Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

So, so Hard

If the return of Hard Quiz tells us anything it’s that the ABC doesn’t learn from it mistakes, it just doubles down on them. How else to explain a show which in its third season still suffers from the same basic problems that we pointed out ages ago:

  1. It’s a quiz show about specialist knowledge hosted by a smartarse prick whose entire schtick is to rip the shit out people with specialist knowledge.
  2. That’s pretty much it.

And at a time when hot topics of public debate include bullying and safe spaces, this seems like a show out of time. All of which makes the fact that the studio audience greets every lame gag and pre-scripted insult with raucous guffaws and cheers rather interesting. Is there a large and receptive audience out there who like general knowledge but also like to see smart people ridiculed? Or do the producers just find a bunch of people willing to spend an hour or so in a TV studio and get them roaring drunk beforehand?

Not that some of the show didn’t deserve a warm reaction. Interviewing Evelyn from Melbourne, who became interested in her expert subject, Audrey Hepburn, after watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s with her Mum, Gleeson asked “What do you like most about it? The casual racism?” (referring to Mickey Rooney’s yellowface work as Mr Yunioshi).

“Ah, no.” Evelyn laughs. “The costumes”.

“Mickey Rooney’s costume?” enquires Gleeson. “The buck teeth, the squinty eyes…”

“It’s a bit awful…” says Evelyn.

“It is a bit awkward” Gleeson agrees “I mean Chris Lilley could get away with it, but not comedians who aren’t racist.”

Ouch. (And if you needed evidence that Lilley’s career is fucked, take the fact that other comedians are willing to go on TV and slag him off as it.)

Anyway, back to those audience reactions… When it’s time for Gleeson to interview Leon from Brisbane, whose expert subject is Vintage Australian Washing Machines, the audience really lose their minds. Shocked gasps and titters are heard when Gleeson reveals the subject, then an even stronger reaction when Leon reveals he owns 67 of the devices. Now, 67 is a lot of vintage washing machines to own, but who’s Leon harming by doing so. Seriously?

Overall, we’re a bit baffled about who Hard Quiz is actually for. People who like quizzes would surely prefer the Paul McDermott-hosted quiz Think Tank, which, while tedious, contains questions on a wide range of topics uninterrupted by the comedy of punching down and an audience who probably needs medical assistance. As for people who like comedy, the ABC alone is currently airing a range of comedy programs – Tonightly, Mad As Hell, Squinters, Sammy J’s Thursday night satire sketch – many of which are funny. So why bother with Hard Quiz?

A Triumph of Towering Unambition

Remember when we used to slag off other critics for lazily praising clearly substandard Australian comedy? Yeah, it’s been a while. But thanks to the local newsagent mistakenly throwing a copy of Saturday’s Fairfax rag over one of the team’s front fence, it’s back!

Among the many truisms of television is that the best results often come from relatively unambitious ideas.

The new ABC comedy Squinters (Wednesdays, ABC1, 9pm) might seem at first glance to be a reasonably unobtrusive piece of work, a sort of collation of vignettes glimpsing into the vehicles crammed on a long commute across Sydney; the name drawn from the fact that at some point most must squint into the afternoon sun. But while the story framework of Squinters may be relatively simple – the sexual, social and professional minutiae of the lives of the occupants of the various cars we visit – the results are stunning.

Well, we can’t really argue with “stunning”. And to be fair, starting off a review of Squinters by basically saying “the best television is the stuff that doesn’t aim high” does give us a pretty good guide to where this is heading. But then we get to the bit that made us do a surprisingly professional spit-take:

This is unequivocally one of the funniest comedies of the year.

Two points:

1): It’s Squinters.

2): It’s February.

Look, when it comes to Australian television comedy often we too feel like just calling it and going home. But to come out and say the very first new Australian scripted sitcom of the year is also the funniest of the year really does feel like a television critic saying “ok, there, that’s the best, now leave me the fuck alone and stop making me watch this shit.”

