Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.


Okay, so this is a show where a comedian takes a bunch of terminally ill people out to the Hunter Valley to do a bunch of wine tastings, ride around in a balloon, and talk about how they’re going to die. Good times!

We’re not big fans of shows like Australian Story because we have enough sad stories of our own to tell – “remember the time we had to watch all of Angry Boys?” *breaks down in tears* – but we’re going to guess it’s pretty much this kind of thing where people talk about how they deal with their horrible situation for the “entertainment” of the viewers.

What we’re also guessing is that Australian Story doesn’t feature occasional cut-aways to Harley Breen delivering a stand-up comedy set based on what he’s learnt from hanging out with these terminally ill people. That’s the big hook with Taboo – that out of a group of people’s extreme (and let’s be honest, somewhat grim, in week one at least) situations we’re going to get a bunch of comedy.

So do we? Naaaaaah.

A large, large chunk of this show is all about hanging out with the various terminally ill people and checking out how they live their lives – lots of drugs, obviously, but also lots of sad music and people on the brink of tears as they come face to face with their mortality in a way many of us never quite get around to – which is perfectly valid for a TV show but again, where’s the comedy?

It’s not that there aren’t laughs to be had here – probably not with the mum who mentions her husband also has (a lesser) cancer, but each to their own. It’s more that because this show is coming from a place of respect (there’s never the slightest chance that anyone will think this is a show that’s laughing at the subjects rather than with them) the comedy is always going to be firmly on the safe side of the street.

Of course, there are loads of mild quips about them dying: that’s the whole point of them being on the show. And realistically, the producers have found four people with fairly open attitudes to their illness; this is not a show where Harley Breen desperately tries to get a laugh out of someone in denial, or sobbing uncontrollably, or filled with rage at the world. These are terminally ill people it’s safe to invite into your homes. They’re not going to kick a hole in the wall or piss on your kids while shouting that it’s unfair that they have to die while you get to live.

And this niceness seeps into what comedy there is on Taboo. When it turns out that one of the patients actually had botched lung surgery (the doctor fucked up and cut out a healthy chunk of lung by mistake), you’d think that might make for a good joke. But no: instead we get jokes about how she has “butthole cancer” because “it has a real ring to it”. Did you really need to spend a weekend with a dying cancer patient for that one?

(okay, the bit where one of the dying guys wants a plaster cast made of his dick so when his partner finds someone after he’s gone she can use it to fuck the new guy was pretty good)

Overall, this is too nice to really get down to the kind of nitty gritty that makes for good comedy. What’s left is yet another Australian television show where a wafer-thin pretext (hey, let’s do some painting! Or drive around to your old house!) is wheeled out so a “regular guy” host* can just hang out with some people with a story to tell. They seem like nice people; their stories are often moving. But where’s the laughs?

“Not everything in life is funny” says Breen towards the end of the first episode. No shit; it’d just be nice if more of this show was.

*obviously the real way to make this kind of show actually funny is to let the subjects tell jokes about themselves, and the moments where these guys do just that are pretty much the comedy high points here. But if Ten made a show that was just dying people making quality jokes about themselves there’s a chance that might be a little too much for mainstream Australia to cope with, so best to have a professional on hand to sand the rough edges well and truly off.

The New King of Comedy

With Taboo making its debut later this week on Ten, we now have the unusual situation where one commercial network all on their ownsome is showing roughly double the amount of Australian comedy than the ABC. Yeah yeah, we know: is Mr. Black really comedy? Let’s put it this way: it may not be all that funny, but it’s a shitload closer to comedy than The Letdown.

And really, if we’re going to pick nits here, how much comedy does the ABC air these days? Rosehaven is maybe kind of like a comedy, but it’s a lot closer to one of those cosy UK rural series only without the murders; The Letdown is basically an observational comedy that thinks merely observing things is good enough. Get Krack!n ain’t coming back; Utopia is, so at least that’s something.

In contrast, whatever you think of shows like Kinne and Mr Black, they’re comedies first and foremost; Have You Been Paying Attention? requires no qualifications at all. And if we’re letting The Weekly into the comedy club – c’mon, it’s an interview show with a news round-up bolted on the front – then Taboo deserves a look in even if 75% of it is just hanging out with terminally ill people. With any luck they’ll do an episode on Tom Gleeson’s career after his latest Logies push flames out.

