Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

The winners and losers of the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2019

We started off last year’s Tumbleweed Awards like this:

Maybe things will get better next year

And people say we’re not funny.

Honestly, if you really want to depress the hell out of yourself – and of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this – go back and take a look at the intro to last year’s Tumblies. A thrilling combination of despair at how bad things had become shot through with the desperate hope that surely we’d hit rock bottom, it remains a living testament to just how foolish and optimistic we once were. And we’d just seen Sando.

There was much to applaud in the recent, perfectly above board and not at all suspicious decision by ABC comedy head honcho Rick Kalowski to quit his high profile gig running ABC scripted comedy to go do… something else… but one of the things that made it hard to clap as loudly as we’d have liked to at the news of his departure was the glowing tributes paid to his reign. Sure, you have to say nice things when someone in his position heads for the door, but Australian comedy’s been in a lot of trouble for a long time now and nobody in any position of power has much of anything to be proud of.

Everything that was shit in 2018 just kept on going in 2019 and then got worse. You thought the ABC giving Tom Gleeson two shows was bad? Let’s give him a Gold Logie as well! Remember how Squinters was shithouse at a level difficult to explain let alone justify? It’s back for a second season only without the big names! Mr Black was on twice a week! You think we’re exaggerating here? 2019 was the year Chris Lilley came back and couldn’t even stir up a decent controversy: Australian comedy is dead.

We’re getting so good at clutching at straws at Tumbleweeds HQ it took us almost a full minute to admit to ourselves that Rick Kalowski’s resignation would solve absolutely nothing. After all, gone are the days when the ABC’s scripted comedy department had any real say at all in what kind of scripted comedy the ABC put to air; these days unless you can get overseas funding for a show – and the nature of overseas funding is that getting it means you need to come up with a show for overseas audiences – the ABC’s doors are closed.

Why else would the ABC be committed to endless series of shows like The Letdown, which say ‘comedy’ on the tin but contain no actual humour? Rosehaven is a fully funded branch of the Tasmanian government; if someone told us Squinters was some kind of in-house training scheme for its producers at Jungle we wouldn’t be surprised. The ABC simply doesn’t have the money to have the final say in what shows get the green light; without money to back it up, it doesn’t matter what the ABC’s vision for Australian comedy is.

Of course, over the last few years, the ABC’s vision of comedy has been pathetic at best and depressing at worst. Tired series keep coming back like management is afraid they have no idea what the public wants; the rare new shows that pop up confirm their worst fears. What was the last scripted comedy series that made any kind of splash in the real world? The Katering Show? Oh yeah, the series Rick Kalowski knocked back that was only snapped up by the ABC after it became a hit online. It’s like we don’t even have to mention Wednesday Night Fever here.

And while in 2018 it seemed almost reasonable to suggest that maybe commercial television might step in and save the day for Australian comedy, 2019 once again turned up to punch us in the nose when we answered the door. Ten’s second stab at Pilot Week made a hard swerve away from scripted comedy, and after seeing Mr Black who could blame them? Saturday Night Rove at least managed to keep alive the tradition of Australian live comedy shows being axed as soon as possible, while if you’ve read this far and still somehow think ‘hey, things can’t be that bad’, the news that Fat Pizza was pretty much the highlight of the year in commercial comedy should set you straight.

At least How to Stay Married is due back later this year. Yeah, fuck this.

Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy


Skit Box

19.61% of the total votes

While far from the worst web series of 2019, Skit Box wasn’t exactly great. It’s central problem? The makers aimed to get laughs from a plot in which terrible men gaslight, manipulate and otherwise exploit women in the workplace. Turns out, no matter what you do, men like that are far from hilarious. Even if Greg Larsen’s playing one of them.


Saturday Night Rove

41.18% of the total votes

Part of us thinks this show was too-harshly-judged by critics and viewers; it could have found its feet, it just needed more time! And anyway, we need a weekly comedy/variety show that can unite our divided nation ‘round the old telly box, like in the days of Hey! Hey!, and indeed Rove Live.

Problem is, the other part of us lives in the 21st Century, where if people watch TV at all it’s unlikely to be live. And we realise that this program was so ill-conceived that it was based on late-1990s/early 2000s notions of what people want to watch, rather than what people these days actually do.

Also, it wasn’t what it needed to be in week one to be worthy of remaining on-air beyond week two: out-of-the-box hilarious. Which meant that when it also wasn’t out-of-the-box hilarious in week two, it swiftly got the chop. Axing it so quickly seems harsh, but it was probably for the best.


The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

56.86% of the total votes

The only bit of The Weekly that you can guarantee will be worth watching is Judith Lucy’s segment, a segment which makes up about one-sixth of the show. And this isn’t even Judith Lucy’s best TV work.

