We’re assured by the ABC PR department that Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am is “a rapid fast-flowing comedy with an uniquely female perspective.” “Uniquely female”, you say? Are we supposed to read this as saying “it has an unique perspective that also happens to be female”, or – as seems way more likely – “this perspective is unique because it’s female”?
If it’s the latter then a): nice one chumps, as comedy is one of the few areas of Australian cultural life where women get a semi-reasonable shake and do we really need to bring up Judith Lucy, Kath & Kim, Kylie Mole, Wendy Harmer and the list goes on and on, and also b): US comedian Amy Schumer is doing the exact same thing right now and it’s not a comparison that’s flattering to the Skit Box team behind this show.
Yes, we know outright comparisons are both unfair and extremely lazy criticism. But at the moment, and especially online, Schumer is the current owner of the “raunchy and insightful female-focused sketch comedy” title. That obviously doesn’t mean that other people can’t also do it: it does mean that someone else is already doing a really good job of it so you’d better bring your A-game because people are going to be making comparisons.
So when your opening is a girly slumber-party pillow fight that turns vicious… and that’s it… then you’re not really putting your best foot forward. Taking things TOO FAR is very well-worn territory now that you can pretty much show anything you like on television (or at least, anything that’s going to get across the TOO FAR point, such as the ear-biting here), and while there might be a deeper point to be made here – maybe about reality versus fantasy – this bit isn’t making it.
Then it’s time for the seemingly traditional one-upsmanship bit where two people try to outdo each other with… oh, just go watch Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch instead, that pretty much put the capper on this kind of thing 40 years ago. Still, “I’m having a seizure on top of all this from the miscarriage of my autism AIDS baby” was a pretty funny line.
Hey, help us out here: is this a comedy sketch:
WOMAN: “Do you want sushi for dinner?”
MAN: “Didn’t we have sushi for lunch?”
[Freeze-frame, caption BITCHES BE CRAY]
Yeah, we didn’t think so either. Don’t worry, this kind of thing doesn’t get funnier with repetition.
Like we always seem to be saying with these Fresh Blood pilots, there are bits here that work – usually the shorter the better. The all-junkie version of Friends complete with fake laff track is not a good idea, but the junkie version of the theme song (“it’s like you’re always shooting up someone’s gear”) is good; the animated toilet sign joke works; ‘Old-Fashioned Dating’ contains one “swipe left” laugh but it’s short enough to get away with it. And then it turns out to be a series of sketches and… yeah. Repetition.
The trouble with having an unique perspective on anything is that it telegraphs a lot of your jokes ahead of time. Hey look, it’s a workplace full of women and the new hire is a guy; wonder where this is going? No, no we don’t, because it’s going down the corridor marked “what if sexism worked the other way”. That doesn’t mean it’s not a decent sketch – the points the women made were funny because they were valid beyond the usual clichés – but when your punches are so clearly telegraphed ‘decent’ is really the bare minimum required to get a laugh.
(and then they bring the sketch back and you know what? If you have a long sketch that gets more and more crazy, cutting away in the middle to something else then coming back to it doesn’t make it funnier – it ruins the momentum you’ve built up and makes the whole idea seem drawn-out. This kind of thing worked when Fast Forward did it because they were doing (relatively) short sketches and could cut between three or four at a time across an hour-long show; when you’ve got 22 minutes, if a sketch feels too long to deliver in one go, cut it down until it fits)
And everything else was firmly in the “everything else” category. Ha ha, being murdered by a serial killer is like sex! What, no “I scared him off” punchline? And then it’s reprising old sketches until the end credits roll. When you only have what, five sketch ideas in 22 minutes, it’s not really the best advertisement for being given an entire series, especially when a decent script editor would cut that run time down to a core funny five minutes. It’s a good five minutes, mind you, and this does show a fair amount of promise. Would we watch it as a series? Yeah, we’ll get back to you on that.
It’s been a very long time since Australia was up there with the world’s best in sketch comedy. The UK may have given up on the format but the USA is really doubling down on it and as a result the days of getting laughs with half-finished ideas, sketches that don’t really say anything about anything beyond “what if X was like Y”, and banging a concept into the ground with repetition is… well, obviously not “over” because that would be wishful thinking. But if you want to make good sketch comedy, you now have a lot of current examples of how it should be done.
So that running bit where the punchline to each wacky request was always “ugh, you’re just like my dad”? Not really the way to go.