2015
01.26

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014

Australian comedy in 2014 did pretty much what it was expected to do: not all that much. The days of any local comedy connecting with a mass audience seem to have ended with the mass audience realising Chris Lilley only ever had one idea, while the ABC’s other crowd-pleasing mainstays either tossed off a half-arsed job (The Chaser) or didn’t even bother to turn up (Gruen). Don’t get us wrong, this wasn’t a bad thing: the less we saw of those guys, the more opportunities opened up for new guys. If only the new guys had been worth checking out.

You know it hasn’t been a strong year for comedy when people ask you what the highlights were and you find yourself torn between Kinne and The Bondi Hipsters. Yes, two series of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell should have been enough to keep the sourest grumps happy, but how much longer can the entire Australian comedy business continue to be propped up by Shaun Micallef? John Clarke and Bryan Dawe keep on keeping on away in their quiet corner of the ABC (anyone else notice they had a DVD out late last year?), but otherwise we’ve got Micallef and company off making comedy that’s actually worth watching, then a bloody big gap, then a bunch of stuff that seems to get a handful of viewers more out of a vague sense of obligation rather than any real expectation of experiencing laughter.

To make matters even more depressing, Micallef started making world-class comedy in the late 90s. In the fifteen years since, who’s come up to challenge him? Working Dog still show signs of knowing their stuff, and they started in the 80s: did they start putting something in the water that stopped anyone funny being born after 1970? Even Adam Zwar’s no spring chicken these days, and Lawrence Mooney’s four hundred in dog years.

This is the point where you’re supposed to tear strips off us for being out of touch. There’s loads of great new comedy out there, you’re meant to say, but our ideas of what’s funny are so stuck in the past we fail to recognise what’s right under our noses. Unfortunately for you, this is also where we point to fucking Please Like Me and you go home crying your eyes out. What else is out there to back up your argument, This is Littleton? The cavalcade of dipshits the ABC wheeled out for their New Years Eve coverage?

2014 left us with the sickening feeling that we were watching the slow, gradual death of television comedy in Australia. While local drama has undergone a resurgence over the last decade to the point where we actually make shows people overseas want to watch, comedy has hightailed it in the other direction. Chris Lilley might have been shit for a decade, but for a while there his overseas success said that if you were good enough here you could maybe move onto the world stage. But his implosion at the start of the year and Please Like Me basically being an overseas show that happens to be made locally (on the ratings it gets here alone, we would not be getting a third season) may mean Australian comedy will now and forever be a local product. And in an increasingly international market that’s probably not going to be good enough to keep it alive. Enjoy those DVDs of Upper Middle Bogan while you can: we’re probably not going to see another attempt at a broad-based sitcom any time soon.

Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy

Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy - Runner Up - This Is Littleton: 27.73%

The big obstacle to getting a sketch show up and running this far into the 21st Century is that it’s not enough just to slap together a bunch of sketches – you need some kind of theme to hold it all together. So in theory the idea of setting a show in and around a City Council seems ideal: it brings everything together under the one roof without constraining the kinda of wacky nutters you can serve up. After all, Little Britain was a massive hit, right? And then if you have half an ounce of common sense you remember The Wedge and quietly shelve that idea forever, because sometimes what seems like a good idea is really just rotten to the core.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy. JOINT WINNERS: The Roast - 36.13% and Hamish & Andy's South American Gap Year - 36.13%. Voter Comments - The Roast: "The Roast’s GamerGate parody was funny and accurate, to be fair. One good sketch in years of material isn’t a worthwhile strike rate, to continue being fair. This Is Wedgedale." "Thank you Tony Abbott for getting rid of The Roast. You have my vote next election!" "Smug, derivative, and on it's way out the door proved itself every bit as petulant and selfish as it always appeared. 'Pity us! We only got three years on the air, with the freedom to never bother evolving or improving our act! Who will read half-baked snark into a teleprompter now?!'" Voter Comments - Hamish & Andy: "Hamish & Andy are nice guys. Maybe if they weren't, then people would finally open their eyes and ears and realise just how minor their act actually is." "I'm over it. How many gap years already?" "If they wanted a joyless pair of people to annoy local populations abroad, they could've sent any married couple instead of Hamish and Andy." RUNNER-UP: This Is Littleton - 27.73%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Wednesday Night Fever.

Ah, The Roast: was ever so much time spent broadcasting a show that achieved so little? There’s a reason 99 out of a hundred “satirical” university revues sink without trace: university students only think they know how the world works, and with Australian universities increasingly for the rich, not only are university students ignorant about how the world really works often they’re psychologically unprepared for the truth about just how useless and parasitical they really are. Or, to be more blunt, there are few things in life more annoying than a bunch of wealthy Sydney-based white males putting on a satirical review, and The Roast somehow managed to be one of them.

Hamish & Andy spent yet another year doing pretty much the exact same thing they’ve been doing for the last four (Five? Seven? Eleven?) years: going to someone else’s country and making a dick of themselves. It’s difficult to know whether to salute them for finding a form of comedy that commercial television audiences will actually watch, or roll our eyes theatrically at the endless skits involving them eating crazy foreign food then getting around in some wacky form of transport over and over again. We can’t wait for the episode where they go to Mars.

Worst Sitcom

Worst Sitcom - Runner Up - Die On Your Feet: 12.05%

If there’s one thing we can say about Die On Your Feet it’s that it tried to do things differently. It was a show about chaotic comedians living chaotic lives at the often chaotic Comedy Festival, so the makers decided to make the show itself chaotic – rambling plots, random interstitial talking heads, scenes that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of whatever the storyline was. You could see what they were trying to do – comedy’s chaotic, these characters are chaotic, let’s make the entire show chaotic! If only it had worked. Die On Your Feet‘s incoherence might have amused its makers and reflected the realities of stand-up during a festival, but it left audiences confused. And confused audiences don’t laugh…which isn’t a good thing in comedy.

Worst Sitcom - Runner Up - Please Like Me: 28.92%

At least Please Like Me got the “having a plot” bit right, kinda, but it was no less self-indulgent, especially when it went down the route marked “Drama”. Yes, all the stuff in the mental home did challenge a few stereotypes and allow us to laugh at a topic which is usually hidden from view, but as the rest of the show was an interminably unfunny look at characterless inner city hipsters and their non-crisis-filled lives…ugh. Look, there’s a reason Please Like Me series 2 plummeted rapidly in the ratings following its debut, and that’s because it wasn’t much good. And the fact that it stayed on air was largely down to a combination of American money, Fairfax puff pieces and the ABC comedy department’s personal pride. Naturally it will soon return for a third series.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Sitcom. WINNER: Jonah From Tonga - 59.04%. Voter Comments: ""What did the bowling alley do to my dick? Give me balls." This isn't clever character writing; this is just Chris Lilley filming the first goddamn thing that comes into your head. Everyone's clear that the Emperor has no clothes now, right? I don't know if we can survive another year of this shit." "Good sitcoms are almost always team efforts. Chris Lilley and Josh Thomas need to realise that good sitcoms aren't born out of self-centred vanity projects." "Jonah from Tonga is more than just unbelievably racist: it also shows that Chris Lilley has no new ideas and is working a once nuanced and sympathetic character into the group as an obnoxious one-note dickhead." RUNNERS-UP: Please Like Me - 28.92%, Die On Your Feet - 12.05%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Ja'mie: Private School Girl.