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

Charlie Pickering is awful, as is Tom Gleeson.

Death, taxes and voting for The Weekly as the year’s worst sketch or short form comedy.

I can barely (and rarely) bring myself to watch it. Getting Judith in was an inspired move, but still…meh.

Worst Sitcom, Dramedy or Narrative Comedy



25.33% of the total votes

Chris Lilley’s triumphant return to our screens – well, not ‘our’ screens, as this was a Netflix series and therefore largely ignored by both the local and international press because, well, have you seen how much stuff there is on Netflix these days? That place is worse than that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when it comes to actually finding anything and… wait, where were we? A Chris Lilley series in 2019? Nah, that can’t be right.


Mr Black

25.33% of the total votes

Coming from a proud lineage of sitcoms with exactly the same premise – but more importantly, when it comes to overseas sales, different names – Mr Black should have at least been halfway competent. And yet, here we are. It’s nit-picking to say that Stephen Curry was too young to play a grumpy dad out of touch with society, or that the series’ focus on the newspaper industry was strangely retro, or that this was yet another series written by Adam Zwar where the female lead seemed oddly fine with playing her boyfriend off against a love rival. But as the show was rarely funny, nit-picking is all we have left.



34.04% of the total votes

You know there’s something seriously wrong with the system when there’s a second series of Squinters. Putting aside the question of quality – the producers certainly did – this was a one-joke show initially based largely around the appeal of a number of big names who (surprise!) didn’t return for the second series, in at least one case because their character died. Somebody should have realised there are only so many laughs you can get out of having two people sitting in a car stuck in traffic (the answer is none – there are no jokes); somebody should have said ‘if all we’ve got are two people talking, can we at least get in a couple of comedy double acts who know how to make this kind of banter work?’. We know nobody cares about comedy at the ABC, but having this return was an embarrassment.

What the voters said about Squinters

How many more effing shows do we really need where people sit in cars trying to be funny?

Squinters is just not a very good show. There are lots of elements there which suggest it could be good. But it’s the longest half hour of comedy on Australian television.

Can Australia please stop labelling quirky dramas as ‘comedy’?!! Or putting bad scripts in cars?! Comedy requires this thing we like to call… laughter.

Worst Topical or Satirical Comedy


Sammy J

20.45% of the total votes

Sammy J’s elevation to the ABC’s weekly satire slot following the death of John Clarke was on the back of his Playground Politics series during the 2016 federal election campaign. It was a good series and hiring him seemed like the right move, but several years in, we’re starting to see J’s limitations as a satirist. Basically, he just can’t write a good five minutes once a week – and is increasingly reliant on a small stable of characters and concepts whose few seams of comedy gold he’s already mined. To say his performance is disappointing seems an understatement, on the one hand. But then we remembered what else was served up to us in 2019 as ‘topical or satirical content’ and we realise the man’s a genius!


Saturday Night Rove

29.55% of the total votes

Saturday Night Rove’s idea of topical content was allowing former Prime Minister – and always-and-forever narcissist – Kevin Rudd to come on and play handball. The show was axed the following working day.


The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

65.91% of the total votes

We’ll say this for The Weekly: after five years it’s still every bit as good as it was on day one. Which is quite an achievement when you think about it, because most shows that start off bad either improve or get even worse, and The Weekly hasn’t. It’s just trundled on doing what it does so very well. Congratulations, guys. No really, congratulations.

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

Not only can’t I recall anything Pickering said about current events during the previous year, I feel like I remember less of what happened in 2019 thanks to Pickering’s coverage. The man is a black hole of topicality!

Pickering manages surprising consistency in being a poor host, comedian and interviewer. The show’s already named after him, but he still can’t let anyone else have more attention or look better than him. Destroys what little good humour is buried in there week to week.

Charlie Pickering has not improved in five years. Time to move on mate. Fuck.

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


Hard Quiz/Celebrity Hard Quiz

31.11% of the total votes

The most depressing thing about Hard Quiz (and it’s not a short list) is that it’s exactly the same as the half dozen ABC quiz shows before it that ‘failed’, only this one was aired in a safe prime time slot and was kept there for long enough that it’s now considered a ‘success’ despite being – as we just said – pretty much identical to the failures before it. Someone at the ABC decided Paul McDermott was out and Tom Gleeson was in: any chance of getting a third option?



44.44% of the total votes

Remember that brief period when Will Anderson was trying his luck in the USA and it looked like Gruen was going to quietly fade away? Just imagine all the eager young producers with exciting new ideas eagerly waiting for the official confirmation that Gruen was finished before hitting up the ABC with their exciting new pitches for shows that would blatantly pander to some other powerful industry full of wankers getting rich off treating people like idiots. Oh well.


