Spit roast hog

If you gave a video camera to a student revue and asked them to make a news parody The Roast is probably what you’d get. Indeed, if you look at the biographies of the show’s cast and writers it’s notable that many of them are barely out of university. Not that this automatically makes them or the show bad – inexperienced writers can’t be expected to produce a good program – what we question is why a show which was a proven dud in its earliest incarnation as WTF! (2010), and then as a web series (2011), made it to TV for a first series (2012) and is now back yet again. For 150 episodes.

The Roast sets itself up as a long-running news show which reports from around the country (and the world) on the issues of the day. Its team of reporters play it relatively straight (unlike in news parodies such as Mad As Hell and Brass Eye which got laughs by making their reporters “characters”) meaning that on The Roast the stories have to do the heavy comedic lifting. The Roast has also chosen to keep it very topical, focusing on real world headlines rather than current affairs. In the hands of a more experienced team these restrictions wouldn’t be such a problem, but it’s hard to avoid wondering whether a bit more freedom in the format might have given the team at The Roast a better chance of getting laughs.

The best episode of The Roast that we have seen was a “from the archives” special parodying period reports of the disappearance of Harold Holt and the introduction of Random Breath Testing. Here, the writers and cast could get a decent amount of laughs from old-style clothes and modes of TV production and presentation. Whereas in a story about a contemporary issue they have to find a way of making that issue funny.

Often, The Roast’s formula is to take an aspect of a topical issue to the extreme and hope for laughs. When Myer boss Bernie Brooks said a levy to fund disability care would mean less people spent money shopping, The Roast did a sketch about a new government levy to help big department stores. They also sent one of their reporters around stealing money from people on behalf of the retail giant. While the basic satirical ideas for this were fine – you could imagine Mad As Hell doing something similar – Mad As Hell would also have done it a lot better. The reason for this is tone – Mad As Hell’s angrier, rantier approach is a lot funnier than The Roast‘s reporter David Ferrier playing it alternately straight and cheeky.

Great topical comedies like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Mad As Hell and Clarke & Dawe are fuelled by anger. One of the many problems with The Roast is that there just doesn’t seem to be any drive or passion behind it. And that’s the death knell for a topical comedy, because if there’s no passion or rage behind the material why make it topical? Why not just broadcast 10 minutes of dinner party sketches? Or Justin Bieber gags? Or dead air?

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17 Comments

  • BIlly C says:

    Seems Rachel Corbett has dropped Big Brother from the resume.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Eventually the Internet will kill the topical\politcal comedy scene for television. Especially for the millennial market. I think this is what ‘The roast’ is trying and failing to circumvent.

    Please review ‘The Very Trevor Ashley Show’ it deserves a series.

  • BIlly C says:

    You can also review Spontaneous Saturday, it’s on SBS catch up. If you can get through it.
    It looks like it was filmed by a media studies class with scripted jokes from the world’s best Aussie joke book. It’s funny that two of the cast are in the new seven impro show recording at the moment.

  • Jimbo says:

    The Very Trevor Ashley Show was very funny in places, but it commits the cardinal sin of being camp comedy, which most Australians just won’t watch. If it does go to series then it will never be more than an el-cheapo show on SBS2.

    The other two comedies premiered on SBS2 last night were crap.

  • Billy C says:

    Have you seen Mrs Brown’s Boys?
    i.e the show that is going to play arenas here.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I don’t really agree it’s ‘camp only’ there is a lot of social, multicultural and political humour as well. Also Dame Edna shows you can make ‘camp’ work.

  • Jimbo says:

    Mrs Brown’s Boys is not camp. It’s kitsch 1970s low-brow working class comedy.

    By camp I mean lispy, mincing drag-artist stuff.

  • Jimbo says:

    I liked the non-camp stuff (eg. the pitch to MBS was hilarious) by the non-camp actors. However, when Trev turned up in any scene the comedy went downhill. He seems to exist only to do Shirley Bassey impersonations.

