For a while now the team behind ABC2’s The Roast have been producing an end of week podcast called The PodRoast, which brings together a group of the show’s writers, performers and production crew to talk about the shows they’ve made over the past five days. Mostly this is a rambling chat but occasionally there are some interesting insights.
The episode from 25 June started with an interview with The Roast’s Executive Producer Charles Firth, in which he discussed why he left The Chaser, how The Roast came about, and what his comedy ambitions are – if you have even a slight interest in these topics it’s worth a listen.
“I think the holy grail of Australian television is what you guys are doing” Firth begins, explaining how since the 90’s he’s had an ambition to create an Australian Saturday Night Live, where new comedy and production talent is brought in, given on-the-job training and experience, and is then able to go off and do other things. He then goes on to describe a “pivotal moment in the history of The Chaser”, which happened just after the first series of The Chaser’s War on Everything, where the group had an away day led by a facilitator who got them to discuss their future, specifically “What is The Chaser – a company or a team?”.
At this away day Firth argued that The Chaser should adopt the Saturday Night Live model. “I had this ambition about what The Chaser could be” he says, describing how he’d spent most of his 20’s (he was 29 at the time of the away day) working with the rest of The Chaser group on what he felt was a “shared vision”. But it turned out the rest of The Chaser were more interested in being a comedy team whose aim was to keep working together (presumably along the lines of Working Dog). “It was an unambitious choice” Firth says with some sadness.
Aside from making a successful local version of Saturday Night Live, Firth says the other “holy grail” in Australian comedy is making a successful daily news satire, something he also feels has been achieved with The Roast. “It’s the best show” he says, praising his team for the quality of their writing and production, and enthusing about how television is “a writer’s medium”.
Returning to why he left The Chaser he says he thought of the rest of the group as “arrogant dickheads who were unbearable to work with, and then I realised I was the arrogant dickhead who was unbearable to work with”, adding that “I chose to leave” and that it was the right decision for him.
There are number of things that strike us about this episode of The PodRoast. On the one hand it seems to be an honest and thoughtful reflection from Firth on his time with The Chaser and his ambitions, as well as an insight in to the origins and goals of The Roast. We’ve often wondered how and why The Roast has managed to keep going (in all its various incarnations) and clearly that’s partly down to Firth’s ambition to keep it on air.
How long it will last (and whether Firth will end us as Australia’s answer to the legendary Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels) is debatable. We think Firth’s wrong when he says it’s “the best show”, and we’ve been saying that for a long time. The quality of the writing and execution of the show is usually somewhere between average and woeful, and we say that as people who frequently watch it desperately hoping it will find its feet. Australian comedy would be enhanced by a local, successful Saturday Night Live and/or Daily Show, but this isn’t it.
Finally, it’s interesting that Firth is convinced that the company (rather than the team) approach to comedy is a winner. We’ve been very critical of The Chaser’s War On Everything and other post-Firth Chaser projects over the years, but it’s unquestionably funnier than The Roast. And in comedy, it’s the funny that matters.