Hughsey, We Have A Problem

48.89% of the total votes

Hughsey has put his days as a live wire rage case behind him, and this is the result; reading out limp audience questions while a bunch of local laff-getters of varying quality jostle to come up with answers that will make the promo. You’d think this show was a consolation prize for comedians who can’t make it onto Have You Been Paying Attention?, but a lot of them have – and they were a lot better there than they were on this.

What the voters said about Hughsey, We Have A Problem

Australian comedy is so bad right now that any improvised-spontaneous-think on your feet-show is infinitely funnier than anything scripted.

This has a problem: it was shithouse!

Hughesy’s voice alone… Jesus…

Worst Film


Little Monsters

27.27% of the total votes

Oh look, it’s a comedy about zombies! Must have been at least twenty minutes since we last saw one of those. At least this one had a decent selling point (and lead performance) with its story of a primary school teacher trying to protect her students from the horrors of a zombie outbreak; why the film had to take a third of its run time messing around with yet another boring Aussie yob before getting to that remains a mystery.


The Naked Wanderer

27.27% of the total votes

Hey, John Cleese was in this one! That’s a definite step up from that rom-com that brought Eddie Izzard out to Adelaide. Plus it also features comedy nudity, which is as good a basis for an Aussie comedy film as any.


Palm Beach

63.64% of the total votes

A bunch of rich old people sit around a million-dollar beachfront mansion wondering where it all went wrong. Hilarity ensues, though only if you stop to think why the producers thought anyone would find this funny. Of course, considering this was in large part funded by a tourism body – as are most Australian cinematic comedies these days – the joke is really on anyone who thought the producers gave a shit about comedy in the first place. Can’t wait for the remake of The Castle set at Noosa!

What the voters said about Palm Beach

Didn’t see any of them.

When was the last time you physically paid money to go see an Aussie movie? When was the last time you couldn’t wait to see an Aussie movie in anticipation? When was the last time you truly enjoyed an Aussie movie because it was good not because you forced yourself out of patriotism? When was the last time you cheered on an Aussie movie at the Oscars?…The state of cinema in Australia is well and truly dead. RIP.

Please stop making films like Palm Beach. NOBODY wants to see it.

Worst Pilot



26.92% of the total voters

This oddly paced slapstick caper about indigenous cops in Perth seems unlikely to progress beyond this pilot series, which is probably for the best. It’s not that slapstick capers are inherently bad, more that this was a bad slapstick caper. So bad, in fact, that it made Paul Fenech look like Buster Keaton in comparison.


Halal Gurls

34.62% of the total votes

Like Skit Box much of the failure of the comedy here was down to the well-observed scenes about white male privilege in the workplace not being particularly funny. As for the rest of the show, it was basically a soap opera about Muslim families in Australia. Perhaps an actual soap opera about Muslim families in Australia would have made for a better series?


Carpark Clubbing

38.46% of the total votes

The central idea of making a sort of Sex and the City but with diverse, penniless women in Western Sydney, is a perfectly decent one but… plot… laughs… there was none of that in this series. It wasn’t even a character piece, just some women talking. Makes you wonder who greenlights this stuff, because even a show tucked away up the back of iView should have achieved a level of competence that this show can only dream of.

What the voters said about Carpark Clubbing

Some women in a car do…some things. You kinda need more than that.

Pretty crappy-looking future on all fronts, eh?

The upside to these pilots is that they are so bad that you genuinely believe that even you and your mates can get together and do a better job….and probably will!

Best New Comedy


Riot Act

13.16% of the total votes

The surprise hit of 2019, Riot Act took the topic of right-wing talkback radio and turned it into a solidly funny and well-made audio sitcom. Sure, you’ll need to sign-up to Audible to hear it, but it’s worth it.


Glennridge Secondary College

31.58% of the total votes

If you haven’t taken a look at Aunty Donna’s latest series of sketches, set in a typical suburban secondary school, then you’re a fool to yourself. Violence, wordplay, extras trying not to piss themselves – it’s all there and it’s all hilarious!



42.11% of the total votes

Has Australia ever produced a decent dramedy? It has now. Frayed was a simply outstanding series, looking at growing up, coming home, a clash of cultures, getting revenge and facing reality, amongst other things. With a great cast and a script that had been honed to perfection, this should get a second series.

What the voters said about Frayed

It just kept on getting better.

The best Australian dramedy since…ever.

A show that kept on getting better.

