Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Brush with Comedy

What is it with comedians getting all cathartic and emotional in their old age on shows like Anh Do’s Brush with Fame?

Arguably, the rot started a decade ago with Enough Rope, where Andrew Denton asked famous people uber researched questions designed to make them cry. Most of them did (although props to Judith Lucy who famously didn’t rise to it).

Since then, TV producers have taken the celebrities crying idea and made it more high-concept. We’ve seen them looking into their genealogy and crying over their long-dead ancestors in Who Do You Think You Are? We’ve seen them getting all emotional when Julia Zemiro drives them back to their childhood home in Home Delivery. Now, celebrities are getting their portrait painted by Anh Do while he interviews them about their lives. And they’re crying again. And that’s before they see the painting he’s done!

To be fair, the painting Do did of last night’s guest Magda Szubanski wasn’t bad. She was complementary, anyway. And the big reveal of the portrait was preceded by some interesting chat about Szubanski’s life. Well, interesting if you want to hear about Szubanski’s Polish Resistance family, and her struggle with mental illness and her sexuality, stories which are already well-known if you saw her on Who Do You Think You Are? or read her autobiography Reckoning.

[SIDEBAR: Speaking of Reckoning, was anyone else annoyed that there was very little about Szubanski’s comedy career in there? We learn how she got into comedy and about some of her career highlights, but if you’re after an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the making of The D-Generation or Fast Forward, or even Kath & Kim, you’ll be disappointed.]

Anyway, what’s most interesting about shows like Brush with Fame – to us – is that their existence suggests that comedians doing comedy really, really isn’t something the general public want to see anymore and/or something broadcasters are happy to broadcast anymore. Famous comedians doing almost anything other than comedy = Ratings hit. Comedians doing what they’re famous for, comedy? = Sorry, we have no money for that.

And while Brush with Fame does what it sets out to do perfectly well, it seems kind of like a missed opportunity. Both Magda Szubanski and Anh Do are pretty funny when they’re on form, imagine what they could do if they were given half an hour of TV and the brief “Just be funny”.

Everything is Awesome

… except for When TV Was Awesome, which is pretty much shit.

But you already knew that, right? We don’t get a whole lot of mail here at Tumbleweeds HQ, and we get even fewer requests because everyone pretty much knows we hate everything (except for when we don’t), but we’ve already had two separate requests to cover (meaning beat up on) this series and trust us, for us that’s a flood.

So we’re kind of torn. We don’t really want to be bullies beating up on the playground loser, but on the other hand – which just happens to be clenched into a fist and is currently pounding away on some loser – When TV Was Awesome is just no damn good at all. Eh, why fight it? At least we can try to explain exactly why we’ve pushed this show to the ground and are now stomping on its genitals.

Since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of television, comedians have dreamt of a television show where they haven’t had to go out and film stuff. After all, there’s a heck of a lot of hilarious radio comedy out there and that doesn’t even have pictures. Sometimes these dreamers go down the “limited animation” path, as seen in the original Beavis & Butthead episodes or those staring competition clips on Big Train. And other times they try to re-voice films or old television shows. It’s a practice that has resulted in a lot of classic comedy, from Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lilly? to Hercules Returns to those Kevin Rudd clips on Rove to Bargearse and The Olden Days, which presumably you’re already familiar with.

Sometimes these dubbed versions work because the people dubbing them have crazy footage to work with. Sometimes they work because the people doing the dubbing put in the effort to re-edit the original footage to find and create new jokes. And sometimes the people doing the re-dubbing just ramble on with any old shit that comes into their head and you’re stuck watching an old quiz show from 1982 only now it’s about how a contestant says his skill is saying “Jack the Ripper” ten times in a row. Then he screws it up. Then the host lectures him on how he got it wrong and it’s not even a skill and fuck When TV Was Awesome is shit.

