Well, Blow me!

Can you remember the last time anyone produced a full length scripted comedy show for a mainstream radio station? Apart from ABC Local’s lacklustre 2008 new talent scheme The Comedy Hour? You probably have to go back as far as the late 70s or early 80’s. To around the time when FM radio was coming in, and the ABC was winding up its radio comedy unit due to the latest round of budget cuts it was having to endure.

Since then, Australian radio’s enthusiasm for scripted comedy has been fairly minimal, indeed the whole genre seemed a bit daggy. One way to get around that was to make it ironically bad, like in the serials How Green Was My Cactus (broadcast nationally on various Austereo stations), Return to Blue Hills (produced during the early days of Shaun Micallef’s stint on the Vega Melbourne breakfast show, when he seemed to have free reign to produce all kinds of weird and wonderful sketches and segments), and Funky Squad, Johnny Swank and Implausible Rescue (all made by The D-Generation, again for Austereo). Sure, plenty of breakfast or drive time shows produced comedy sketches (most notably the ones involving Tony Martin), but on commercial radio, at least, you were lucky to get anything more elaborate than a few segments of loosely-scripted banter.

As for the ABC, their scripted comedy output has been equally sporadic. Bryan Dawe, who started his comedy career on Melbourne’s community station RRR (which has never stopped making scripted comedy, incidentally), attempted to change that in 1987 with the sketch show Don’t Get Off Your Bike. It didn’t last long, but it is notable for starting the Clarke & Dawe partnership. Afterwards, Dawe went on write and perform four series of comic monologues as pensioner Roly Parks on ABC radio, and later developed rabid right-winger Sir Murray Rivers QC, probably the funniest Australian comedy character hardly anyone’s heard of. (Is Sir Murray still giving his thoughts on current events on ABC radio every week? And if he is, why is there no information about when he can be heard on the ABC website? Or a podcast?)

Even Triple J, a station you might expect a bit more comedy from, hasn’t done a lot of scripted comedy in the past 30 years. Certainly nothing more substantial than the odd serial (remember that dire serial The Sandman made for the breakfast show?) or series of sketches (like Sam Simmons’ The Precise History of Things, check them out here), which is why the new series, The Blow Parade is such a welcome surprise.

The Blow Parade is a series of spoof rockumentaries, written and performed by Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor of The Chaser, and music historian and Triple J producer Craig Schuftan. Episode 1, focusing on prog rock band Lake Deuteronomy, is intelligent, ambitious, lovingly-crafted, detailed, funny, and stuffed full of elaborate musical parodies.

If there’s a problem with it, it’s that this series is a one-off when it comes to radio comedy in this country, and probably the main reason that it is exists at all is because of the enthusiasm of two high profile comedians. It’s unlikely that anyone at the ABC gives two hoots about scripted radio comedy, and that’s a pity because there should be a slot on radio for new and developing comedy writers to hone their skills and try out new ideas. An ongoing slot for radio comedy wouldn’t necessarily give us the next Clarke & Dawe, but it would definitely result in better comedy writers. It has to; on radio there’s only one way to get laughs – with a funny script.

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10 Comments

  • Daniel G says:

    http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/the-chaser-launches-air-raid-20100428-tryd.html

    Andrew Hansen said in the above article that he ‘devoured’ British radio comedy and wanted to do something like those programmes in Australia. And I agree!
    I’d love it if there was an Australian equivalent of the BBC Radio 4 6.30pm comedy slot, especially as the 5.30am comedy slot on Radio National just isn’t doing it for me any more.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    British radio comedy has clearly been a huge influence on Hansen, even if he hadn’t said as much to The Age you could tell from the style of the show.

    The 5.30am comedy slot on RN just plays shows from the BBC R4 6.30pm comedy slot (apart from the topical ones, for obvious reasons, although you can get these on the BBC’s Friday Night Comedy podcast if you want to hear them – they’re usually very good) or repeats of ancient BBC shows (The Goons, Hancock, My Word).

    It’s a huge shame the ABC can’t really be bothered with original radio comedy. One show I didn’t mention above is Thank God It’s Friday on ABC Sydney – the only regular, full-length comedy show on Australian radio, and a pretty crappy one at that. Compare BBC R4’s similar satirical panel show The News Quiz to TGIF. The News Quiz is stuffed with well-written lines, speedy improv and actual satire, TGIF’s just some B-list stand-ups doing lame routines about Kevin Rudd being a bit dull.

  • Daniel G says:

    What really bugs me about RN’s comedy slot is that there’s some really good contemporary BBC shows that are absolutely wasted at such an early time. If it wasn’t for get_iplayer automagically downloading all the comedy shows from BBC Radios 2, 4 and 7 for me, I wouldn’t know how good radio comedy is in Britain.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    One of the main problems is that there isn’t an established radio comedy slot, at a decent time, on any radio station, either for imports or local shows. And as far as I can work out the last time there was one was in the 70s or early 80s, around the time of The Naked Vicar Show. The reason for the axing of the slot seems to have been partly budget cuts and partly a belief that radio comedy and drama were old hat. Meanwhile, the BBC has kept them both going, and they’re still well listened to and still a training ground for upcoming writers. It’s a massive shame.

  • lumberjack says:

    Wow, thanks for the Blow Parade tip off – it’s seriously awesome, and quite different from The Chaser’s previous work, although you can detect shades of Chris Taylor’s old Coma FM sketches on Today Today. I read an interview where Taylor described the show as being much closer to the type of humour he likes compared to his work with the Chaser, and he referenced On the Hour and People Like Us as being big influences. He and Hansen also said they thought it was the best thing they’d done, but they didn’t necessarily expect it to find a big audience since they feared Australians aren’t really used to this style of radio comedy.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    It’s a tough task bringing this kind of thing back after 30 or so years. Good luck to them, though, because it’s a really good show and this kind of thing would do wonders in the long term for Australian comedy.

  • lumberjack says:

    Here’s that interview with Taylor I was referring to. Quite an interesting read.

    http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/features/23724/The-Blow-Parade.htm

  • mal says:

    can any one tell me where i would get copies of dont get off your bike radio show

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    We’d like to know that too!

  • […] Okay, so you’ve probably missed out on one of the 20 free tickets (maybe you can sneak in ‘round the back instead?)… Personally, we’ll be waiting for the broadcast, because a scripted comedy show on radio is a real rarity these days and Triple J haven’t bothered to make one since 2010’s The Blow Parade. […]