst wine series ever made. The eclectic range delivers music and comedy entertainment with broad audience appeal.

“The online space is an extraordinarily rewarding growth area for Australian filmmakers; we have seen projects supported through the program reach remarkable audiences in the billions. How to Talk Australians and The Katering Show are viral hits and #7DaysLater has pushed the envelope of innovation, recognised internationally with a Digital Emmy® win. The worldwide critical acclaim and festival success of shows like Wastelander Panda and Noirhouse continues to showcase the dynamic talent and fresh ideas coming out of Australia,” said Sally Caplan, Screen Australia’s Head of Production.

“The Multiplatform Drama program has been instrumental in propelling Australian talent to a global arena and has played a vital role in supporting the screen industry to find a new pathway to audiences in phenomenal numbers. We look forward to presenting some of our killer talent at a select showcase in April at MIP Digital Fronts at MIPTV in Cannes.”

Filmmaker Michael Shanks has multiple YouTube mega-hits under his handle TimTimFed – most recently with his parody of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. With almost 11.5 million hits to date, the George Lucas Special Edition has spawned dozens of YouTube responses. Working with LateNite Films, Michael will write/direct the six-part online comedy series The Wizards of Aus, a fish-out-of-water story about a Gandalf-esque wizard who decides to turn his back on the magical realm and settle down in Footscray – with disastrous results.

Known as the RackaRacka, Adelaide’s Philippoubrothers have built a vast, dedicated online audience, with 806,000 YouTube subscribers. Screen Australia will support them to make three episodes of their trademark stunt-laden, high-octane comedy, Versus, allowing them to deliver action-packed content on the next level. Julie Byrne of Triptych (The Babadook) will produce the series with Danny and Michael Philippou on board to write and direct. The South Australian Film Corporation will also support the project.

From producer/director Nathan Earl, the second series of Plonk will bring the team back together to pick up where the first series left off. This time the incompetent wine series host, Chris Taylor (The Chaser’s War on Everything), will wreak havoc in South Australia’s renowned wine country. With distribution across the Nine Network, Stan and YouTube, Plonk series 2 will be highly accessible to audiences across multiple platforms.

Paul Fenech has delivered striking comedy to Australian audiences with Fat Pizza and Housos. Screen Australia will support his web series debut, Dumb Criminals Motorcycle Club, to deliver his clever Australian humour to the world. The 10-part, short-form comedy follows a group of new characters, who are the most inept criminals ever to ride on two wheels.

Endemol is collaborating with an emerging all-female comedy team on Fragments of Friday, a short-form online series. The comedy sees a group of friends in an all-too-frequent scenario – trying to piece together their Friday night after waking in a haze of overindulgence. Writer/director Kacie Anning is currently causing waves with her online series Minister for Men starring Gretel Killeen.

From the comedy powerhouse of Princess Pictures (Summer Heights High, It’s a Date), comes an original opera crafted for a contemporary on-screen experience. Screen Australia will support The Divorce, a witty ‘soap opera’ in collaboration with Opera Australia and with support from Film Victoria. The opera will be broadcast on ABC TV and iview, with Universal Pictures set to distribute theatrically. The broadcast/online format is four half hours and the theatrical format will screen as a 90-minute film.

Before their Digital Emmy® win for #7DaysLater, Queensland’s Ludo Studio received support to create animated comedy series Doodles, which brought to life the artistic contributions of their social media audience. Screen Australia will support the team to make a second series of 24 x 30-second episodes, this time with ABC TV and YouTube giant Frederator (Adventure Time).

Now an open-ended program, accepting applications at any time throughout the year, the Multiplatform Drama program continues to approach creative content in a flexible and open manner.

Where to begin wading through this morass of doubletalk? For a line-up of seven titles advertised as “risky projects” we counted three direct sequels and one “more of the same” effort from Paul Fenech, so we’re going to go ahead and say that they are in fact doing their level best to ensure this line-up is as risk free as possible by funding proven winners more than 50% of the time. Then again, for a project advertised as “The Multiplatform Drama Project” more than 70% of the projects being funded seem to be comedies, so it’s bullshit right from jump street here.

