Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Magic Eye Tricks Don’t Work on Radio

One of the things that makes comedy so enjoyable is that it’s really hard to disguise if you’re a bit of a prick. Sure, all art is personal, but comedy – or at least, the current fad for confessional-style stand-up that has made 70% of Australian “comedy” nothing more than people talking about themselves on various panels – requires the practitioner to put themselves out there a bit more than most. Which raises the question: what exactly is the deal with Kate Langbroek?

As part of the promotion for her return (alongside Dave Hughes) to commercial radio, there’s a hefty joint interview in the Fairfax press. Hughsies side of things is fairly inoffensive: when he says stuff like this:

Katie and I do talk to each other about wanting to be better people. To be more peaceful, basically. To stop judging others, and to give up caring what people think. When you do all that, it’s the most relaxing thing. I highly recommend it.

It seems somewhat likely that he means it. When Langbroek, on the other hand, says this:

Hughesy cares much less about comedy reviews now. That’s one thing we have in common. We’re both – I don’t know how to put this without making people throw up – trying to be better people. Trying to be less petty, less jealous, less inclined to find fault.

It’s promptly followed up with this:

The more success has come to him, the less it has mattered to him. Still, how has he never won a Logie? What the f— is that about? Look at some of the f—ing fools and numpties and charlatans who’ve won – then consider the contribution to the show business landscape he’s made. It’s crazy.

Lucky this seat has a headrest, otherwise we’d be suing her for whiplash. And not just because we’re struggling to figure out exactly what it is that Hughes has done in television to deserve a Logie. Um… he was on a bunch of panel shows? Don’t you have to at least have to be the host of a panel show to be in the running?

(maybe she means he should have won one for his acting on those shows. What, you mean he’s not really mates with Peter Helliar?)

The real gold in this interview though is this gem:

People do get a bit taken aback when Hughesy tells them he expected to be successful. You’re not supposed to say, “Actually, I’m good at what I do”; you’re supposed to go, “Oh no, I’ve just been very lucky.” I can’t bear it.

There are few things in life more odious than some millionaire going on about how their success is entirely down to their own skills and abilities. “Yeah,” they smirk, “all you losers are losers because you’re losers; I’m a winner because I’m a winner.” Except that anyone with even a moderate amount of perspective and empathy knows that’s not true: sure, talent and hard work have their place, but plenty of people with loads of both never succeed while others luck into the kind of break that sets them up for life.

For example: in 2001 Dave Hughes, Dave O’Neil and Kate Langbroek made up the core of Melbourne community radio station Triple R’s breakfast team (AKA “The Breakfasters”). In December 2001, Nova FM – the first new commercial radio station to start in Melbourne in 21 years – went on the air. Their breakfast program? “Hughsie, Kate & Dave”. Nova had simply hired the Triple R team outright.

You know what luck is? Being a breakfast radio team on a high profile community station when for the first time in 21 years there’s a brand new commercial station in town that needs a breakfast team. It’s called “being in the right place at the right time”; how do you rationalise that away as being “good at what [you] do”?

Put another way, everyone else who’s worked on The Breakfasters over the years has been good at what they do, but while a bunch of them have gone onto bigger things none of the teams have been lifted wholesale onto commercial radio the way Hughsie, Kate & Dave were. Sure, they made the most of the opportunity; that doesn’t mean they weren’t lucky to get it.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Langbroek had been a regular on The Panel; Hughes was part of the Glasshouse team. If their careers at Nova had fizzled out, no doubt both of them would have continued to find work. But there’s a reason why you’re not supposed to say “I’m good at what I do” when you work in the media: no matter how good you are, if you have any kind of long-lasting success at all you should consider yourself lucky.

Unless, of course, you’re some kind of prick.

Bob’s House of Horrors

It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to stop and think about whether we’re going to have to explain who Bob Franklin is to a comedy crowd. But let’s be honest: it’s been a fair while since he was a deadpan regular on Australian comedy TV. At a guess, we’re going to say the last time he was out there displaying his trademark dry wit would have been Thank God You’re Here – and Rebel Wilson’s had pretty much her entire career since then.

So for those not in the know, Bob Franklin was once a sketch comedy regular back when Australia made sketch comedy, turning up in (and writing for) shows like The Micallef Programme and The Mick Molloy Show. He’s done a bunch of movies too, most notably Bad Eggs, and his CV has a whole pile of drama in there as well if you’d care to look. Up to speed? There’s a lot of great Bob Franklin clips on YouTube if you’re not.

