Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

The Return of Uncle Chop-Chop

Heath Franklin, perhaps best known for his impersonation of the late Chopper Read, now has his own TV series…in New Zealand. Franklin as Chopper, it seems, is pretty popular in New Zealand, and appears on TV and tours live quite often. His series, Chopper’s Republic of Anzakistan, is currently airing on TV3.

Playing on the historic friendship and rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, the series imagines that both countries have united as the Republic of Anzakistan with Chopper as leader. Dressed like a South American dictator Chopper addresses the united country, using his speeches to ponder the differences and similarities between the two nations. But it’s there that the high concept of this series ends, for this is really just an excuse to showcase stand-up from Chopper, introduce guest acts (from both countries) and present some sketches about the ANZACs in the trenches. It’s basically Legally Brown, but with more white people and swearing.

Chopper’s stand-up is exactly what you’d expect (honed bogan material that gets solid laughs), the selection of guests is pretty impressive (Sam Simmons, Sammy J and Randy, Jesse Dixon as country singer Wilson Dixon and some good local acts) but the sketches need work.

The concept of an Englishman, an Australian and a New Zealander in the World War I trenches is reasonable enough, but hey, wouldn’t it be funny if the Englishman had to take the coffee orders and the Australian and the New Zealand keep changing their minds about whether they want a soya mocha or a skinny cap? It’s 1915, guys!!! Oh, and none of them can get phone reception, gee these Turkish telcos in 1915 are crap!!! Yeah, it’s that kind of sketch comedy. Probably best to fast forward through those bits.

Chopper’s addresses to the nation are also a bit half-arsed, but hey, it’s a way to link the show together. Sort of. Seriously, they probably just should have framed this as a hands-across-the-Tasman-Sea-stand-up showcase – and without the sketches they could have had room for another guest! But as shows of this type go, Chopper’s Republic of Anzakistan isn’t bad. It’s currently available in Australia if you know where to look for this sort of thing.

How Not To Create a Watchable Television Program

Okay, it’s our own fault: we shouldn’t have given How Not to Behave a second try. But after one of the most pointless opening episodes in recent memory, we assumed – foolishly, as it turned out – that the only way for things to go was up. Surely it couldn’t go on week in week out being nothing more than a clumsily thrown together collection of half-arsed sketches and awkward couch banter?

Well, yes it could.

In fact, it seems to have gotten worse. What we assumed was moderately warm and fun chemistry between the two hosts in episode one now simply seems like two decent comedy professionals doing their best despite only barely interacting with each other. And when they do, the painfully obvious editing makes sure to destroy any real interaction they might have going on.

Meanwhile, the sketches continue to be amongst the most bizarrely pointless things we’ve ever seen, and we watched at least two episodes of that ABC sports quiz show that Peter Helliar hosted. We’re usually somewhat wary of revealing the true depths of our ignorance, but help us out here: what exactly is the joke meant to be? That we, the audience, are so clueless we need this kind of ultra-basic advice on how to live our lives? Or that the advice being handed out is so rubbish no-one would follow it? We get that the “don’t do this” parts are meant to be funny – they’re not, but whatever – but what’s the point of the “good” advice?

As for the prank stuff… well, it’s prank stuff. So pretty much totally pointless once you get past “how embarrassment”. Remember Candid Camera? Of course not, you’re not a thousand years old. But at least Candid Camera would pretend that the idea of the show was to reveal how people act when they think they’re being unobserved: when you can tell from the set-up of a prank that the end result is going to be “they’re so embarrassed!”, you probably don’t need to bother doing the actual prank. Especially as the year is not currently 2007.

And then along comes an expert in stuff to tell us about stuff. In theory this could be interesting, only hello: we came here for the comedy. Are these people experts in making us laugh? Are they experts in a topic that will make us laugh? Are they even just wacky comedy experts we can laugh at because they’re obsessed with some obscure topic? And every episode to date the answer comes back: fuck no.

But what really got us about the whole “revisiting” situation was this: nothing at all had changed. There’s not the slightest sign that anyone had looked at the first episode and thought “hmm, maybe tighten this up a little”. It was as if the cast & crew had looked at the first episode, said “perfect, fourteen more just like that and we’re done”.