Ok, yes, the “Australia’s Got Talent 82” episode is pretty much a low point. At least “Man Boat” is a passable knockoff of one of the weaker installments of The Olden Days if you find lines like “up… your… bums!” hilarious and think much of the comedy in re-dubs comes from adding in annoyed sighs and grunts. Still, the rave joke was decent enough, and these days one decent joke in a six minute clip is a pretty strong result for an Australian comedy. Especially when the rest of the jokes are dubbing new dance music over old dance scenes and someone vomiting.

What this series does really hammer home is just how much thought went into The Late Show‘s redub clips. That classic gag from Bargearse where the train just keeps on going and going at a crossing is a really funny bit that’s also the kind of thing that you could do with any show featuring similar footage. It’s a joke that requires thought and editing to come up with – it’s not just “ha, that clip could look like something else with a new voiceover”, which is about as sophisticated as When TV Was Awesome ever gets.

So what happens here is that the show falls between two stools. There’s clearly been some thought put into it, but nowhere near enough thought – or time and effort – to turn this old footage into comedy that stands on its own. Clips are mostly just re-voiced rather than re-edited, and what edits there are seem largely to either be cutting out moments to jump ahead or repeating the same footage to lengthen a scene – it definitely doesn’t often feel like they’ve watched and rewatched the clips to find parts where two separate scenes can be edited together to get a laugh.

All that’s fine, mind you: it seems unlikely that this kind of project would have had the budget for a massive re-editing job. But if you’re going to base your comedy largely around people just saying dumb shit over old footage, then you really need to double down on the dumb shit. It’s just not enough to have the people on-screen say things they normally wouldn’t (well, after the first minute or so of cheap laughs it isn’t) – the lines have to be funny in their own right.

(and by that we also mean “lines that are funny because they work with the old footage in surprising or skillful new ways”)

What’s left is a show where much of the humour is meant to be coming from the idea of “hey look, old footage with new dumb stuff dubbed in!” Only the old footage is dull and the new dumb stuff isn’t all that funny. It’s just more utterly disposable comedy that was never going to work without a lot more resources put in – and at today’s ABC, resources and comedy are two things that definitely don’t go together.


Soul Mates II: Half Time Analysis

One of the advantages sketch comedy has over comedy serials is that producers can re-order them easily. Got lots of funny sketches in episode 2 but less in episode 5? Move some of the strong material from episode 2 to episode 5! Sure, it doesn’t make the series funnier overall, but it at least it ensures there’s a consistent level of funny.

The makers of Soul Mates have no such luxury. If there’s a laugh lull in one of their sketch serials, they’re buggered. What’s that you say? They could make their serials consistently funnier in the first place? True. But given that we’re halfway through the second series of Soul Mates we think it’s fair to make the following call: the makers of Soul Mates are happy with the level they’re on. They haven’t learnt from the mistakes they made in series 1, they’ve just given us more of the same:

Hipsters are funny because they have beards and stupid clothes, and come up with stupid ideas for shops, and have rich parents who keep funding their bound-to-fail schemes. 1980s secret agents from New Zealand are funny because they have stupid accents and moustaches, and they’re going to a ridiculous amount of effort to get back their national pride. And cave people are funny because… oh, you get the idea.

The comic premise behind Soul Mates is that it’s funny if you take some pop-culture stereotypes and put them into a hyperreal context. And that’s it. You don’t need to write funny lines for the characters, you just need to get them to behave as they’d behave and it’s automatically funny.

Or, in other words, it’s taking the theory of how to write drama – that you create some characters and put them into a situation and the drama comes from the characters interacting with each other in the context of the circumstances they’re in – and applying that to comedy. Problem is, you don’t get big laughs that way. In comedy, characters don’t need to be well-defined – in fact, it helps if they’re not. And in comedy, it’s acceptable to be a little flexible with your characters if it allows them to deliver a killer line to gets laughs.

The makers of Soul Mates don’t even have the dramedy excuse to fall back on (you know the one, it’s where half an hour of television comedy with no laughs in it gets away with it because it’s not all about the laughs, there’s actually a dramatic subtext to this, yeah?), they’ve just produced something that isn’t particularly hilarious.

