The final episode of True Story – well, the first series at least; it’s done well enough in the ratings to be the rare Australian commercial comedy hit – was a bit unusual. For a series that’s largely featured all-star Australian comedy casts (the week before had Stephen Curry, Bob Franklin and Rob Sitch), it had no big names and no wide-ranging story. Instead, it featured a pair of New Zealand university students forcing each other to do dares until one of them was standing over a toilet holding a human poo.
The reason why True Story has been one of the comedy highlights of the year is that, unlike a lot of current Australian comedy (The Other Guy comes to mind), the joke wasn’t simply that he had to hold a poo. No, True Story dug deeper: we were told how perfect the poo looked, how the poo made it onto a plate was discussed, the difficulty of forcing yourself to pick up excrement was revealed, and then once the poo was picked up, well… let’s just say squeezing came into the picture. And it turns out getting rid of that poo smell is harder than you might think.
Sure, it was disgusting. But if you’re going to make jokes about bodily waste, then make jokes about it: don’t just leave it sitting there like the simple mention of it is comedy in and of itself. And that’s why True Story has been so much fun each week, even when the story being told doesn’t really build to a big finish or just kind of wanders around; it’s never content to just present a scenario and leave it at that.
Partly that’s a result of the format. Hamish & Andy sit there while regular folks tell their wacky story, so of course Hamish & Andy are going to ask questions and point out angles they think are funny. That’s what happens when people tell stories – and yet, going by the kind of stories we too-often see on our television screens, it’s not something that actually happens when people sit down to write comedy scripts.
It definitely didn’t hurt that the stories were told using a heck of a lot of very funny performers. In a way it was kind of depressing seeing so many big names week in week out; why aren’t they on our screens more often? Mick Molloy might have a successful career doing other stuff, but he’s still a very funny actor – and yet this was the only show that’s actually had him acting since… what, the first season of The Time of Our Lives?
Even the parts with the regular folk telling their stories worked well, in large part because Hamish & Andy are extremely relaxed and confident when it comes to dealing with the general public. It’s easy – a little too easy – to imagine another host slapping down the guy in the final episode who clearly thought he was a bit of a joker (“we do the funny stuff here, mate”), but instead Hamish & Andy were happy to laugh at his lines without letting him run away with the show. Having nothing left to prove plays a part (they’ve got to be the biggest non-stand up comedy stars in the country), but it’s also another way that True Story was a show where being funny was the end goal; it didn’t really matter who got them over the line so long as they made it in the end – then everyone’s a winner.
The true stories in True Story were rarely classically hilarious. Even the best of them (probably the one where Ryan Shelton was a primary school teacher dealing with a grade-A scam artist) didn’t build to great endings or have brilliantly over-the-top situations. But they worked because each episode went into every nook and cranny looking for laughs. There was a cutaway joke in the final episode that was simply “these guy’s mums think they’re off learning stuff at university” – it was a five second laugh, but that’s five more seconds than a lot of recent Australian comedies have served up.
What it boils down to is that this was a series that really just wanted to be funny. It didn’t have to try to seem realistic because the stories actually were real; with that out of the way, they could do all the dumb jokes they wanted to. The stories weren’t great comedy-wise, because well-crafted comedy is almost always going to be funnier than simply retelling something that really happened. But because the focus was on making these funny stories even funnier, then end result really was funny. Wait, what?
Look, the point is that True Story worked because it was trying to be funny. It wasn’t trying to be cool, or realistic, or intelligent, or anything else. And it turns out that when you make “funny” your main goal, sometimes things just work out. Well, for the audience at least. And it doesn’t seem to have hurt Hamish & Andy’s careers any either. Why do we keep making inner city dramedies again?