Best Comedy


Get Krack!n

36.73% of the total votes

Get Krack!n may have been a bit rougher in its second and final season, but that was kind of the point: an increasingly strident comedy howl at the way western civilisation doesn’t even pretend to give a shit these days, its bluntness was a feature, not a flaw. It increasingly seems like a fluke that Australia produced anything as ruthless and relentless as this; don’t hold your breath waiting for anyone to follow in its footsteps any time soon.


Have You Been Paying Attention?

36.73% of the total votes

The kind of institution that you think will run forever until one cog comes loose and the whole thing falls apart, Have You Been Paying Attention? remains a show that seems simplicity itself until a (rare) dud guest or wobbly segment highlights just how skilled everyone involved really is. Consistently funny, always entertaining and the only comedy show on commercial television that doesn’t feel like a programming error, it’s a national treasure.


Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

69.39% of the total votes

It’s telling that the top three comedies of 2019 all rely on rock-solid writing; much as producers like to think a bunch of people piss-farting about will come close enough to entertainment to suck in an audience that’s probably not even paying attention, comedy is a craft that requires skill at every level to work. And so Mad As Hell is consistently Australia’s only world-class comedy program, a show that reflects on and takes part in the national conversation in a way that its rivals can only dream of. Funny in an increasingly old-fashioned way – it tells jokes rather than shouts at people – and with a cast that brilliantly brings to life an ever-expanding collection of oddballs and creeps who perfectly mirror the people who strut Australia’s increasingly wobbly public stage, it is, to quote a classic of Australian criticism, ‘rooly good’.

What the voters said about Mad As Hell

Actual laughs.

What else needs to be said? Shaun Micallef / Tony Martin. More of everything they do please. Oh, and maybe the ABC can pull their finger out and commission the Mouse Patrol sketch series these two (and Gary Mccaffrie + Michael Ward) cooked up in the early 2000’s. It would be nice to see some competent sketch comedy back on television.

The gold standard Australian comedy.

What did you think of Australian comedy in 2019?

By and large, it stunk. Meaning that 2019 was a typical year in Australian comedy.

Predictable, recycled, little innovation.

Utter shite. Mad As Hell is literally the only thing remotely funny. Is Shaun Micallef really the only funny person in the country?

There was a lot to like this year…that’s probably the first time I’ve felt like this in years. Riot Act was a very nice surprise to round out the year. Tony Martin showed that he can still produce comedy that zigs when everyone else is zagging (although it would be good if somebody paid him to make this sort of stuff). Get Krack!n may have had a few faults this year, but its good outshone its bad. Glennridge Secondary College was, at times, divine. And Shaun Micallef was…Shaun Micallef. For better or worse, a lot of this year’s best comedy was released via non-traditional media, not funded by the ABC. I don’t know what that says about the future of comedy. Maybe in spite of the Federal Government’s funding cuts to the ABC and the arts, the best comedy-makers will find a way to get the best comedy to Australians. Maybe the internet has actually democratised comedy in Australia. Maybe everything’s going to be alright? Probably not.

Underfunded, unappreciated and mostly unremarkable.

I was a bit concerned that the Sharon Strzelecki UberEats ad compromised the integrity of the Kath & Kim Extended Universe.

Australian comedy is the great ‘what could have been’. So much talent, so many great ideas, so much wasted. Why do we call quirky and weird dramas, ‘comedy’? Why do we have a publicly funded “comedy” channel that is filled with foreign shows? Let’s hope 2020 brings comedy with laughs.

The funniest thing I read all year was the press release announcing Rick Kalowski’s resignation where they said ‘Rick has a lot to be proud of’.

Vote in the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2019

Here we go again…it’s time to cast your vote in the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2019.

Sketch comedies, dramedies, sitcoms, satire, panel shows, films and pilots – we want to know what you thought were the worst Australian comedies of 2019.

We know that 2019 wasn’t a great year for democracy, in this (or any other) country, but how good are worst Australian comedies? How good are they? When it comes to the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2019, if they had a go, you get to go them.

Interesting in casting your ballot? Sure you are. You’ve got until midnight on 11th January to make your choice.

You can read the rules, see the nominations, cast your vote and leave your comments on the 2019 comedy year right here.

And as always, we’ll announce the results on or about Australian Day 2020 on this blog.

It’s Another God Damn Clip Show

Nobody expects much from end of year comedy specials in Australia. Wait, we mean “nobody expects much from comedy in Australia” because oooh, sick burn. But end of year comedy is especially lacklustre, what with ratings being over and half the country being on fire and sport being the only thing actually on television for the next six weeks or so. And yet, somehow this year’s batch was even more depressing than usual. What happened?