There are three more episodes of Soul Mates to go. And given there’s US money behind it, probably a whole bunch more to come. Great. We really, really hope you enjoy them, coz we sure ain’t!

End Run is a Gridiron Term, Right?

Press release time!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016 — Fresh off the back of worldwide viral sensation Activewear, Sydney based Skit Box have passed the halfway mark filming their Fresh Blood series Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. This 6×30 minute sketch series has been commissioned thanks to a partnership between ABC TV, Screen Australia and NBCUniversal’s ad-free comedy streaming channel Seeso.

The series is written, directed and stars Adele Vuko (Soul Mates, This Is Littleton), Greta Lee Jackson (Crazy Bastards, In a Woman’s World) and Sarah Bishop (Red Christmas, Crushed).

Skit Box is well positioned to deliver comedy from a uniquely female perspective; as well as the three Creator / Writer / Directors, the Executive Producer, Producer, Cinematographer, Production Designer, Hair, Makeup and Costume Designers are all women. Erin White, Nikos Andronicos and Kacie Anning also guest direct.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am features a range of sketch formats with recurring characters and storylines, as well as unique one-off content in each episode.  Special guests include David Collins (Umbilical Brothers), Triple J’s Matt Okine and Christiaan Van Vuuren (Bondi Hipsters). Fellow Fresh Blood initiative recipients Aunty Donna, Henry Stone, Paul Ayre and Veronica Milsom complete a lineup of established and emerging Australian comedians.

“It’s great that we get to make a show that dissects modern sexism whilst also watching guys in our crew carry lots of heavy stuff for us,” said Sarah.

“We were really excited to create a show with Screen Australia, ABC, Seeso and Screen NSW, they are all such a wealth of support and are so pragmatic about fostering new and creative show ideas,” said Adele.

“Have you ever noticed that Donald Duck walks around without pants, but when he loses his shirt, he covers his lower half? What’s up with that?” asked Greta.

Screen Australia and ABC’s Fresh Blood initiative has been kickstarting the careers of young comedy writers, directors and performers since 2013. With Seeso now coming on board the series will also be available in the US, helping to grow the profile of Australia’s best new comedy creators.

“Watching these talented women grow over the past two years has been a privilege.  I am so grateful to our backers for Fresh Blood, giving emerging talent like Skit Box a breakthrough into the industry,” said producer Michelle Hardy.

Head of ABC Entertainment Jon Casimir said, “The team behind Wham Bam are the best kind of troublemakers: smart, funny, charming and full of bite. We’re lucky to know them and even luckier to be launching their debut comedy series on the world.”

“It has been extremely rewarding to see Skit Box progress through the ranks of Fresh Blood, moving from their hilarious gender-bending sketches, to a confident and popular pilot capable of attracting international finance for this full series. We’re sure Adele, Sarah & Greta will make a blistering debut season,” said Mike Cowap, Screen Australia’s Investment Manager.

Seeso’s Kelsey Balance said: “It’s a dream come true to work with such a talented team of strong, comedic women. Their hilarious and poignant sketches have already made an impact in the zeitgeist in an international way and we can’t wait to share this show with our US audience.”


Additional Notes:

Skit Box have achieved over 30 million hits worldwide and have been featured internationally on The New York Times, Buzzfeed, NBC’s The Today Show, InStyle, Glamour, Perez Hilton, The Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and many more. They were recently named on Mamamia’s list of Australia’s Top 10 Female Comedians.

As well as Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am, Skit Box have several upcoming high profile projects including their award winning live comedy stage show Skit Box Presents, and a feature film The Retreat which is in development with Screen Australia.

Seeso is a new digital comedy streaming channel from NBCUniversal and have already picked up several other Australian ABC comedies including Soul Mates and Fancy Boy.

Sure, we didn’t exactly love Skit Box’s Fresh Blood effort, but hey, what’s new there.