And this vague feeling that we’re reading a review written by someone who’s heart really isn’t in it isn’t helped by the way the review is padded out by listing pretty much every single major creative member of the cast and crew:

The car occupants themselves – sparring Paul (Tim Minchin) and Romi (Andrea Demetriades), newly coupled Gary (Wayne Blair) and Bridget (Mandy McElhinney), and daughter Mia (Jenna Owen), lads Macca (Justin Rosniak) and Ned (Steen Raskopoulos) and others – are a crisp tapestry of personalities, foibles and awkward nuance…

Not to take anything from the show’s writers – co-creator Adam Zwar, Lally Katz, Sarah Scheller, Adele Vuko, Leon Ford and Ben Crisp – but Squinters saves some of its most beautiful blooms for in front of the camera. Damon Herriman’s Miles, Justin Rosniak’s Macca and Simoni and Talia, played by Susie Youssef and Rose Matafeo, all shine…

Due credit to its directors, too: co-creator Trent O’Donnell, Kate McCartney, Amanda Brotchie, Christiaan Van Vuuren and Cate Stewart…

It’s also a little strange (or a sign of a reviewer who’s no longer quite as passionate about television as they were a decade ago) that while this review mentions three other shows – 90’s mainstay French & Saunders, 2001’s Going Home, and an extremely obscure cut, 2009’s The Urban Monkey with Murray Foote – no mention is made of the show’s most obvious predecessor, No Activity. You know, the show made by the same producers a few years ago? It’s also about people sitting in cars talking shit?

But this is the bit that really stuck with us:

The show’s best is perhaps Lukas (Sam Simmons) and his mum Audrey (Jacki Weaver), whose uncomfortably relationship and awkward banter has a strange echo of the French and Saunders sketch which gave rise to Absolutely Fabulous.

If Lukas and Audrey don’t have a spin-off series in them, I’d be surprised. Simmons has magnificent nuance, evidenced by one of his early works, The Urban Monkey with Murray Foote, back in 2009. Simmons (and Murray Foote, frankly) is long overdue a larger television canvas on which to paint. Coupling him with Weaver, who brings the sort of richness of mischief that Joanna Lumley tapped when she revelled in wrinkling up as the older, future Patsy, is simply brilliant casting. Together Simmons and Weaver are electric, in a way that is excruciating. It isn’t a rhythm that works in all styles of comedy but here the discomfort crackles.

Simmons and Weaver appear together in Simmons’ first segment in the first episode. In his second segment, she’s not there. She’s not there in the second episode at all. Or the third. In fact, according to IMDB – because we’re watching the series as it airs, which is the point of running a newspaper review – she only appears again in the fourth episode. At a guess, out of Simmons’ 12 three-minute segments on this six episode show maybe two and a maximum of three feature the “brilliant casting” of the “electric” duo that comprise “the show’s best”.

Basically, we’re being told that the best bit of one of the “funniest comedies of the year” was in the first half of the first episode. Wow, that’s pretty convenient for time-strapped viewers.

(also, considering the events of episode six, that spin-off series? Not happening)

There’s also this:

There is no doubt that the ABC’s comedy slate has been shaped into one of the broadcaster’s strongest assets

But we think we’ve pointed out enough errors for one day.

Stuck in the Middle (of nowhere) with You

Press release time!

ABC serious about comedy with Rosehaven returning for a third series

Thursday, February 22, 2018 — ABC and SundanceTV (USA) are pleased to announce comedians Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola will head south once again for a third series of their hit comedy Rosehaven.

Boasting a superb cast, award-winning writing and the stunning backdrop of country Tasmania, the small-town comedy series Rosehaven has been embraced by audiences in Australia and across the world. Series three finds best mates Daniel (Luke McGregor) and Emma (Celia Pacquola in her AACTA Award winning role) now firmly ensconced as bona fide real estate agents, weathering the storm of recalcitrant landlords, anxiety inducing tenants, an overbearing boss (Daniel’s mum) and a town where a 24 hour emergency butcher is considered a normal part of life. And to come will be big changes in Dan’s and Emma’s personal lives, and a real estate opportunity that threatens to divide the whole town…

“We’re very happy to be back for season 3. Will a meteorite hit the town this season? Or will it fly harmlessly overhead and none of the characters will see or reference it? Stay tuned!” say Luke and Celia.