That said, this is pretty clearly A Good Thing. Or at least, it’s providing funding for comedy, and we’re always going to be on board with that unless it involves giving more money to Paul Fenech, in which case what the fuck? The guy makes movies that get wide mainstream release in this country (people actually going to see those movies is another matter entirely): if you can manage that on a regular basis, what the hell are you doing soaking up funding for “risky projects”?

Yes, we know the real point of this is picking winners: you want a mix of new people with good ideas (that might not come off) plus some proven talent even if “talent” should have quote marks around it because you’re talking about the guy who made Fat Pizza vs Housos. But c’mon: if your job is picking winners, just give the money ear-marked for Fenech to the Katering Show team because they’re good and he hasn’t made anything funny since 2002.

That said, the official reason behind getting Fenech on board – and we’re going on and on about him because he’s easily the most high-profile person here (ok, Chris Taylor from Plonk* has form, but he’s just a performer there and it’s not like series one of Plonk set the world alight) and this is meant to be funding for up-and-comers, not some guy who’s been on free-to-air television non-stop for fifteen years – seems to be this:

to deliver his clever Australian humour to the world

Do we really need to point out the problem with this scheme?

Anyway, as the press release was kind enough to provide further details on each of the upcoming shows, here they are:

THE DIVORCE
Multiplatform TV and theatrical
Princess Pictures Holding Pty Ltd
Producer Andrea Denholm
Executive Producers Emma Fitzsimons (Princess Pictures), Lyndon Terracini (Opera Australia)
Director Dean Murphy
Writer Joanna Murray-Smith
Composer Elena Kats-Chernin
SynopsisThe Divorce is an opera written specifically for the screen, rethinking the operatic art form for a contemporary film and television audience. Iris and Jed, rich and urbane, are happily getting divorced and are throwing an elaborate party at their elegant home to celebrate. By the end of the evening, Iris and Jed’s divorce has triggered a renegotiation of all certainties. Humorous, witty and complex, this ‘soap opera’ is a light-hearted exploration of the universal themes of love, passion, regret, greed and longing: a celebration of the profound in the shallow.

DOODLES SERIES 2
Animated series
Ludo Studio Pty Ltd
Producer Charlie Aspinwall
Director Daley Pearson
Director/Animator Benjamin Zaugg
Synopsis Doodles is an interactive, animated multiplatform comedy series that takes real children’s drawings and turns them into hilarious micro movies featuring a cast of adorable, absurd and amazing coloured-in characters surrounded by insanity. Doodles is produced for ABC3 by the Emmy® Award-winning, Ludo Studio. Ludo will be collaborating with the US production company Frederator (Adventure Time) to distribute the series online.

DUMB CRIMINALS MOTORCYCLE CLUB
Online video
Antichocko Productions Pty Ltd
Producers Paul Fenech, Joe Weatherstone
Executive Producer Andrew Taylor
Writer/Director Paul Fenech
Synopsis The story of two hopeless crims, Rabbit and Rongo. Out of jail, they regroup and battle old girlfriends, bikie gangs and their own stupid plans and schemes. They team up with other petty criminals, Jimmy Speed, Pothead and Droptank. This series is based on true dumb crimes from around the world only the names have been changed to expose the guilty. The old saying goes, crime doesn’t pay… Well, it pays less if you’re a DUMB CRIMINAL.

FRAGMENTS OF FRIDAY SERIES 2
Online video
Endemol Australia Pty Ltd
Producer Courtney Wise
Executive Producer Michael Horrocks
Writer/Director Kacie Anning
Synopsis Fragments of Friday is a comedy about piecing together the night before, with your best mates by your side. Season 1 saw Alex and Sophie haphazardly grapple with the perils of the ‘day after’, navigating everything from waking up in bed with a cab driver, the accidental theft of a yacht, a healthy dose of bodily waxing and an adrenalin-induced punch-up. Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off, with Alex and Sophie being joined by their mutual friend Maddie on many misadventures – from misinterpreting the term ‘pool party’ to playing Russian roulette with magic mushrooms through to the much anticipated annual ‘Church Wine Drunk Day’. Told with humour, poignancy and a generous injection of physical comedy, the story of Fragments of Friday speaks to the great tradition of female friendship through the scope of hazy memories, drunken honesty and, above all, affection.