What’s slightly more interesting is the way that the ABC seems to have basically given up on doing anything more than fuck-all with new talent – unless it’s Luke McGregor. The situation we now have seems to go something like this:

a): be a comedian or comedy group that’s good enough or has contacts enough to have people saying “why don’t they have a TV show?”

b): get onto one of the ABC’s numerous initiatives to develop new talent.

c): ignore or fail to realise that the ABC has zero interest in actually doing anything involving new talent as they only have maybe a half dozen comedy slots a year and once you factor in The Weekly, The Chaser, Gruen, Shaun Micallef – he’s coming back with Mad as Hell and Ex PM next year, by the way – and the three or four other established shows competing for the other slot (Black Comedy, Utopia, Upper Middle Bogan, whatever the Tasmanian government wants to fund) – there’s literally no money for anything else.

d): get US funding. C’mon, out of ABC TV, Screen Australia and “NBCUniversal’s ad-free comedy streaming channel Seeso”, who do you think is holding the purse strings?

e): become a US show – or, more likely, already be the kind of generic “international” comedy that’s largely influenced by US comedians.

f): have just enough Australian input that the ABC can put out press releases like this in an attempt to make it look like they’re nurturing local talent.

g): be aired in Australia as “local content” despite being almost entirely bought and paid for from overseas.

And if you’re Please Like Me, you can then:

h): rate extremely badly.

i): keep coming back because the Americans are paying for new episodes.

j): gradually alienate audiences because it now looks like the ABC is spending money on a show people actively dislike.

“It has been extremely rewarding to see Skit Box progress through the ranks of Fresh Blood, moving from their hilarious gender-bending sketches, to a confident and popular pilot capable of attracting international finance for this full series.”

Guess we should stop trying to pitch that reboot of Kingswood Country then.

Where Men Chunder

There’s a lot to like about Abe Forsythe’s latest film Down Under, so let’s skip over that part quickly so we can get to the good stuff. Well, there’s a lot to like if you look at it as an Australian film; as an Australian comedy film… well, like we said, we’ll get to the good stuff later.

Considering the seemingly iron-clad limits on what kind of films Australia can make these days – “serious middle class drama so please hire us America”, “genre death in the outback so please hire us America” and “American film made in Australia” – Down Under rates simply because it’s something different: a comedy set the day after the 2005 Cronulla riots.

It’s about issues that are still relevant (what happens to a community when people divide themselves by race or tribe), it features some memorable performances, and despite what we’re about to say in the rest of this review it’s the kind of film that’s worth checking out if only because it’s a break from the usual forgettable pap our local film-makers serve up.

All that said, this is first and foremost a comedy and as a comedy it’s not much good. Borrowing so heavily from the Four Lions playbook Chris Morris should have been listed as a creative consultant, the comedy angle is that while the riots themselves were a serious issue, what we have here is four dickheads – no wait, two groups of four dickheads, so it’s clearly going one better than Four Lions – roaming the streets the day after the riots (so the riots themselves aren’t trivialised, see?) to protect their right to roam the streets.

With eight main characters plus a bunch of supporting cast there’s not a whole lot of room for in-depth characterisation here. Basically, whether you’re Leb or Skip you’re either an idiot who thinks driving around looking for someone to bash is a good idea, or an idiot who thinks driving around looking for someone to bash is a bad idea but you get dragged into it by your mates. Or you’re someone with mild Down’s Syndrome who is clearly going to be the smartest, most insightful character here because driving around looking for someone to bash is a very stupid idea indeed.

To give the film credit, for the most part it doesn’t try to redeem any of its characters by pulling a last minute “aww, they ain’t so bad really” move. And Forsythe does a bunch of smart stuff with the script to point out that both groups are, despite their differences, basically the same: they both pull messed-up armed robberies at around the same time, for one thing.