Well, they got the “we’re done” part right.

Writing Wrongs

A little under a year ago we flipped our lids when the Australian Writer’s Guild awards – known as the AWGIES – gave Wednesday Night Fever their “Comedy – Sketch or Light Entertainment” prize. Our readers were quick to inform us that while this was obviously a result no-one could be happy with, it wasn’t quite as bad as it originally seemed… mostly because the AWGIES are generally seen as a bit of a joke.

That’s because a): you have to be an AWG member to nominate your show – yes, as the scriptwriter of your show you’re clearly best positioned to decide that your show should win an award – and b): hardly anyone of note in the world of Australian comedy is a member. So you’d think the announcement of this year’s nominations would pass by with nary a murmur from us now that we know they mean pretty much nothing. But you’d be wrong!

If this line-up from the 2015 Awgie nominees wasn’t grim enough:


Maximum Choppage: ‘A Fistful of Pastels’ – Lawrence Leung

It’s A Date: Series 2, ‘Worst Thing’ – Phil Lloyd with Peter Helliar

Danger 5: ‘Back to the Führer’ – Dario Russo and David Ashby

Please Like Me: Series 2, ‘Scroggin’ – Josh Thomas

Then say hello to the true face of terror:


Only one nomination and the winner will be announced on the night.

Just FYI, the sketch comedies in 2014 were: Black Comedy, Clarke & Dawe, Fresh Blood, Kinne, Legally Brown, Mad As Hell, The Roast, Soul Mates, and This Is Littleton.

Shows that could be considered “Light Ent” in 2014 were: The Agony of Modern Manners, Back Seat Drivers, Bogan Hunters, The Chaser’s Media Circus, Comedy Up Late, Dirty Laundry Live, The Friday Night Crack Up, Hamish & Andy’s South American Gap Year, Have You Been Paying Attention?, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, Plonk, The Project, Reality Check, Spicks & Specks, Stand Up @ Bella Union, and Total Football. Only one nomination you say?

Meanwhile, over in narrative comedy we had the following in 2014: Die On Your Feet, It’s A Date, Jonah From Tonga, Please Like Me, The Moodys, Upper Middle Bogan, Utopia, Maximum Choppage, and Danger 5. And yet this was the best they could do? Well, at least no-one nominated Jonah.

(and what happened with The Moodys? They were all over this last year)

Fortunately it’s not all horrible, horrible news:


Crazy Bastards: Episodes 1-3 – Justin Heazlewood

The Katering Show – Kate McLennan with Kate McCartney

BedHead: Episode 1 and 4 – Jon Dalgaard and Claire Phillips with Tom Keele, Reece Jones and Ben Mathews

Restoration – Stuart Willis with Matthew Clayfield

Maybe the future of Australian comedy really is online after all?

We don’t want to say the AWGIES are complete and utter rubbish – we wouldn’t bother mentioning them if they were. And in some areas, such as feature films, they seem at least moderately representative. But when it comes to comedy the fact is that they are rubbish, for two reasons:

*They’re rubbish because they’re not representative – it’s a member’s only club.

*They’re rubbish because of the shows nominated – if this is the best they can attract, no wonder the big names steer clear.

There’s a very large gap in the awards market for something aimed at praising quality rather than popularity, chosen by people who actually know their stuff rather than just shout the loudest. By focusing on the writing side of things, you might think the AWGIES could be those awards – but only if you knew nothing about them.

The Answer’s Still No

Press release time!

Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me season 3 premieres on ABC

Thursday, July 23, 2015 — ABC TV is pleased to announce the highly-anticipated third season of Josh Thomas’ comedy drama Please Like Me will premiere on ABC on Thursday, October 15 at 9.30 p.m. The third season also marks the show’s move from ABC2 to ABC’s main channel.

Inspired by the stand-up comedy and real life experiences of Thomas – the series creator, writer and star – Please Like Me explores the world of a man who’s in no hurry to grow up.

This season Thomas extends his talents by taking a seat in the director’s chair for an episode. Original director Matthew Saville also returns. The new 10-part series will give viewers another glimpse into Josh’s darkly funny world.