Back in 2010 Franklin released a collection of short stories titled Under Stones. It’s good. It’s also not comedy as such; while there were certainly plenty of offbeat and absurd moments in the stories, the tone was more unsettling than hilarious, much more in line with horror writers like Ramsey Campbell than your typical wacky funster.

It’s a fine line between comedy and horror – they’re pretty much the only two genres that are regularly smashed together with successful results. But Franklin’s approach is less like The League of Gentlemen where they take horror tropes and wring laughs out of them and more akin to Chris Morris’ Blue Jam, where typical sketch comedy material is twisted until the horror shines through.

For example, back on The Mick Molloy Show  one of Franklin’s sketches involved someone inadvertently ordering a creepy drummer at a hotel who followed him around beating out an annoying rhythm. “How do you turn them off,” the guy asked at the front desk. “You can’t” was the reply, and the last line of the sketch. Welcome to the rest of your life.

And now Franklin has a novel out. Moving Tigers is the story of Jean and her partner on holiday in Nepal. The title refers to a game involving hunters and prey, which is a pretty good indication that things aren’t going to turn out hunky-dory for Jean. But while this is a horror novel, it’s not like Franklin has forgotten how to be funny. If you’re after the kind of dust-dry comedy he does so well you’ll find plenty of that here even as Jean’s holiday goes from your usual bump up against another culture to something more unsettling.

We’d be pointing this book out whatever the quality simply because a book from an Australian comedian that isn’t “check out these wacky tales from my yoof” is not exactly an everyday occurrence. Fortunately, Moving Tigers also happens to be really good (and not just in comparison to that book Charlie Pickering wrote about practical jokes). It’s a bit of a slow burn, but Franklin’s focus on atmosphere and Jean’s vivid, totally believable voice (the book is written in the first person) make this a gripping read right from the start.

If you like a laugh, you’ll find that here; if you like not being able to sleep because you’ve been creeped the hell out by what you’ve just been reading, well…

…there’s a bit of that on offer here too.

 

Lined Up For the Chop

The trick with parodies is to make sure there’s more going on than just the parody. Those classic Mad Magazine movie spoofs had great art; Get Smart had a whole lot of jokes that had nothing to do with the “spy-fi” craze of the 60s. And the other end of the scale, SBS’s recent action send-up Danger 5 often felt like the writers went home after high-fiving each other for coming with with “Hitler in a High School”. So which side of the line does Maximum Choppage fall?

The set-up is a familiar one: in a lawless town where gangs terrorise the innocent, a lone warrior arrives to set things right. Only this time the lawless town is the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta and the lone warrior is Simon Chan (Lawrence Leung). His friends and family think he’s been off training at martial arts school; in reality he was studying at Marshall’s Art School in Melbourne. Now he only has a week to save his mother, her video store, and himself from a gang of serious badasses and the shady figure (ok, it’s the Mayor, who wants to turn their shopping strip into a car park). Fight!

Leung is a likable lead as the quiet nerd forced into the hero role (and outfit), his two buddies Egg (Dave Eastgate, who you may recall from The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting and Wednesday Night Fever, though he probably hopes you don’t) and Petal (Stephanie Son) are decent sidekicks and the evil gang is, well, evil. Setting a martial arts story in a Sydney suburb is silly enough to get a few cheap laughs early on, and the show is committed enough to its wacky scenario to sell it effectively without going too far into lunacy. The question (and one we can’t really answer based solely on the first episode) is whether these elements are going to be enough to sustain a six-part series.

For some reason, Australian sitcoms are almost always rubbish when it comes to characterisation. Upper Middle Bogan wasn’t a great show, but the fact you could tell the characters apart put it a long way ahead of the pack. So all too often our sitcoms try to make up for this – when your characters are all the same its difficult to get laughs out of their interactions, after all – by going for hilarious over-the-top situations. Which is what’s happening here. And we all know how well most Australian sitcoms end up.

Looking at the synopsis for upcoming episodes (fish fighting? ghost busting?) doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence. Sure, this kind of thing could work, but the whole “this week, another wacky cartoony scenario plays out” deal is one we’ve seen a little too often in Australian sitcoms. Which is a bit of a shame, because the character stuff in episode one is actually pretty reasonable: it doesn’t go too far with Chan’s fake warrior act (having Petal know the truth is a relief), while Petal and Egg are different enough from each other to at least suggest some possible character-based plotlines down the line.

