“This program contains content that may alarm some viewers”. That was the warning at the start of this week’s episode of The Chaser’s Election Desk. Considering the last time The Chaser did an election show they wrapped it up by showing a doctored photo of Chris Kenny rooting a dog, it wasn’t a warning to take lightly.
And yet, having watched the entire episode, we’re still not sure what the warning was for. At a wild guess? Maybe it was for the bit where Bill Shorten’s bus hit Annabel Crabb. Which only alarmed us when we realised it didn’t actually really happen because quite frankly her soft-soap efforts to “humanise” our wannabe lords and masters is about 80% of what’s wrong with political coverage in this country today. You want to get real laughs? Make fun of her. Because unless you’re living inside the ABC bubble the idea of a vaguely quirky and girlishly-dressed lady turning up at politicians houses and demanding they cook for her is somewhat more amusing than “oh look, a politician flubbed his lines”.
As for the other 20%, a goodly chunk of that has been on display on The Chaser’s Election Desk. Normally we’re all for comedy shows that try to stuff as much in as possible, and each week Election Desk has seemed increasingly stuffed.
Let’s try that again.
Here’s a question: how many people do you really need to throw to clips of politicians mangling quotes and looking silly? We’d say two – maybe three if you had an especially wide range of clips you were throwing to. But eleven? Seems a tad excessive. Especially as maybe half of them only got to announce one bit before never being seen again (until next week). It’s great that they’re giving their writers face time, but they’re just props for a joke that stopped being funny two minutes in to week one.
And while we’re talking about things that stopped working, usually at this stage we’d say something about how pretty much every prank of this series started and ended with security staff man-handling the prankster off-site before their victim even came in range. But while the prank with the faux Wicked Campers van promoting the Liberal Democrats’ leader was a pretty crude joke, it was also a): a good illustration of his hypocrisy and b): got the politician involved to say “fuck off”, so we’re going to chalk that one up as a win.
[it was also from The Checkout‘s double act of Kirsten Drysdale and Zoe Norton Lodge, who’ve stood out as new additions to The Chaser on-air team. More from them, please]
But that also highlighted the big weakness of Election Desk: all the big laughs came from the margins. The media, the minor parties, the small players – when they focused on them The Chaser got laughs. Pretty much all the stuff about Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten struggled. Shorten stumbles over words? Turnbull seems kinda snooty? These are pretty close to the least interesting things you can say about people leading political parties vying to run the country – unless, of course, you come from enough money yourself to cushion yourself from any attacks on public services or damage to the economy these leaders might cause.
Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future we’re stuck with a society where only people from the upper middle class have the resources to waste on developing a comedy career, and so shows like The Chaser are going to be coming from a place where the politicians’ names change but their devotion to keeping the middle-class welfare flowing to those comedians remains the same. Which tends to blunt their satire, which is why they work best when they’re making fun of the stuff that doesn’t really matter.
But that approach still requires them to actually make fun of stuff. High-Speed Rail? This bit felt more like something from The Checkout: moderately interesting information presenting in a moderately snarky fashion. Putting to air a large chunk of an awkward interview with the sole remaining senator from the Palmer United Party as he refused to (or was unable to) name the leader of the Palmer United Party? It was certainly interesting to see, but Media Watch tends to specialise in that when it’s not grieving over the death of journalism.
Coming directly after Mad as Hell was always going to be tough for The Chaser’s Election Desk. But to be fair, while both shows are tackling the election, they’re doing it in very different ways. Mad as Hell often takes the election material as a starting point before going off into the kind of material Micallef and company do best: pop culture references (“they’re not the droids he’s looking for”) and weird tangents (once that political spokeswoman got up and walked off set and the cameras followed, we laughed, knowing exactly where she – and the joke – was going).
Mad as Hell‘s bit about scare campaigns where the Labor spokeswoman kept telling creepy stories to freak the Liberal guy out was one of the funniest bits of election-based comedy we’ve seen to date. But it’s not the kind of election comedy The Chaser do. They don’t take funny ideas and run with them; they find a funny clip or idea, do one joke and move on. In theory it’s a strength – while everyone else is messing about, The Chaser get to grips with the raw substance of an Australian federal election.
If only Australian federal elections weren’t so fucking boring.