    Dame Edna is not camp; she’s parody.

  • BIlly C says:

    I see your point Jimbo and I kind of agree with you. The other problem is that almost every show a performer pitches is about a performer who wants to get a tv show. I think the last time anyone said yes was Eagle and Evans. It’s too meta and while it reflects the performers reality it doesn’t have anything to do with the average person. The writing was okay and at least something happened but I don’t actually feel he has a lot of screen presence.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    SBS don’t listen to them! Listen to me! The show is good*

    *Will elaborate later.

  • Jimbo says:

    Billy C – Now that the commissioning aspect has been used up as a plot line, the entire show is going to have to be about coaxing people to appear on Trevor’s TV show. And when they do it will be the same joke over and over again – either the guest or Trev will be embarrassed. Then he’ll do a drag act. This will wear out pretty quickly. Just look at Ricky Gervais’s show ‘Extras’ – there is only so much you can milk from a show about a show.

    Urinal Cake – yes, please do explain (as long as it doesn’t involve you dressing up like Shirley Bassey).

  • PEntrove says:

    The chicks are actually funnier than the guys on this show. Maybe it’s because the guys reek of desperation? That host! One or two of the guys they cut to have pretty great deliveries actually, they just lack the material. There’s also something pretentious and embarrassing about the show that I can’t explain. Seems very white privileged and conan obrien/harvard lampoon, which would be fine if it were funny. Even then I’m not sure that works in 2013 Australia.
    I went to a few friars club roasts during the late 80s and in my experience roasts are supposed to have a dais and funny jokes. This show doesn’t have funny jokes, or jokes at all, but they could maybe get a dais? Or just a table? Or hire older and funnier and experienced writers? Somebody give me a show? Anybody?

  • BillyC says:

    I expect that any attempt to convince people to appear on the show will be echoed by the real life attempt to convince people to appear. Nazeem now has his own SBS show being shot. I wonder if he would come back now? Still it was a decent effort and better than a lot of stuff that does get commissioned. So I’m not going to be overly critical considering the first ep is usually the hardest.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Okay.

    Metashows have been popular and funny in the past; 30 Rock, The Muppet Show and the various Patridges. The ‘public’ likes the concept of fame and ‘show business’ and that is only regards to Trevor’s day job.

    Now Carmen’s day job is a night cleaner. Nadj’s is a taxi driver. Not great jobs by any imagination and worse than the ‘average person’. But what do they have in common? The hope that ‘show business’ will get them out of their rut. Elisa to relive her Filipino soap opera days vicariously and Nadj to get his message across. Isn’t that what a lot of people think ‘show business’ will bring? Given a series I think both these character’s backgrounds will be further developed.

    The pilot had a lot of ideas and left it open. Yes one way is to go ‘The Muppet Show’ and do it all on set-ish but I think it’s going to be more like Patridge where we explore the ‘off show’ side as well. The idea of using Nadj to ‘interview’ the guest is funny and clever because ‘Trevor’ would be too egotistical. Also if they had ‘serious guests’ Trevor doesn’t have to ‘turn serious’ Nadj can do the fictional ‘harder’ stuff. Even if they didn’t have a guest they can rely on the ‘token ethnic act’ or Trevor’s act to cover. Or like I said before do the off stage background stuff. They could even do a South Park ‘You killed Kenny’ thing where each episode Trevor never really gets to interview the guest but Nadj does. Like I said before left a lot open.

    Now here’s the rub. Is ‘Trevor’ funny and\or charming? For a dumb, ignorant, racist egoist I found that he was. He’s essentially acting like Miss Piggy (to Carmen’s ‘Kermit’ and Nadj’s ‘Fozzie\Scooter’) he’s the cataylst for the show. And a lot of people like Miss Piggy.

    Good night.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yeah, I think we can just leave you guys to it at this stage.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Crowd-sourced criticism.

  • […] But halfway through his article Firth brings us back to the present day with some musings about The Roast… […]