Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2017 – The Results!

Not long after voting opened for these awards, we were contacted by a cast member from an Australian comedy series we’d recently reviewed. While our review of their show was fairly positive – at least by our standards, but more on that later – this cast member was angry that we had characterised a portion of the show along the lines of “largely inoffensive”. Didn’t we realise that good people had worked hard on this show? Didn’t we understand that saying negative things about their work was going to be hurtful? And to them we say this: you might want to stop reading now.

We find ourselves going over this a lot but hey, it’s not like we’re getting paid by the word so here we go again: this – and by “this” we mean both the Tumbleweed Awards and this blog in general – is not aimed at comedy professionals. Are you working hard trying to make a living making people laugh? Then this is not for you. We understand that professional comedians are starved for decent feedback in this country, what with a critical industry made up largely of blow-ins and glad-handers, but that doesn’t mean our job is to tell you you’re doing a good job. There is an entire industry – two if you actually read much of what passes for professional television reviewing in this country – whose job it is to tell the general public that every Australian show on television is brilliant must-see viewing; if a couple of people with a no-profile blog occasionally differ, the scales are hardly balanced.

And if we were to take this comedy professional’s suggestions on board, what then? Does it soften the blow if we write “we know a lot of good people worked very hard on this” before we write “but it’s not very funny”? Everybody knows television is hard work and often the people who make it are decent folk who only want to make us laugh, but if that was the only standard we used to judge whether a show is worth watching or not then… well, we’d probably have a job reviewing television for one of the broadsheets.

(those guys are just as bad as us, by the way, only you have to learn to read between the lines to realise that any show not described in the most glowing terms possible is being labelled an obvious dud. The only people being fooled are publicists and performers who only read the reviews when it’s their show involved, so they don’t realise that being called a “gently amusing comedy” is – by the standards of the reviewer – a no stars thumbs down. At least when we say we weren’t impressed by a show, you don’t have to have read six months worth of reviews beforehand to decode what we meant.)

If we said every Australian comedy series and special was worth a look because it was made by decent people working hard to selflessly provide the viewing public with entertainment, then… well, what’s the point of that? If you already think that, you don’t need strangers on the internet to confirm your opinion, and as strangers on the internet the only reason anyone pays attention to what we have to say is because we’ve been reviewing Australian comedy for a decade or so. That means when we say a show is good – or bad – people can look at what we’ve said about other shows and make up their own minds as to whether they agree with our opinion or not.

There was a bunch more that this comedy professional had to say – yes, more than one person works on this blog, yes, the identity of one of our writers has been common knowledge in the comedy community for years so naming them as a kind of “I know who you are” move doesn’t really work, and no, we’re not going to go public because it’s the internet in 2018 and we’ve had enough serious threats and insults from Australian comedians over the years to not want to give them the opportunity to tell their fans to harass us because we didn’t enjoy something they did six years ago – but our basic point remains the same: not all Australian comedy is great, and it’s not doing anybody any favours to pretend that it is.

After all, how can we point to the good stuff if we don’t have an idea of what’s bad?


Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy

RUNNER UP
#CelesteChallengeAccepted

20.52% of the votes

#CelesteChallengeAccepted

When Celeste Barber recreates images of impossibly hot models on her Instagram account, it’s funny because she simply and cleverly gets the heart of why they’re ridiculous. But in these videos for ABC Comedy, where she follows the advice of the likes of Posh Spice and Miranda Kerr, she’s nowhere near as sharp-witted. In fact, her videos are about as boring as the originals. What was needed here was some sharp gags, demonstrating why celebrity lifestyle videos are ridiculous, not just Barber saying they’re ridiculous and hoping that alone would make us laugh.

RUNNER UP
Tonightly with Tom Ballard

22.78% of the votes

Tonightly with Tom Ballard

The sketches in Tonightly with Tom Ballard, so far, haven’t been great overall. The strength of this show lies in its off-Broadway feel and thoughtful stand-up and commentary, and many of the more traditional-style sketches and parodies haven’t fitted in. Having said that, the sketches in more recent episodes of the show seem to be improving, with the cast and writers trying out different styles. Kudos to them for working to improve their show – it’s starting to pay off.

WINNER
The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

59.49% of the votes

The Weekly with Charlie Pickering

The idea of The Weekly working to improve itself is laughable. It’s been on air for, what, three years now? And it’s still this level of quality?! At what point does it qualify to be axed? Usually in TV, you can cover up mistakenly commissioning a dud by cancelling it after two series. This year, The Weekly begins its fourth series. That’s a fourth year of banal and patronising observations, woeful parodies, editions of Hard Chat and wondering if Briggs will be in the show this week or not. (Hint: he probably won’t be.)