Winners in this or any Tumblies category rarely receive more than 50% of the votes, and yet here stands Jonah from Tonga with a landslide-like almost 60%. How did it get there given it’s a show from international comedy titan and long-time veteran Chris Lilley? Well, a recent history of comic fails from its core creative team (that’d be notorious self-made man Lilley) was a clear factor. As was the slurry of unwarranted hype and crappy publicity stunts that traditionally accompany any Lilley project (make the entire series available on iView before it was broadcast, then hope that’ll drive the broadcast ratings up? Good one!). But Jonah had even less going for it than that. It had three episodes of plot stretched out over six episodes of show, it starred a character who never changed or evolved or even became interesting beyond someone who would occasionally come out with a half-decent dick joke, and yet again it seemed to be a largely improvised show where only Chris Lilley was allowed to have the “talking stick”. And because these characteristics have been present in pretty much every Lilley project since anyone can remember, and because, like his characters, Lilley never seems to evolve his thinking beyond what he first though of, and because an ever decreasing number of people seem to find this sort of thing funny or novel or interesting or in any way watchable…we give you Australia’s Worst Sitcom of 2014!

Worst Topical Comedy

Worst Topical Comedy - Runner Up - The Chaser's Media Circus: 30.52%

The sad thing about this show was that The Chaser can – and usually do – so much better than this. It’s not like it’s news that The Chaser team aren’t guys who can charm viewers off the cuff: they’re solid comedy professionals who can deliver material well, not actual entertainers like… well, most stand-ups for one. And this kind of format almost always stinks too – as we’ve said elsewhere, having to a): first have the host explain the set-up for the jokes then b): have the panel stumble around trying to think up one-liners means that unless you do a shitload of editing you have a show that’s a lot slower serving up laughs than just about anything scripted. Worse, this kind of show almost always feels like the producers simply couldn’t be bothered sitting down and writing the jokes themselves. So when your writing is your strong point (as it is with The Chaser), you end up with a show that feels like you just don’t give a shit.

Worst Topical Comedy - Runner Up - The Project: 30.52%

The Project is always a tough watch in much the same way as reading a big old stack of News Corp editorials is always a tough read: smart people dumbing their shit down is never a short cut to a good time. At least after Charlie Pickering left… then came back… then left again, the show drifted towards just “talking down to the plebs” rather than “openly sneering at anyone stupid enough to watch this crap”, but with Pickering it’s always been clear that his ideal audience resides on the other side of a mirror.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Topical Comedy. WINNER: The Roast - 38.96%. Voter Comments: "The Roast makes the Chaser look like the Onion." "Gen Y need to learn that gags need to stand independently of their ideology. Calling Tony Abbott a moron isn't funny in isolation." "Cancelled!" RUNNERS-UP: The Chaser's Media Circus - 30.52%, The Project - 30.52%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Wednesday Night Fever.

Presumably this was listed as “topical” because the cast usually wore suits rather than because of the timely nature of their swipes at both sides of politics, because the jokes these guys threw out would have been right at home on some 60s-era local knock-off of That Was The Week That Was. The fake news show format is so firmly established now that any halfway decent comedy team can take it in all manner of insane directions safe in the knowledge that audiences will go there with them, and yet the best The Roast could serve up was a slightly dorky host and a bunch of utterly generic reporters who were somehow duller than the real reporters on real news programs. Which wouldn’t have been an issue if the fake news reports hadn’t almost always just been “ha, check out this odd side detail to this current issue… yeah sorry, that’s all we had to say, bye.” Apart from the ones that were more like “wow, the way this government’s going, it’s like they want all old people to work until they die… so here’s a news story about how the government really does want old people to work until they die”. That crap is funny maybe once: how this show got half a decade worth of nightly shows out of it should be the subject of a Royal Commission.

Worst Panel/Game/Light Entertainment/Interview Show

Worst Panel/Game/Light Entertainment/Interview Show - Runner Up - The Project: 28.69%

If your goal is to make news and current affairs entertaining, your best bets are to do either thoughtful satire or to make your jokes broadly controversial – or both. At 6.30pm on a weeknight on a commercial network, neither of those options are open to you: you’ve got to keep one eye on the ratings and the other on what the station legal team are telling you not to do. So with satire and controversy being really quite dangerous in that context, they need to be used sparingly. Which means you have to fill the rest of your 20-or-so minutes of on-air time with mildly amusing YouTube footage, the lightest of light looks at politics, and stories about Kim Kardashian. Oh great.

Worst Panel/Game/Light Entertainment/Interview Show - Runner Up - The Chaser's Media Circus: 33.61%

Making news and current affairs entertaining by gamifying it doesn’t seem to work either, judging by The Chaser’s half-baked efforts this year. If we wanted to describe their Media Circus in two words (and really that’s all it deserved), “drawn-out” would probably cover it, for this was a show that didn’t tell us a great deal (aside from that “real” news reporters are generally stiffs and that the Next Generation of comedians The Chaser’s been nurturing aren’t quite as funny as they seem to think they are) but took a very, very long time to do it. And loathe as we are to praise the likes of Gruen, at least that’s pacey.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Panel/Game/Light Entertainment/Interview Show. WINNER: Bogan Hunters - 37.70%. Voter Comments: "Come back Blokesworld!" "So, this is where we are as a society? Christ..." "Televisual clickbait." RUNNERS-UP: The Chaser's Media Circus - 33.61%, The Project - 28.69%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Celebrity Splash.

What are people objecting to when they voted for Bogan Hunters in this category? More Paul Fenech? Reality TV? Ordinary Aussies being dicks? All three, arguably, are fairly offensive, but as a combination they add up to sheer cynicism: established star makes cheap show about a bunch of people who are going to keep mainstream audience glued to their TVs in horrified fascination. That’s one definition of “worst”, but it’s probably not one the commercial networks subscribe to.

Worst Film

Worst Film - Runner Up - The Mule: 4.21%

With this kind of high concept – a drug smuggler refuses to take a shit, thus denying the cops the evidence they need to put him away – this should have been a lot funnier. Or maybe not: the decision to play this one mostly straight (thus avoiding a whole lot of scat-based humour) was almost certainly the right one, even if it resulted in the kind of grim, vaguely social-realist film Australia doesn’t really need any more of. Still, Hugo Weaving playing Bargearse is pure comedy gold: as a straight crime film with a few laughs this really isn’t half bad.

Worst Film - Runner Up - The Little Death: 22.11%

The fact this half-arsed portmanteau (imagine a worse Love, Actually) wasn’t very good was somewhat overshadowed by the media antics of its writer-director-star Josh Lawson, who seemed to think the best way to advertise his Australian film was by calling it the Australian film for people who don’t like Australian films. Then when it tanked at the box office because it was basically a bunch of mildly smutty comedy sketches a la The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting (you know what we mean: come up with an idea, spend the first minute setting it up, then just keep idling in place because no-one involved knows that a decent sketch actually develops from the initial premise), the producers whinged that the critics were “anti-Australian” in not supporting their brilliant film. Hey guys, it was a film featuring a woman whose sexual fantasy was to be raped: you pretty much got the box office you deserved.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Film. WINNER: Fat Pizza vs Houses - 73.68%. Voter Comments: "The world thinks we're dumb, drunk & racist? Gee, this will really help." "Didn't see any of these but Fat Pizza vs Housos sounds like the worst thing committed to film." "No one needs to pay to go to the cinema and get shouted at for two hours, and multiplying Fenech's loud, aggressive, and willfully stupid 'comedy' by two sounds more like a hate crime than a film." RUNNERS-UP: The Little Death - 22.11%, The Mule - 4.21%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Save Your Legs.