That said, those armed robberies are also a sign of one of this film’s biggest comedy flaws. Rather than building our sympathies while bringing his characters closer to doing something despicable as Four Lions did – where the would-be terrorists are really just a threat to themselves right up until the final act – these guys swing between bungling dickheads and actual threats to those around them. Which messes up the comedy, as it’s hard for someone to go back to being a hilarious screw-up after a serious dramatic scene involving threatening an innocent party.

We’re not saying these tonal shifts aren’t intentional: Forsythe signposts his interest in that kind of violent swing from comedy to drama and back with a scene early on where the Lebanese crew visit a drug dealer (David Field) to get a gun. His mansion / drug den is exclusively staffed by fetishised Asian men, he’s depicted as a camp old queen who just happens to be randomly violent, and you’d be a lot more entertained re-watching the drug deal scene from Boogie Nights as this is basically a lift (tonally at least) from that only a whole lot worse.

What we are saying is that while there’s a lot of interesting stuff here, Down Under rarely manages to take that extra step to make it funny. The way the older characters here are the ones who facilitate the violence without participating? That’s an interesting thing to say. The way these scenes fail to be funny in any substantive way? Yeah, that’s a problem.

And it’s not like it isn’t trying. This is packed with gags, and on occasion they even work – while every single “shock twist” reveal is painfully obvious, often the riffing that follows will cough up some quality laughs. The film’s structure even suggests the ideal format for this material: a series of comedy sketches about these different yet similar dickheads where we check in on them for 90 seconds or so as they hoon around, get a decent laugh, and move on.  Because there really isn’t enough comedy here for a feature film.

Look, if you find lots and lots of swearing hilarious, this is a gold mine. Jokes like “these muslims don’t respect our women [answers phone] what’d ya want ya fuckin’ slut?” aren’t exactly thin on the ground either. And as for violent gangs roaming the streets looking for someone to bash while “ironic” pop tracks play – including the Dawson’s Creek theme – well, this should satisfy all your needs and more because it happens at least a half dozen times here.

But where Four Lions said “hey, terrorists are people – often stupid people, but people”, which is a controversial stance to take even today, what is Down Under trying to say? That the people behind the Cronulla riots were idiots – not regular folks but obvious, near-Housos-level dickheads of a kind no-one watching would identify as – but also that there were idiots on both sides so hey “grew here not flew here” types relax because you’re only part of the problem? And even in a film entirely about a world full of dickheads isn’t having only one female character – a shrieking pregnant bogan – kind of sketchy?

Also VAGUE SPOILER but the moment at the film’s climax where a main character is killed off in maybe five seconds in a wacky comedy accident is a pretty big bum note – it happens so fast it’s hard to take in, it happens off-camera so it’s hard to even know what happened, and considering the role the character’s played in the film as one of the few sensible ones this zany bungling death (again, off-camera so there isn’t even a visual joke there) doesn’t really work on any level.

If you’ve ever wanted proof that comedy is harder to get right than drama, this is the film for you. If this material had been turned into a straightforward drama, it… well, there would have been problems, sure. But it’s when this is being basically dramatic – or occasionally when it lets the comedy arise naturally from the material (like when the white guys are trying to explain they’re only bashing Lebs tonight, not Asians or any other race) – that it comes together as something worthwhile.

“Fuck”, on the other hand, isn’t really the set-up for or the punchline to a joke.





The Gruen Identity

What kind of mangled, dead-inside, meths-drinking husk would you have to be to watch Gruen week after week? What possible joy could you have left in your life that watching an endless hategasm pumping black spooge over the very idea of “community” in the name of making a quick buck was worth your while?

“How good is advertising,” says panellist Russell Howcroft (executive general manager, Channel Ten), “without advertising we wouldn’t know that story” – that story being the advertising-friendly story of someone doing something brave that we didn’t hear because we were too busy stomping the shit out of our television like we do every time we check back in with Gruen. Fuck that show.

You know how good advertising is? Not very fucking good at all. The only time advertising tells us anything, it’s because it wants something from us. Advertising doesn’t educate or inform; it exploits. That makes it ripe for comedy; comedy that rips the absolute shit out of its nasty self-serving world-view and the ghastly products it creates. You know, the exact opposite of the approach Gruen takes.