What the voters said about The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

The Weekly‘s 2017 ‘highlight’ I keep seeing referenced is Tom Gleeson’s Hard Chat with Sophie Monk, which was so ecstatically well received by the adoring masses that they revived it for The Yearly. Let’s analyze this comedy gold: Gleeson says something a bit snarky, Monk responds with something like “Yes, I suppose you’re right”. Repeat until Gleeson is out of script. Rather than reflecting well on Monk’s ability to handle awkward questions, shouldn’t the fact she brushed him off so easily reflect poorly on Gleeson’s comedy chops?

When you’re given the prime comedy slot, and the best you can manage is monologues wihtout jokes and a spinoff of The Einstein Factor….

The Weakly.


Worst Sitcom

RUNNER UP

The Other Guy

20.83% of the votes

The Other Guy

Remember how the first episode of this show revolved around a piss-stained mattress? Remember how everybody stopped watching once they realised the mattress wasn’t going to be a series regular? Sometimes we wonder where that mattress is now. It probably got a development deal with Ten. Fingers crossed it’ll be the new host of Cram!

RUNNER UP

The Letdown

29.17% of the votes

The Letdown

This is a bit of a tricky one, as it’s not really a bad series – it’s just not really a comedy series. The most charitable reading we can give is that they really wanted to make a light drama about a new mother’s struggles and then various industry and marketing pressures forced them to try and sell it as a comedy; the least charitable reading is that the makers figured that simply presenting a range of real-life issues around motherhood would automatically get laughs via the process of “it’s funny because it’s true”. Neither version really puts the ABC comedy department in a good light, but that’s not exactly new.

WINNER

Here Come The Habibs

54.17% of the votes

Here Come The Habibs

For a sitcom to have even the slightest chance of working on an Australian commercial network in 2017, it has to appeal to the widest possible audience. Forget a nuanced concept, well-rounded characters or thoughtful storylines: we’re talking about keeping everything as broad as possible. Which is fine: it’s when you do all that but don’t bother to be funny that you create Here Come the Habibs. It’s impossible to imagine anyone involved in the creation of this series finding a single element of this show funny: the fact that they seemed to think the general public would is the insulting icing on this shitty cake.

What the voters said about Here Come The Habibs

A welcome flash of diversity, but with typical bad Channel 9 humour.

Not funny.

Really bloody silly.


Worst Topical Comedy

RUNNER UP

The Feed

20.55% of the votes

The Feed

Is The Feed really a comedy? Really? Sure, they’re all laughing in that photo but whenever we tune in The Feed usually seems to be more about news delivered with the occasional moment of grim irony than anything meant to really make us smile. Maybe they’re laughing because Mark Humphries isn’t there with them.

RUNNER UP

Tonightly with Tom Ballard

23.29% of the votes

Tonightly with Tom Ballard

Okay, we’re going to call this result “divisive”, because while clearly a bunch of you don’t like Tonightly, it’s clearly better than The Weekly. Seriously, for a show made on the smell of an oily rag Tonightly is kicking a lot of goals each week. Yes, it’s hardly perfect and it’s still going through some growing pains but maybe we didn’t make it clear that IT’S NOT THE WEEKLY. So there.

WINNER

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

76.71% of the votes

The Weekly with Charlie Pickering

What does The Weekly want to be? Time was we’d settle for “not shit”, but even that simple goal seems beyond its grasp. It must seem like we have a bee in our stylish bonnet about this show because fuck knows we’re sick of writing about it, but come on: Mad as Hell does the news satire thing a thousand times better, Tonightly is easily a better tonight show, The Project has a lock on the “entertaining news” format and yet The Weekly keeps on coming back. If it’s just because it’s cheap, give Tonightly its slot. If it’s just because the ABC needs a showcase for a bunch of its “personalities”, get Charlie Pickering to do something – anything – else on the network because he’s wasting your money fronting this. And if it’s because someone at the ABC thinks a show that’s one third day-old social media topics, one third forgettable interviews, and one third wishing Kitty Flanagan had her own show is pulling in viewers, someone needs to point out that the era of the “nailed it!” clip going viral ended with Hilary Clinton’s Presidential campaign no matter how many times Pickering shouts about how stupid Trump is.