Joining the cast is award-winning actress, Emily Barclay as Ella. Original cast members reprising their roles alongside her and Josh Thomas are Thomas Ward (Tom), Caitlin Stasey (Claire), Hannah Gadsby (Hannah), Keegan Joyce (Arnold), Debra Lawrance in her AACTA award-winning role of Mum, David Roberts (Dad), Renee Lim (Mae) and, arguably the show’s biggest star, Josh’s dog, John.

When asked what viewers can expect to see that’s different this time around, Josh Thomas said, “I lost too much weight in my face this year and now I have my dad’s face. Otherwise Season 3 is our best yet”.

Since its debut on ABC2 in 2013, Please Like Me has been praised by critics around the world. It was named one of the year’s best shows by prestigious publications including The New Yorker, TIME and The Los Angeles Times and has been named in the top five TV shows of the year by America’s Entertainment Weekly for two years in a row. It has earned a swag of awards and nominations here and overseas including nominations for the International Emmy Award, the Rose d’Or Awards, the GLAAD Media Awards and the Logie Awards for Most Outstanding Comedy, Most Outstanding Light Entertainment and Most Popular Actor. It has also been nominated for nine AACTA Awards, taking home the trophies for Best Comedy Series, Best Screenplay in Television and Best Performance in a TV Comedy.

Rick Kalowski, ABC Head of Comedy, said, “We’re thrilled to introduce Please Like Me to a whole new ABC audience with its move to our main channel for its third season. We know it will delight existing fans and find many new ones”.

Please Like Me is a Pigeon Fancier/John & Josh International production, produced in association with ABC TV and US broadcaster Pivot.

Good news! The ABC still has no idea when the Sammy J and Randy musical sitcom will air, but they can warn us this is coming three months out.

Presumably the actual news here is that Please Like Me is coming to ABC1… just like every other ABC2 show before it that wasn’t axed in 2014. We’re starting to think the rumours that ABC2 is no longer running original programming are true, mostly because they don’t really seem to be running any original programming. So the headline here really should read “Show Already Bought and Paid For by US Network Pivot Will Air on Only ABC Network Currently Airing New Comedy Programming”.

Also, in comedy news, we’ll be glad if anything in Please Like Me is half as funny as this line from the ABC’s current Master of Laughter:

Rick Kalowski, ABC Head of Comedy, said, “We’re thrilled to introduce Please Like Me to a whole new ABC audience with its move to our main channel for its third season.”

Yeah, the ABC1 audience has no idea that ABC2 even exists. Those constant promos for it on ABC1 must be utterly bewildering to them.

Of course, what he really means is “Please Like Me rated so badly on ABC2 because there’s basically no floor on that network’s viewing figures – thankfully ABC1 has a bunch of rusted on viewers that guarantees this season will be the highest-rating one to date. Which will come in very handy if Pivot decide to give Thomas more funding for yet more Please Like Me, because then we can say we’re showing it because of higher ratings and not because it’s a show hardly anyone watches but we get it for close to nothing.”

Still, we’ll be very interested to see just how many viewers Thomas gets on ABC1. Mostly because the ratings are probably going to be the only thing that’s going to be original, interesting or funny about yet more Please Like Me.

Hardy Working

Earlier this week Screen Australia announced their latest round of funding for 2015. One of the names that came up in the various reports about what was being funded was one Marieke Hardy, co-writer and creator of the memorable sitcom Laid. Being always inclined to keep track of perhaps this country’s only non-acting sitcom writer to get her face on the cover of The Green Guide, we googled the title of this project – which was receiving an as yet undisclosed amount of “story development” funding for 2015 – to try and find out a little more.

As it turns out we found out two things. This is the first:

Jungleboys FTV Pty Ltd
Comedy, Drama, Romantic comedy
Producer Linda Micsko
Executive Producer Jason Burrows
Director Trent O’Donnell
Writers Kirsty Fisher, Marieke Hardy
Synopsis In search of pain relief from her terminal illness, Sara encounters Dan, a psychotherapist who, through hypnosis, gives her a way to ‘live’ her ‘future’ in her subconscious – but things get complicated when Dan, enamoured by Sara, begins to write himself into her dream future.

It’s a film about a guy who gets a woman unconscious and then sexually exploits her. So we’re guessing it’s basically the Bill Cosby story.