Oh no, The Yearly tape got stuck in the iView VCR. All those brilliant jokes about news footage of politicians on factory tours lost, like tears in the rain

To start off with a series you almost certainly didn’t know even went to air, Metro Sexual was an eight-part series of ten minute episodes that Nine Go! bundled into two hour-long blocks and put to air after ten pm on a weeknight. That’s promotion for you!

Set in an inner city sexual health clinic, and with Geraldine Hickey and Riley Nottingham as the leads, it was a no budget series largely shot mockumentary style (well, there was a bunch of talking to camera going on) with the occasional name brand guest star (Ryan Shelton! Toby Truslove! Jo Stanley! Some other people) and just enough going on to make the ten minute length seem like plenty. Oh wait, there’s another three episodes on directly afterwards.

Honestly, Australia should be making series like this every month of the year. Not because it’s good, but because if we made that many then chances are one of them really would be good. This had its moments; it also had a lot of jokes about dicks and sex rashes. Chances are it won’t be back.

The same can’t be said for Hard Quiz, which had a celebrity version on this week for some reason that usually involves cross promotion. It was a typical episode of Hard Quiz, only this time the contestants were slightly better than usual at bantering, which it turns out makes the whole thing a lot more watchable. Well, as watchable as half an hour of scattershot banter can be, which really seems to be the goal of most Australian comedy these days. They’ll just be broadcasting live randos talking shit from the inside of pubs by the end of 2020.

As for The Yearly, starting off with Bill Shorten making fun of himself and 2019 being “a year of big upsets” set the stage for what was to come: a big steaming bag of crap. Which was exactly the same as every other episode of The Weekly right down to Charlie Pickering telling us he was “pumped to be here” because who gives a fuck if Pickering is thrilled to have a well-paid gig hosting his own show? He makes so much money he should be thrilled to be hosting an episode entirely full of tweets telling him he’s shit in a wig; put some of that energy into making a funny show and maybe we’ll talk.

Why does The Weekly get to do a year-in-review show anyway? Yes, it’s probably going to be a greatest hits clip show no matter who hosts it, but it’s difficult to imagine somebody actually funny choosing to start off proceedings with “Roger Federer got locked out of a tennis court because he didn’t have his ID!!!” Even that Sammy J clip show last Sunday that turned out to be from 2018 was more relevant.

But of course, The Weekly – and The Yearly – is where you go for the kind of laughs that get a lot of audience applause and not a whole lot of laughs. The point isn’t to be funny, it’s to confirm the viewer’s prejudices and opinions – you know, politicians are dumb, reality TV is dumb, saying “how good is” is a brilliant punchline that really hurts “ScoMo” instead of just strengthening his brand, people on television are dumb, fake awards are funny, people on breakfast television are dumb, politicians trying to be relatable are hilarious, constantly saying “coming up shortly” is a great way to pad out an hour-long special, and then we fell asleep.

Having Judith Lucy on was the clear highlight of The Weekly this year, and having her on The Yearly talking about “naked bikinis” and “when was the last time gravity bought me a drink?” once again left us wondering why the hell the ABC doesn’t just give her a show. Her comedy interview with the Climate Change Council was funnier than every single installment of Hard Chat stacked on top of each other while also making a decent point about a topical subject – which seems to be written into the charter of The Weekly somewhere because again, it’s not even trying to be funny half the time.

We’ve mentioned before that Australian television’s major motivation these days is to hang onto the viewers they already have, which probably explains why Roy & H.G. are somehow part of The Weekly‘s roster. Also that English guy who presumably works cheap. And having Tom Gleeson say his Gold Logies win was “for the people” then interviewing himself somehow managed to seem more revealing than it was intended to be. It even ended with him laughing at his own “thanks for chatting – hard!” sign off. What a hilarious guy.

But to be fair, him saying “This Hard Chat’s a wank” did save us the bother of coming up with something original to say here, which for this time of year seems about right. Fuck it, see you in 2020 for the second season of Sando.

Alexander Wept, For He Had No More Lands to Conquer

It’s the end of an era:

The ABC’s highly respected head of comedy Rick Kalowski today announced his resignation after more than six years in the post.

After commissioning and overseeing the production of 80 titles, spanning pilots, series, digital content and podcasts, the executive tells IF he is exhausted and needs a break.

The ABC’s loss is clearly comedy’s gain going by the gags in those first two sentences alone. And then there’s this:

Arguably he will step down after one of the ABC’s most distinctive and successful years in comedy

We’d be very keen to have someone expand on that argument. Very keen indeed. We’re guessing the first part of the argument would be to make clear that it was one of the ABC’s most distinctive and successful years in comedy named “2019”, because compared to pretty much every other year, including many of the ones under Kalowski’s reign, this year was crap.