PLONK SERIES 2
Online video
One Stone Pictures Pty Ltd
Producer Georgie Lewin
Executive Producers Nathan Earl (One Stone Pictures), Ben Ulm (ITV Studios Australia) 
Director Nathan Earl
Writers Nathan Earl, Joshua Tyler, Nicholas McDougall 
Synopsis Plonk follows the trials and tribulations of a small television crew as they travel through South Australia’s rich and diverse wine regions, trying to produce a unique, engaging and credible wine program… and failing miserably along the way. Plonk is a love letter to Australian wine and its people… just with the spell check function turned off. It’s Getaway meets Heart of Darkness, Sydney Weekender meets Lost in La Mancha. It’s Plonk.

VERSUS
Online video
Triptych Pictures Pty Ltd
Producer Julie Byrne
Executive Producer Jennifer Jones
Writer/Directors Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Synopsis Three videos that parody teams of popular comic book, game and movie super heroes pitted against each other in riotous, action-packed rivalry. 

THE WIZARDS OF AUS
Online video
LateNite Films Pty Ltd
Producers Chris Hocking, Nicholas Colla
Director Michael Shanks
Writers Michael Shanks, Nicholas Issell
Synopsis With an almighty sneeze, Jack accidentally transformed Flinders Street Station into a giant fish monster. Unintentionally ousting the existence of Wizards in suburban Australia was not Jack’s plan and now a nationwide ballot threatens to deport his people back to their treacherous magical realm. We follow Jack as he tries to rally his local community (Footscray) around rights for the previously clandestine magical beings – whilst simultaneously trying to dissuade other members of the Wizard community to stop making such arses of themselves.

 

 

*hey, isn’t this new series of Plonk all set to appear on new streaming service Stan? And isn’t it already funded by a bunch of tourism bodies? Why yes it is. So why is Screen Australia funding it as “a risky project”?

 

Manny Lewis and the News

Of course we went to the first session of Manny Lewis we could get to. It’s an Australian comedy! Starring an Australian stand-up comedian! Who plays a stand-up comedian in the movie! This was going to be bigger than Roy Hollsdotter Live. Well, at least it has a longer running time.

As far as the actual movie goes, it’s a rom-com where super-popular and famous Australian stand-up Manny (played by super-popular and famous Australian stand-up Carl Barron) can’t find love. Then he does. Seriously, he’s set up as a guy who can’t find love – early on he meets a woman who seems into him, only when she says something like “when we were hungover me and my friends used have Manny Days where we’d make the biggest drinks we could and then we’d watch your DVDs!” he says “what, because I’m only funny when you’re drunk?” – but then suddenly out of nowhere he somehow figures out how to hit on Maria (Leeanna Walsman) in a café and it’s on.

But there’s a twist: earlier, at a low point in his life and also presumably before the internet existed, Manny calls up a phone sex line and gets… Maria! Only he doesn’t know it’s her so he spends his time between real life dates with her calling her up (though he doesn’t know it’s Maria) to spill his guts about how he’s dating a woman but he’s kinda not into her because having a girlfriend is a pain and why doesn’t she dress sexier. Despite this, Maria still goes out with him.

If you’ve ever seen a single romantic comedy in your life you already know exactly how this story is going to play out. Is the secret between them what breaks them up? Will Manny run like a maniac at the movie’s climax to try and prevent her from leaving the country? Is Manny’s big career break happening the exact same night that she’s leaving town? Is Manny going to play a fucking acoustic guitar and sing a sappy song that basically summarises the plot of the movie we’ve just watched? But hey, if you like this kind of thing you’re going to want to get the kind of thing you like.

What interested us – and presumably you as well if you’re reading this blog – is the comedy side of things. Not so much the comedy in the movie, because there isn’t really much of that for a rom-com, but the comedy performed by “Manny Lewis”. We don’t know much about Barron’s actual stand-up, but it seems safe to assume this film was created as a vehicle for his work – like we said, the movie is pretty basic and straightforward, with pretty much all of the “laughs” coming from the things Manny says to various people.