ABC Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski said, “It’s a thrill to have one of ABC’s true jewels back for more laughs, charm and lump-in-the-throat moments in later 2018.”

A Screen Tasmania Spokesperson added, “It’s great to have Rosehaven coming back for another season and we are thrilled be a part of it. It has helped cement Tasmania’s reputation as an exceptional filming destination, with wide ranging on-screen and off-screen local talent, as well being a great place to visit.”

Rosehaven will air on ABC later in the year.

Production Credits: A What Horse? / Guesswork Television production presented by Screen Tasmania, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and SundanceTV. Created and Written by Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor. Produced by Andrew Walker. Co-Producer Fiona McConaghy. Executive Producer Kevin Whyte. ABC Executive Producers Rick Kalowski and Brett Sleigh.

If only the ABC was serious about good comedy.

Still, if Screen Tasmania is willing to fund a series that’s obviously not just a blatant commercial for Tasmania, everyone’s a winner. Especially those who find “the stunning backdrop of country Tasmania” hilarious.

But having a burnt-out comedy return for a third “lump-in-the-throat moment”-packed series simply because the ABC is totally reliant on outside sources of funding isn’t all bad news: going by this press release it seems stars Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola will be delivering all their lines in unison. So as they say, “Stay tuned!”

… presumably for a show where the rest of the cast are constantly asking “is there an echo in here?”

Its a Jungle Out There

Press release time!

Sando doing deals on your ABC in March

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 — Australia’s discount furniture queen Sando is coming to ABC and iview, Wednesday 21 March at 9pm. The six-part family comedy series Sando, from the team at Jungle Entertainment (Squinters, No Activity) will have audiences shouting “Do em’ a deal Sando!” right across Australia.

Starring Sacha Horler (The Letdown, The Dressmaker) as Victoria ‘Sando’ Sandringham, the terrific ensemble cast also includes Firass Dirani (House Husbands), Phil Lloyd (The Moodys), Rob Carlton (Paper Giants), Krew Boylan (Schapelle), Adele Vuko (of online comedy sensations Skitbox), Uli Latukefu and newcomer Dylan Hesp.

‘Sando’ is Australia’s queen of the discount furniture package deal. She’s built her empire on being a down-to-earth larrikin and is something of a national treasure – to all but her family. They banished her a decade ago when her one-night stand and resulting pregnancy to her daughter’s fiancé was shockingly revealed… at their wedding.

Now, after a health scare, her career on a precipice and her professional nemesis primed to push her into the abyss, Sando is determined to rekindle the family relationship. She needs them, and in spite of their initial apprehension…and unbridled hatred…soon they’ll discover they might actually need her too.

Production Credits: A Jungle Entertainment production for the ABC. Principal production investment from Screen Australia and ABC in association with Create NSW. Created by Phil Lloyd and Charlie Garber. Producer Chloe Rickard. Directed by Van Vuuren Bros. and Erin White. Executive Producers Jason Burrows and Phil Lloyd. ABC Executive Producers Rick Kalowski and Andrew Gregory.

We’re guessing it won’t be “Do us a deal, Sando” that audiences will be shouting right across Australia when this goes to air.

Still, thanks again to Jungle for serving up yet another program skilfully designed to solve a problem nobody had. Do they just underbid everyone else pitching sitcoms in this country or has everybody else just given up?

Sammy J and missing John Clarke

If there’s one tweet which has captured the mood this past week, it’s this from comedian Michael Griffin.

Griffin’s tweet even got a mention on the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.

We miss John Clarke too, and his take on Barnaby Joyce (and the continuing madness of Trump, and Section 44, and various other things) would have been amazing, but he’s gone, and we need to accept that and move on.

So, we come to Sammy J, who took over the Thursday night satire slot a few weeks ago and last week presented his take on Barnaby Joyce’s recent antics. And with Griffin’s tweet fresh in our minds, the first thing that struck us was that John Clarke used to write sketches quite a lot like this. Remember those Clarke & Dawe sketches set at Wimbledon or the Sochi Winter Olympics, where sport would be used as a way to discuss a topical matter such as the European financial crisis or Tony Abbott’s latest mad doings? Well, they were a pretty similar format to Sammy J’s sketch, where he, as a parody Play School presenter, shows Joyce performing various political manoeuvres as Winter Olympics sports.