Normally this would be a good thing. Okay, it still is: the more options out there for comedy, the more chances there are of Australia actually getting something decent. But it’s bad news for the ABC, which is traditionally bad news for comedy. Anyone else noticed they haven’t announced they’ll be running their Fresh Blood program again this year?

Making local comedy runs against the current global logic of television production. It’s niche material that doesn’t travel: while you might be able to sell the format rights overseas, there’s very little chance that you’ll be able to sell the actual show anywhere. And if you’re in a small market (Australia!), the main way to attract overseas money is by making the kind of television that does travel – murder shows, shows about murder, thrillers that usually involve murder, and series where people investigate murders. Not a whole lot of laughs to be found there.

While Ten’s approach might not make a whole lot of sense from that angle – and let’s be clear, that is 100% the angle the ABC is taking with its scripted programming; good luck finding anything there that isn’t a co-production alongside someone with deep pockets overseas – it’s the smart play if you happen to be running a network that relies on ratings, because here’s a fun fact about Australian comedy: it’s (relatively) cheap and it rates (relatively) well.

Australian drama has to compete with drama from all around the world and good luck with that. Here’s one stumbling block: we simply can’t afford to make a Chernobyl, let alone a Game of Thrones (remember Cleverman? Us neither) and they cost pretty much the same to watch as some crapsack local murder show.

But Australian comedy only has to compete with overseas comedy, which – as previously mentioned – doesn’t always travel well; there’s a shitload of mainstream US sitcoms nobody here has heard of, and for good reason. And the stuff which does travel often doesn’t have widespread appeal: there’s a lot of viewers here who like to laugh but don’t really want to watch the second season of Fleabag.

Obviously there’s a case for making local drama – local stories, local jobs, blah blah. Which the exact same case as for making local comedy, only local comedy is cheaper and rates better. In good times when the cash is a’flowing, sure – why not do both? But now, when money is tight and the ABC really needs to start putting a very strong case to the public that they’re vital to Australian culture, some hard decisions really do need to be made.

Because the ABC’s lack of comedy in 2019 can only be described as a massive fuck-up. For the last six years their budget has been under the hammer, and much as we’d like to feel sorry for them, when they did have money they made shows like Myf Warhurst’s Nice, so… yeah. Now the cuts are really going to bite, and with a federal government perfectly happy to see them sink under the waves, their only real hope for survival is to appeal to the general public. You can see where we’re going with this.

For most of this decade the people running the ABC have chosen to focus on making a range of shows of marginal interest to most Australians in the hope of bringing in enough money from overseas to continue to make shows of marginal interest to most Australians. Which is no surprise; this is what they’ve always done. But in the past they had enough spare cash to throw mainstream audiences a bone in their comedy programming; once the money dried up, that stuff was the first to go.

If the ABC is to have any hope of survival under this government they’re going to have to turn to the general public and say “you still like us, right?”. And on the whole, Australians do – only for a lot of them, that like is based on the kinds of shows the ABC stopped making years ago. Remember shows aimed at teenagers? Remember satire that wasn’t Charlie Pickering reading a news story and ending with “what’s up with that?”? Quiz shows not hosted by Tom Gleeson?

(seriously, if the only possible counter-argument to us is “but what about Hard Quiz“, the ABC might as well shut up shop now. ABC management’s bizarre commitment to betting pretty much all their remaining chips on the non-existent “popular appeal” of Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson deserves its own Royal Commission)

Obviously the ABC hasn’t had the cash to indulge our every whim. But Ten’s current line-up points out an inconvenient truth: dumb local comedy is (relatively) cheap and it often rates (relatively) well. By turning their back on that, the ABC has made it a whole lot harder to appeal to exactly the people they’re now relying on.

Yes, maybe those people would never watch the ABC anyway and yes, maybe trying to go mainstream would have just been a waste of money and oh wait Spicks & Specks used to bring in a million viewers a week every week and the ABC axed it. And replaced it with Randling. Didn’t they recently knock back a reboot of Seachange, their most successful show in living memory and the basis for two decades of commercial knock-offs? Why yes they did:

The reboot was discussed initially with the ABC but Mott says the national broadcaster had responded by saying it “did not feel right for them at the time.”

When your feelings lead you to make shows like Tomorrow Tonight, maybe it’s time to start using your brain instead.

Who does it best?

This isn’t strictly a like for like comparison, but we’ve had a few thoughts about Have You Been Paying Attention? and Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation.