What the voters said about The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

2017 was a gruesome dumpster fire. Trump, homophobia, terror, systemic sexual abuses, impending global catastrophe. Dire material like that usually provokes the most powerful comedians to give voice to our communal pain and despair. Charlie Pickering wore a suit and smirked through ‘jokes’ that barely met the standard of snarky facebook updates.

Too smug, too dumb. Sympathy for Kitty Flanagan who could have hosted to get around the whole ‘male in a suit comedy desk’ routine.

If The Weekly is looking for tagline pitches for its 2018, I’d like to suggest: ‘This is good enough, yeah?’


Worst Panel/Game/Interview/Light Entertainment/Stand-Up Show

RUNNER UP

Gogglebox Australia

31.58% of the votes

Gogglebox Australia

If you’re going to make a show about ordinary Australians talking over the top of TV shows, you’d better make sure you find some ordinary Australians who have something funny or interesting to say about TV shows. Because it would be awful if you didn’t and you ended up with a show where a bunch of people play up their supposed quirks for the cameras. And that was all there was to the show.

RUNNER UP

Gruen

39.47% of the votes

Gruen

Most Australian panel shows are content to do one thing wrong: Gruen – always with an eye to providing value for money – does two. Firstly, it’s based on a truly despicable belief system that revolves around the idea that advertising is good. Secondly, it somehow manages to make advertising seem boring. Even Bewitched couldn’t manage that, and the advertising subplots there were up against actual witchcraft. Maybe they need less segments about how the solution to every single social problem is “spend more money on advertising”, and more segments on how advertising executives actually spend their obscene salaries. Because they spend them on drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

WINNER

Cram

47.37% of the votes

Cram

It’s amazing to think that a network canny enough to give Have You Been Paying Attention? twenty thousand episodes a year thought this was something that should go to air. And hosted by Peter Helliar no less, a man who has yet to succeed at anything that doesn’t involve standing slightly behind and to the left of Rove McManus. You could draw a face on a discarded sofa cushion and it would be capable of doing Helliar’s job. You think we’re exaggerating? Remember Tuckerbag? A literal paper bag advertising a small-scale grocery chain had more charisma than Australian television stalwart Peter Helliar. And yet here we are, with Helliar making hundreds of thousands of dollars each year while Tuckerbag ended up in the bin.

What the voters said about Cram

I actually wanted to like Cram but just doesn’t work for me.

Just crap. Too much colour and flair/ self-importance. Just put six funny people in a room and make sure the cameras are on goddammit!

Cram? More like crap.


Worst Film

RUNNER UP

Three Summers

20% of the votes

Three Summers

While Three Summers was miles better than the likes of That’s Not Me (the Tumbleweeds editors’ pick for Worst Film), it still suffered from the usual Aussie film comedy problems of cliched plot and characters, and lame gags. Still, it’s interesting to watch something contemporary by Ben Elton where some of the dialogue isn’t recycled from his 80s stand-up. Has even he realised it’s time he stopped doing that?

RUNNER UP

Ali’s Wedding

22.50% of the votes

Ali's Wedding

There’s no real reason why Australia can’t make romantic comedies. Oh wait, yes there is: nobody wants romantic comedies. Think back over all the movies you’ve seen advertised over the last few years. Where were the romantic comedies? News flash: there weren’t any, because that particular genre is (currently) dead. Blame Judd Apatow, blame Katherine Heigl, blame the – four? five? – movies that thought showing Rebel Wilson waking up next to some random dude after a night on the piss would be hilarious; whatever you want to blame, the fact remains that, at this point in time, mixing romance with comedy is cinematic death. Sorry guys.

WINNER

A Few Less Men

50% of the votes

A Few Less Men

You don’t have to be a regular movie-goer to know that the big problem with Australian films usually boils down to “bad writing”. And while comedies don’t necessarily need to have good writing, it’s definitely a huge help – especially when most of our comedy talent aren’t movie-level actors and our movie-level actors aren’t great at hilarious improv (unless they are, in which case they’re Rose Byrne making real movies in Hollywood). So way more often than we should be comfortable with, we get movie “comedies” largely based around the kind of unfunny ideas you’d expect a well-heeled money man to be barking out at a production meeting. See the license plate in the still above this paragraph? “Mungus”. Oh ho ho.

What the voters said about A Few Less Men

Well, I haven’t seen any of them, but I remember getting sick to bloody death of ads for A Few Less Men, so I’ll vote for that.

Didn’t need a sequel.

A Few Best Men was bad enough. Full of bad stereotypes.