Sammy J - Barnaby on Ice

Was it as sharp as something John Clarke would have written? Maybe not, but it was still pretty good. And it’s a style of comedy that Sammy J’s been honing for a couple of years now, debuting it during the 2016 election campaign in his Playground Politics series.

We were less impressed by Sammy J’s song The Ballad of Section 44, his first Thursday night sketch (which aired 8th February). Comedy songs are very hard to get right. If you write a bad one people just think of Frontline’s Elliot Rhodes; if you write a clever/satirical one and perform it in a suit you risk looking like Philip Scott (The Gillies Report, The Wharf Revue). Or a crap version of Noel Coward. Or Gilbert and Sullivan.

When it comes to comedy songs, writing lyrics that will actually make people laugh is key. And The Ballad of Section 44 wasn’t funny, it was just a telling of what happened. Painstakingly accurate, well-written, and well-performed, sure. Just not funny.

So, so far, Sammy J’s Thursday night satirical sketches are on safer ground with the Play School parodies. And if they’re a bit like what John Clarke used to do, then that’s hardly a bad thing.

It Comes Into Focus If You Squint

Squinters is – well, it’s not good, no denying that – but it’s also a show that manages to combine the worst of two worlds: the unchanging set-up of a bad sitcom with the repetitiveness of a bad sketch comedy. At barely over 20 minutes, there’s just enough time to re-establish the astoundingly boring set up –

– and seriously, this bears repeating: this is a show about ten or so people driving to work and back. It’s not a show about two or three people driving to work and back together so we really get to know their characters; nor is it a show with a range of people in various different comedy situations. By the time we’ve been reminded of the dynamic between each character, their segment is pretty much over; it’s a twenty two minute show where it feels like a quarter of the run time is spent telling us things we were told last week.

C’mon, one segment was literally:

“I’m sorry I got the job you wanted”

“You know I wanted that job”

“But the longer I have this job, the more money I will have for our joint business venture – now tell me comedy facts about people we will never see”

“Someone has two glass eyes, someone else is a hugger, a third someone is a spinster”

“Spinster is a funny word.”

“So is divorcee”

“And… scene”

Roughly half of that was reminding us of what we were told last episode. Presumably we’ll be told it again in some form next episode, especially as nothing else actually happened with those characters.

And yet, reminding us of things we already know is vital because Squinters is a show based entirely on people sitting next to each other in their cars so the only possible source of comedy is the dynamic between them. There’s not enough time to do more than establish the various characters, yet establishing the characters is the only way anything going on here could possibly be amusing. It’s a sketch show where every sketch is the same and also the most boring set-up for a sketch imaginable; it’s like they actively worked hard to come up with a format that can’t possibly be funny.

That said, if you find Sam Simmons in and of himself amusing, then this show features a performance from Sam Simmons. We’re not being bitchy: he’s a performer who can make something out of nothing with his personal style of performance, and he’s definitely given nothing much to work with here. Tim Minchin is also someone in this show but again, with maybe four minutes of air time he’s not given the chance to do much more than get wacked in the nose.

We’re not saying that Squinters is produced by people who don’t know how to be funny. Who knows? Maybe they think that actual traffic reports and numerous shots of busy roads and highways are somehow making this show hilarious. Cutaways to boring stuff worked in The Office because treating boring stuff like it was interesting was the joke – and does anyone else remember that for a show seemingly set in a dull location, The Office was full of pranks and amusing visuals while also featuring broad characters with a solid comedy dynamic? In this we get jokes about forgetting to hang up your phone.

Best case scenario is, Squinters is a show written by people who think that television comedy begins and ends with a funny line. But even then, if the best description of Sam Simmons you can come up with is that he looks like “some kind of… Greek sex pest”, then you really need to work on the funny lines too. A joke that a bad painting of a woman reminds her of Salvador Dali – not his style of painting, his actual face – isn’t bad, but this format just throws it out there with no support.

Then again, if your idea of a great comedy character for 2018 is “humourless teen girl feminist”, maybe exploring your characters in more depth isn’t going to help matters.

Back in Black

Press release time!