Shaun Micallef cover his face with his hands next to the Talkin' 'bout Your Generation Logo and headshots of the shows' team captains superimposes over their team names: X, Y and Z

Both shows, on the surface, are the same kind of show: a game/quiz hosted by a 56-year-old white male comedian, in which celebrities compete against each other in amusing ways. The concept of both shows is also built around the host’s natural talents.

In the case of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation’s Shaun Micallef, the show’s chock full of strange rounds, questions that don’t quite make sense, surreal musical interludes and odd side-reference to some piece of ancient pop culture. When Micallef lets loose on the keyboard or leads the show down an unexpected comedy cul-du-sac, he’ll crack up the teams, the studio audience and those watching up home. Classic Micallef.

Meanwhile, over at Have You Been Paying Attention?, Tom Gleisner is a pretty good serious quiz show host, but crucially he can match and often outdo the contestants in the snarky remarks stakes. His multiple weekly comedy “battles” with Sam Pang rarely disappoint – and are now a fan favourite.

But the differences between the two shows tell us a lot about what broadcasters think audiences like.

Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation, which airs at 7:30pm, is clearly aimed at a family/multi-generation audience. Laughs often come second to the nostalgia aspects and the actual playing of the games, and despite its high energy, it’s a slower moving show than Have You Been Paying Attention?. The thinking down at Nine, we assume, is that those watching this are doing it in small groups and want to reminisce about the relics from their childhood on screen – or explain them to younger viewers.

This isn’t a show cracking along at Have Your Been Paying Attention?’s fast pace, where it’s question, amusingly wrong answer, laugh, right answer and so on until the ad break, followed by more of the same for most of the rest of show. After a few, far slower paced question rounds, the final couple of parts of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation involve challenges, taking up the whole studio, where the teams have to, say, break out of prison Shawshank Redemption-style or to identify signs on TV detectives’ doors using only their tongues. When it gets to this part of the show, Micallef’s virtually out of the picture, along with his trademark mix of sharp and strange comedy, and it’s pretty much custard pie time.

For us, these parts of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation really drag. It’s hard not to admire the inventiveness of whoever devises these games but there’s not much in the way of laughs to be had. The contestants are trying to win the thing and aren’t likely to get waylaid by the urge to drop a few one-liners, so the only hope for comedy is if they do something hilariously slapstick (which they almost never do). It’s notable that bits from these rounds rarely make it into the promos for the show each week, whereas the gag-heavy question and answer parts do.

Tom Gleisner poses holding a question mark next to the Have You Been Paying Attention? logo

But on Have Your Been Paying Attention?, though, there are built-in opportunities for laughs and less emphasis amongst the contestants on winning the show. There’s more a sort of informal points scoring system where you win if you outwit Tom Gleisner. (Last week’s informal winner, in a surprise move, was guest question-asker snowboarding champion Scotty James, who got Tom a beauty.)

If you’re a TV executive, a show which is primarily about the gags, like Have You Been Paying Attention?, should air in a later timeslot (in this case, 9:00pm). This is when the adults are watching and they like this kind of wordier comedy.

But is that really true? Well, probably. It seems to have been the thinking down at every TV network in this country for decades, anyway. Shows like It’s A Knockout and Hey! Hey! It’s Saturday always aired in an earlier timeslot than shows like The Gillies Report and Fast Forward. Presumably, children graduate from liking slapstick to liking satire, or from liking Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation to liking Mad As Hell, at some point in their teens.

In some ways, making comedy aimed at the “adult” audience is a bit easier. All Have You Been Paying Attention? has to do is make adults laugh. It’s a very focused thing: just pump out the gags. But if you’re Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, you have to entertain multiple generations, ranging from Primary School age kids to the elderly, which is pretty tough (as anyone who ever tried to get their Baby Boomer parents to sit through Tonightly knows full well). Some people will like the slapstick, others will be bored by it and prefer the surreal bits or the questions or nostalgia.

If Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation drags a bit sometimes for you, that’s probably why. And if you don’t find Have You Been Paying Attention? funny, well…maybe comedy as a genre isn’t for you.

The comedy Letdown

There’s a great sitcom to be written about women’s lives after they’ve had children but The Letdown isn’t it. Full marks to it for showing what it’s really like when women have children – how it’s gruelling, how there’s little in the way of support, and how your body’s just been through hell and your hormones are all over the place – but can The Letdown maybe make us laugh as well? It is meant to be a comedy, after all.