It’s not so much the actual quality of this film that irks: Paul Fenech’s been doing his thing for decades now and we’re all pretty much up to speed on his work. Arguably it’s gotten worse: just about the only memorable thing about this film was the way the characters from Pizza had actual characters while the Housos mob were all just one-note shouty nutcases. No, what hurts is the fact that, rather than giving it away for free on SBS, he now expects us to pay cash money to watch his marginally competent crap. Haven’t we suffered enough?

Worst Non-Broadcast Comedy

Worst Non-Broadcast Comedy - Runner Up - A Rational Fear: 30.19%

Dan Ilic’s satirical show A Rational Fear made headlines in 2014 because it was successful in getting enough crowdfunding to turn itself in to a “digital comedy hub”. The money was used to pay writers and to cover the costs of producing videos, infographics and articles. As a model for making satirical comedy it was reasonably new and innovative, and A Rational Fear’s follower counter on social media suggests it was pretty popular for what it was. Everyone’s a winner right? Well, not quite: as to the quality of Ilic and company’s offerings, shall we just say “The Roast with slightly more edge” and leave it there?

Worst Non-Broadcast Comedy - Runner Up - Dayne's World: 32.08%

Throughout its short history the internet has been the place to go for things the mainstream media won’t touch, from 20,000-word guides to individual episodes of Star Trek to types of porn you hadn’t, and didn’t necessarily want to, imagine. Online sitcom Dayne’s World was certainly comedy in a style you could call “niche”; some liked it, but many just found it weird and uncomfortable. Don’t get us wrong, weird and uncomfortable can be really funny, but when weird and uncomfortable that’s meant to be funny doesn’t really make sense as comedy there’s a problem. With Dayne’s World there were a few too many scenes where it felt like you were missing out on some kind of in-joke, or where you were meant to be laughing at a character who seemed to be in the middle of a serious mental health crisis. It was at those points that weird and uncomfortable didn’t add up to comedy – it was just plain old weird and uncomfortable.

Australian Tumbleweeds Award 2014 - Worst Non-Broadcast Comedy. WINNER: The PodRoast - 37.74%. Voter Comments: "As fascinating as their interview with Charles Firth was..." "The cast and crew of The Roast discussing comedy is like hearing toddlers debate Proust." "I couldn't listen to more than 3 minutes of it." RUNNERS-UP: Dayne's World - 32.08%, A Rational Fear - 30.19%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: The Janoskians.

From the people who churned out 10 minutes of poor satire 5 nights a week came a weekly 70+ minute podcast about how they made their 10 minutes of poor satire 5 nights a week! As an insight in to the making of a TV satire show – regardless of its quality – this was kind of interesting. Kind of. If the podcast had a bit more focus, and they’d edited it down to 30-45 minutes of interesting chat rather than serving up over an hour of unedited informal debriefings and general gabbing, then maybe this might have been worthwhile… but that’s true of most podcasts. The ultimate problem with The PodRoast was that the one thing that’s actually interesting about The Roast – exactly why this woeful program stayed on air for 5 years – was never addressed. There weren’t even some vague hints (blackmail? They knew the secret handshake? The ABC forgot to tell them to stop?). To be fair, there were a couple of times where they talked about their approach to topical comedy, and how they’d come to conclusion that robust satire of individual politicians was actually the same as bullying (no it’s not: they’re politicians), which is they didn’t like to go there, and this could lead cynics to suspect that in this era of massive ABC budget cuts the ABC found it useful to have a toothless satire on air. But when you’re turning minor insights in to conspiracies to make a podcast more interesting, that hardly justifies your use of bandwidth to download the thing.

Worst Critic

Worst Critic - Runner Up - The Herald-Sun's coverage of MICF: 27.78%

We’re going to chalk this one up to “the general decline of the media”: The Herald-Sun’s coverage of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is below par not because the right-wing Herald-Sun is ideologically opposed to comedy and fun in general, but because they use blow-ins, drifters and saddle tramps to write the reviews. Considering the media’s general cost-cutting, and the Herald-Sun’s non-existent coverage of the performing arts in particular, this poor coverage is no surprise. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand better.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Critic. JOINT WINNERS: Ben Pobjie - 36.11% and Helen Razer - 36.11%. Voter Comments - Ben Pobjie: "Ben Pobjie has a Twitter feed full of his opinions and a newspaper column filled with as little opinion as possible. Which is worse?" "Fuck Ben Pobjie." "Pobjie talks a lot about killing himself and has a profile pic of him holding a gun to his head. it seems cruel to dangle the promise before us like that without ever following through." Voter Comments - Helen Razer: "Razer loves dropping her uni cultivated knowledge on us lowly shit munchers. Tell us jokes, do we not laugh? Not if we haven't poured over Foucault for 3 year stretches, in Razer's view." "Helen Razer wants everyone to misunderstand her so she can write whinging columns and tweets about it. Winning this prize will delight her." "Helen Razer might be an annoying, pretentious Thesaurus, but at least she's interesting to read and often unpredictable." RUNNER-UP: The Herald-Sun's coverage of MICF - 27.78%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Catherine Deveny. * NOTE * 12.96% of voters voted for Australian Tumbleweeds - thanks guys! Voter Comments - Australian Tumbleweeds: "Anybody who votes for the Australian Tumbleweeds in this category is a bum." "You guys just seem to hate on everything. Which is too easy and makes this site come across as written by bitter wannabees. Some deserve it, some need to know that they are creating shit. I often agree & I used to enjoy reading your site, still check it out occasionally which is how I found this, but it's just so hate filled now, it's not fun to read anymore. Everytime new comedy comes on TV I know you are going to hate it. Boring." "I had to nominate the Tumbleweeds for worst critic for continuously making us choose between Mad as Hell and Clarke and Dawe. Hopefully it's 50-50."

The role of the critic in our society is a difficult one. For many critics, “criticism” is a way for them to talk about what they love: unfortunately, the people who make what they love usually hold critics in near-total contempt, seeing them as incompetent parasites sniping at their betters. If you are Ben Pobjie, would-be comedian and television critic for Fairfax, this is a problem: how to reconcile your desire to join the artistic community with the fact you are being paid to criticise them? Some might say the only way out is to try and earn the respect of the artistic community by being the best critic you can be: educated, insightful, tough on works that are slipshod, full of praise for the rare successes, and always keeping in mind that a critic’s first duty is to the readers that come to them for advice, not the artists who see you as nothing more than an unofficial PR department. And others are Ben Pobjie. At least his semi-regular and somewhat revealing lapses into social media sexism are funny, which is more than can be said for his suicide-themed stand-up.

Helen Razer’s one-woman war on clarity is nearing its third decade now, though these days she’s better known for her remarkably predictable opinion columns than for being a notoriously disinterested comedy reviewer. Her problem is that despite the large amount of five-dollar words she sprinkles throughout her various quasi-middlebrow ramblings, she doesn’t really have much to say: her current insights into feminism and identity politics consist of “you’re doing it wrong” and “how can I stretch ‘you’re doing it wrong’ out to 800 words?”. Put another way, for someone who seems convinced the culture industry is a vampiric parasite on society that can’t change anything of substance, she sure does seem keen to continue working in the culture industry. To paraphrase Stewart Lee, even we’re getting sick of those controversial opinions that she has for money.

Worst Sounding Upcoming Show

Worst Sounding Upcoming Show - Runner Up - Sammy J & and Randy in Rickett's Lane: 20.16%

A sitcom staring Sammy J and Randy has the potential to be a bit twee, doesn’t it? Maybe not quite as twee as Woodley or the bits in Please Like Me where Josh cooks something, but almost certainly set in some downmarket-but-arty inner city suburb, where the characters burst in to comedy songs every 5-10 minutes. To be fair, we don’t get a lot of this sort of thing on Australian television so it’s good that the ABC is giving it a try, but yeah, it’s unlikely to challenge the likes of Mad As Hell and Clarke & Dawe for next year’s Best Comedy Tumblie.