The second thing we found out was that there seemed to be a lot of hits for “Death is for the Living” dated 2014. Which seemed kind of odd, considering these hits also seemed to be about funding. Had we messed up the dates somehow?

Well, no: it turns out that this is Hardy’s second bite at the Screen Australia cherry for this particular project, having already received $38,500 in “feature development” funding in the Dec 2013 – March 2014 period for Death is for the Living. Guess $38,500 – or half of that, as Hardy’s teamed up with her Laid co-writer Kirsty Fisher – doesn’t get you a finished film script from the author of You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead. Fingers crossed this second bundle of cash is enough to get it over the line.

We don’t pretend to be experts in how film funding works. Which clearly sets us apart from Hardy, who’s received funding from Film Victoria for various projects every year since 2011:

* 2011: Laid season two

* 2012: Laid season three ($18,208)

* 2013: Corp ($8000)

* 2014: The National Standard ($9000)

Nothing so far for 2015, but there’s still plenty of time. Presumably there’s also still plenty of time for those last three shows to turn up somewhere, as none of them are yet to appear on our screens. Though the Laid Facebook page says the first two episodes of season three were scripted before they finally figured out the ABC weren’t going to make their low-rating show the first ABC sitcom since Kath & Kim to get a third season.

(we all know The Librarians only got a third season because the ABC didn’t want Gristmill to deliver a contracted second series of Very Small Business, right? Let’s move on)

As previously stated, we know next to nothing about film and television funding. But one thing we can tell from looking at these various documents is that Hardy is hardly alone when it comes to hitting up the funding bodies multiple times. Clearly once you know the secret handshake, these guys are happy to toss sacks of cash your way.

The thing that seems to stand out to us is that most of these people tend to fall into one of two categories: proven performers like, say, Stephan Elliott, and up-and-comers like, say, the guys behind the Stevo and Mel Project (let’s take a guess… Stevo and Mel?). And this is exactly what we want our funding bodies to do with their cash: give it to proven performers to help them take another crack (if you made Priscilla, Queen of the Desert you deserve funding no matter how many Welcome to Woop Woops you have on your resume), or hand it out to newcomers to give them a shot at the big time.

Hardy – and we’re talking here about projects where she’s chief creative; she’s also involved as a staff writer on recent funding winners The Family Law and Secret City – doesn’t really fit either category. She’s had her shot at the big time with Laid – two shots if you count her earlier dramedy Last Man Standing, which aired on Channel Seven back in 2005. Neither of them could be counted as success stories, especially as far as ratings are concerned. To be blunt, Death is for the Living sounds a lot like more of the same. So why are government funding bodies throwing good money after bad?

At a guess, it’s because Hardy knows how to fill out the right forms and – thanks to her previous two shots at the big time – she technically qualifies as the kind of experienced television producer they want to encourage. As people who have seen pretty much all of her television output to date, may we respectfully suggest they reconsider.


It’s the little things

What have Gristmill been doing since Upper Middle Bogan, you may be wondering. The answer is making fifteen 15-minute episodes of a kid’s comedy called Little Lunch. Based on books by Danny Katz, these snack-size stories are told through the eyes of six primary school children.

The first episode, which aired on ABC3 this afternoon, centres on problem child Rory who’s sent to the Principal’s office for biting fellow pupil Melanie. But as Rory, Melanie, brain box and To Kill A Mockingbird reference Atticus, and various other students explain, Rory’s always doing this kind of thing – he even has his own chair in the corner in the Principal’s office called Rory’s Spot. Cut to Rory in his Spot cooling his heels yet again, but finding it tough going as the Principal’s not there to tell him off all the time. But just as Rory’s about to go off the wall again, the bell rings for little lunch and the kids start chucking notes to him through the window. Hooray! Boredom busted!

If this sounds potentially funny, at least to kids, it probably is, although as adults we struggled a bit: the story is fairly inconsequential and the gags aren’t exactly side-splitters. To be fair, the show’s intended audience of primary school kids probably don’t find Shaun Micallef or Clarke & Dawe very funny, so we’re not going to go too hard on Little Lunch – it’s not made to amuse us.