Then again, as we’ve pointed out, next year looks set to be even worse, so getting out now is probably a good move.

We’ll no doubt have more to say on this during this year’s Tumbleweed Awards, but for now it’s hard to know what we’re going to miss more; the way he’d blame creatives for not being able to attract overseas funding to Australian comedy series, or the way just about every story about him including his own Wikipedia page omits the fact he was the creative force behind the excretable Wednesday Night Fever.

One things for sure though: when it comes to this sentence-

Among his earlier commissions were Rosehaven, Please Like Me, Upper Middle Bogan, Wrong Kind of Black, The Moodys and Ronny Chieng: International Student.

– they forgot to mention the fact that in at least three of those cases he was re-commissioning series that had been given the green light by his predecessor.

It’s a Riot (Act)!

Right-wing shock jocks have long been a target for ridicule, but the new Audible comedy Riot Act is so much more than a satire. It’s a funny, well-plotted sitcom full of believable and interesting characters. Basically, it’s the sort of sitcom we should see – or hear – more of in Australia.

Riot Act

Co-written by Mark Humphries and Evan Williams (7.30) and Dan Ilic (A Rational Fear, Tonightly), Riot Act focuses on overnight shock jock Campbell Parkes (Humphries) and his producer Michelle (Anjali Rao) as they try to get traction on right-wing radio station ‘360’, whilst constantly under pressure from station manager Nugget (Ilic). But when an opportunity opens-up, in the form of the untimely death of prime-time host Janacek (Tony Martin) will Campbell be the one who inherits the coveted prime-time slot?

Riot Act feels like a show for our times: chock-full of deserved pot-shots at the media, politics, sexism, racism, the rich and powerful, ordinary Aussies, Boomers, bloke culture and left-wing activists but not made with a cent of government funding. And let’s face it, after what’s happened this week, there’ll be less and less of the latter in years to come.

Perhaps this is a good thing? Riot Act took two years to write and feels not just like a labour of love but like the sort of thing that in the hands of a more traditional content provider (such as an established public broadcaster) would be forced to become something quite different – and more mainstream – in its approach. Riot Act also feels like an exciting rediscovery of the sort of comedy you can only really make for radio or podcasts: dialogued-based and artfully plotted.

And while not all the material is gold – Michelle dismisses a manure supplier’s sponsorship of Campbell’s show as “crap for comment” – it’s a step up from standard Aussie sitcom dialogue. Listen to Riot Act and then try and argue that Mr Black or Rosehaven are better programs.

The closest we’ve heard to Riot Act in recent years is Tony Martin’s Childproof, which did phenomenally well – quickly reaching number two in the podcast charts. Riot Act deserves similar acclaim, or at the very least a second series. Perhaps Audible, like many streaming services in their ascent, will commission another series – and will continue to fund all sorts of other shows too?

It’s about time someone did something. 2019 has been a lacklustre year for Australian comedy – and that’s saying something after several decades of lacklustre years for Australian comedy – so we’re due an upswing. Maybe this is the start of it? Maybe not. Either way, Riot Act’s one of the best Australian comedies of the year.

Vale Television 2019

Last week a tweet was doing the rounds listing all the great things being done by ABC staffers now that they’ve left the ABC. The point was that they’d had to move on to get anything done, which was… fair enough? The ABC is a great training ground, but anyone able to do basic math knows that the number of jobs narrows as you move up the ladder and waiting for some Radio National host to die before you get your shot is not something a lot of up-and-comers are willing to do.

Anyway, eventually this tweet chain got onto the staff of the late and somewhat lamented Tonightly, which got us thinking: what if the ABC had kept Tonightly and axed Gruen instead? After all, literally everyone on Gruen has other jobs to go to and the show’s been on for close to a decade now. If the ABC is a place for fresh talent – which is what this tweet chain seemed to be arguing – then the answer’s a no-brainer.

So why was that never going to happen? Because in 2019, free-to-air television is not about finding fresh talent: it’s about hanging on for grim death. The ABC isn’t axing Gruen – they’ve already announced it’ll be back next year – while they’ve made it clear that their comedy line-up for 2020 is going to be pretty much the same as this year’s line-up, only slightly smaller.

Both Gruen and Have You Been Paying Attention? wrapped up for the year last week (it’s the end of official ratings, which now seems quaintly old-fashioned). We’ve hated Gruen pretty much from the start, while HYBPA? continues to be one of our favourite shows. But increasingly our views on both have converged as we approach a point best described as “shit, do we even still make TV in Australia?”