The Letdown should be at least as funny as Fleabag, a show which was heavy on the reality of women’s lives and which has tackled a few serious issues but also had funny characters and situations (the over-attentive waitress in the first episode of series 2, for example). In the two episodes of The Letdown series 2 we’ve watched so far (they’re all on iView) there’s been a kind of funny series of scenes involving clothes recycling. And to be honest, Fleabag’s over-attentive waitress made us laugh a lot more. A lot lot more.

And yes, we’ve written this kind of thing about The Letdown before. About how it’s basically a dramedy and should if it had any integrity, give back whatever funding it got from the Comedy Showroom scheme. And watching series 2, we’ve really tried to find the funny: one of us is from Adelaide and howled with laughter at the notion, put forward by the main character Audrey’s husband, that Adelaide is actually a really great place to live, especially “at festival time”. Yeah, good one.

So, we’ll just say this: it’s not the worst thing ever that The Letdown exists because sitcoms focusing on the reality of female character’s lives, especially in the years when they’re having children, are rare on the ground and it’s great that this area is being explored. And series 2 is particularly interesting as it’s focusing on the question of how having a child has affected the main female characters and their partners. We particularly liked that the makers aren’t flinching from showing post-pregnancy mental and physical health problems in all their reality. And exploring how biology, age and luck impact the outcome of having a second child. Or the tension, infighting and jealousies amongst groups of mothers of young children as they succeed or fail to have that second child. We just think this could be a whole lot funnier.

There’s a scene in the second episode where Ester, who’s desperate for a second child via IVF, is talking to her partner in a café about whether they should keep trying. As they’re talking, a waiter then comes over to take their order and recommends the eggs. Ester says she wants the eggs. The waiter goes away. Then the waiter comes back and says the eggs are no longer available. Ester then realises that it’s all over for her in terms of having a second child. “Sorry Ester, no eggs for you.” Geddit? Eggs. It’s a pun.

And that, despite all the great work The Letdown’s doing to represent women in their child-having years, is about as funny as The Letdown is ever going to be.

I Feel Like Kinne Tonight

Some comedians have one shot at fame. Plenty of others don’t even get that. And then there’s Troy Kinne.

After a lengthy run – at least by commercial TV standards – on 7Mate and a decent showing on Ten’s 2018 Pilot Week, Kinne is back once again with Kinne Tonight – airing right after Have You Been Paying Attention? which he’d have to be happy about.

He’d also have to be happy that he’s still making roughly the same show he was back in 2014. Kinne’s stock in trade has always been a mix of rapid-fire observations and slightly off-kilter public interaction stuff, and while his actual sense of humour is pretty stock-standard, his ability to keep a half hour show moving fast and varied goes a long way towards making his material work.

His material’s not all that bad, by the way. The early sketch about what happens inside one of those four-wheel drives during a car commercial was a smart idea well handled; the “James Bondi” bit (which hopefully won’t become a running character) wasn’t that original an idea but the specific details throughout made it work. Whether Kinne has a life or just pays attention when his friends tell him about theirs, his material’s always worked best when he’s dealing with observations – even if they are mostly the kind of ones that would get a laugh around a backyard barbeque.

It’s pretty obvious that as a “regular Aussie bloke” doing mainstream sketch comedy, TV executives are a lot more comfortable giving him regular work than they would be… pretty much anyone else. So it’s to Kinne’s credit that he (largely) steers clear of broad boofhead cliches unless he’s making fun of them, and the show as a whole does a reasonable job of avoiding the kind of one-sided sexist “observations” you might expect from a relationship-focused sketch show. Or any Australian comedy really, considering what Mr Black‘s been serving up.

(even the game show with the constantly offended woke contestants kept the focus of the joke on Kinne’s well-meaning but constantly offending host)

That said, a fair bit here didn’t work, which is a bit of a worry considering it’s just the first week. The sketch about a fridge with a magic notepad on the front didn’t even make sense (even if it did have a decent punchline); was it really magic or not? Doing “Things Never Said” (in this case, things never said by single people at a wedding) live didn’t really add anything to the concept either; while mixing up pre-recorded and live material helps keep Kinne Tonight feeling fresh, when a sketch is just a list of jokes some snappy editing can really help.