Or to put it another way, if you’re a parent and your kids have seen this we’d be interested to know what you and they thought. But if you’re an adult hoping for more comedy from the Gristmill gang, maybe give Very Small Business a re-watch instead, because based on episode 1 Little Lunch isn’t one of those kids comedies that has a few gags aimed at the parents – this is strictly for the kids.

If You’re Gonna Binge, You Better Purge

Press release time!

ABC is thrilled to announce, that from September 1st, the entire six-part comedy series, Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane, will be available to binge watch on ABC iview first, before airing on ABC TV later in the year.

With their unique brand of comedy, music and puppetry, Sammy J and Randy have played to sell-out audiences across Australia and overseas.

ABC Head of TV Strategy and Digital Products Rebecca Heap says “ABC is the home of Australian stories, home of Australian comedy and home of Australia’s favourite internet TV service – iview. Sammy J & Randy on iview in September delivers all three and showcases what the ABC does best: connecting all Australian audiences with unique Australian content.”

The award-winning comedy duo says “This is an appalling, undergraduate series that should never have been made. We salute the ABC for giving viewers the opportunity to watch it swiftly and then move on with their lives.”

ABC Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski says “As usual, Sammy J & Randy have no idea what they’re talking about. Sammy J & Randy In Ricketts Lane is a brilliantly original piece of musical comedy joy you’ll want to smash through in one go, then watch all over again. We love it.”

As this is basically the usual pointless hype – “ABC is the home of Australian stories, home of Australian comedy and home of Australia’s favourite internet TV service” wow really you don’t say – we’re only mentioning it for one reason: the “we’re releasing the whole series first on iview!” news.

Those of you with memories not completely scrambled by having watched every episode of Tractor Monkeys will recall that the ABC have previously tried this approach with comedy – and yet oddly, not drama – with Jonah from Tonga. You know – the show that ended Chris Lilley’s career? The show that ended up being one of the ABC’s biggest flops in recent years and that’s pretty big for a network that aired oh wait did we mention Tractor Monkeys already? Sorry, we meant Randling.

With that in mind, you’ll forgive us if we read this less as “oh look, the ABC are moving forcefully into the digital arena to counter Netflix, Stan and the rest” and more as “oh look, the ABC are trying to game the ratings for what they clearly think is going to be a massive dud by releasing it on digital first so they can then claim that of course it rated badly, everyone watched it on digital first.”

So the bit to keep in mind around September is this:

“This is an appalling, undergraduate series that should never have been made. We salute the ABC for giving viewers the opportunity to watch it swiftly and then move on with their lives.”

Especially if viewers take the opportunity to simply not watch it at all.

Behaving Badly

Hey, so you know that moment eleven minutes or so into the first episode of How Not to Behave when in the middle of a bit about how annoying charity collectors are Gretel Killeen suddenly gave us a bunch of stats about how effective they are in collecting funds for charity? Um… what the hell was that about?

Not that the show had been a barrel of laughs up to that point, what with kicking things off with a quote from Winnie the Pooh and then going on to re-introduce us to former cast members from The Ronnie Johns Half Hour and Double the Fist. Because when your comedy show contains the line “let’s start with queuing”, it’s not like you need a top-level cast to sell the jokes to come.

Wait, did we say “jokes”? We meant to say “[incoherent strangled vomiting noise]”, because while the banter between hosts Killeen and Matt Okine was passable – in that it seemed at least slightly improvised and there was some rapport between them – the sketches themselves were about as funny as a pointless instructional video. Because that’s exactly what they were.

If you’re going to make comedy about queuing, maybe “cutting into a coffee shop queue is ok, cutting into a supermarket queue is not” should be the point you start with, not your punchline. Normally at this point we’d ramble on a whole lot more, because the show sure did: stats about queues! Wacky ways people queue in other countries! This is the first segment in the first episode of a 15-part series and they’ve decided to go with the queue material! Seriously, do they even want people to stick around for the rest of the episode, let alone the series?

But let’s cut short our ramblings for this week, because to our eyes the big problem with How Not to Behave was obvious: it’s not finished. Well, it was finished in terms of being an actual television show with opening and closing credits, but the comedy? Still got the scaffolding up.