If you’re just doing a one-off sketch, a crazy idea can be enough. But a six part series – that’s three hours of television – can’t just rely on outlandish scenarios to keep people watching. Dropping Leung’s nebbish persona into an action movie set in an unlikely location creates enough comedy contradictions to get this first episode over the line, but unless there’s a few more ingredients added – and not just constantly changing the kind of wacky genre knock-off that takes place each week – this particular dish is going to grow stale fast.

Cooking Up A Storm

It’s presumably not just us who’ve been bombarded with nudges to watch The Katering Show, a series of online comedy videos by Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney. Because just when we were thinking that we were being lobbied to review it, actual real life friends of ours with a below average interest in online comedy started telling us about it. And when we looked at the viewing figures, which are extremely impressive, and watched the show, which is pretty good, we realised that this went beyond something that had a good digital marketing campaign and industry word-of-mouth behind it, and had actually become a deserved phenomenon. And who expected that would happen after years of dismal Australian online comedies?

The Katering Show seems to have hit the mark for a number of reasons – it’s got a good script, high production values and spot-on performances – and because it’s about a topic that lots of people are familiar with: cooking shows. Not that cooking show parodies have always been that amazing. Most of them are fairly one note, they’re sending-up a well-known and relatively easy to impersonate celebrity chef, they’ve made the chef snooty (Audrey’s Kitchen), or there’s a pair of chefs who hate each other (Posh Nosh). And while you can find some of these elements in The Katering Show…there’s a lot more to it than that.

This isn’t so much a pisstake of cooking shows but a pisstake on the “cooking as a lifestyle” phenomenon, often taking inspiration from how Kate McCartney’s real-life food intolerances or Kate McLennan’s actual interest in cooking. This sees that pair get real, big and from-the-heart laughs from how dishes for people with food intolerance are kinda crap, or at how impossible it is to give up common ingredients like sugar or to eat ethically, or at how the Thermomix is a kind of pointless rip-off, or at how having the right food doesn’t make for a great Christmas. We hate to use the word “relatable”, but The Katering Show really is relatable for a lot of people – and that’s a large part of why it’s funny – most of us have tried to give up an ingredient or bought in to the idea that our Christmas can be just as perfect as Nigella’s, and we’ve failed.

Add to the mix (sorry) the gloriously passive/aggressive relationship between the two Kates, that way they do that synchronised turn to camera (a rival to Shaun Micallef’s post-Shorten ZINGER gun hand gesture?) and the plethora of background gags, and you’ve got one hell of a nuanced and quality comedy series. And given its success we can all look forward to it coming to TV, right? Um, nope…

From The Age:

They are already planning a second web series, but have mixed feelings about whether they would want to turn it into a television show.

“There’s something really special about having this little concise seven-minute episode, and also the freedom we have to say whatever we want, we’re not beholden to anyone,” McLennan says.

“That’s been really liberating,” McCartney agrees.

Do they mean to tell us that working for TV can limit a comedian’s freedom? Well, yes, and that’s something we kinda knew, but that doesn’t mean that doing a comedy online without interference from TV execs will make it better. When it comes to The Katering Show you realise it’s good because it just works, it’s nailed it, and nothing can stop it spreading across the internet like one of their recipes gone seriously wrong. And given that we’ve been writing about online comedy for a long time, and haven’t laughed as much as we’d have liked, we’ll raise a glass of Delicious Christmas Custard Liquid Sauce to that!

You Have To Wonder Who Commissions This Stuff

SBS has delayed its launch of upcoming Paul McDermott chat show, Room 101.

The series sees McDermott’s return to television chatting to celebrities such as Ray Martin, Julia Zemiro, HG Nelson, Julia Morris, Matt Preston, Noni Hazlehurst, about their pet hates.

Originally due to premiere next Monday at 9:30pm, it has been held by SBS pending an earlier timeslot later in the year. SBS will replace it with a repeat of Gourmet Farmer Afloat.

(from TVTonight)

Replaced by repeats of Gourmet Farmer Afloat. Is there a grimmer fate in Australian comedy? Oh wait, watching it sounds pretty grim too. “Ray Martin, Julia Zemiro, HG Nelson, Julia Morris, Matt Preston, and Noni Hazlehurst” are “celebrities” now? You don’t say. And by that we mean “don’t say that, you’re scaring the children”.