Worst Fresh Blood Show

RUNNER UP

Headswapsies

22.22% of the votes

Headswapsies

In an already bad field of shows, Headswapsies was definitely one of the worst from 2017’s Fresh Blood. If you’re going to do visual comedy, you need to do it really well, i.e. a deft performance of a clever script. This was more a clunky performance of a poor script. Don’t bother watching it.

RUNNER UP

Why Are You Like This?

22.22% of the votes

Why Are You Like This?

One episode of this involved the two main characters manufacturing cum from various everyday groceries. We’ve watched it multiple times and we still can’t work out why anyone involved thought this would be funny. Don’t bother watching it.

WINNER

Collective Noun: ABC Millennials

41.67% of the votes

Collective Noun: ABC Millennials

In some ways, this was way better than most of Fresh Blood – at least there was a strong central concept – problem is, it felt like something a bunch of 40-something advertising executives had written about da yoof. Hey! Millennials like social media… here’s what The Book Club would be like if it was about social media. Like we said: don’t bother watching it.

What the voters said about Collective Noun: ABC Millennials

Theory: The ABC ranked all the entries for Fresh Blood in order, then accidentally gave the money to the worst 20 rather than the best 20. Only explanation.

Let’s face it – they all sucked.

This was so cliched I’m surprised there wasn’t an episode of this about smashed avo.


Best New Comedy

RUNNER UP

Childproof

26.87% of the votes

Childproof

You’ve gotta love Tony Martin. Not just because he’s funny and works really hard to write scripts packed with hilarious lines, but because when some idiot executive tells him there’s no market for his sitcom, he makes it available to the audience and proves that there is. The even better news: because he’s in charge, no one can prevent him from making a second series. Fingers crossed he does.

RUNNER UP

Ronny Chieng: International Student

29.85% of the votes

Ronny Chieng International Student

Anyone watching this year’s Fresh Blood could be forgiven for thinking that new talent initiatives are a rock solid waste of time. Ronny Chieng: International Student is proof that sometimes they can unearth something really good.

WINNER

Get Krack!n

59.70% of the votes

Get Krack!n

This show was great straight out of the blocks. Original, biting, silly and intelligent – Get Krack!n had something for everyone. One of the signs that you’re watching a great comedy is when that comedy’s trying to make you laugh every single way it can, and in Get Krack!n they even bothered to make their dresses funny. Bravo, Kate and Kate! Another series, please.

What the voters said about Get Krack!n

Narrowly giving this to Get Krack!n, I’m a sucker for gags involving unseemly editing. Part of me wants to see the Kates write a show where pleasant characters have a nice time, but I eagerly look forward to whatever they do next.

Every episode of Get Krack!n was goddamned funny, and while that’s already more than enough, it was also ferociously satirical, tearing through the superficial, dead-eyed, aspirational fantasies that clog morning television. McCartney’s Sonia Kruger tirade and subsequent faux-apology, their pleading suck up to Katy Perry, the way McLennan’s endless bristling against the patronising way their guests framed them as ‘girls’, the show only appeared to be about two unhinged hosts; in reality it was the format that needed burning down.

McCartney and McLennan are the best thing Australian TV has going for it. The quality and quantity of jokes in Get Krack!n puts everyone in this country not named Shaun Micallef to shame.


Best Comedy

RUNNER UP

Get Krack!n

40.54% of the votes

Get Krack!n

Good comedy in this country is a fragile thing. Clarke & Dawe survived for decades as the equivalent of an editorial cartoon on the tail end of a flagship current affairs program; Mad as Hell vanished from our airwaves for well over a year while the ABC wondered whether they really needed two news satires now that The Weekly was so obviously going to sweep all before it. And The Katering Show, AKA the show that made Kates McLennan and McCartney famous and successful enough to give us Get Krack!n, was originally rejected by the ABC and had to become a viral YouTube hit with US interest before the national broadcaster decided to support the second series. Fun fact: season one of Get Krack!n was made in part with money from US comedy service Seeso, which is now defunct. It’d be really, really nice if someone at the ABC could confirm we’re getting a second series of Get Krack!n. Because it deserves one.

RUNNER UP

Clarke & Dawe

48.65% of the votes

Clarke & Dawe

For decades, the start of the end of the week was the marked by a new Clarke & Dawe sketch. Hilarious, on point – more on point than most serious political analysis – how we miss it.