What they’ve done here is collect a bunch of observations that they could base a handful of moderately funny sketches on – how to get into the fastest queue at a supermarket, ways to dodge charity muggers, people who are too protective (or not protective enough) of their personal space – and then just patiently explained the concepts to us. The result? This is a show based on the idea of explaining jokes.

Smarter people than us have explained that jokes work by presenting someone with first one idea then another and then allowing them to make the leap to connect those ideas. This didn’t just build a bridge between its ideas, it put the audience in the back of a bus and drove them over it at five miles an hour. Seriously, after the personal space prank stuff they even brought in an expert on personal space to explain the concept in depth. Remember how Monty Python followed up the Parrot Sketch by bringing on an expert in retail sales to explain the concept of customer service?

There are funny ways to talk about cinema etiquette. Simply describing behaviour and labelling it is not one of them. Worse, what little comedy there is in these moments relies entirely on recognition – the “joke” is that we go “ahh, I’ve been there”. So if the joke is that you’re telling people something THEY ALREADY KNOW, maybe you need to come up with a heightened framework that will make that information funny. Protip: simply explaining this information in a blandly generic style is not that framework.

Oh wait, sorry, we forgot it’s 2015. The whole point of this stuff isn’t to create something funny, it’s to create a short clip that can be shared online with a tagline like “Last night How Not to Behave totally nailed it when it comes to cinema armrest hogs.” Only no-one is going to be doing that, because these short clips were bland, dull, and stating the obvious in a totally unsurprising fashion.

Then again, this is the show that told us “There are serious rules for walking on the street”. If an idiot said that in a sitcom, you’d probably laugh; when it leads onto a segment that semi-seriously explains what those rules are, you’re fully entitled to look around to see if you’ve become part of some candid camera show.

Because what are the alternatives here? Either this is a comedy show that fails pretty much completely from the ground up, or it’s an educational show that really is trying to explain to people how to queue in supermarkets or walk down the street. Either it’s a show made by people that think calling someone who uses their mobile phone in a cinema “a glow worm” is funny, or it’s a show that thinks its audience doesn’t know how personal space works.

Either way, it’s doing a great job of insulting its audience.


The Natter That Doesn’t Matter

So Room 101 finally made its long-awaited debut – yes, we know we’re stretching the definition of ‘long-awaited” to breaking point there – on SBS over the weekend, in one of those “special double episode” launches that tend to smell just a little of “let’s get this over with”. Especially after those lengthy delays in bringing it to air. And the Saturday night timeslot, though to be fair SBS has done a reasonable job of training their viewers to expect comedy-esque material there thanks to Rockwiz. Basically, we went in expecting a shocker. And what did we find?

Well, presumably SBS coughed up the money to licence the format from the UK because it’s the cheapest format in living memory: two people chatting for 20-odd minutes. Remember when Tony Martin had that interview show? It’s like that, only way less informative BUT WITH A WACKY SET.  We’re going to assume host Paul McDermott has a “wacky set” clause in his contract these days, lord knows he’s never seen without one.

The idea of the show is that the various “celebrity” guests being along a list of peeves and dislikes that they hope to persuade the host are actual peeves, and therefore worthy of being locked away in ah who cares it’s just more comedy chit-chat. McDermott is not the worst person in Australia to be hosting this kind of thing, which immediately puts it ahead of pretty much all the ABC’s efforts at this kind of thing, and the guests – Julia Zemiro and H.G. Nelson – are people who can speak, so there’s that.

But it’s still a show that opens with five minutes of talk about hi-fives. In fact, it’s still a show that’s basically just a variation on Grumpy Old Men which yes we know wasn’t invented until a full decade after the original UK radio version of Room 101, let alone the television one but the only other example we could use for this sort of thing was The Agony of Life and we’ll be buggered if we’re going to get dragged down that mineshaft again.

So Zemiro doesn’t like people eating in the theatre, or buffets, or life coaches, or tamper-proof packaging. H.G. Nelson doesn’t like paper cuts and pre-match entertainment. They chat away, time passes, McDermott doesn’t really press them on the subject, and we’d be looking at our watches if it wasn’t easier just to check the clock on the front of the PVR under the TV set.

