Well, It’s A Good Thing We’ve Never Liked Prank Calls Then

Earlier this week we were discussing whether to bother with a post on the prank call 2DayFM radio presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian made to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge, AKA Kate Middleton, was being treated for morning sickness. We decided against it because prank calls are crap, 2Day FM is the sluice tray at the bottom of the commercial radio slops bucket and what little Australian media interest the call attracted had basically fizzled out by the end of the day anyway.

With the death – a reported suicide – of the nurse who was the initial victim of their prank, the situation has changed a little. For one thing, this article on Fairfax’s website now seems a little dubious:

AS PRANKS go, it has caused offence right to the very top. The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, sections of the British public, the British press, royalists across the world and even a bewildered corgi or two.

But, in Australia, those who are well practised in this art of japery said on Thursday that the British outrage over the phone call made by the 2DayFM radio presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian to the private hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was being treated for morning sickness, is what makes it so good

Actually, let’s quote a bit more in case it gets taken down:

Asked about the royal stunt, Julian Morrow, from The Chaser, said on Thursday: ”It’s funny and I think Austereo was fairly silly to apologise.

”Prank calls are really legitimate and there’s plenty of really good ones. There’s a particular skill you apply in each case … they got through, it worked, that’s fine.”

Even radio presenters from rival stations were praising the duo’s stunt during the week. Michael ”Wippa” Wipfli, from the Fitzy and Wippa show on NovaFM (owned by DMG Australia), said Greig and Christian deserved credit for the fuss their prank has caused.

”Three cheers to them, I think they’ve done an amazing job … the joke went really well, they should have aired it,” he said on Thursday. ”Anyone that doesn’t laugh at this story, and works in the media, is just angry they didn’t do it themselves. They’ve done well, I take my hat off to them.”

Wippa, who performs regular radio pranks with his co-star Fitzy (including impersonating Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe in calls to the Chateau Marmont) said the 2DayFM call would have initially been about amusing listeners with funny voices and corgi sounds but the comedic approach would have changed dramatically when the nurse went along with it.

”It’s one of those things where the joke paid off,” Wippa said. ”The prank was there, they conned the person. They managed to convince a person that it was actually the Queen. The gag is they would be in disbelief that they actually managed to convince someone.”

Despite the official public apology from Austereo, Greig and Christian were said to be privately delighted by the global reaction. Their names (and the 2DayFM brand) have made headlines across the world, particularly in Britain, where the world’s most notorious tabloids have declared their outrage.

Yeah, in hindsight that probably doesn’t look good.

The question that will no doubt be asked in the coming days and weeks is, are pranks legitimate comedy if this is the result? Not that that’ll be the right question to ask: at this early stage we have no idea how cause and effect has worked in this case. Was she being hounded by the British Tabloids? Was she under pressure at her job? What was her prior mental state? What was going on in her personal life? At the moment we – and by “we” we mean “the kind of media commentators who rush to pass judgment on this kind of story” – have no real idea past various unsubstantiated news reports. We may never know: for one thing, it’s hardly likely her employers – or her co-workers, or the royal family, or anyone else – will now openly admit they put pressure on her in the wake of her falling for this prank.

Usually at this stage we’d pause to consider what effect this tragedy will have on the world of comedy. There are always forces – shadowy, sinister, no-fun forces – looking for a way to whip up outrage against comedians as a way to exert their own moral authority. But despite the cement-mixer loud volume of the initial hand-wringing, in this case it’s already perfectly clear what effect it will have on comedy (or more realistically, “comedy”, what with of-course-it’s-not-bullying pranks being pretty dubious laugh-getters in our book): bugger all.

2Day FM has been playing shit pranks on their listeners – insert joke about Kyle Sandilands’ entire career here – for years now, and nothing thrown at them so far seems to have dented their desire to give the bottom of the barrel a right seeing to. Remember all the outrage when they interviewed and named a 14 year old rape victim live to air? Remember how that changed everyt… oh right, nothing at all changed. They’ll make the appropriate noises, throw the presenters under a bus (while presumably the producers only get a rap on the knuckles and management not even that), dial it down a little over the non-ratings period and come back next year like nothing ever happened. Like nobody even died.

We don’t cover “comedy” on commercial radio here much any more, mostly because commercial radio comedy has – is there a stronger word than “devolved”? – into a slurry of giveaways, shouting and naked abuse. Which, if the ratings are any guide, some people seem to enjoy. Whether the end result is particularly healthy for those involved – this is hardly the first suicide linked to the Austereo network, after all – clearly those cranking the handle at this particular sausage factory aren’t all that concerned.

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