WINNER

Mad As Hell

63.51% of the votes

Mad As Hell

World class Australian comedies are few and far between, so how lucky we are to have Mad As Hell, a show unique to this country. Name another topical satire in the English-speaking world where the emphasis is on surreal characters and out-and-proud silly comedy. Name another topical satire that makes you laugh as much as this does. We’ll wait.

What the voters said about Mad As Hell

Mad as Hell by far the best.

Mad as Hell always gets my number one vote. This year was the finest season yet. Multiple times I had to pause iView because I was laughing so hard I was afraid of missing jokes.

There’s not much to say about this show that hasn’t been said before. Which is the best sign that it’s maintaining its quality levels when other shows would be experiencing exhaustion.

And because John Clarke’s so greatly missed, a few thoughts from the voters on Clarke & Dawe…

I swear to god, if Clarke & Dawe don’t win this, the esteemed curators of the Australian Tumbleweeds should declare the vote null and void, and give John and Bryan their rightful accolades. RIP John Clarke.

The winner has to be Clarke & Dawe. For sadly obvious reasons. There will literally never be another chance to celebrate the most insightful, wry, playful, generous genius of Australasia’s greatest comedic talent, John Clarke. That he was lost to us all this year was a tragedy, but a sharp reminder of how blessed we all were to have him for so many years.

John Clarke was possibly the sharpest comic mind we produced/stole from New Zealand. Losing him made the shitpile that was 2017 all that much worse.

John Clarke


What the voters thought about Australian Comedy in 2017…

Mostly terrible with a couple of gems, so even better than usual.

Showing the first promising signs of a generational shift.

Pretty good.

Another lurch into the nadir. Yet more dramedy with shallow characters, bad dialogue and nothing remotely innovative or funny.

A big problem this year, as usual, was the lack of promotion and visibility for a lot of content. With a handful of shows promoted endlessly on television and online, while there were others I hadn’t heard of before filling in this questionnaire. The odds are unfairly stacked against new talent, although even getting a chance is a fete in its own right. Happy to see the Kates doing well, disappointed to see so many resources pooled behind Tom Ballard. At least the boys from Dum Dum appear to have cemented themselves, so well done to them. Thanks to the team at Tumbleweeds for their service, which I find neither unfair nor unbalanced. Happy new year.

Meh. Was alright.

‘My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.’

Getting better.

An interesting year.

We don’t get golden years in Aussie comedy, but with The Kates, Ronny Chieng and Celia Pacqola sharing the small screen with like of Micallef, 2017 is a very solid silver.

Not as wretched as some years.

Dismal.

Meh.

It was great! For a while there Wed and Thur nights on the ABC were overflowing with good Australian comedy. Channel 9 and Ten have done well with True Stories and Have You Been Paying Attention, but the commercial stations should look to the ABC and SBS for what a laugh-out-loud creative comedy looks like.

There seemed to be more of it, which is a good thing. The more we make, the more chance we have of finding the gems. It was sad to see the old ABC studios shut down. Hopefully, the trend of studio comedy shows shooting in Sydney doesn’t continue. Melbourne is waaay more of a comedy hub than Sydney.

Some really good new stuff like Get Krack!n, Edge of the Bush, International Student and I’m enjoying Tonightly as well. Mad as Hell, HYBPA know what the fuck they are doing and continue to do it. Mostly everything else is mediocre to bad. I think there should be more investment in proven talent and an actual support network for up and comers to be partnered with more experienced people.

It was better than previous years in terms of the quantity being produced, but what’s the point of all that product when hardly any of it is actually funny? Fresh Blood was especially disappointing. Is that really the best new talent that’s out there? It just reinforces the belief by TV networks that they are right to ignore comedy. Just make a crappy soap opera instead – at least it will hold onto viewers.

How is this rubbish blog still running?

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3 Comments

  • Hack says:

    Struggling to understand Tumbleweeds’ ongoing soft-support for Tonightly. Tom Ballard is an okay if inoffensive comedian, Greg Larsen is a funny fella and Bridie Connell is a talented performer – but this show is utter crap aimed at impressing a handful of people on Twitter and desperately trying to stir up storms in teacups (Invaslia Day, etc) in order to get some sort of attention from anybody else. The jokes are weak, the premise is tired and the whole thing is an utter waste of taxpayers’ money. Boo.

  • […] to the various people wondering why we’re giving “ongoing soft support” to Tonightly… it’s that we appreciate the difference between it and other shows, and […]

  • Yep says:

    The fact that Childproof, the best sitcom of the year, couldn’t get made in this country, says all that probably needs to be said about the current state of Australian comedy.

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