“Bland” has never been a word used much by TV critics in this country, mostly because if they said it once they’d never stop. But this… this fits the bill. There’s nothing here to make this worth your time, and unless things go seriously wrong in future episodes – McDermott starts getting really aggressive and probing, a guest or two reveals some grim horrifying secret – that’s not going to change.

And even if that did happen, it wouldn’t make the show funny. The kind of people who can make 20-something minutes of chat about their fears (well, dislikes really) funny are stand-up comedians or other comedy professionals… you know, the kind of people who don’t become famous enough in this country to be a guest on this kind of one-on-one show. Especially when McDermott gave up his edge and became a professional television host a good decade or more ago.

What’s left is a show where two television hosts natter to each other about niggles. Wake us when Rockwiz is back on.

Bloodbath at the House of Death 2: Another P.O.V.

Amongst the former Open Slather writers not to contact us about the recent writer’s cull was Doug MacLeod, who’s previously written for Full Frontal, Fast Forward and various other well known shows from the “glory days” of Australian TV comedy. However, MacLeod did write about his experiences of working on the show on his blog In The Front Room last Saturday night. Interestingly, a day or so later that post was taken down, although not before Google had cached it here. Now it’s back online in edited form.

Why, we wonder. Many of MacLeod’s tales of working on Open Slather are similar to those we’ve heard from other writers on the show: i.e. they wrote a bunch of sketches which they thought were pretty good but none of them made it to air, and yet they were still credited as writers – how annoying/weird! Other areas of concern in the blog are more specific and its these about which MacLeod seems to have had a re-think. Fair enough, he’s allowed to change his views, but we ran the text of both versions through Diff Checker anyway to try and work out why. Here’s a summary:

  • In the first version MacLeod is sometimes casually critical or off-hand about some of the key players on the production team (a comedy writer, being critical or off-hand about management – that never happens!), whereas he tones things down a little in the second version (not that he was savagely critical about any of them to start with!).
  • In the second version he’s removed much of a (seemingly) not-very-controversial and actually pretty interesting section about writing sketches for a Magda Szbanski character based on the British fashion journalist Suzy Menkes. His only real criticism in the first version was that Szbanski couldn’t hang around for long when they met up to write and that she seemed a bit off hand…maybe. He also thought he’d left the iron on at home and was worried about that, or something. Either way, he says some good material came out of it.
  • MacLeod is more positive about the work some of the younger cast members are doing on the show in his second version. He is quite critical of Ben Gerrard’s style guru character Johann in the first version, but less so in the second version. He also adds in a section praising George H. Xanthis in the second version. (Actually, his real gripe about Gerrard seems to be that Gerrard got in first with a fashionista parody, meaning the Suzy Menkes sketches couldn’t be used. Fair enough, that must have been quite annoying from MacLeod’s perspective.)
  • He puts more blame on the critics for the show’s falling ratings, and in particular blames Bruce Elder of the Sydney Morning Herald (we love it how the production team never blames itself for attracting bad reviews in the first place!). Having said that, we couldn’t find the review by Bruce Elder that MacLeod is referring to. This SMH one by Craig Mathieson isn’t exactly positive, and it’s quite recent, so we’re going to assume this is what he’s talking about. It’s certainly a big contrast to Fairfax’s earlier pieces about the show which were very positive in tone, such as this article by Amanda Dunn.

And that’s pretty much it. Even we’re wondering if all this is worth noting as it seems like fairly typical behind-the-scenes-of-TV-show-type gripes and anecdotes. But in the interests of fairness – or even just providing some first-hand evidence for the scuttlebutt we ran earlier this week – allow us to point you in MacLeod’s direction.

Although, we are still wondering what caused MacLeod to re-write his piece so significantly. Did someone put the hard word on him, or did he just have a re-think after mature reflection? And is any of this likely to effect the public’s perception of Open Slather now anyway? From what we can see, the public (and the critics) have seen more than enough to make a call. Getting them back watching the show now will be near impossible, especially as the one thing that could improve things – changing the sort of material on the show – clearly won’t happen. The people who wrote those endless Downton Abbey sketches seem to have kept their jobs while everyone else has been fired. So another typical day down the Australian comedy salt mines, then.