It used to be that we supported shows like these because whatever their flaws, they rated well enough to bring viewers in and make the idea of local comedy – or comedy-adjacent – programming still seem viable. But the days when their high-rating existence encouraged networks to take a stab at other, possibly better comedy shows is over; if there was any kind of viable television market for comedy, wouldn’t someone – anyone – from HYBPA? have been given their own spin-off by now?

It only gets worse the further you look. Ten’s Pilot Week this year only featured one comedy series, and a comedy-drama one at that. We’ve already covered the ABC’s dwindling offerings, while Nine just has Hamish & Andy doing the same thing they were up to a decade ago. Even Seven, which used to make it a point of pride to air local comedy, only managed a couple episodes from the no-longer fresh-faced Pauly Fenech.

That tweet we mentioned earlier? Clearly it was way too optimistic. Maybe in news and radio the ABC is still training up people who can go off and do great work elsewhere; when it comes to comedy, unless something serious changes, it’s just going to be the same old faces year after year.

Worse, when they eventually do go they won’t be replaced, because after all that time they’ll be seen as “irreplaceable”. Which is just a fancy way of saying “we didn’t bother training a replacement”.

The future is now

Wherever the exciting future of Australian comedy is, it may not be at the ABC. For a certain type of comedy at least. Appearing on a panel recently at Screen Forever, “Australia’s premier event for screen industry professionals”, Rick Kalowski, Head of Comedy at the ABC, is reported to have said:

“It’s your responsibility as a producer or writer to know what we’ve recently made and what we’re making. But you can’t possibly know what we’re developing, and we’re developing a lot, so we don’t want anybody to waste their time and bring us an idea which is too close to what we’re already developing,” he said.

“That said our position is pretty simple: if you’ve got a track record, or somebody else, and we know you can execute, we will develop with you from an idea.”

From unknown creatives a video or a script demonstrates an ability to execute…

So, they’re looking for stuff from established people that they can have total control over, er, can develop. Gotcha. Breathing down peoples’ necks is always the right way to nurture new comedy. Good plan, guys.

Which possibly explains the appeal of podcasting as a medium for comedians – it’s cheap and easy to make, it’s potentially lucrative and you get total control. Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney possibly think so, as they’re starting their own podcast soon. A podcast, which sounds like it might be parodying advice and wellness Instagrammers, vloggers and podcasters, and is presumably hosted by their comic personas the Kates (as seen on Get Krackin!).

Meanwhile, as we recently reported, 7.30 satirist Mark Humphries and Dan Ilic are working on a series for Audible called Riot Act, which is due out on 2nd December and was recently described by Mediaweek as follows…

Campbell Parkes is an idiot with his own radio show. Until he’s tricked into fronting an event dedicated to a notorious Australian historical event. This satirical Audible Original Podcast is Mark Humphries’ black comedy at its best and features an Australian cast including Dan Ilic, Gretel Killeen, Rosie Waterland and Sandra Sully.

…which sounds potentially funny, but with Humphries, you never know. He’s very much of the school of satire where the satirist just lists some awful things that politicians or media figures have done and then adds a banal hot take or twist. But let’s not be so cynical as the festive season approaches. This could be great and truly Humphries’ time to shine.

Which leads us to John Safran, who’s also recently turned up on Audible with a new series John Safran vs the Occult. And yes, it’s not a comedy (unless you count his wry digs at Richard Dawkins) but it is pretty interesting.

Leading on naturally from his many years hosting religion-themed radio and TV shows (Sunday Night Safran, John Safran vs God), and writing about true crime, extremists and religious nutbags, John Safran vs the Occult looks at supposed devil-worshipping gangs in Trump’s America, how a clash of traditional and Western beliefs in Vanuatu led to a double murder, and how a Muslim-Australian woman ended up being exorcised of a djinn (a powerful demon).

If you like audio documentaries about crime and weird beliefs, you’ll definitely enjoy this five-part series. A five-part series we’re pretty sure had little development or shaping from Audible because it’s classic Safran in every way, from the theme of the show to the presentation style to the indie-esque incidental music. Ah, podcasting, a medium which still respects an artist’s creativity and instincts. Perhaps we’ve found the exciting future of Australian comedy after all?

Beware of Wog

Remember this classic sketch from The Late Show?

As Tony Martin pointed out over the weekend, Lou Interligi isn’t quite as far-fetched as he once seemed:

Yep, according to The Herald-Sun:

Wog boy Nick Giannopoulos has put comedian colleagues on notice, warning them to stop using the word that made him famous.

In a move which has reportedly unsettled the Melbourne comedy scene, lawyers for Giannopoulos have sent letters demanding rivals stop using the word “wogs”.