Black Comedy is Back

Monday, February 12, 2018 — New cast, new writers and a whole lot of new laughs…ABC is pleased to announce that series three of Black Comedy starts filming in Sydney today.

Fresh, original and just a little bit wrong, first launching in 2014, Black Comedy debuted to rave reviews and garnered a legion of fans and millions of views online.  Featuring sketches that spawned catch-phrases mimicked all around the country, Black Comedy takes a cheeky look at Australian culture through the comedic prism of our nation’s first people, with no area off limits.

Nurturing the next generation of comedy writers, the new series showcases a talented line-up of Indigenous actors and comedians. The core team will feature new writer/performers including standup comedian David Woodhead, Gabriel Willie (Bush Tucker Bunjie) and social commentator/writer Nayuka Gorrie. Returning favourites include actor Aaron Fa’Aoso and writer/performer Nakkiah Lui, who will be joined by actors Wayne Blair and Rarriwuy Hick.

Guest appearances will include Adam Briggs, Leah Purcell, Jack Charles, Christine Anu, Elizabeth Wymarra and Elaine Crombie along with Matt Day, Lisa Hensley and plenty of surprises.

Written and directed entirely by Blackfellas, the six-part series combines a mix of observational and physical sketches, historical sketches and parodies of TV, film and commercials.

Black Comedy will film in and around Sydney over the next five weeks and will screen on ABC later in the year.

Finally the ABC seems to have figured out that if you actually want to nurture comedy talent, you have to provide them with a regular showcase, one where experienced performers can mingle with first-timers to create an environment where expertise and enthusiasm can feed off each other – with audiences the winners.

If only they took this approach with the rest of their comedy output instead of just running an seemingly endless series of slap-dash talent shows that go nowhere, maybe they could create a few more shows that weren’t Squinters.

Suspect Moustache

If there’s a genre of comedy that Australia doesn’t make a lot of and probably should do a bit more of, it’s animated comedy. Sure, we had Pacific Heat about a year ago, and Fresh Blood produced Koala Man, which is being made into a series, but that’s kinda it. So, it was nice to discover Suspect Moustache, tucked away on SBS On Demand, a surreal animated sketch show which shows some promise.

Suspect Moustache

Made in 2015 as part of SBS’s Comedy Runway new talent scheme, Suspect Moustache is a free-wheeling, fast-paced show full of high-concept, irreverent ideas. In one series of sketches, scientists clone Jesus, producing a new Jesus every day of the year…meaning it’s Christmas every day, and zombie Jesus clones are taking over the world. In another series of sketches, Evolvo, the God of Evolution, intervenes in everyday situations and causes chaos thanks to his rigid application of the survival of the fittest doctrine. There are also a bunch of sketches which are parodies of TV shows and TV ads, so something for everyone, here.

Amongst the voice cast a few well-known performers, actor Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road, A Place to Call Home) and comedian Demi Lardner, as well as Suspect Moustache’s creator and writer Fabian Lapham.

Given that this show was made three years, it’s probably safe to say we won’t be seeing any more of Suspect Moustache, which is a shame as it’s funnier and more inventive than many recent sketch shows. If you like animated shows from the US like Archer, or even the British magazine/comic Viz, you’ll probably enjoy this.

We’re on the Road to Nowhere

Australian comedy rarely rewards original ideas. But Squinters goes one better than the usual rehashes and retreads: not only is it basically a remake of production company Jungle’s recent Stan series No Activity, but within the same format you’ll spot a number of popular comedy dynamics being dusted off and taken for a spin. Is it a new rule that one-fifth of all new ABC comedy must resemble Broad City? Don’t let them see The Good Place, the ABC’s output is hellish enough as it is.

So this is a sitcom about five batches of people who in the morning drive into work, and in the evening drive home again. It seems like the kind of idea a network would adopt largely because it’s cheap – even cheaper if, as with No Activity, they just give the cast rough outlines to improvise their dialogue from – and yet for some reason a chunk of this Sydney-set show was filmed in Los Angeles. Presumably Jacki Weaver, Sam Simmons and Tim Minchin weren’t able to return to Australia to film their parts, and they’re the kind of big names a sitcom about people sitting in cars needs to pull in the audience.

