It’s hard not to have respect for anyone who’s gone to the trouble of making a scripted comedy show, particularly those producing podcasts, who are doing it for love rather than money. And if you listen to such a podcast there’s a bonus – a bonus I wasn’t really expecting after sitting through hours and hours of almost entirely dreadful chat-based podcasts – some scripted podcasts are actually worth listening to. Maybe it’s because there’s a high proportion of highly motivated, and in some cases professional, people involved, after all, writing, performing and editing a show takes a lot more effort than turning on a mic and speaking your brains. Either way, the scripted comedy shows I found – even the less successful ones – were interesting, experimental, and all the better for being what the makers wanted to make, rather than what some producer or programmer thinks audiences want. Here then are short reviews of some of them:
News Adelaide News: State-based scripted satire is pretty thin on the ground, so this wry look at South Australian current affairs is, at the very least, a promising concept. Sadly, as so often, the problem is not the concept but the execution. The mock news stories in News Adelaide News are rarely funny let alone satirical, even if they do aim at roughly the right targets, and it was only when former State Parliament barmaid Michelle Chantelois told Seven’s Sunday Night that she’d had an affair with Mike Rann (claims Seven later apologised for airing) that the News Adelaide News team had something genuinely funny to offer. But then again, when a story with that much comic potential is dished up on a plate (They did it on his desk while Parliament was sitting! They were “intimate” in a golf course car park!), who didn’t have something funny to say?
The Clitterati: Visit the MySpace page of this podcast and you’ll see the creators have an almost perfect list of influences: The Micallef Programme, Wonder Showzen, Mr Show, Monty Python, Arrested Development, Get This and the work of Chris Morris. Of these influences, Chris Morris seems to have been particularly important, and Episodes 2 and 3 in particular feature have some good Morris-esque material. Episodes 4 and 5, made a few years after the first three shows, have a slightly different style, and Get This and Monty Python seem to have been a bigger influence here. There’s also a short, bitchy and extremely accurate critique of Chris Lilley’s We Could Be Heroes in episode 2, which is fun to hear, particularly with the knowledge that it was written in 2005.
HalfCast Podcast: If there’s one comedic style which screams “internet” it’s the mash-up – and this podcast made between 2007 and 2009 has plenty of them. What makes the HalfCast Podcast‘s mash-ups interesting, however, is that they’re part of a wider soundscape of found and original music, carefully constructed to both link this shows’ sketches and give each episode a (sort of a) theme. One early episode contains a lot of angry anti-John Howard material, other episodes have a much darker edge, which the podcast’s co-creator Simon Keck (who you may remember from The Seven Day Itch, the weekly topical sketch show which was part of the ABC Local’s 2008 new talent initiative The Comedy Hour) describes as “horror-comedy”. Unfortunately for fans of a more pure type of comedy, the horror or dark style dominates a lot of the sketches, and many of the mash-ups aren’t that funny. Still, the music and editing are very strong, and despite the weak comic material HalfCast Podcast is an intriguing and entertaining listen.
The Day Before The Day Before Tomorrow: Written and performed by Sydney-based up-and-comers Andrew Garrick, Mark Sutton, Ben Jenkins, Dave Harmon, Alex Lee, Adam Yardley and Susie Youssef, The Day Before The Day Before Tomorrow is an audio mockumentary about the country town of Pullamawang, which secedes from Australia to become the tiny nation of Tripolis. An Australian reporter visits the town, hoping to find out more about the fledgling nation and its culture, in the lead-up to a war against Australia. Recorded in front of a live audience at Fox Studios, this mockumentary has been podcast in two parts, and appears to have been sponsored by Channel Ten. Ten provided several guest stars, including their continuity announcer, and received multiple plugs in return, which are unsubtly shoe-horned into the script. Whether this was a straight-up sponsorship deal, or some kind of new talent initiative, I’m not sure. If it was the latter, it’s not a bad model, and it’s easy to see how sitcoms and sketch shows could be piloted this way for next to no money. Whether this particular mockumentary was worth being piloted is another matter – there’s not much of a plot, the gags are pretty lame and the script pretty much meanders along until it’s time to call time, where it just ends – but the audience, who paid $15 each to be there, laughed quite a bit, so it clearly appeals to someone.
The Rubber Chicken Podcast: This podcast technically falls outside the scope of this article as the majority of the creative team are Canadians, but there is at least one Aussie involved, and it is a sketch comedy podcast, so I’ve included it here anyway. This show appears to be heavily influenced by Monty Python and even shares that shows’ obsession with stuffy British characters and Nazis. There are some of the slow, dark sketches you get in HalfCast Podcast, but not too many, and this is the kind of show you can become quite fond of, even if some of the material could do with a bit more work.