[SPOILERS FROM HERE ON]

Which is why it’s a little worrying that so much of his act here is kind of grim and depressing. Early on he’s making jokes like “have you ever considered suicide just because you happen to be in a really good place to do it?” – only these jokes are presented in voice over while he wanders around backstage or is staring off into space in his fancy apartment that looks like a high rise hotel room and is a clear symbol of how empty his life is.

The offer of a huge break in America is accepted with a shrug, as if he’s got nothing better to do. He tells a “joke” about how his dad told him his mum went mad and shot herself when he was eight. It’s probably true: we never see his mum, while his dad (who Manny was terrified of as a kid: another “joke” is how he dad tried to drown him in the bath) turns up for a heartwarming subplot involving drinking beer before noon because they can’t connect.

Not all of this stuff is part of his actual act, and when we do finally see him performing he weaves the darker stuff in with some more lightweight material (and in one case, saves a grim riff on his family with a quality “except for when he shit his pants” punchline). But that doesn’t come until late in the story: before then we’re hammered with this bleak worldview from a clearly unhappy guy.

Story-wise all this this probably made sense to Barron and company: Manny’s depressed because he’s lonely, finding a girl is going to help him turn it around. Only then the movie is him grimly admitting he wants a girlfriend but its hard work and he’s not sure it’s worth it to a phone sex worker – who, we cannot stress enough, still wants him despite his nit-picking. Seriously, why? Oh right, it’s his movie.

Then instead of them simply breaking up because he discovers she lied to him as you’d expect, there’s also this disturbing scene where she wants to be all free-spirited and swim in the harbour, he doesn’t want to join her, she pushes it a little, he snaps at her, and while it’s certainly realistic it’s also the kind of thing that if you saw it happening to a female friend of yours you’d probably tell her he wasn’t worth it and to move on. Before he murdered her.

Again, this kind of makes sense story-wise, in that in his next sex line chat he reveals he’s always been scared of water since his dad tried to drown him in the bath. See – he’s got issues! Issues that a relationship will solve! Because relationships are a great way to solve all your personal issues! Oh God why won’t anyone love us.

There’s nothing actually wrong with putting this stuff in a movie. In fact it makes Manny Lewis a lot more interesting than the basic rom-com it’s often trying to be. But a dark portrait of a sad clown haunted by his past and adrift in a world where success means nothing (every encounter with a fan sees Manny filled with dread) isn’t exactly a good fit with a feel-good rom-com storyline.

Put another way, when your lead punches out a mirror because of buried anger issues, it does make it just that little bit harder to hope he gets together with the girl at the end.

Classy Clown

If you only know Hannah Gadsby from Adam Hills Tonight or Agony Aunts you might be surprised to hear that she has a degree in art history and curatorship from ANU. And like many people fresh out of uni with an arts degree Gadsby presumably found it hard to get work, so she went in to comedy, did a bunch of live shows about art, and had the last laugh. Last year Gadsby toured her live show The Exhibitionist around the local comedy festivals, then took it to Edinburgh where she was spotted by a legendary British comedy producer…and the rest was history. Well, she got a four-episode series for Britain’s Radio 4.

The legendary comedy producer in question was John Lloyd, producer of Not The Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder, creator of QI, and some time radio host and performer. He liked The Exhibitionist so much that he brought Gadsby to Radio 4, a well-loved BBC station known for scripted comedy, panel shows, radio plays, news and documentaries, and he even appears (uncredited) in the show as Gadsby’s comic foil. Hannah Gadsby Arts Clown, four comedy programs about famous paintings, is currently airing on the station on Wednesday nights and is also available on the BBC’s iPlayer Radio website.

The first episode looks at Edouard Manet’s “Olympia”, a 19th Century painting which shows a “reclining nude” with her servant. When it was first exhibited the painting was considered scandalous, and since then it’s continued to attract criticism. Gadsby pulls apart some of the criticism and gets much humour from the fact that a number of the critics compared Olympia to a corpse. As amusingly she points out some of the odd features of the painting, such as why Olympia is lying around in the nude while her servant shows her some flowers.