There’s no big names in the (decent) cast this time so it’s pretty much Kinne’s show – aside from a live guest appearance from Ten’s forthcoming Bachelorette, which was about as much fun as you’d expect from a game of charades – but keeping the focus on him for half an hour doesn’t really hurt. He’s a likable guy who knows how his sense of humour works, and it works well enough to make his show worth a look. Yet again.

Pilot Week 2: It’s not about comedy anymore

10’s Pilot Week 2018 was a bold experiment in broadcasting, where eight budding comedies were pitted against each other in a battle to the death to see which programs featuring white men would make it to our screens.

And having copped a fair bit of flack for having a white men-heavy line up last year, 10 has taken the trouble to include lots of shows featuring women and people of colour this year. Except…and oh man does this tell us a lot about the people who run 10…none of them are comedies. Okay, one comes close, but that’s not really good enough. Is it? It’s basically saying “women and ethnics aren’t funny so here’s some other light nonsense featuring them instead”.

From the press release:

Part Time Privates

Two mothers at a local primary school decide to start a home-based private investigation business so they can enjoy flexible working hours. As their business unexpectedly thrives, they find themselves thrown deep into the world of working ‘undercover’; moving between school pick-ups, dance group and lunch orders, to threesomes, insurance fraud and failed relationships. Starring Heidi Arena and Nicola Parry.

Produced by CJZ. CJZ Executive Producers Toni Malone and Nick Murray. Network 10 Executive Producer Paul Leadon.

This at least sounds like it could be a comedy. Or maybe just a local reworking of Rosemary & Thyme. Great.

Sydney’s Crazy Rich Asians

Money, shopping, cars, events and glamour. Sydney’s Crazy Rich Asians follows the opulent lives of six very ‘extra’ characters and their local fixer who waits on their every want and need…no matter the cost.

Produced by Screentime, a Banijay Group company. Screentime Executive Producer Johnny Lowry. Network 10 Executive Producer Paul Leadon.

We’re assuming this is a reality documentary and not a new Chris Lilley series.

I Am…Roxy!

Roxy Jacenko

No publicity is bad publicity. Delve head first into the daily madness of PR guru, publicist, talent manager, reality star, author and mum-of-two, Roxy Jacenko. This entertaining and comedic access-all-areas pilot pries into Roxy’s everyday life behind her world of high glamour and outrageous excess.

Produced by Matchbox Pictures and Two Scoops Media. Matchbox Pictures Executive Producer Debbie Byrne. Two Scoops Media Executive Producer Michael Wipfli. Network 10 Executive Producer Ciaran Flannery.

This will definitely be a reality documentary…or will it? Jacenko is notorious for being a tough boss but is that really how she’ll be portrayed here?

Catfish Australia

Beloved pop idol Casey Donovan joins Walkley-nominated documentarian Patrick Abboud on the quest to uncover the truth about online relationships. Coming to the aid of every day Aussies who have suspicions about their internet beau, Casey and Patrick will join forces to uncover the real identities behind the hot online profiles.

Produced by Eureka Productions. Eureka Productions Executive Producer Tom Richardson. Network 10 Executive Producer Ciaran Flannery.

My 80 Year Old Flatmate

It’s reality TV with heart, as older Aussies offer cheap rent to hard-up millennials in exchange for company and help around the house. Creating surprising friendships and mutually-beneficial relationships, it’s a look into what can happen when you take the leap across the generation gap.

Produced by Screentime, a Banijay Group company. Screentime Executive Producer Johnny Lowry. Network 10 Executive Producer Paul Leadon.

We’ll put these two in the category of “issues millennials face” and set our dials to “ignore”.

Sigh. What a crappy line-up.

Pilot Week should be about putting to air some shows that are promising but need to be tested in front of an audience to assure that network that there are people out there who will watch them. So, what assurance does 10 need that there’s an audience for reality documentaries about rich people and showbiz? And programs about hot-button issues like catfishing and housing poverty? How over-anxious are there?

The only slightly dangerous show in this quintet is Part Time Privates, and that’s because it contains a script and stars two women who may occasionally attempt to be funny.

We bet you $50 it never makes it past the pilot stage, no matter how good it is, while all the others do.

Hard Cheese

Remember this?

Turns out it was all a “joke” to promote his run for a Gold Logie:

It’s difficult to know what to think about this oh wait no it’s not; there’s a reason why “game show host” is not generally considered a term of approval and Gleeson is doing his level best to make sure it stays that way.