Worst Sounding Upcoming Show - Runner Up - Please Like Me: 39.53%

Please see our earlier comment about how Please Like Me will be back for a third series due to a combination of American money, Fairfax puff pieces and the ABC comedy department’s personal pride. Now move on.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Worst Sounding Upcoming Show. WINNER: Charlie Pickering's news show (as yet untitled) - 40.31%. Voter Comments: "Who will be the more annoying smug twat, Charlie Pickering or Wil Anderson? It'll be a challenge worthy of the ages..." "I doubt Charlie Pickering will produce anything but a polite, middle of the road vehicle intended to make him seem as likeable as possible." "Charlie Pickering promises all manner of over-rehearsed 'off-the-cuff' smug." RUNNERS-UP: Please Like Me - 39.53%, Sammy J and Randy in Rickett's Lane - 20.16%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Jonah From Tonga.

At the risk of annoying the large numbers of people who voted for this, last time Charlie Pickering had a crack at doing a satirical TV comedy series (2008’s The Mansion with fellow comedian Michael Chamberlin) it was… okay? Not amazing, but okay. Pickering’s a solid stand-up and presenter, he’s well read, he’s genuinely interested in news and current affairs and politics, and so it’s likely that this will be a cut above the likes of The Roast, with the aim of being as good as shows like Mad As Hell and The Colbert Report. Which all sounds great, so what’s not to like here? Well… on-air Pickering seems a bit of a smug bastard type who can often come across as an angry, pushy bully when he’s not being a glass-jawed, cafe society bore. And while it’s great to see we’ve finally produced our own Ben Elton, can we just have one that gives us The Young Ones and Blackadder (and maybe a few of those well-researched historical novels) and leaves the area of live topical comedy well alone?

Best New Comedy

Best New Comedy - Runner Up - Soul Mates: 20.99%

We’re just as surprised as you are. In fact, probably more so: unlike a lot of people, we never rated The Bondi Hipsters all that highly. But their first TV series was smart, funny, and showed a grasp of something most Australian TV comedians seem to have forgotten: you can get an awful lot of laughs from creating comedy characters who have some character. So while this did get a bit samey at times and not all the storylines were winners, there was definitely enough going on here for us to look forward to whatever they get up to next. Unless it’s more jokes about how shit hipsters are.

Best New Comedy - Runner Up - Black Comedy: 38.27%

Yes, we live in a world where a perfectly average sketch comedy show is one of the highlights of the year. Seriously, there wasn’t a whole lot going on here that you couldn’t have seen back in Full Frontal’s heyday – well, apart from the jokes about race, which were the one area where this show really did have something to say. But there was a lot going on here that was just your basic competent sketch material (and sometimes, as with the preening gay guys, it wasn’t even that good). And yet, in 2014 even we have to admit that merely being competent is enough to (deservedly) put you ahead of the pack.

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Best New Comedy. WINNER: Utopia - 40.74%. Voter Comments: "Utopia had actual jokes in it. And those jokes were funny!" "How sad that of the entire list of new comedies, the best is Utopia, a show by a group (Working Dog) that, at this point in their career, could knock this stuff out in its sleep. Nowhere near as incisive or rich with characters as Frontline, nor as existentially absurd as the best episodes of The Hollowmen, Utopia was still just good comic set-ups and sparkling dialogue, something Australian comedy could use a lot more." "Utopia is piss funny and instantly recognisable to bureaucrats which shows they've nailed it." RUNNERS-UP: Black Comedy - 38.27%, Soul Mates - 20.99%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Upper Middle Bogan.

As more than one voter noted, Utopia is the kind of show Working Dog can do in their sleep. And perhaps if you were looking for insightful takedowns of our political system, you might have wondered if Working Dog were asleep at the wheel. But a comedy that put laughs ahead of scoring points made for a nice change of pace considering the absolute crap sack that was every “topical” comedy out this year that didn’t have Shaun Micallef’s name in the title. And while the character stuff in this character comedy was occasionally a little lacking – in Working Dog’s world either you’re a long suffering smart guy or a glib moron, which is 100% fine with us (it’s an actual comedy dynamic, which is more than Please Like Me ever served up) but we did wonder why the show needed eight cast members to explore it – it still managed to do exactly what it was trying to do: be funny. Seriously, does anyone really want to learn about town planning from a comedy? We’re just torn between joy at having Rob Sitch (one of Australia’s great comedy actors) back on our screens, and disappointment that he’s stuck playing the straight man.

Best Comedy

Best Comedy - Runner Up - Upper Middle Bogan - 19.17%

Upper Middle Bogan isn’t the greatest show ever – having spent a lot of time carefully and amusingly setting up its characters and premise in series 1, there weren’t quite as many “knock downs” as we should expect – but what you do get from Gristmill is something so often lacking in Australian comedy: craft. When you watched Upper Middle Bogan you know that real craft, real effort, real time and real care had gone in to every line, every character, every plot, every shot, every costume and every other thing in the show. And in a world where scripted comedy seems to have been kicked in the curb in favour of improvised lines and the off-the-cuff panel ramblings, that’s an approach to comedy to treasure and celebrate.

Best Comedy - Runner Up - Clarke & Dawe - 20.83%

If there’s one positive thing that we can take away from the Charlie Hebdo shootings its that almost everyone values free speech and satire. Clarke & Dawe‘s pithy, intelligent, bullshit-nailing duologues haven’t inspired millions of people to take to the streets (yet), but all those who were kinda miffed that they’re no longer on 7:30 have certainly stuck by them. They’ll watch them on Thursdays at 6.55pm, they’ll catch the show on iView, they’ll watch it on YouTube, they’ll like them on social media, and they’ll make the effort because Clarke & Dawe is just that good. Nous sommes tous Clarke & Dawe!

Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2014 - Best Comedy. WINNER: Mad As Hell - 60.00%. Voter Comments: "Mad as Hell and Clarke and Dawe are still the only half decent comedy shows in Australia. How odd that other shows don't try to draw inspiration from the form and substance of these shows, instead trying to mimic American or British approaches. Australia is unique, and it does need to have its own thing. MaH and C&D tap closely into something about Australia, whatever that is." "Almost perfect! (Last couple of shows this past run were a bit ragged, but overall quality spectacular. World class stuff from Shaun and Gary. Funnier than John Oliver, too, which I think is an interesting comparison.)" "Mad As Hell remains the best thing on Australian television as Shaun Micallef seems to effortlessly wind satire, absurdism, biting commentary, and the wild abandon of pure sketch comedy into a miraculous weekly brew. If he did nothing else, that 'ZINGER!' sting with a lion's roar behind it was a gift to the nation." RUNNERS-UP: Clarke & Dawe - 20.83%, Upper Middle Bogan - 19.17%. LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Mad As Hell.

In a broadcasting climate where heads of comedy departments seem to spend their time commissioning cheap panel shows and then spending the money they’ve saved on marketing campaigns to make sure people watch them, rather than, say, seeking out funny people and giving them enough money to make a good scripted show, its gratifying to see audiences plump for the latter style of comedy. Scripts, sets, performers, crew, costumes, wigs, make-up and pre-filmed sketches cost money (and even small change is lots of money to today’s bean-counters), but if you get them right they add up to priceless comedy. When you watch Mad As Hell you’re getting the best of everything, but most importantly you’re getting the best attitude: spend the time, and some money, to get the funniest, smartest, most original and most resonate end product you can. Want to make a winning comedy? Do it like Mad As Hell does it. Every. Damn. Time.