But isn’t this a case of holding it over for a better timeslot? Isn’t that a vote of confidence in the end product? Well, that depends: if it’s shown five nights a week at 6pm, that’s not so good. In fact, if it’s broadcast in an earlier timeslot that people don’t know to check for comedy, that’s not so good either. So ideally you’d want to show it in a timeslot that people already know as a home for SBS comedy… oh, wait:

SBS Programmer Peter Andrews was recently asked by TV Tonight if the 9:30 Monday slot was a big ask for a new entertainment show.

“Yes, but we’ll do everything to make some noise so the audience know that Room 101 is there. There’s no soft timeslot as you know in television − not at all − so it’s about, we’ve established 9:30 on a Monday night as where we’re, you know, a little bit of entertainment and comedy, so we want to keep that going,” he said.

It could always be worse, mind you: the ABC’s literature show The Book Club – AKA your monthly reminder that Marieke Hardy was not forced into hiding after Laid 2 – has been shifted to the “sexy new time” of 6pm Sundays. There are probably worse timeslots, but good luck getting Question Time to give them up.

Womanly curveballs

“Why do comedians always make this sort of program these days? Why can’t they make proper comedies?” a friend of this blog enquired recently. He was talking about Judith Lucy Is All Woman, the latest in a line of personality-led, comedic explorations of a theme (Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven, Myf Warhurst’s Nice, Felicity [Ward]’s Mental Mission). It’s a good point: why are comedians spending their time making pseudo-documentaries? Shouldn’t they be making sitcoms and sketch shows?

But let’s divert slightly from that question and discuss the show itself. Hey guess what? It’s actually pretty funny. Judith Lucy’s spent more than a couple of decades honing that world-weary, sarcy, feminist sage thing, and she’s damn good at it. In fact there’s pretty much no one on the Australian scene who can respond to hecklers, bystanders and anyone fancying themselves quite like Ms Lucy, and even less who are willing to put themselves quite so in to their comedy as to, say, dress up as a man – complete with fake, black penis – and go to the pub to buy a drink, pick up some chicks, and have a slash in the dunny. And then change in to unflattering bike pants and a singlet, and jelly wrestle another woman.

If you’re Judith Lucy that’s nothing, it’s going to bridal outfitters and wedding cake shops that’s the real test. Isn’t it refreshing to see a woman hate on those places? The received opinion is that women love that shit, but fact is lots don’t. Similarly, it’s refreshing to see a bunch of men on TV who aren’t conforming to stereotype, men who are in favour of feminism or not that interested in skulling beer. If you think you know lots of men and women who don’t conform to stereotype and that this isn’t refreshing, fine, but don’t complain to us next time you switch over to the commercial networks and see blokey blokes and feminine ladies everywhere.

Judith Lucy’s All Woman is chock-full of funny moments that’ll make you think – and some that will surprise you. It isn’t a sketch show, or a sitcom, or a “proper comedy”, but it does look at a topic that Judith Lucy’s been getting laughs from since she first sauntered on stage, and it is authentically her. And let’s face it, it’s authenticity – the actual voices of creative people – not shows containing comedy, that’s the real scarcity in TV these days.

Mad as Hell in a Cell

Mad as Hell is back! And, uh, yeah… ok, it’s taken us a couple of days to get around to mentioning it because we don’t really have all that much new to say. Shaun Micallef and his skilled team have created a finely honed satirical machine and by now they’re capable of hitting any target they take aim at. Two thumbs up from us.

Oh sure, if we wanted to get super nit-picky we could quibble here and there. But having only seen the first episode, and considering that the Liberal party were doing their level best to sink themselves right up until the day before filming, the one thing we’d probably say – there was perhaps a bit too much of just Micallef talking to camera going on – is actually a plus. With so much political uncertainty (do we need more Abbott jokes? Less Abbott jokes? Any Abbott jokes at all?) during the writing period, you’d expect the first episode to be largely generic pre-recorded bits, so going topical was kind of impressive. At least the return of Shorten’s zingers was always on the cards.

Thing is, while Micallef’s bits to camera are always smart, funny, and sharply written, they’re not actually a strength of the show. It’s the character stuff and the various fake promos and ads that lift Mad as Hell above… well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

It’s generally accepted in drama that you should “show, not tell” – audiences will be more engaged in a situation they see unfolding in front of them rather than one simply described to them – and it’s the same in comedy. Saying “wow, our politicians really don’t care about large swathes of the population” might get a laugh: a decent sketch (even if it’s just a conversation) saying the same thing will often get a lot more. Maybe we direct your attention once again to the fine work of Clarke & Dawe in this area.