Amongst all of this are more some academic interjections from Quotebot, a know-it-all art history automaton voiced by John Lloyd. When Gadsby jokes that she got in to art because she realised she was a lesbian when homosexuality was still illegal in her home state of Tasmania and she wanted a legitimate way to check out boobs, Quotebot jumps in with some zingers. Although less known as a performer, Lloyd proves to be very good at playing a snooty, deadpan intellectual type.

Hannah Gadsby and John Lloyd aren’t a comic pairing anyone ever expected to see but they work well together, and with European galleries being full of well-known artworks it’s a double act that could last well beyond the four episodes in this series. Coming up this Wednesday night (UK time) is a look at Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait”, another painting featuring an odd looking pair and with heaps of comic potential. Historically the fine arts and comedy haven’t mixed very well but this series proves it’s more than possible to get laughs from masterpieces, the question is which artwork’s going to cop it next?

Let Loose Live

Ok, we’re just going to come right out and ask: do comedians make a shitload more money from live tours than they do from television? Because pretty much the only way we can figure out how this

THE serially selfconscious Bondi Hipsters are about to get up off their couch — to star in their first feature film.

Meanwhile, their action-minded 80s cousins, the Kiwi Assassins, are working on a stage musical.

– sounds like a good idea is if there’s a shitload of money involved. C’mon, is this the kind of thing anyone could say with a straight face:

“It felt like a funny idea. I think our style of comedy and the 80s style of music could provide a cocktail for something that will be really entertaining as a musical,’’ said Christiaan Van Vuuren, who is to write and direct both projects with brother Connor.

“There is a lot of fun theatricality to be had in that time period. And it fits very nicely with the action category story we were telling.”

You do realise when he says “fun theatricality” he means “80s clothing”, right? And that on stage – a medium notorious for its complete and utter inability to provide close-ups to show off subtle details such as 80s clothing – that’s going to mean jack shit? You do? Let’s move on.

The Van Vuuren brothers will develop the movie and the musical, as well as several other viral projects, with the help of a grant from Screen Australia, which Thursday awarded $3.2 million to 10 Australian production companies.

Other beneficiaries of the Enterprise Industry: Growth and Stories program include Robert Connolly (Paper Planes, The Turning) and Jamie Hilton (The Little Death).

“It means we can actually pay ourselves to write, pay fellow collaborators to work with us,’’ said Christiaan, who constitutes one half of the Bondi Hipsters alongside co-creator Nick Boshier.

So the ABC didn’t cough up any cash for Soul Mates then? And while a Bondi Hipsters movie sounds fair enough – well, as fair enough as the Kath & Kim movie, only that actually had a chance of overseas sales – those “other viral projects” sound a little iffy to us.

Sure, pretty much all levels of the arts in this country require government funding to survive, but when you get to the level of “viral projects” (which, going on The Bondi Hipsters’ past work, means YouTube clips) aren’t we talking about stuff that should sink or swim on its own? You make the viral projects to try and attract enough attention to get funding to make a more involved project – if you just plow the cash back into more viral projects, you’re crowding out the next generation of up-and-comers.

Then again, considering The Bondi Hipsters team features at least one guy from the Beached Az crew, crowding out the next generation of up-and-comers probably isn’t a problem.

(And don’t think we didn’t notice the producer behind The Little Death scoring some free government money there. To be fair, free government money was pretty much the only thing they weren’t complaining about when audiences were avoiding their “hilarious” sex comedy late last year. Damn, maybe Rebel Wilson was right when she told the world that Australia has a culture of rewarding mediocrity.)

But it’s the stage musical part of all this that we can’t quite get out heads around, if only because taking your much-loved characters out on tour is usually the kind of thing you do well after your career has peaked. Remember when Chris Lilley was dropping hints about taking his characters on tour? Oh wait, it was just last year.

A fan asked if he would consider ‘bringing Mr. G back and…performing Mr. G The Musical in front of an audience,’ Lilley said ‘definitely one day. And putting on the whole musical would be awesome.’

