It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to stop and think about whether we’re going to have to explain who Bob Franklin is to a comedy crowd. But let’s be honest: it’s been a fair while since he was a deadpan regular on Australian comedy TV. At a guess, we’re going to say the last time he was out there displaying his trademark dry wit would have been Thank God You’re Here – and Rebel Wilson’s had pretty much her entire career since then.
So for those not in the know, Bob Franklin was once a sketch comedy regular back when Australia made sketch comedy, turning up in (and writing for) shows like The Micallef Programme and The Mick Molloy Show. He’s done a bunch of movies too, most notably Bad Eggs, and his CV has a whole pile of drama in there as well if you’d care to look. Up to speed? There’s a lot of great Bob Franklin clips on YouTube if you’re not.
Back in 2010 Franklin released a collection of short stories titled Under Stones. It’s good. It’s also not comedy as such; while there were certainly plenty of offbeat and absurd moments in the stories, the tone was more unsettling than hilarious, much more in line with horror writers like Ramsey Campbell than your typical wacky funster.
It’s a fine line between comedy and horror – they’re pretty much the only two genres that are regularly smashed together with successful results. But Franklin’s approach is less like The League of Gentlemen where they take horror tropes and wring laughs out of them and more akin to Chris Morris’ Blue Jam, where typical sketch comedy material is twisted until the horror shines through.
For example, back on The Mick Molloy Show one of Franklin’s sketches involved someone inadvertently ordering a creepy drummer at a hotel who followed him around beating out an annoying rhythm. “How do you turn them off,” the guy asked at the front desk. “You can’t” was the reply, and the last line of the sketch. Welcome to the rest of your life.
And now Franklin has a novel out. Moving Tigers is the story of Jean and her partner on holiday in Nepal. The title refers to a game involving hunters and prey, which is a pretty good indication that things aren’t going to turn out hunky-dory for Jean. But while this is a horror novel, it’s not like Franklin has forgotten how to be funny. If you’re after the kind of dust-dry comedy he does so well you’ll find plenty of that here even as Jean’s holiday goes from your usual bump up against another culture to something more unsettling.
We’d be pointing this book out whatever the quality simply because a book from an Australian comedian that isn’t “check out these wacky tales from my yoof” is not exactly an everyday occurrence. Fortunately, Moving Tigers also happens to be really good (and not just in comparison to that book Charlie Pickering wrote about practical jokes). It’s a bit of a slow burn, but Franklin’s focus on atmosphere and Jean’s vivid, totally believable voice (the book is written in the first person) make this a gripping read right from the start.
If you like a laugh, you’ll find that here; if you like not being able to sleep because you’ve been creeped the hell out by what you’ve just been reading, well…
…there’s a bit of that on offer here too.