Mad as Hell works in (large) part because it’s largely written by writers who can (also) write sketches and performed by actors who can create comedy characters. It has a fake news format and it uses clips taken from the real news to great effect, but if that was all it did then… oh look, a press release:

CHARLIE PICKERING’S NEW ABC SHOW HAS A NAME… AND A CAST!

Not only does Charlie Pickering have a new show launching on ABC in April, it now has a name: The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.

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 – returns to the ABC for a new show, The Weekly.

The Weekly with Charlie Pickering is a news comedy show, tonight show and chat show all in one, allowing Charlie to return to his comedy roots while being a general nuisance to newsmakers, politicians and other charlatans.

Charlie won’t be launching The Weekly alone. Joining him every week will be two of Australia’s funniest – Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan.

Charlie Pickering says: “I couldn’t be more excited to work with two of my best friends who just happen to also be my favourite comedians. Together we can’t wait for The Weekly to help everyone calm down and buy into our revolutionary ‘7-Day News Cycle’. The 24-hour version just doesn’t seem to be working out. Nobody has time to think!”

Tom Gleeson is one of Australia’s most successful stand-up comedians and has appeared at all of the world’s major comedy festivals. He has been nominated three times for the Helpmann Award for Best Comedy. He is a TV regular having appeared on Good News Week, The Project and This Week Live.

Kitty Flanagan is one of Australia’s best known comedians and was nominated for a 2010 Helpmann Award for her hit show Charming & Alarming. For the last five years Kitty was a regular on The Project and often appeared as a guest on Good News Week and Spicks and Specks. She has also performed around the world at various comedy festivals.

Adrian Swift, ABC TV Head of Content said: “The news whizzes past us every day but Charlie and his team will catch the absurd, the ridiculous and the under-examined, fillet it and serve it back to us in a way that will make you laugh, occasionally make you angry and always make you think.”

“It’s a thrill to have Charlie back at the ABC where he belongs,” says Head of Entertainment Jon Casimir. “He’s a rare talent, a genuine quadruple threat: smart, funny, caring and handsome … hang on, make that triple threat.”

Proudly and hilariously outspoken, and with three of our finest comedians on board, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering will take the world’s idiocies and hypocrisies and mould them into half an hour of pure light entertainment gold.

And now you know as much as we do about what’s going to replace Mad as Hell for a goodly chunk of 2015. Get those “more like weakly, amirite?” jokes ready folks.

That said, with this kind of casting news it’s pretty easy to make a few wild guesses: Pickering’s going to sit behind a desk and have an opening monologue, then Gleeson’s going to come out and they’ll have some banter (“what’s got you angry this week, Tom?”), Flanagan’s going to come out and they’ll have some more banter (“what’s got you angry this week, Kitty?”), loads of news clips will be sprinkled all over the place, there’ll be a guest – probably a comedian – there might be a musical number because they did mention “chat show” in there, and everyone will have given up on it by week six.

Panel shows look cheap and these days television audiences get their cheap entertainment elsewhere, which is why no panel show has worked in the last decade. Shows where comedians riff on the weeks events are – and pay close attention, this is important – just as cheap.

Mad as Hell dodges this bullet by throwing in sketches and actors playing comedy characters. It doesn’t hurt that at least some of Micallef’s bits to camera are more like surreal rambles than “ha ha, this policy makes no sense”. It’s also a big, big plus that Micallef and company are really, really good at their jobs: Wednesday Night Fever was a news comedy with plenty of sketches, but it was held back by the fact that all the sketches were complete shit.

Pickering doesn’t completely suck and both Gleeson and (especially) Flanagan are good at what they do. The problem is they all do basically the same thing – talk about the issues of the day in a moderately amusing fashion that gets old after the first couple of minutes. Which just leaves nineteen and a bit half-hour episodes to fill.

Rebel Sports

When we heard (thanks sdf) that Rebel Wilson was on an American scriptwriting podcast talking about Australia’s dreaded “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, well… you knew we couldn’t stay away. The good stuff in Scriptnotes episode 182; The One with Dan Savage and Rebel Wilson starts around the 39 and a half minute mark, and when you hear Wilson tell her admiring hosts that Pizza “won the Australian version of the Emmys one year” (this did not actually happen) you know you’re in for some comedy gold.

