Are you a fan of Tom Gleeson? Is Tom Gleeson the reason why you watched every episode of The Weekly? Do you have fond memories of the days when he used to promote himself as “the ginger ninja”? Do you have the best-of DVD of Skithouse so you can rewatch the best of his “Australian Fast Bowler” sketches? Do you own a copy (preferably signed) of his book Playing Poker with the SAS, in which he recounts his adventures delivering comedy to the Australian armed forces serving in the Middle East? Do you find him funny? Do you find him really funny? Do you find him so funny you’ll watch a show simply because he’s in it so of course it’s going to be funny? If that’s the case you’re still shit out of luck because Hard Quiz is arse.
Hard Quiz is a show where the very first contestant is introduced with “expert topic: flags”. Sure, flags are interesting, what with the way they flap around in the wind and have patterns and logos on them and… ah, fuck this for a joke. This is prime time entertainment on a national broadcaster in 2016? Someone answering questions about fucking flags? Thank God someone else is an expert on “The Brat Pack”, otherwise oh wait the rage is still building. “Expert topic: Doctor Who” Of course it is.
“Welcome to hard quiz – the quiz is hard to do, and I give everyone a hard time”. Wow, there’s two things right there we have no interest whatsoever in watching. Fortunately, Gleeson is lying: the quiz is not hard to do, as it’s basically general knowledge questions based on the contestant’s chosen subject. If you know nothing about the topics chosen, rejoice: you’re going to have a few random bits of context free information thrown at you. Bet you’re feeling smarter already.
[We’re going to get technical for a moment so feel free to skip ahead to later paragraphs where we say mean things about Tom Gleeson]
The trouble with “comedy” quiz shows that involve the general public is that if they’re to have any hope of being funny they have to avoid making fun of the general public. Anyone seeing a problem here?
Comedy, generally speaking, boils down in part to power dynamics. People with less power or status making fun of more powerful people is funny; reverse it and it’s bullying. On a regular quiz show, the host has the power because they’re the host – even more so if the host is an experienced stand-up comedian who’s on-air persona involves him being a bit of a dick. If the host is ruthlessly mocking regular folk, that’s not funny: anyone seeing a problem here?
Fortunately the creators of Hard Quiz are not idiots, and Gleeson largely confines himself to gentle ribbing of the regular folk. Unfortunately the creators are also not geniuses, and so we still have a show where the big comedy hook is meant to be Gleeson making fun of the contestants. Only he can’t, because that’d be bullying. Only he has to, because otherwise this is a bog-standard quiz show without the ramshackle charm of The Einstein Factor, which was crap.
This isn’t rocket science: you simply can’t have a funny quiz show where regular folk answer proper quiz show questions. Comedy doesn’t work like that. You might get occasional funny moments, but unless you either have a): professional funny people answering or b): a format that is designed to be funny (you know, It’s a Knockout), it doesn’t matter what you put in because you are not getting funny out. Which in a way is good news because this is a show where people answer questions about flags.
But what about Tom Gleeson? Here’s a question Hard Quiz constantly poses yet never gets around to answering: why get a guy whose comedy act has basically been a): I’m a smart arse, and b): I’m a dumb guy who acts like a smart arse, to host a quiz show? A smart arse hosting a quiz show just looks like a fucking prick: it’s easy to be a smart arse when you’re holding all the answers.
So again, the good news is that Gleeson is not an idiot, and he largely dials down his usual act for something more avuncular and gentle – he’s basically a DFO Tom Gleisner. But the question remains unanswered: why get Gleeson to do a job that largely requires him to not act like presumably popular comedy figure “Tom Gleeson”? Did the ABC lose Lawrence Mooney’s number, because this is the kind of thing he – and literally dozens of other comedians – are better at and better known for.
“When I was a kid, I was scared of Doctor Who. Now I’m just scared of people who like Doctor Who”. And now we get to the third big reason why Hard Quiz is shit: who wants to watch a show where you’re mocked for knowing stuff about a subject? Is there a secretly huge idiot audience for quiz shows who tune in simply to see smart people fail? And if so, why not get on legitimately smart people (rather than regular people the audience is presumably meant to identify with) so their failures actually mean something?
Clearly we’re overthinking it, because Hard Quiz – a comedy quiz show that features the notoriously unfunny “fast money” and “mastermind” style segments if you get far enough into it – isn’t really a comedy quiz show at all. It’s just a regular slow-paced, dull as fuck quiz show that by week three will be hosted by Tom Gleeson playing someone utterly indistinguishable from any other game show host.
Here’s our Hard Quiz: why is this on in prime time instead of buried somewhere where it can gain a cult following? Why is it named after a forgettable segment on the ABC’s least successful news satire of 2016? Why is it pretty much the same quiz show format that’s been running since the mid-50s when the ABC’s big imported quiz show hits – QI and Would I Lie To You – are shows where funny people answer questions in funny ways? Why, if they absolutely had to make a quiz show that was completely forgettable, didn’t they come up with a better hook than “snarky guy is snarky host”? Why would anyone come back to watch this for a second week?
Oh right, we forgot about hate-watching. See you same time next week!