“Russell,” host Wil Anderson who sure as shit isn’t going to be getting away scott free here either, says, “should an ad tell you what the product is?” Russell laughs. Because he knows and we know that the whole basis of advertising is lying to people to get them to do something they otherwise might not do. And this is a show that celebrates that?

Look, if this was a serious drama we wouldn’t care in the slightest about its morals. Some of the best dramas of our time are morally dubious and yes, we are talking about Hardcore Henry. But for comedy to work, and by work we mean “be funny”, it really does have to try to side with the underdog. Someone powerful making fun of the weak isn’t comedy: it’s bullying.

But that’s all that Gruen does. It sides with the billion-dollar advertising industry against human beings and celebrates its ability to lie to the weak and powerless. Seriously, when your “non-capitalist running dog” panelist is Todd Sampson (board of directors, Fairfax Media; board of directors, Qantas; non-executive chairman, Leo Burnett Australia), you’ve fucked up big time.

And so the appeal of Gruen is the appeal of being friends with the bully. You’re smarter than the people being pushed around; you’re on the inside mocking those stupid enough to be out in the rain. But c’mon, this is a show where they look at a bunch of ads with a sexy sportswoman running around in a skin tight costume AND THEN HAVE TO EXPLAIN WHAT HER APPEAL IS TO ADVERTISERS.

Gruen isn’t exactly treating its audience like marketing geniuses. This is a show that shows ads and then has people sitting around explaining what we just saw. News flash: these are ads. They’re selling stuff. If they have to be explained, they’re not working. So if these are the world’s best commercials, and Gruen thinks you have to have them explained to you, what does Gruen think of you?

Even if you think we’re complete nutters for rabbiting on about the morals of a show that’s basically World Wackiest Commercials, it’s hard to deny that as a show it’s just plain, no-added nuts, shit. Wil Anderson tells the kind of arse-out gags left over from Good News Week then they cut to panellists laughing. Hey, Gruen: you have a live audience. They are laughing. What more convincing do we need? Sure, half the “comedy’ comes from showing a commercial then having Anderson just make some weird farting noise afterwards, but having Howcroft laughing at something in no way sells the idea that what we just heard was a joke.

Look, we get it. Companies spend millions of dollars on creating commercials. They grab some of the best creative talent in the world and put them to work creating these ads. They’re smart, they’re funny, they’re compelling, and bolting some half-arsed panel chat onto it while Wil Anderson does the same hosting job he’s been doing since The Glasshouse is a genius programming move. But if we were to praise Gruen simply for exploiting a free resource we’d be no better than them.

Gruen can’t be critical of the advertising industry because to exist it requires the goodwill of the advertising industry. We’re not the world’s biggest fans of The Checkout, but at least that’s a show that puts its audience ahead of an industry built on lying to them. We say this every time we talk about Gruen because it never stops being true: it’s nothing but one big advertisement for the advertising industry. Advertising is banned on the ABC, so exactly what the fuck is it doing on there?

Also, what’s going on with Todd Sampson’s hair?



Survival of the Funniest

One of the things that’s probably too obvious to be worth mentioning but it’s a pretty dry period for comedy at the moment so here goes is that the days of single-theme comedy shows are all but over. Remember that nightmarish period where it seemed everyone was trying to do “Spicks & Specks, but with [BLANK]”? Now even the idea of Spicks & Specks seems antiquated. A quiz show just about music? Who’s going to tune into that?

Yeah yeah, we know: the real topic of Spicks & Specks wasn’t music but nostalgia with quiz show hijinks and some much-loved series regulars thrown in. Hey, ABC – there’s your formula for a successful comedy quiz show right there so don’t come crying to us when Hard Quiz crashes on take off. But our point remains. With television audiences shrinking away, the idea of limiting your show’s audience by focusing tightly on a single topic seems somewhat suicidal.

