It’s fair to say our expectations weren’t exactly high for Hughes the Boss?, Dave Hughes’ half hour comedy special that aired on Channel Nine last night. But somehow we managed to fool ourselves into thinking that it had to be something more than chunks of Hughes’ stand-up about his family intercut with home movies featuring his family.
Given enough time and social success, pretty much every stand-up comedian eventually starts doing material about how their family is a nightmare, their kids are shits and their partner hates them for condemning them to this living hell. It’s not funny and it’s not really meant to be funny: it’s what well-established comics do when they’ve been around long enough to have a rusted-on fanbase who are going through the same kind of shit. “He’s saying what we’re all thinking!” The audience isn’t there to laugh at funny observations: they’re there to laugh in relief that their own horrible thoughts about their shitty kids are being said out loud by someone else.
But what about the rest of us? How are we supposed to act when watching a television show where a stand-up comedian does a bit on how his dog is so dumb it doesn’t know how to use a doggy door, followed by home video footage of that comedian trying to get the clearly uncomprehending dog to use the doggy door? What to do when seeing Hughes flip a coin while his two older (but still under five, God help him) children watch, then tell the girl that the boy won and stare dumbfounded as she bursts into tears? Then after the commercial break he repeats the experiment, tells the boy the girl won and the boy bursts into tears?
For parents, this kind of thing is “yeah, kids are shits… but you gotta love ’em.” For everyone else, it’s “yeah, kids are shits.” For Hughes, a loveable Aussie knockabout larrikin who’s been in the public eye for so long it seems churlish to wonder exactly what it is he does that makes him so essential to the fabric of society considering his current material seems to be basically “my kids are self-centered sooks and I’d love to abandon them in the outback”, this kind of material is found money. But why do a TV special?
The stand-up material wasn’t great, but as previously mentioned, it’s got an audience who hopefully have already forgotten what happened when those Japanese parents abandoned their kid in the wild. Plus Hughsie has a daily commercial radio gig plus a weekly slot on the AFL Footy Show: he still does plenty of stand-up comedy but it’s hard to see him as a stand-up comedian, if you get the distinction. So he doesn’t need to do a show like this to advertise his act, and he doesn’t need a show like this to advertise himself.
What he does seem to need this show for is to prove to people that he’s for real. He tells a joke about his kids, then we get a clip showing that he wasn’t making it up. Hughsie is telling it like it is: small children are messy and selfish. Who knew?
A more cynical viewer might think this kind of show exists solely to defend the Hughsie empire from the one area where it’s vulnerable. Hughsie is quick with the one-liners and on The Footy Show he’s perfectly serviceable – no-one doubts for a second that he’s interested in the footy, or that he can be funny about the footy. But the kind of jokes he’s cracking about his family are the kind of jokes anyone can make. Kids are annoying? A million public transport users say NO SHIT. So he’s got to provide some proof. He’s got to actually point at some real kids and say “look, this is what I’m talking about right here.”
Or, you know, he could come up with some different material.