[this isn’t going to make sense until you’ve read on, but still: considering what Wilson goes on to say about Australia’s attitude to success, why don’t the hosts question the fact that Australia even has a version of the Emmys? Surely if you’re successful here you get a boot in the arse, not some kind of prize?]

And gold is most certainly in these here hills, as a couple of minutes in Wilson reveals that the sinister Tall Poppy Syndrome is why she “wanted to live and work in America” – gee, guess that answers why she wanted to leave the success of  Monster House behind.

Her definition of this syndrome is blunt: “It’s when you get too good or too successful in Australia… people want to cut you down.” Seems kind of strange, but she’s speaking from personal experience: “That’s what happened to me in Australia, I was on all these different television shows and people were like “she’s had her go, let someone else have a go!’.” Make sure you’re listening closely, because you don’t want to miss the incredulous host murmuring “Amazing,” as if he can hardly believe his ears that such a twisted society could possibly exist.

For poor innocent, hard-working, massively talented and successful Rebel, things only got worse: “I’m now really experienced, I’m now ready to go the next step, to make my own movies, but the Australian system is like ‘you think you’re so good now, why don’t you go be unemployed’, and I’m like ‘No!’.”

That’s right: the ratings failure of Bogan Pride was down to “the Australian system” (presumably like Communism, but even more heavy-handed) demanding that Wilson be unemployed. Why don’t you explain to us exactly how that happened, Ms Wilson?

“In Australia there’s this bizarre culture where they celebrate the mediocre people.”

That’s at the 42 minute, 32 second mark for those playing at home, because you’re probably going to want to confirm for yourself that Rebel Wilson just said that everyone celebrated in Australia is “mediocre”. Bonus points for calling our culture “bizarre”, but considering we did give her major roles in at least four separate television programs it’s easy to see where she might have picked up that idea.

Not being a complete moron, Wilson does try to walk back what she’s just said – “I’m being very general in my explanation of what it is, but it is a real thing” – but soon enough she realises she’s so far out on a limb she might as well keep on going with the crazy, because it seems that Australians didn’t watch Chris Lilley’s latest show  “because they’re like ‘eh, seen it before, phfft.’ – but he’s one of our best comedic talents, an amazing guy.”

– and we’re going to stop you there Rebel, because what you seem to be saying is that because “he’s one of our best comedic talents”, he should get a free pass to make shit. Does anyone really think that “eh, seen it before” isn’t a reasonable reaction to Ja’mie: Private School Girl, Chris Lilley’s third series focusing on Ja’mie King, aka Lilley in a dress acting like a bitch?

At this point even the hosts have to speak up, so fantastic is the picture of this crazy backwards society.

Host: “What’s the attitude to Baz Luhrmann?”

Wilson: “The same.”

Host: “Wow, crazy.”

Yeah, didn’t Luhrmann win every award going at last year’s AFI Awards? And didn’t critics in the US generally think his version of The Great Gatsby was a bit of a mess? It’s starting to seem just a little bit like Wilson might be full of shit on this topic – but don’t worry, she hasn’t finished shovelling yet:

“I’m trying to change it – if you have a talent for something, like in sports or the arts – you should go for it, you should try hard and try to be the best.”

Ok. Does anyone seriously think that sportspeople in Australia are not encouraged to “try hard, try to be the best”? Now that she’s brought sports into it, suddenly lines like “It’s really frowned on in Australia to be exceptional in your field” are just… did Wilson hit her head over in America? Has she somehow confused Australia with The Land of Oz?

And by the time one of the hosts says “Australia is a big small town”, we’ve had just about enough of this self-serving bullshit. Tall Poppy Syndrome drove Wilson out of the country because we’re just so damn mean to our success stories, you say? Here’s a counter argument: Australians are generally aware that in our tiny media pool there isn’t really a lot of room for people who are – how can we put this – shithouse.

Unlike the US, where their much bigger entertainment industry means they can afford to keep average types around for years on the off chance they might come good or be somehow useful in something better than they are, here if you aren’t really, really good, people start asking why they’re wasting their time with you. It’s not “I was really good but they wanted to cut me down,” it’s “I thought I was really good and they kept telling me to get off the stage.”

Put another way, you don’t hear people who are actually successful long-term in Australian comedy – Working Dog say, or Dave Hughes or Will Anderson or even Shaun Micallef – going on about Tall Poppy Syndrome all that often.