Wait, did someone just shout “Top Gear“? Thanks for the update from 2011. Sure, you can make a successful comedy show about just about anything if you have the right team. Do we need to list the literally hundreds of shows that have failed because they didn’t have the right team? Finding “the right team” is a job so tricky television networks have experts working on it around the clock and they fail 99 times out of 99: expecting that your comedy show about examining disused railway infrastructure is going to be a smash hit thanks to “the right team” is a great way to make sure you don’t have a comedy show.

So instead of going deep on a specific subject we have show after show trying to mine comedy from “the news”, which is basically just an excuse to cover as wide a range of topics as possible. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, of course – you want your comedians to be able to follow the laughs wherever they might be able to find them. But the best comedy is usually a mix of the keenly observed general observation and the keenly observed extremely specific observation. When a show is forced to try and get laughs out of “a celebrity said something silly” time and time again, unless you’re very good at your job the laughs dry up pretty quickly.

But what else are our television comedians supposed to do? The more you narrow down the focus of the show the more likely it is that you’ll turn off potential viewers. Worse, thanks to the fracturing of the media over the last decade or so (thanks, internet), audiences now are less tolerant of things they’re not already interested in. These days you can just barely get away with a comedy show devoted to politics during an election; if you’re wondering why we don’t seem to have any sports comedy shows on television (though Triple M has dusted off Roy & HG again) during the Olympics this year, there’s your (most likely) answer.

This is, of course, the genius of the otherwise contemptible Gruen series of shows. What’s the one thing everyone watching television has in common? They’re interested in television. Which, for 5/6ths of the Australian broadcasting spectrum, means advertisements. Of course, by that logic then Randling – you remember, the “word-based game show” – should have been a massive ratings smash but presumably television viewers just aren’t interested in words. Or Andrew Denton.

Come to think about it, all those news-based quasi-comedies – whether it’s The Project or The Feed or The Weekly or the reigning king when it comes to being actually entertaining, Have You Been Paying Attention? – are really just about television too. After all, that’s where most of the news they cover comes from; it’s still a bit tricky basing a television segment around a Facebook update no matter how hard even the “legitimate” news tries to make it work.

Whoops, we seem to have accidentally written a pitch to bring back Fast Forward.

Brothers got Soul Mates

We’ve always been a bit nonplussed about Soul Mates, which returned to the ABC last night. It’s neither especially bad nor especially good comedy, but with its recurring characters and serial structure, it is at least an interesting take on the sketch show.

Returning in series 2 are the Bondi Hipsters, Dom and Adrian, who’ve opened a new café in Bondi called Closed. The deal with Closed is that it looks like it’s closed, and the only people who get served are the ones who get the joke. It’s the kind of comedy concept that sounds reasonably funny on paper, but it turned out to be less funny as actual sketches. (We quite liked Dom and Adrian’s coffee song, though.)

Also returning are the cavemen, Sticks and Rocky, who in this episode start a small business and quickly find that their workers aren’t up to scratch. This evolves into a quite clever, well-observed piece of workplace satire, picking apart the management/worker relationship, but it’s not hugely hilarious. It’s more the sort of comedy that makes you nod sagely rather than guffaw.

At the sillier end of the Soul Mates spectrum are the Kiwi Assassins, secret agents from New Zealand living in 1980’s Australia, tasked with undermining Aussie success. It’s nice to see Francis Greenslade as a mad scientist type, trying to get Phar Lap’s heart beating again, but coming off the back of Mad As Hell, it’s clear which show used Greenslade’s talents best.

But if this all sounds like a re-hash of series 1, don’t worry, there are new characters too. A series of sketches set in ancient Egypt show the royal family instructing slaves to renovate a demi-god’s tomb. With much of the plot and humour revolving around the power play and sexual politics of the ancient Egyptian elite, it reminded us a lot of Tinto Brass’ Caligula – not a film we thought would come to mind when watching Australian sketch comedy!