And now, having dished out all of our famous tumbleweed head statuettes, its time to turn our attention to the coming year in Australian comedy as we look in to the Australian Tumbleweeds crystal ball…

  • In desperation at their low standing in the ratings, Network Ten will once again turn to comedy. That’s the joke.
  • The Austereo guidebook to creating successful radio comedy will be leaked. It’ll turn out to be a receipt for Eddie McGuire’s dry cleaning.
  • Marieke Hardy will continue to get work writing television despite DVDs of both series of Laid still being on sale in ABC shops.
  • Chris Lilley will declare he’ll be exploring a “totally new direction in comedy” by creating a comedy character who doesn’t go to or hang around a high school. Until episode two.
  • The Logies will announce that only shows featuring at least three musical numbers, four cooking segments or twenty minutes of home renovation per episode will be eligible for their new “Australian Comedy” category.
  • The ABC will spend hundreds of thousands on yet another attempt to uncover new talent, then announce a range of upcoming shows made entirely by established stand-ups, mates of The Chaser and obscure YouTube “celebrities”.
  • Buoyed by the success of their New Years Eve coverage and The Friday Night Crack Up, the ABC bring us another all-star spectacular…except that due to budget cuts viewers will be encouraged to ring in with donations to pay for the costs of the broadcast. If they don’t get $100,000 by 10pm all the lights in the studio will go out and they’ll switch to the Test Pattern.
  • Buoyed by its success on the ABC’s all-star telethon, the Test Pattern will be declared the network’s break out star of 2015 and will be given its own tonight show.
  • The Save The Roast on ABC TV online petition currently has 673 signatures. It will not gain any more and The Roast team will never reform again.

A normal service will resume on this blog soon. Happy Australia Day, everyone!

2014
12.14

Voting is now open in this year’s Australian Tumbleweeds 2014. Now in its 9th year, the Australian Tumbleweeds hails the failures (and occasional successes) of this nation’s comic talent.

Your online voting form can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/tumblies2014

You have until midnight at the end of Friday 10th January 2014 to vote. Please only vote once. Full rules and instructions can be found with the voting form – it’s a slightly different system this year, so please read the rules carefully.

The winners will be announced on or about Australia Day.

As always, the official hashtag is #tumblies.

2014
12.10

From just about every perspective that doesn’t involve writer / director / star Paul Fenech cashing in, bringing the worlds of Housos and Fat Pizza together makes no sense. And not just in the traditional “ugh, Aliens versus Predator really messed up both franchises” way that bringing different worlds together in the one movie is almost always a massive artistic fail because… look, it’s Paul Fenech we’re talking about here, ok? Both shows are just about him and his mates running around swearing their heads off, right?

But Fat Pizza vs Housos turns out to be surprising in one unexpected way – yeah, we kind of guessed that there’d be new depths plumbed here, so that “surprise” doesn’t count. No, the big surprise here is that it’s conclusive proof that Fenech’s wacky full-bore style of comedy is actually, measurably getting worse.

Much as we like to sneer dismissively at Fenech’s work, we try to do so for reasons apart from the usual “ugh, he’s making shows about poor people” and “this show is just a thrown together mess” reasons so beloved of the tiny wedge of the Australian media that actually pay attention to his work. So one thing that didn’t surprise us about Fat Pizza vs Housos is that it actually has a real story: the film begins with former Fat Pizza owner Bobo (John Boxer) leaving prison after serving a 15 year stretch for chainsawing someone who annoyed him. Now he (and his mother) are on a mission to rebuild the Pizza business. Only problem is, over those fifteen years away rents and wages have skyrocketed (by their standards), and the only place crummy enough to be affordable is Sunnyvale, home of the Housos.

As you’d expect, having an open and functioning business in their neighbourhood messes with the Housos’ do-nothing ethos, even if they do like the pizzas. Things get worse once Bobo’s mum starts pulling strings at the local Centerlink to first get the locals working there for free as a work-for-the-dole scheme, then have their benefits paid in food vouchers that they have to spend at Fat Pizza.

Meanwhile recent anti-bikie legislation has de-fanged the local bikie gang (who now have to travel everywhere by maxitaxi), allowing Habib (Tahir Bilgic) – now back working at Fat Pizza – and his drug dealing mates to corner the market by peddling drugs inside the pizzas. So while half the locals want to tear the place down for messing with their dole, the other half are hanging around looking to score. As they say in news reports, it’s a volatile mix.

Keen-eyed readers will have spotted that while that’s an actual story, it’s one that at most takes about ten minutes to tell. So Fenech pads it out with the usual Housos stuff: “thongings” (Frankie has developed a boomerang version), topless women, swearing dwarves, fat cops pigging out, sex dungeons and songs that involve people shouting the name of the TV series – though most of these songs are holdovers from Fat Pizza. There’s even a brief Swift & Shift Couriers cameo at the start, for the two people that watched that deservedly unloved Fenech series.

It seems like just the same loud cartoony stuff he’s been serving up for close to twenty years now, which is why he’s received close to zero real critical attention for close to twenty years. But in bringing back the original Fat Pizza cast of characters – Sleek the Elite returns halfway through after spending the last fifteen years in Gitmo, while Fenech plays both Houso’s thong-wielding sex machine Frankie and Fat Pizza’s hopeless Paulie, who also spent the last fifteen years away (in his case, trapped in a sex dungeon) – it becomes clear that Fenech has gotten a shitload lazier over those twenty years.

The Fat Pizza characters might be face-pulling morons, but they’re actual comedy characters of a sort: Habib is a dodgy guy trying to get rich the easy way, Sleek the Elite… ok, he’s just a shit rapper, and Paulie is a hopeless loser constantly getting into trouble. Oh, and Bobo’s a thug obsessed with chainsaws. There’s not much to work with there, but it’s at least possible to build stories around them.

The Housos cast, on the other hand… well, they shout a lot. Frankie slaps people (usually authority figures) with his thong, the cops chase him but they’re too fat to catch him, a lot of people in wheelchairs zip around, “The Junkies” try to steal shit, “The Bikies” yell a lot and sell drugs, Habib and his crew try to sell drugs, there’s a cranky grannie and a lumbering idiot and the rest just blur into one mass of shouty morons. It’s a live-action cartoon; this is not a good thing.

The reason why the words “live-action cartoon” fill viewers with dread is because cartoons and live-action work in different ways. Cartoons are animated: animation means a lot more of the energy a comedy needs can come from having the characters do things that real-life people can’t. You don’t need to give characters in cartoons a lot of depth – though Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are a lot closer to real people than anyone in Housos, and they’re cartoon animals with only 7 or 8 minutes per classic episode – because you can do all manner of crazy stuff with and to them.

Housos seems designed to work the same way a cartoon does. Even the minor depth of the Fat Pizza characters is gone: Housos just features no-dimensional characters having slapstick adventures in a crazy setting. But the team at Warner Brothers who made the Looney Tunes shorts were bona fide geniuses working in a medium where they could put literally anything on the screen: Fenech is marginally competent director who thinks creating characters who run around swearing is all he has to do to get laughs. He’s even given up using his imagination when it comes to slinging insults: if you laughed at “fucked in the face” back in season one of Housos, Fenech hasn’t bothered coming up with anything new – let alone better – here.

