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.