And perhaps that’s a clue to the problem of this show: all the characters are either hyper-real stereotypes and/or re-workings of characters from pop culture. And while that kind of thing has been the bread and butter of sketch comedy since forever, what makes sketch comedy funny is when comedians add an extra twist to it. There’s something funny in, say, two cavemen inventing – and finding the problems in – workplace culture, but just showing what would happen if that happened isn’t terribly funny. And as different a take on sketch as Soul Mates is, we find it disappointing because all we want from a sketch show is laughs.

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Press release time!

Tom Gleeson presents Hard Quiz

Monday, August 1, 2016 — ABC TV is pleased to announce auditions are underway for Tom Gleeson’s new show, Hard Quiz.

Host Tom Gleeson says “With the audition process, it’s been impressive watching people demonstrating a deep knowledge without resorting to Google. Actually, it’s been impressive just watching adults spending half an hour not glued to their phones.”

With Gleeson at the helm it will obviously be funny, but Tom is a smart guy and has a genuine love of knowledge and information, so contestants will be really tested.  The format is Darwinian and highly competitive.

Filming commences later this month in Melbourne and will air on ABC TV later in the year.

G’wan, guess which line made us laugh out loud. Here’s a clue: it wasn’t a happy laugh. Oh no. No, it was more a bitter, caustic choking sound – the kind of sound you’d make upon realising that yes, this is exactly where we are with Australian comedy today and there’s very little chance of things getting better in the short- to medium-term future. Because the only network commissioning new Australian comedy actually believes this shit.

Put another way, we sure weren’t laughing at the “joke” made by host Tom Gleeson.

The Raw and the Cooked

Press release time!

Comedian Anh Do paints Aussie celebs in new ABC series

Friday, July 29, 2016 — Anh Do loves to paint portraits and he loves getting to know people.  Premiering Wednesday August 24th at 8pm, the eight-part series, Anh’s Brush with Fame combines the two.

Australians love Anh Do for his comedy, his best-selling books and his work in film and TV, but not many know he’s also a passionate painter.  In fact, Anh was a finalist in the 2014 Archibald Prize where he created a memorable and vivid portrait of his father.

In this series Anh gets up close and personal with a number of Australian celebrities as he paints their portrait.  Signing up to sit in the chair are Amanda Keller, Jimmy Barnes, Magda Szubanski, Craig McLachlan, Anthony Mundine, Kyle Sandilands, Kate Ceberano and Dr Charlie Teo.

For Anh to do his best work as a portrait painter, he needs to find the soul of the person, so while painting, he digs deep into their psyche and discovers what makes them tick.  As he talks through their life, childhood and formative years, along with the humour, Anh unearths their deepest darkest secrets.  Our celebrities also share private and rare archival material, such as personal photos and videos, which further paints a very different picture of them.

It’s a journey for both the artist and his subject.  As Anh chats to them and discovers more about their past, this affects the way he paints their portrait. He also bonds with them as they find they have shared experiences and hardships. It’s a cathartic, emotional ride between the two of them as they share laughter, tears and exclusive stories.

The emotional journey that Anh and his subject are on, leads to the final big reveal – when the celebrity finally gets to see their completed portrait. Will they like Anh’s version of them? It’s a dramatic moment of truth each time.

Anh’s Brush with Fame screens Wednesday 24 August at 8pm and on iview.


Ok, yeah, this at least has some vague reason for existing, as Do actually is a halfway decent painter. But c’mon, what the fuck’s next? Bob Downe explores celebrities shoe collections to find out the truth behind the showbiz facade? The Sandman carries us through the psychologically profound world of famous folks’ bathmats? Plucka Duck takes your favourite television personalities back to the nightclub toilets where they did their first line of gak?

Meanwhile in actual comedy, The Katering Show team are answering foodie questions over at here and here. Yep, you know times are tough when we’re directing you to actual words on a screen in the hope you’ll laugh at them.

Lord knows that never happens here…