Thank you Charlie

Am I mistaken, or did I actually see Charlie Pickering laugh so hard he put his head down on the podium and thump it with his fist during a recent episode of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation? It’s a well-established fact that Charlie is perhaps the most appreciative fan of Shaun Micallef’s one-liners ever, but even based on his past performances this was a new level for him.

And was it on that exact same episode that, while Pickering was once again pissing himself over a throw-away line, that Micallef said dryly “thank you, Charlie?” No doubt he was honestly thanking his co-star for all the support. But as a huge fan of Micallef while not exactly loving every second of TAYG, it’s these moments of wild and groundless speculation – where Pickering’s laughter is maybe more about making sure the camera cuts to him and not either of the other team captains after Micallef’s gags (because after a joke, you want to show someone laughing), and Micallef occasionally feels the need to rein his OTT co-star in – that make watching Josh Thomas rummaging through a garbage bin tolerable.

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The second series of Wilfred seems to have been picking up mixed reviews – by which I mean, The Age’s Green Guide said “there’s only so far the conceit can stretch”. Yeah, that particular insight was old news by the second episode of series one – it’s a show about a bogan in a dog suit where the only joke is that, well, there’s a bogan in a dog suit and look, he’s got a bong! – so perhaps it might be more useful to, considering they’ve dragged this one-note joke out for another eight episodes, come up with something that digs a little bit deeper.

So with that in mind, and ahead of a no doubt longer (if in no way more insightful) review a few weeks further down the track, it seems only fair to point out that while the “hey, it’s a dog who acts like a bogan” jokes are still being remorselessly pounded into the ground, series two of Wilfred has managed to fix one of series one’s bigger annoyances. Instead of Wilfred being a bogan thug, his owner Sarah being a moody demanding sod and Adam being a nice guy stuck in the middle, Adam is – at least in the first episode – now a annoying pedantic knob (the other two remain unchanged).

It’s a minor shift, but an important one. In series one the comedy was often hamstrung by the power imbalance: watching someone powerless being picked on isn’t funny, it’s bullying… no matter how hard Ricky Gervais tries to pretend otherwise. The relationship was clearly meant to be that Sarah was so hot Adam would put up with both her bitchiness and Wilfred’s abuse, but over eight episodes it just turned into one long awkward passive-aggressive dinner party conversation between a couple everyone else knows is doomed.

With Adam now being a dick, problem solved: everyone on the show clearly deserves each other, and all the shit they put each other through is fair enough.  It doesn’t make the show any funnier, but it does indicate that writers Adam Zwar and Jason Gann are stepping up a notch – and makes the prospect of Zwar’s upcoming behind-the-scenes-at-a-newspaper sitcom for the ABC a little more promising too.

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Part of the reason why it’s been so quiet around here this last week is because I’ve been plugging away at Akmal Saleh’s book The Life of Akmal in the hopes of… well, I don’t really know what I was hoping for. Some kind of review, obviously, but really, if you’re a comedy fan – and not just a fan of Akmal – there’s not a whole lot to say about this one.

Akmal himself comes across as a likable guy here, which is more than he’s done in any of his movie or TV appearances to date, and  most of the stuff about his upbringing, religious background and home life is both interesting and kind of funny. But as far as the comedy stuff goes – and this isn’t a criticism really – it’s little more than a collection of slightly amusing stories about being on the road.

It’s not a criticism because this is obviously a book for people who like Akmal, not comedy. Personally, I was hoping for some stories about him television shows (wasn’t he on Mick Molloy’s ill-fated The Nation) and movies (You Can’t Stop the Murders, anyone?), but instead all I learnt was that Austen Tayshus is a bit of a prick. Which I kinda knew already.

Otherwise… well, it is a nice reminder of why Tony Martin’s books are so much better than these kind of things usually are. Akmal can tell a funny story, but – on the basis of this book – he can’t do much more than that, while Martin is always dropping in extra gags that both push things forward and give us a better idea of who he is as a person.

Put another way, Akmal seems like a nice guy but even when he’s talking about his trouble with women (mostly due to his religious upbringing), it rarely feels like we get under his skin. It’s the old stand-up trick writ large: don’t say anything personal or controversial that could put your audience off-side. They won’t laugh if they don’t like you.

So while he’s very open about what he’s done (apart from his TV and movie work, dammit), and his insights into Egypt are interesting stuff, I didn’t come away from this feeling like I knew anything at all about who he really was. Which is fine for a stand-up act:, in a comedy memoir, it’s a bit of a drawback.

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