Thinking about Dave Hughes? There’s never been a better time to explore his comedy career (yes, we have been re-reading Lolly Scramble), thanks to the efforts of the late-night programmers at the ABC. Drunks and insomniacs alike have been enjoying their fine work screening old episodes of The Glasshouse in the early hours of Friday morning, and thanks to the magic of timed recording you too can get in on the fun… assuming we have any readers who aren’t already drunks or insomniacs.
In these dark days where Hughesy rules the Australian comedy scene like some kind of giant mechanical wickerman – his 2006 comedy DVD Live went 7 times platinum, don’tcha know – it’s easy to forget that just a few years ago he was playing third fiddle to Corrine Grant and Wil Anderson. And gee, haven’t their careers kicked on? But for all The Glasshouse’s many, many, many flaws, rewatching it now reveals that they managed to get one thing right: they knew how to use Hughesy.
Even during the opening trio of monologues it’s obvious that Dave Hughes isn’t there just to crack jokes – he is the joke. While Wil and Corrine make the stock-standard GNW-production line gags we saw on Good News Week, then on The Glasshouse, then on The Sideshow, then on the current re-incarnation of Good News Week, Hughes does his own “Hughesy Loses It!” rantings. And guess what? Anderson and Grant are clearly laughing not only at his “jokes” (which are mostly crap), but at what a nutcase he is. And they’re right: he is a nutcase. It’s the only thing funny about him.
Of course, there are other readings of the situation. “Wil Anderson is an arrogant unfunny wanna-be left-wing intellectual tool sneering at the clearly working class Hughesy” being one some of us are fond of, mostly because you can never throw enough mud at Wil Anderson. But it doesn’t take too many episodes to realise that no, unlike the other two main cast members Hughes is clearly being treated like he’s playing a character – let’s call him Hughesy – that we’re invited to laugh at as much as with. “Oh that Hughesy,” this imagined Glasshouse viewer chortles inbetween shaking their fist at a poster of John Howard with a Hitler mustache drawn on, “he’ll say and do anything for a laugh.”
Meanwhile, over on Rove Dave Hughes was getting his own segment where he reheated the same crap they were swallowing over on The Glasshouse. Only difference was that Rove McManus generally lets his comedians get on with it, only occasionally cutting in with a comment or question to move things along. Dave Hughes was still “Hughesy”, only without the context. He was still getting “ongriiiiii” about things, and clearly part of the gag if you looked hard was that he was a crazy guy getting worked up over silly things, but that side of things was no longer an actual part of the act: if you took his rantings as being funny in and of themselves, no-one was there to remind you that they were coming from a man who was himself a joke. Certainly not Hughes himself, who gradually moved his act away from “don’t I say crazy things” to “don’t I say funny things” without actually developing any material that was actually remotely funny. He toned down the shouting, talked more about his life in a non “aren’t I crazy” way (this is surprisingly noticeable if you watch material from 2006 and 2009 in the same week), and went from a man ranting about weird stuff to someone who would tell it like it is. So long as “is” didn’t mean funny.
A few more years down the track and face value is the only value Hughesy accepts. Listening to his increasingly annoyed tone on Nova breakfast radio these last few weeks – where his usual sparring partner (and peer in the arrogantly unfunny stakes) Kate Langbroek has been replaced by the far funnier and massively more skilled Mick Molloy – reveals a man who no longer seems capable of taking a joke. And why should he? On The 7pm Project every ill-thought turd and gaseous bubble that bursts from his lips is taken as the worthwhile thoughts of a seasoned media commentator. Somehow the morons who took “Hughesy” and his rubbish sub-sub-sub-Belushi rantings at face value have made him their king, and Hughes – unaware or uncaring that the only part of his act that was funny is long gone – is riding their adulation to the bank.
As the press release for his new DVD Handy informs us without a trace of irony: “Honest and imperfect is how Australians like their comedy and Dave Hughes delivers exactly that in spades”. And here we thought people just wanted comedy to be funny.