You’ve Got To Be In It To Win it

What’s with all the edits? That was our first thought watching Mark Humphries’ first ever comedy segment on 7.30. They were jumping from camera to camera to camera like every comma in his monologue signaled a cut, which was distracting in a way you probably don’t want to be distracted when you’re hoping to get a laugh there somewhere.

This was kind of a weird comedy bit overall really. Obviously there was a point to it: politicians are saps who use sport as a way to connect to regular folk they have nothing in common with. And fake sporting team names and awards are kind of funny.

But the sketch was about people who use sport to connect with their audience, only all the jokes required you to know about sport to get them so… the sketch was actually doing the exact thing it was making fun of? It was a sketch about a smarmy guy trying to win over an audience by being all chummy about sport, only it actually did feature a smarmy guy trying to win over an audience by being all chummy about sport?

We might just go lie down for a minute here.

Okay, we’re back.

Much as we’re almost always scathing about the ABC’s endless attempts to “pick winners” by trying to artificially create popular personalities, this kind of segment really does expose the fact that their underlying logic is sound. By which we mean, John Clarke and Bryan Dawe were amazingly popular and well-loved far, far, beyond the reach of their weekly three minute segment and the ABC would be foolish not to want to replicate that kind of return on investment.

Unfortunately, this isn’t it. John Clarke wasn’t just extremely funny, he was amazingly charismatic and pretty much the most likable man alive, and Bryan Dawe was no slouch either. They had one core brilliant joke that enabled them to do pretty much whatever they liked and still be funny, and if one week it wasn’t exactly thigh-slapping stuff nobody cared because they were fun simply to spend time with. There’s a reason they survived the shift from the high profile 7.30 slot in 2013: their YouTube channel did great numbers, the ABC repeated them a bunch of times in a bunch of places over the week, and when Clarke died everyone was shattered because he was a national institution in two countries.

Mark Humphries, on the other hand… well, he’s no Sammy J, aka the guy who actually did replace Clarke & Dawe in their 6.55pm Thursday timeslot. But with no promotion, no obvious hooks for promotion, and the kind of high concept gags that make it hard to promote Sammy J as “your new satirical fave”, he’s had no impact in 2017 whatsoever.

So here’s Humphries, a man with a satirical brand. Unfortunately he’s “smarmy TV” charismatic, which is his joke in much the same way as Tom Gleeson’s “I’m a prick” is his joke, and in Gleeson’s case that particular joke stopped being a joke a long time ago.

In Humphries case, there’s never going to be a shortage of smarmy pricks to mock so his core strength initially seems like a winner. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that he has to make a joke of how he comes across on screen because how he comes across on screen would otherwise work against his comedy; all his comedy pricks are constantly trying to win people over because his fake attempts at charm are the only things that make him funny.

That’s not really a problem John Clarke ever had.

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