Even we thought the way this was announced was kind of strange, and you’d think we’d be cock-a-hoop at the news that Gleeson had somehow been reduced to only having one show on the ABC each year like everyone else (on the ABC). Other media sources were even more suspicious:

The ABC however has issued a statement saying: “Tom’s statement that he has sacked himself from Hard Quiz is news to us, particularly as we have 10 new episodes airing later this year. Sounds like Tom needs to have a good old HARD chat with himself.”

And now, barely 48 hours later, whatever the fuck this was is over. We’d go on further about how this is kind of a dick move but hark – we can hear the Gleeson fanbase yelling “it’s just a joke” like that makes him some kind of promotional genius.

The thing with this kind of joke is, it’s only “funny” if it’s at someone’s expense. From a better comedian this kind of stunt would be designed to make themselves the butt of the joke, but strangely for someone whose act is based around being a prick, Gleeson’s jokes are almost never on him. He’s basically doing Red Symonds’ old act, only where Red was a prick who could back it up because he actually knew what he was talking about, Gleeson can back it up because he’s friends with Charlie Pickering.

Instead, the joke here is on anyone who took his initial announcement seriously; it’s basically a high profile version of “sucked in bad”.  The people he’s making fun of are the people stupid enough to feel anything about the “news” that Hard Quiz was axed.  Ha ha, you were stupid enough to believe anything Tom Gleeson said. You must feel like a complete fucking idiot.

Every now and again a fan of Hard Quiz asks us why we seem convinced that Gleeson’s “I’m a prick” persona is one that comes remarkably naturally to him. “It’s just an act to spice up the quiz show,” they say, “it’s all good television”.

Here’s why: this is a guy who decided to promote his efforts to win an award by playing a prank on the people who watch his show. This mean-spirited, “ha ha you care” joke is on anyone who cares enough about Hard Quiz to feel sad that it’s been cancelled – you know, Gleeson’s fans. He’s laughing at you. Which is pretty much the opposite of how comedy is meant to work.

And guess what? Unless you – the fans, the people he treats like shit both on the show and now in real life – give him a Gold Logie, then he’s not bringing Hard Quiz back*.

That just made filling out our Logies ballot a fuckload easier.

*of course Hard Quiz is coming back – he’s just making the same shitty joke twice.

Hard Questions

Press release time!

We’ve seen some press releases that made no sense over the years – the ones that suggested Randling might be something people would want to watch come to mind – but this one is a real head-scratcher.

For starters, who quits a steady job hosting a quiz show to do more stand up? While we have no specific knowledge of the shooting schedule of Hard Quiz, we do know a little about the shooting schedule of numerous other no-budget ABC light entertainment shows over the years, and while being burnt out because you had to shoot a months worth of episodes in a day is a reasonable reason to quit, needing that one day a month to go do stand up? Say what?

It gets stranger: why is this news coming from the host and not the production company? Presumably they knew this was coming – it’d be a whole new level of weird if he just put this announcement out himself – but even so usually there’d be at least one layer of insulation between the host and the news his show wouldn’t be coming back. And if he wanted to take full responsibility, that’s what having a quote saying “I take full responsibility” in a press release someone else wrote is for.

Questions start coming and they don’t stop coming. If he needed more time to go do his stand up, why stay on at The Weekly, a job that most definitely takes up more of his time each week? Why suddenly decide to quit now, when Hard Quiz has been off the air for weeks and wasn’t planned to be back for ages? Why make Hard Quiz in the first place? Oh wait, that last one was just something we’ve been asking ourselves for years.

This has got to be a blow for the cash-strapped ABC, what with smarm and insults being basically free. But if it opens the door for something else – say, a quiz show with a host who actually wants to be there – it’s hard to see a downside.

Vale Hard Quiz. You’ll always be a slightly shitter Einstein Factor to us.

It Was The Weekly Wot Won It

An election between two vaguely outlined yet somehow completely self-assured white guys with no entertainment value whatsoever? Why weren’t people calling this The Weekly election?

Oh right, because nobody in their right minds gives a shit about The Weekly.

And yet here we are, banging on about it yet again. Did you see that segment where they “parodied” You Can’t Ask That only the questions were like “when will this shit show get axed”? Of course not, because nobody who watches The Weekly pays the slightest bit of attention to it. They can make jokes about being axed* because they know so long as they never offend anyone, they never, ever will be. Remember how every single season of The Weekly ends with Charlie Pickering defiantly proclaiming that it’ll be back next year? That’s a guy who doesn’t need to vote because he knows the election’s already been won.

