If you saw the title of this post and expected it to consist of the following seven words – “There are none, sorry to trouble you” – then you’re wrong. Well, sorta wrong. Wednesday’s Hot Breakfast podcast contained one tiny little titbit guaranteed to interest the comedy nerd of a certain generation: Mick Molloy’s account of those infamous sketches from The Late Show where he gate-crashed TV shows in his Bart Simpson underpants. And because we know very well that there’s no good reason to listen to The Hot Breakfast on a daily basis, we’re going to share it with you now.
Download the episode here and fast forward three and a half minutes. There’s not a lot of detail, but the key fact is that the first underpants sketch, in which Mick Molloy jumped onto the set of Ernie & Denise during a live show from Myer, was born of desperation. Molloy and Tony Martin had turned up at Myer to film a door-buster sale sketch but had failed to get the footage. Luckily they spotted that Ernie & Denise were filming upstairs and they quickly came up with the underpants prank.
The result wasn’t exactly clever comedy, but as anyone who saw it at the time remembers it became an instant phenomenon. The following week, by popular demand, Mick gate-crashed Good Morning Australia, surprising Bert Newton. Then some shonky ABC special effects made it look like he’d also disrupted a discussion on media ownership on Lateline. But despite the popularity of these pranks this is where it ended. The following week’s Late Show began with a sketch in which Mick and Tone officially retired the Bart Simpson underpants, placing them under glass which was only to be broken in an emergency.
Viewing these sketches in today’s media climate, where simple, repeatable comic ideas like this are what comedians actively set out to create, Molloy and Martin’s decision to stop pulling the underpants prank after just a couple of weeks looks like a bad idea. But back in the 90’s this sort of restraint and good judgement were commonplace. Why would you do the same thing over and over, running an initially popular idea into the ground, when you can get out on a high and do something else?
It’s the kind of attitude we wish the makers of comparable recentish sketch shows like The Chaser’s War on Everything had. Or anyone trying to repeat their success. People remember The Late Show fondly because as a viewer you never knew what would happen next. Today’s TV comedy is usually fairly predictable, with characters turning up week in, week out – sometimes year in, year out – staying far beyond their welcome (we’re looking at you again, Chris Lilley). Repetition may be cheap, it may be easy, and your producer may claim it’s a good way to “build a brand” or some equally soul-destroying media wank, but as a viewer it’s a massive disappointment – and that surely can’t be good for TV comedy in the long term.