Rumour has it Fenech’s movies’ profitability comes more from their cheap production costs than their box office take. But make money they do and so Fenech shows no sign of quitting, even though he’d be doing us all a favour if he did. Fat Pizza vs Housos ends on a cliffhanger (of sorts) and the news that the story will continue in Fat Pizza vs Housos vs Authority. His shit was barely tolerable when they were giving it away on SBS: he’s fucked in the face if he expects anyone to pay for it now.

 

2014
12.05

As is the way of things, the ABC likes to backload their comedy output for the year, piling on the shows through October and November then bringing things to a screeching halt the first week of December when the ratings period ends. With so much going on and our desks still looking pretty cluttered – we spent good money seeing Fat Pizza vs Housos and we’re going to review it, dammit! – we’re forced to shovel dirt over a bunch of shows loosely tossed into a kind of internet mass grave rather than giving each of them the dignified burial they deserve.

And on that delightful image, let’s get shovelling!

*

The Chaser’s Media Circus: “disappointing” is probably an understatement here. The Chaser have always been guys that do their best work when they’re putting in a whole lot of work, and this lightweight panel game show didn’t exactly reek of effort. Sure, there was a lot of research on display and many of the clips and skits were funny, but it was still a show largely built around a bunch of media tosspots sitting on a couch trying to make each other laugh.

As political satirists The Chaser have always been extremely good at acting like they don’t really give a shit about politics – whatever motivates their comedy beyond discovering it was a cushy gig back at university has never been readily apparent – but having Chris Kenny on episode 7 was a new… well, not “low”, but definitely something in that general direction. Sure, Kenny cracked a few decent lines, but having him on (after he sued them and forced the ABC and The Chaser to make a grovelling apology over what was clearly a joke) signalled that they don’t really mean – let alone give a shit about – anything they say or do.

Now that they’re all buddy-buddy with Kenny, either they’re guys who casually called someone a dog-fucker for no reason, or they’re guys who did it for a reason which they later ignored because… they needed a guest? Either way, they’ve kicked away the foundation of their comedy and there’s nothing left but a bunch of guys in snappy jackets: if you’re not going to mean what you say you need to be a shitload funnier than this.

*

It’s a Date series 2: Like so much of Australian comedy, this was a good idea from a production stand point, not a comedy one. By being a series of sixteen fifteen minute sketches, it could draw in big names who didn’t have to make a long term commitment. Trouble was, we got sixteen sketches based on the same idea: people out on a date. And as that was the same idea that had pretty much been run into the ground with the first series, this was looking pretty tired long before the finish line. Which might explain why we don’t have much to say about it here; after a while, all the episodes just blurred into one, and even Shaun Micallef as a theatre restaurant Dracula couldn’t stand out from the crowd.

*

Upper Middle Bogan series 2: See? Making a decent sitcom isn’t that hard. You just have to come up with a bunch of funny characters that are actual characters with distinct personalities and then play them off against each other. The big problem with Australia’s small scale production model is that sitcoms work best once we’ve had a chance to get to know the characters and how they’ll react. A lot of the laughs in later seasons of US and UK sitcoms comes from the audience anticipating how the characters will deal with the latest crappy situation – and the real shame about Please Like Me getting such a lengthy run is that Josh Thomas has no idea how to write distinct characters so his show fails to get funnier as it goes along.

In a just world this would get at least a third series to capitalise on all the hard work that’s gone into the series to date, but from what we hear that, uh, doesn’t seem likely. Which is a massive shame: this wasn’t brilliant, but it’s the kind of thing that could run and run given half a chance. Lord knows the ABC needs a new crop of reliable laugh-getters now that The Chaser seem to be angling for a vacation and former golden boy Chris Lilley is a joke in all the wrong ways.

*

Black Comedy: In the end this turned out to be a surprisingly trad sketch show – perhaps seeing Mark O’Toole in the credits should have tipped us off there. That’s not a bad thing, of course: solid sketch shows are pretty rare these days, and by having the gimmick (that all sketch shows are seemingly now required by law to have) be “the cast are black”, the cast and writers were then free to just do the stuff they thought was funny. It may not have been all that memorable – it was more hit-and-miss than it really should have been, even for a bunch of first-timers – but it showed enough promise to leave us hoping the ABC’s seemingly iron-clad law of giving everything a second series applies here.

*

Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery: It’s probably not that hard to make a show that leaves us feeling stupider for having watched it – we have to spell out the big words on The Bolt Report – but this was as dumb as a box of rocks. If we wanted to read New Idea profiles on comedians overcoming trauma to make people laugh *sob*, we’d have done that instead of wasted our time with this.

The occasional snippet of insight or interesting use of file footage couldn’t make up for a production team determined to hit the same note – gee, childhood really fucks you up, right guys? – over and over and over again. As maybe a 50 minute doco made up of the good stuff this would be worthwhile; otherwise this is a delivery that needs to be sent back.

*

Soul Mates: As we said when this first aired, our expectations here were pretty darn low. The Bondi Hipsters are not our favourite comedy team – they’re not even in the top fifty – and having one of the guys behind Beached Az involved didn’t really seem to be setting the bar that much higher. So imagine our surprise when… actually don’t bother, we’ll just tell you: in the end, this wasn’t half bad. Sure, repeated slow pans over one of the lead’s abs while he’s tasking a shower is the kind of douchey crap that put us off the Bondi Hipsters in the first place – way to kick off your final episode guys – but overall this managed to change up the jokes just enough across the six episodes to keep the laughs coming.

Yet again, coming up with actual comedy characters turned out to be a pretty good idea when you’re making a comedy. While the show itself gradually turned into a drama of sorts (the caveman stuff stayed a one-joke idea; guess they can’t all be winners) the ridiculousness of the characters kept things funny enough to keep us watching. The New Zealand stuff went off the boil for us quickly enough – action parodies are best kept short and to the point – but it was different enough from the other two plots to prevent any of them from feeling stale.

All this was pretty basic stuff, mind you, and if Soul Mates wasn’t competing against sitcoms like Utopia and Please Like Me where wordplay (Utopia) and fuck-all (Please Like Me) were prized above characterisation and the occasional decent visual joke there’s a good chance this might not have looked so good. Still, credit where credit’s due: this didn’t totally suck arse. High praise indeed!

 

 

2014
12.02

Surprisingly – or not, depending on how closely you’ve been paying attention – for a news satire the final episode of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell contained a lot of swipes at other comedy shows. And well deserved swipes at that, whether the targets were lazy ABC “comedy” panel shows (the ‘Blather’ sketch even contained a reference to the number of episodes pre-recorded by our old nemesis, Randling), the random chatty nature of shows like Media Circus, or Dave Hughes – though the impersonation there was more affectionate than the rest.

Like the previous paragraph said, this was only surprising if you’re one of the numerous lazy Australian television writers who keep wondering why Mad as Hell isn’t a clone of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. For one thing, Mad as Hell has never just been a political satire; for another, if you expect good comedy to come from people writing about stuff they’re interested in, then presumably comedians are going to be a little interested in other comedy shows (as are people who watch comedy). And Mad as Hell has always parodied other television shows – remember all those digs at Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries?

It’s important in comedy to provide a way for your audience to get their bearings. Are you making jokes about “stop the boats” because you think we need to stop the boats, or because you think “stop the boats” is a jingoistic catch cry used by unreconstructed racists? Usually this kind of thing is pretty obvious from the joke itself, but occasionally dodgy values – for your own personal value of “dodgy”, of course – can slip through.