Maybe it would be awesome – back in 2009 when it would have seemed like he was using his fame to try something new. Now that he’s pissed away what little good will he once had with a string of half-arsed duds, any attempt at a live show would look exactly like what it was: a naked cash grab.

At least with the upcoming live show from Chaser members Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor it sounds like they’re trying something different (and no, we don’t mean comedy). Their Melbourne International Comedy Festival show In Conversation With Lionel Corn gets the thumbs up from us for this quote alone:

Both Taylor and Hansen are not involved in The Chaser‘s current television project, The Checkout.

“We have no interest in consumer affairs or shows about consumer affairs. I wish them well with it but it gave us a perfect window to team up and do something a bit more silly while they are doing shows about the price of shampoo.”

Which is how live shows by established comedy performers are meant to work: you do them during a quiet patch in things when you want to try something new (see also: Shaun Micallef’s stage work).

As for taking the time out to hit the boards when your career is on the upswing after a successful (well, critically acclaimed) TV series and you’ve just landed a bunch of production dough to make a movie? All we can say is, there must be a whole lot of gold in them that hills.

Instant gratification

Having recently checked out Ryan Shelton’s work on Instagram we started to wonder what other Aussie-made comedy was available on the popular image-sharing platform. The answer? Not a whole heap, which surprised us because comedians are always plugging their shows on Facebook, tweeting their hilarious reactions to news events on Twitter, and making videos for YouTube. And if you believe blog posts like this one Instagram’s got millions of active users a month, so why aren’t comedians embracing its content distribution and marketing potential?

Alright, we’re exaggerating slightly; comedy is well represented on Instagram. Locally-made shows such as Mad As Hell, Kinne and Please Like Me all have a presence, but their accounts aren’t exactly serving up exclusive content. What you get is more of the content marketing variety, i.e. behind the scenes photos, clips from the show, and the kind of stuff you can also see on the show’s Facebook or Twitter. Their posts are also clearly put together by the show’s marketing team or social media person, who probably has to update the show’s website and do a bunch of other stuff too. We should probably feel lucky to get this content at all.

But what about individual comedians – stand-ups, writer/performers and the like? They’re all over Twitter, surely they’re doing cool stuff on Instagram? Well, yes, there are lots of them on Instagram, but exclusive content, conceived for Instagram – and that’s funny – is few and far between. Hamish Blake is a notable exception, he used Instagram last year to parody Humans of New York, while stand-up and co-host of The Little Dum Dum Club Karl Chandler has also been Instagraming one-liners, but otherwise it’s a mix of comedians doing the sort of observational comedy they’ve been doing on Twitter for years, or plugging their upcoming gigs. The funniest of these include Justin Hamilton, John Safran and Wil Anderson, who tend to plug less and post observational LOLZ more.

And yet we’re still wondering why Instagram hasn’t become a place for comedy in the same way that Twitter has. Part of the answer, perhaps, is that Twitter’s about pithy written content and comedians earn their living by coming up with just that, which means it’s not much of a stretch for them to tweet 140 characters of funny a couple of times a day. But adding images or video to the mix, as you have to for Instagram, requires a bit more effort – maybe even some planning – and if you’re a moderately successful comedian who’s already got a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel – all of which you run yourself and struggle to maintain – when have you got time for Instagram? Shouldn’t the priority be writing material, doing gigs, networking, pitching to production companies and and attending auditions?

That, and there’s no obvious revenue model for Instagram. You post some funny stuff on Instagram, you might gain a few followers. You post some funny stuff on YouTube and you can make money from advertising. Which platform would any busy comedian put their energy in to?

So yeah, don’t expect Instagram to become the home of laughs unless they suddenly do a Snapchat and introduce a Discover feature that has comedy in it. Instagram’s the place to go if you like landscape photography, snaps of other people’s food, and the odd bit of a funny from a comedian who’s just doing it for fun. And there’s something nice about that, that old doing it for fun thing. It’s like the 90’s internet, a weird and wonderful sandbox of mostly useless crap – exactly what smartphones were designed for in fact. Whack a Ludwig filter on it and hit Share!