… or, you know, you could come up with a sitcom based on an interesting idea, but the people who greenlight Australian comedy seem actively allergic to that kind of thing. It’s this grim fixation on the idea that the only possible thing audiences tune in for is personalities that gives us year after year of largely forgettable comedy from the National Broadcaster; almost every memorable sitcom ever made turned its cast into much-loved personalities, not the other way around. Putting big names into a shit show creates a shit show: putting unknowns into a great show makes them stars.

But we have to make do with what we have, which in the case of Squinters is solidly professional and occasionally amusing. Five cars spread across around 25 minutes of sitcom means we only get under five minutes with each car (once the constant shots of busy streets and highways plus co-creator Adam Zwar’s voice-over traffic reports are taken into account) – it’s basically a sketch show where every sketch is just two people talking to each other. Remember how loathed the restaurant sketches were on Fast Forward and Full Frontal were because they were just two people talking? No? That’s how this show got made.

Car number one on its way to Kosciuszko headquarters is carrying middle-aged Lukas (Sam Simmons) and his mum Audrey (Jackie Weaver); he’s hoping for a promotion, she’s taking her dog to a breeding session, and if you find awkward sex chat hilarious this is the segment for you as Audrey suggests her corpse could be turned into a diamond that Lukas could use as a tongue stud and Lukas – who is gay – points out that they’re made for “pleasure”. This is easily the broadest segment of the show, but the trip back (where things have taken a turn for the worst for Lukas) salvages the character to some extent… though really, both there and back are largely excuses for Simmons to do his patented strangulated “I’m not yelling” voice.

Car two features Paul (Tim Minchin) who has clearly set up a fake carpool to get his unknowing crush Romi (Andrea Demetriades) into his not-at-all-suspicious white van. The hilarious comedy dynamic here is that he’s a quiet, sensitive type, while she’s more confident and starts bringing up masturbation at random on the first drive. This one works reasonably well because it’s about the characters interacting: “will they or won’t they” is rightly mocked as a character dynamic in comedy but for four minutes a week it’s tolerable.

Macca (Juston Rosniak) and Ned (Steen Raskopoulos) have known each other since high school… where Macca bullied everyone around him. This feels like Zwar returning to the dynamic of Wilfred: a smart, subdued nerdy type has to deal with an aggressively rough-as-guts Aussie-as type. Plus more sex jokes, this time about Macca having to wank at work for stress relieve (plus he can’t wank at home because his wife’s always there). You know when you think back over all the classic comedy sketches of yesteryear and realise that almost all of them involved characters who were either physically doing things or meeting each other for the first time and you’re working on a show where neither of those are options? Jokes about wanking.

At least the car with Simoni (Susie Youssef) and her free-spirited bestie Talia (Rose Matafeo) doesn’t feature any wanking jokes, because the dynamic between the two, uh, owes a large debt to Broad City. But Broad City is (well, was) a pretty good show, so this plot – Simoni is taking Talia to a job interview so she can contribute financially to the small business they’re planning together – is one of the better ones. It doesn’t hurt that this is also the one with the most straightforward comedy concept, though it seems that after this week the new status quo is going to leave them with nowhere to go* but a run of episodes based on the exact same joke.

As for car five, in which mum Bridget (Mandy McElhinney) is driving teenage daughter Mia (Jenna Owen) to school, this one has a few too many ideas going on: Bridget is trying to live through her daughter (“don’t make the same mistakes I did”, etc) while also trying to manage her dating life, while Mia is horrified by the very idea of her mother getting laid but also has a wacky boyfriend who seems to have wandered in from a completely different show.

The best installments are generally the ones where the drama is based entirely inside the car: the possible relationship between Paul and Romi, how work upsets the relationship between Simoni and Talia. That’s because this is a show set entirely inside cars: the stuff going on outside is only relevant when it impacts on the situation inside the car. Bridget’s romantic life is only interesting because it impacts on her relationship with her daughter, because her relationship with her daughter is what her segment is about. Jokes about outside stuff might be funny, but if they don’t connect to the core point of the sketch then they’re going to stop being funny pretty quickly.