Contrast this with Mad as Hell, which ends every season seemingly terrified that it won’t be asked back – often with good reason, as the final show is usually reserved for giving the ABC the hardest kicking of all. And yet they do it anyway, because fuck knows the ABC deserves as much of a kicking as any other institution in this country. Mad as Hell is funny and actually knows what it’s doing when it comes to political satire: no wonder the ABC is too afraid to put it on during an election.

The Weekly, on the other hand, was perfectly suited for this election, what with being utterly bland while still conveying a basic distrust of change that can only come from a host worried he might not turn quite so large a profit if the other guys get in. This was an election where the fine folks in power didn’t want people to get excited about anything, because that wasn’t what they were selling and surprise! Neither was The Weekly.

Instead, The Weekly is basically the embodiment of Small Target Comedy. It never stands out, never takes a stand, never sticks its head up to say something that might be awkward to the folks at head office. Remember how pretty much the only thing they did that got any attention was when Briggs had a go at a Pauline Hanson billboard? Wow, bold move attacking someone so right-wing they take votes away from the right-wing people who are actually running the country. Lucky you didn’t attack a mainstream party billboard or anything, fucking ScoMo might have had to take his glasses off.

The thing that’s often overlooked in this country when it comes to politics is that “more of the same” is as much a choice as anything else – it’s just easier to make because it doesn’t ask anything of you. And that’s why The Weekly is the Liberal Party’s comedy of choice: for all its posturing on the “big issues”, it’s a show that asks nothing of its audience. Not even laughter.

So when the ABC has the absolute shit kicked out of its budget over the next few years, they… well, obviously they won’t have themselves to blame, because it’s the Coalition who’ll be ripping their guts out. But they will have made a concrete decision to help the Coalition get back in, because putting The Weekly to air during an election was a choice to support and promote a view of the world that aligns pretty much dead-on with the Coalition’s main goal – to keep things exactly as they are.

That’s the dark side of the ABC’s constant push for “balance”; when both sides are the same, there’s no reason to change anything. When things are as good as they can get, you’d be crazy to want to make a change. It’s the kind of thinking that brings The Weekly back year after year.

No doubt that suits a lot of voters just fine.

*jokes about franking credits and TripleJ listeners voting for ScoMo, on the other hand, would only work if there was the slightest possibility that anyone could possibly think a couple of smug humourless entitled upper middle class real estate speculators were being ironic. Yeah nah.

Another Appisode

If you’re feeling depressed about Saturday’s election results, Felicity Ward’s BBC radio show Appisodes might make you laugh. About depression, and three other conditions she suffers from: anxiety, IBS and insomnia.

Felicity Ward wearing headphones which are connected to her smartphone

Ward, it seems, has been downloading a lot of smartphone apps to help her cope with these conditions, with mixed results. Can she find the answers here?

Across four 15-minute episodes, Ward looks at the full spectrum of self-help app types, from apps fronted by C-list celebrities to apps that seem more like the maker’s own cry for help. Who would have guessed that the vast majority of self-help apps are made by charlatans with no qualifications in psychiatry? Or contain largely bullshit advise?

New Zealand stand-up Rose Matafeo is the voice of an app for anxiety sufferers and gives an hilarious performance as a highly-strung mum on the edge. The IBS app, voiced by a plummy British type, takes a different approach: telling the user off in a passive-aggressive way for literally everything, while an app for insomnia is voiced for an American who picked-up some third-hand life tips in South East Asia and is peddling it for all he’s worth. Our favourite, though, was the “swimming for depression” app featuring Olympic bronze medallist Carl Chopoff. Motivational he is not.

But if you’re a little bored by stand-ups about their depression, anxiety or personal traumas, and are thinking “oh no, not more of that”, then don’t worry. Appisodes isn’t yet another naval-gazing exploration of mental illness, it’s more about parodying some of the terrible ways you can try to cope with it. And the parodies are pretty good, with some great performances from the voices of the various apps.

As for Ward, some of the jokes in her linking material are a bit groan-worthy, but it’s overall a pretty funny show.

And because we haven’t said this on this blog for a while: how hard would it be for ABC Radio to make this kind of thing occasionally? Why do Australian stand-ups have to live on the other side of the world if they want to try scripted radio comedy? Like Hannah Gadsby or Sarah Kendall have. Why can’t we do this kind of thing here?