As for the star of Pizza and Bogan Pride and Monster House and The Wedge? She can’t seem to shut up about it.

Short and to the Point

It’s a bit of a backhanded comment to say the less we see of Ryan Shelton the funnier he is, but let’s be honest: the highpoint of his solo work to date has been the short segments he did on Rove Live. Ok, that’s mainly because that’s pretty much been all of his solo work to date.

But during the break from doing whatever it is he does over at Hamish & Andy HQ Shelton had some time on his hands (and a wig on his head) so he decided to make his own sitcom. On Instagram. Where you can put up clips just so long as they run under ten seconds.

So yeah, Cliff (found on Shelton’s Instagram account) isn’t exactly a masterpiece of characterisation. Or anything else. In fact, the whole eight episodes barely goes longer than a minute, and once you get the main joke (the title kind of gives it away)… well, like we said, the whole thing barely runs a minute.

It’s silly but it’s kind of fun, and it’s built around a decent enough joke which automatically lifts it above 80% of online comedy (there is also one left-field bit involving dog years that made us laugh. Two jokes!). It’s the kind of thing we’d like to see more of, if only because we can think of a lot of old hands at sketch comedy who could probably do better.

Still, thumbs up to Shelton for giving it a shot and making a stupid idea work… though if the sight of Shelton in a ladies’ wig isn’t the kind of thing you think you’ll chuckle at, even a minute of this might be too long. Also, what happened to the red haired figure in the bed in episode one*? Thank God there’s going to be a second series later in the year…

 

*[edit] [also spoiler]: it’s just been pointed out in the comments that the red-haired figure pays off in the final episode. Yes, we suck at analysing comedy, feel free to disregard everything we’ve ever said about everything.

Comoedia ad Hitlerum, or Godwit’s Law

…Aaaannnddd we’re back after our traditional summer break during which, as usual, we’ve recovered from all that slipshod Australian comedy we’ve watched over the past year by slagging it off one last time in our annual awards. Yes, it is a kind of therapy for us. But now it’s time to start the cycle again as we move on to comedy 2015…

Danger 5 is back! In fact it’s been back for five episodes (the first of which aired on 4th January), all set in the glossy, neon-lit, fast food-fuelled world familiar from 1980’s American films and TV shows. Hitler’s still rampaging around the world for some reason, but this time he has his sights set on a bimbo High School student called Holly, who seems to be invulnerable. There are a few subplots as well – Tucker and Claire got married but now she’s dead and he can’t cope, and some of Hitler’s Nazi chums seem to have turned on him – but this is Danger 5, and it’s not really about the plot.

In this show the laughs come mainly from its parodies of 1980’s screen culture and the general ludicrousness of the situation (Nazis and dinosaurs!). Problem is that while the period visual stylings and characters types are pretty much spot on, Danger 5 is constantly substituting “ludicrous situation” for “random”. Too often in Danger 5 something happens that’s totally out of the blue, doesn’t relate to anything that’s happened so far and doesn’t even work in the weird universe of Danger 5, leaving you wondering what the hell just happened. Presumably such moments are there because the writers thought it would be funny, but in a show which is so focused on getting the look and feel right the laughs also need to be grounded in some sort of reality, even if it’s the reality of Danger 5 where Hitler can pop out an Esky at an Australia Day BBQ and start machine-gunning ocker-talking native animals to death.

Shaun Micallef is clearly an influence on the Danger 5 team – he even had a cameo in the second episode as a High School Principal – so let’s take a look at how his work compares. In Mad As Hell there are lots of jokes which arguably are “random”…except they’re not really. Shaun Micallef’s work is full of surrealism, oddness and surprise, yet everything makes a certain sense. Some of the funniest moments in Mad As Hell occur when Micallef isolates something, such as odd behaviour from a politician, and extends it to breaking point via a series of wild leaps of logic. The original thing might be pretty funny, but with each Micallef leap of logic it gets funnier and funnier, building up to, for example, a Tony Abbott election video in the style of the Henry Heng. Meanwhile in Danger 5, they’ll cut to a scene where someone’s suddenly got an animal head. For no reason. LOLZ?!

More generally, Danger 5 could just do with a few more out-and-out laughs. Ones that come from characters and situations rather than moments of sudden weirdness or “Oh yeah, I remember that from the 1980’s. Haha!” Because relying on weird shit and nostalgia will only get you so far in a seven-episode sitcom, you have to have laughs from the situations and characters too.