For example, both The Chaser and Working Dog have spent much of the last decade or so basing a lot of their political comedy on the idea that “they’re all basically the same” – you know, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, a politician always gets in” and so on. The trouble with jokes based on this kind of thinking is that while its a certainly a point of view, the only people who think Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are interchangeable are wealthy upper-middle class types who just want the government to get out of the way of them making money (unlike actual upper class types who know that government does make a difference to the tax breaks and handouts they get). Which means their whole “what’s the point of even having a government anyway” deal is less about fixing a broken system and more about not wanting the government bothering them because they’re getting along just fine without it. Unlike poor people.

So when Mad as Hell points out that ABC panel shows are a bit shit, it’s a massive relief here at Stately Tumbleweed Manor. Because as far as we’re concerned, they are a bit shit. After all, the best (inadvertent) joke in the Blather sketch was the way you could tell it was a parody because the panel was female-dominated. Zing! Then there was the throwaway gag about the low budget for The Chaser’s Media Circus in the penultimate episode of Mad As Hell, which wasn’t so much criticism of The Chaser as a subtle dig at declining ABC comedy budgets forcing comedians down the panel show route.

But the Blather and the Media Lounge Room panel show parodies in the final episode were all the more biting because a) they come during a time of budget cuts when presumably we’ll get more and more cheap panel shows and b) it was a pretty accurate pisstake of the sort of (and indeed actual) panelists these shows are littered with.

(On a similar theme, and worth checking out, is this sketch from a recent BBC mockumentary, which also takes the piss out of the repetitive and generic cheapness of panel shows. It’s all the more poignant in an Australian context given that Australian panel shows are usually less funnier than their British equivalents, but, judging from this sketch, even the British seem to think their panel shows aren’t good comedy!)

Perhaps what partly motivates this is a genuine fear in the writers room of Mad As Hell (and presumably also its audience) that quality topical sketch shows like this are unlikely to return in a public broadcasting climate that sees long-running current affairs shows and vital rural radio stations axed. And if sketch comedy does end up being gone for good, where else are we going to get our T.I.S.M cover versions from?

2014
11.30

We were going to talk a little about the surprise revelation that Fairafx’s chief TV writer thinks Australia is crap at comedy

What shows like Black Comedy and Mad as Hell do, however, is demonstrate that despite the persistent belief that Australia cannot “do” comedy, our funny bone is actually in pretty good shape, and that a tradition which was born in vaudeville and given voice in Australia though true masterpieces such as The Mavis Bramston Show and The Naked Vicar Show is alive, well and in good hands.

– because seriously, we all know that when a writer says “persistent belief” they usually mean “my persistent belief”. Does anyone really think Australia cannot “do” (presumably as opposed to “make”) comedy? Sure, we’re often shit at it, but does anyone not named Michael Idato think we haven’t made anything decent – let alone a “true masterpiece” – since a bunch of shows thirty five years ago? Heads up, every single person currently making comedy in Australia: lift your game. And maybe hire Noeline Brown.

But then we realised hey, what better way to counter this dumb point-of-view than with an example of a funny Australian show made since 1979? Unfortunately, all we could find was Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which now has its own website here: https://www.heyhey.tv/

Welcome to our big, bright and beautiful new website, the home of all things Hey Hey It’s Saturday! This is where you’ll find fun-filled clips from the show, all our latest and greatest news, and full episodes of Hey Hey. Take some time to make yourself at home – check out clips of some of our most popular interviews, comedians and sketches along with our favourite games and segments.

We’ll be adding new content every single week to keep you entertained. It’s all here, and it’s all free to watch.

News? Apart from a list of obituaries as cast members drop off and perhaps the occasional “still not coming back, you guys”, we can’t imagine there being a whole lot to report as far as new Hey Hey news goes. But the arrival of this website is news, because thanks to Somers Carroll holding onto the copyright of Hey Hey for all these years they’re now able to put up clips and segments – and, if you’re willing to pay a subscription fee, entire episodes – of the classic comedy series. From what we’ve heard, the visual quality’s great. As for the quality of the show itself… that’s a lot more subjective.

For the moment all the available full episodes seem to be from the late 90s (or worse, the 2009-2010 revival), AKA the  “Death Ray Daryl” era, when actually making a funny show came a distant second to making sure everything went according to the increasingly autocratic Daryl’s iron-fisted rule. But there’s enough promises about “the entire 28-year run” for us to be hopeful that eventually they’ll get around to the episodes from the 80s – you know, when the show was really funny.

But because it wouldn’t be us talking about Hey Hey It’s Saturday without a grim note of pessimism, we should also note here that by leading off with the later, shithouse episodes, Somers Carroll have actually made it less likely that we’ll ever get to the good stuff. The subscription fee – “Premium Memberships cost just $6.95 per month, or $59.95 for a whole year” – is good value when good episodes are available. But if they work steadily backwards from the show’s end, even if they release four episodes a week we’re looking at maybe two years to get back to the 80s.

Even for hardcore fans – and going by the ratings for the 2010 revival, there aren’t that many hardcore Hey Hey fans left –  that’s a long wait for the good stuff.

 

 

2014
11.25

The new Australian film The Mule is an interesting piece of cinema in a lot of ways, one of which is that it’s just been released but you can’t actually see it in cinemas. It’s one of a growing number of local films released via platforms such as iTunes, where (in theory) it will find its (presumably) niche audience and have a longer lifespan. Good luck to it.

The film itself is set in 1983 and focuses on Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson), a very ordinary guy who lives with his parents in a working class, outer suburb of Melbourne, works in a TV repair shop by day, and plays footy in the local team on weekends. Local nightclub owner Pat (John Noble), a mate of Ray’s Dad and Ray’s best friend Gavin (Leigh Whannell), and a supporter of the footy club, puts down the cash for an end-of-season team trip to Bangkok, except part of the deal is that Ray needs to smuggle in some heroin on the return trip.

Having never been overseas before and having never smuggled heroin before, Ray’s nervous but agrees to do it. After swallowing around a dozen condoms full of white powder he has an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking return flight, and by the time he gets to Tullamarine the stress gets too much, he panics going through customs and security stop him. As a suspected drugs smuggler he’s taken in to the custody of the Federal Police, who plan to keep him in an airport hotel room until he produces the heroin…except that Ray’s determined that his body will never produce the heroin.

As Ray spends day after agonising day fighting his body and hiding anything that does slip out from police officers Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie), Pat and Gavin both try to get to Ray and the heroin, Pat sends his goons after Dad and Gavin, a left-wing police-hating legal aid lawyer tries to fight Ray’s cause, and the Americas Cup is captivating the nation. If you came in thinking this would be a hilarious gross-out comedy about a guy who’s trying not to shit himself, you’ll be disappointed. Much of the comedy in this film – and there are quite a few funny moments – come from the clash of social classes, tribes, ideologies and nations: lawyers vs corrupt police, criminals vs battlers, underdogs vs the establishment, the working classes vs the middle classes, left vs right, footy blokes vs everyone else, and Americans vs Australians.

The result is an intelligent drama/comedy, that gets the mix of drama and the comedy just right, has a very clever plot and some well-rendered characters. Unusual for an Australian film, that. Seeing The Mule may not be as easy as heading down to your local multiplex but as it’s one of the better Australian films for a while you should make the effort.

2014
11.24

Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery is the kind of show that’s perfectly watchable so long as you’re willing to overlook all the things it isn’t. It’s a show that promises a bunch of behind-the-scenes background information on comedians, but delivers pretty much the same thing week in week out: tearful tales of tough times and heartache. And with a lineage that stretches back to Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope – a show notorious for ensuring no guest escaped dry-eyed – we really shouldn’t be surprised. And yet, here we are.