Put another way, Romi talking about wanking is both funny and relevant: if Paul wants to be in a relationship with her, the fact that they have different attitudes to sex is kinda important. Macca talking about wanking is just some boofhead talking shit about jerking off – it’s funny at first but it doesn’t take long to start thinking “who cares?”

And with Squinters, you might find yourself thinking that a little too often.

*so many opportunities came up to say Squinters is “going in circles”. So many.

Last chance to see (almost)

While we were noodling around on SBS On Demand the other day, we came across some of the pilot shows from Comedy Runway, a 2014 SBS comedy pilot scheme that we’d completely forgotten about. And because some of the shows are about to disappear from SBS On Demand quite soon, and we’ve never reviewed them, and a couple of them feature comedians who are currently doing quite well for themselves, we figured we should take a look…

Fully Furnished

Comedy Runway - Fully Furnished

When Dayne and Todd (Tonightly’s Tom Ballard and The Little Dum Dum Club’s Tommy Dassallo) lose their housemate because they’re so awful to live with, they advertise for a new one. Answering their ad is Malaysian business student Ronnie (Ronny Chieng from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and International Student) who, short on funds, turns his new home into a laundromat. Finding the house suddenly full of people and laundry, Todd fights back by opening a rival laundromat in his room…and things just spiral from there.

If this seems slightly like Ronny Chieng International Student, that’s because it is; this is the comedy of things getting more and more ridiculous, with a Malaysian student right in the centre of it all. That said, it’s a very different show with completely different writers, and nowhere near as clever.

Part of the problem is that most of the characters are pretty dislikeable, particularly Todd, who makes racist remarks about Ronnie and describes the laundromat customers as “low breeds”. Fair enough, he’s a parody of an awful guy in his 20s, except, for the parody to work you’d have to be able to laugh at Todd, and the script isn’t clever or funny enough to make you do that. So, Todd just comes across as the massive racist arsehole.

Having said that, Fully Furnished is one of the better shows from to come out of this scheme – it’s inventive, there are lots of potential plots, and parts of it are funny.

Apocalypse Events

Carlos and his gang might look like hitmen or kidnappers, but they’re actually corporate team-building day facilitators. Trust exercises? Nah, boring. The way to sort the wheat from the chaff in the business world is to subject an executive team to a terrorist siege, or to hood them, drive them out into the bush and make them fend for themselves. There are some funny moments in this, like when Carlos and team burst into a client’s office wearing balaclavas and toting guns and the bored receptionist asks them to sign in…which they do. Problem is, there’s barely enough in this idea to sustain a six-minute sketch, let alone a series. Still, nice attempt.

Dog Squadron

This is more cute than funny. Imagine if the famous air battles of World War 2 were fought by dogs, with the RAF squaring off against, wait for it, the Luftwoofe, whose squadron leader is, wait for it, General Woofenstein. And that’s the extent of the comedy in this.

Heaps Good Hostel

When English backpacker Byron checks in at an Adelaide backpackers’, it isn’t immediately obvious that he’s a vampire. And when permanent resident Finegan works out that he is, hostel staff Jaz and Sam don’t believe it and don’t care. There’s not a great deal of hilarity here, apart from a reworking of this old gag: “I banged that French chick last night.” “Where?” “In the vagina.”


This is a sort of mash-up of The League of Gentleman and the Beaconsfield mine disaster, except it’s a bunch of weird locals trying to help a trapped Dutch backpacker. You want rural grotesques? This has lots of them. Although, sadly, none of them are particularly funny.

Looking Back – Dack Attack!

Fictional nostalgia programme Looking Back looks back at fictional 90s TV favourite Dack Attack! in which rugby hall of famer Darren Tackle (Greg Larsen) went up to people on the streets and dacked them. This is a fairly solid parody of 90s entertainment shows and features a lot of high quality dacking. And who doesn’t find dacking hilarious? Problem is the whole thing is slightly too drawn-out to be really funny, and while this concept could have made a decent series, let’s face it, Greg Larsen’s gone on to bigger and better things and that’s a good thing.

There’s one more Comedy Runway show currently available on SBS On Demand, and that’s Suspect Moustache, but as there are five episodes of that we’re going to review that in a separate post.