The other thing that you have to overlook if you’re to extract any enjoyment out of Home Delivery is the way it’s perhaps the premier example of the way Australian television is happy to give comedians all kinds of work so long as it doesn’t involve them being funny. The stories that provide the spine of episode after episode of Home Delivery – tough times at school, rough home lives, long struggles to become established in their careers – could come from just about anyone. And week after week they do, on the non-comedy themed Australian Story.

But because Australian Story is often dealing with non-performers, they have to put some effort into each episode: they speak to friends and family and experts, they put their stories in a wider context, they have more of a structure than just “we drive funny people back to their childhood homes and try to find a parking spot”. You don’t need that crap with comedians: they’re funny and they’re performers, so just wander around filming them for a while and you’ve got a show. Unless you don’t.

“You’re so hairy and tall and lovely” says Zemiro upon meeting Simmons outside a bakery. And right away the show is revealed to be somewhat flexible with the truth, as we go from an outside shot of Zemiro and Simmons entering the bakery to an inside shot of them walking in. Wait, didn’t they just arrive? When did the camera crew have time to go inside to film them walking in?

Obviously they first filmed themselves walking in, then put a camera person inside and walked in again to get the second shot. No biggie. Except that it suddenly makes it clear that this isn’t just an improvised ramble filmed in one long bit from start to finish where two people are having a chat. It’s a constructed piece of television – so when Simmons goes on about the various kinds and lengths of roll available at this bakery, you realise that you’re not watching an improv’d ramble they had to leave in. Someone somewhere decided this – and not, say, any kind of structured look at Simmons career and influences (isn’t his high school well known for its focus on music and performance? Maybe they could have mentioned that?) – was something worth putting to air.

The polish is worn through in other spots too. “Sam Simmons doesn’t tell jokes,” we’re told, right before footage of him on stage telling a joke about being bitten on the neck by a camel and then having the scab split open and hundreds of baby camels burst out. So when we’re next told that after a “break out appearance on Conan, he’s poised to crack the US – the hardest comedy market of them all”, we raised an eyebrow or two. And yet, this is the good stuff, because this is actually about his comedy career – you know, the thing that’s made him worth doing a half hour television show on?

Simmons does manage to get out the occasional insight into his comedy – Monkey and The Goodies were big influences on the 37 year-old – but when we’re brought into his family home with the news that he hasn’t been inside since he was 16 the alarm bells start ringing like the crack of doom. Single child, single mum, doing a lot of “man chores”, Simmons creating hand-drawn pornography, cross-dressing, his High School music teacher… this is all the stuff we skip past when reading biographies because we want to get to the part where the famous person actually starts doing the shit that they’re famous for.

Like we said at the beginning, Home Delivery is a show it’s perfectly possible to enjoy so long as you don’t expect it to do around 60% of the things it promises to do. It’s biography, but biography that’s only interested in the tear-jerking, hand-wringing stuff (the producers must have had to change their pants twice once Simmons started talking about his childhood). It’s about comedians, but only because they can make a show about bugger-all seem entertaining. And yet this episode focusing on one of Australian comedy’s more interesting and offbeat characters turns out to be as bland and dull as all the rest.

Well, apart from the bit where Simmons says “You’ve seen what I do on stage, I’m pretty annoying”.

2014
11.21

Press release time!

Comedy Duo Sammy J and Randy

Run Rampant in Ricketts Lane!

 

ABC TV is pleased to announce that filming is underway in Melbourne on the six-part narrative comedy series Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane, written by and starring the Barry award-winning musical comedy duo Sammy J and Randy.  With their unique brand of comedy, music and puppetry Sammy J and Randy have played to sellout audiences across Australia and overseas.

Sammy J (Wednesday Night Fever) is an obsessive, socially inept and altogether hopeless junior lawyer scrambling to hold onto his last ounce of dignity while clinging to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.  Meanwhile his slovenly housemate Randy has seen the world from all angles.  He’s an opinionated, unemployed opportunist, desperately trying to win back the affections of his glamorous ex-wife.

Oh, and Randy is also a purple puppet.

While they’re loyal, eccentric and prone to burst into hilarious song at any given moment, tensions between the man and puppet will soon rise.

Supporting Sammy J and Randy in their first television series is a terrific cast of established and up-and- coming acting and comedic talent including; Nathan Lovejoy (This is Littleton, At Home with Julia), Georgia Chara (Wentworth, Home and Away) and Samantha Healy (Mrs Biggs, McLeod’s Daughters).  Some familiar faces will also be tripping through Ricketts Lane including Genevieve Morris, Wilbur Wilde and Anne Phelan, while top comedy director Jonathan Brough (It’s a Date series 1 & 2) is helming the series.

Sticky Pictures Producer Donna Andrews says “I’m thrilled to be kicking off production on Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane.  The series is a brilliant comedy, a daring musical, a groundbreaking concept and it has a puppet in it.  Honestly, there is nothing like it!”

ABC TV Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski says “I have no idea how this got commissioned, but rest assured we’re looking into it.”

Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane will be filmed on location over the next five weeks and will air on ABC in 2015.

Usually at this point we’d point out that Rick Kalowski was head writer and producer on Wednesday Night Fever, the recent and ill-fated sack of crap that Sammy J hosted. Which makes that joke of his about not knowing how it got commissioned somewhat ironic.

But for once we’re going to lay off the snark. Sammy J and Randy have been the best thing in bad shows for a long time now (what with Wednesday Night Fever and GNW, they deserve some kind of medal), and it’s good to see them finally getting a solo project. We’re going to officially file this one under “highly anticipated”.

… though when your sitcom sounds a lot like a lot of other recent sitcoms – swap out “musical numbers” for “silent comedy” and the quirky suburban setting does sound a touch like Woodley (whatever happened to sitcoms having actual situations?) – then “groundbreaking concept” is a phrase best left on the shelf. Dammit, that snark just keeps creeping back in…

2014
11.19

If there’s one thing the Australian media likes reporting on, it’s the Australian media. Just look at us: the last few weeks we’ve been so busy reporting scurrilous gossip and unfounded speculation we haven’t had time to actually review any comedy. So why start now?

A continuing source of tension at the ABC is the now infamous Putin sketch which got 7.30 and Leigh Sales into so much trouble last week. The irony is that 7.30’s executive producer, Sally Neighbour – not known for her sense of humour – recruited The Checkout’s Kirsten Drysdale to join 7.30 as the resident clown because she was under pressure from above to add some light touches.

Internal critics say 7.30 has become quite one-dimensional under her watch and the ratings have slumped. “Sally is so deadly intense, she took the direction literally,” a source said. “She flicked the switch to vaudeville in the most bizarrely ill-judged way.”

Thanks to the Guardian’s new media column for that bit of smirk-inducing gossip. We’ve made our views on this kind of “news satire” well known – the tl;dr version is that any comedy show that doesn’t put being funny first is never going to be funny at all – so it’s hardly surprising that actual news professionals have held similar views.

Not that they can do anything about it: when comedy clearly rates well but hiring writers to come up with it is beyond the budget, “news satire” is always going to be lurking around ready to fill the gap. Just look at The Chaser’s Media Circus: it’s clearly from the same people who made the far superior Hamster Wheel, but in trying to cut just a few corners – get guests to improv reactions to dumb news rather than sitting down and coming up with them themselves – the end result is, well, a bit below expectations.

And this is what always happens with news comedy: unless you’re willing to hire the regular comedy amount of writers to actually write proper gags about the news the same way you’d get writers to write jokes for a sitcom about relationships or social oh wait you already outsourced that with the Agony Guide to Life.

Fuck.