It seems that his lawyers are driving around making threatening gestures to anyone considering putting the word “wog” into the title of their comedy show. Which might be considered a public service in 2019, but still seems like a dick move from the genius behind The Wannabes, not to mention the host of The Singing Office and creator of the never-aired Get Nicked.

It’s understood lawyers for Giannopoulos have recently sent letters to Melbourne comedians requesting they stop using the word wogs to promote their shows.

“There would’ve been a show passing off as one of mine and my lawyers would’ve sent them a letter,” Giannopoulos said.

“The government ruled in my favour in the mid-90s saying the word ‘wogs’ is associated with my previous shows and they granted me that trademark so that I could protect my business interests.”

“The government”?

Unfortunately, much as we’d love to use this as an excuse to sink the boot into Nick Giannopoulos for being a ruthless businessman more interested in protecting his dwindling turf than actually contributing anything to the world of comedy, this is easily the funniest thing he’s done this decade.

“The rest is Roman history”

Vale Frayed

Frayed, which ended last night, has been a lesson to dramedy makers in this country: that it’s possible to mix drama and comedy in the one show and for that show to be good. And after years of programs like Rosehaven and – gulp – Channel 9’s reboot of SeaChange, who knew it was even possible to make a good Australian dramedy?

So invested were we in the drama of whether Sami (Sarah Kendall) would get back to London and confront dodgy lawyer Rufus (Robert Webb), that we were both annoyed and delighted by the ambiguous ending of the final episode. Wait…so, she doesn’t go back to London? And…yay they’ll have to make a second series so we can find out!

Sarah Kendall and Diana Morgan in 'Frayed'

And given recent ABC form, a second series of Frayed is guaranteed, because it’ll be part-funded by overseas cash.

Which means more of those hilariously real teenage brother and sister fights between Sami and her dickhead brother Jim (Ben Mingay), more of the dour bizarreness of Fiona (Diane Morgan) and more of the brilliant but evil Bev (Doris Younane), amongst the other funny delights of this series. Because Frayed really was a comedy at heart, a real comedy, based on characters who said realistic things. And unlike, say, SeaChange, a show in which the various families and townsfolk never felt real or said anything real – and weren’t even funny to make up for it – Frayed was a show which ran through the full gamut of pathos, bathos and ethos. Well, mostly.

Frayed did have some problems. The scene in Chris’ office where Sami quit her job and everyone turned on her seemed a bit forced, even by the standards of the characters involved. And another problem came in the middle of the series, when the action seemed to move a little slower, sort of like they were filling time. But then, it feels like that in a lot a series like this. And those middle episodes are usually where the groundwork is laid for a massive final reveal. Such as the one with Abby’s Dad that’s responsible for that ambiguous ending. An ambiguous ending that just begs for a second series.

So, if the ABC doesn’t commission another series of Frayed, you might as well take Australian dramedy out and shoot it. Because mostly with Australian dramedy, shows carry on for years, using up precious budget, and filling up airtime, but rarely exciting audiences (hello Rosehaven). But Frayed? It actually did what it said on the tin: it was a drama that was also funny. Who knew that was even possible in this country? Seriously, who knew?

Hamish & Andy Get Older, the Show Stays the Same

If you programed a computer to create the perfect Hamish & Andy series, the program would look a lot like this:



30 GOTO 10

Wonder what their new show’s about?

Sure, over the years they’ve mixed it up a little – but just a little; the various Gap Years were overseas trips complete with pranks, Caravan of Courage went overseas a bunch of times, and while True Story featured neither overseas trips nor pranks, they were all about “real-life” stories which if you really wanted to stretch a point were sometimes kind of “prankesque”

Really, the only thing keeping Hamish & Andy’s “Perfect Holiday” from feeling a little bit too much like more of the same is that both Hamish and Andy have been popping up in other people’s projects throughout 2019 – LEGO Masters for Hamish, Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation for Andy.

It’s been a canny move from a duo well known for them; those shows kept them in the public eye while never quite delivering on what it is the public love about them (pranks and overseas trips), so when they do return with a “new” show everyone’s relieved to see them back doing what they do best (pranks and overseas trips).

There once was a time when it felt like a real waste that Hamish & Andy didn’t use their clout to do more. They’ve been pretty much the only Australian comedy performers who rate well on commercial television for close to a decade now; imagine if they’d tried a weekly tonight show? A sketch series? Anything at all that involved a script?

But again, their refusal – after a couple of early stumbles (remember how the very first Hamish & Andy Gap Year had a weird tonight-show set up?) – to do any of that old-fashioned stuff increasingly looks like a canny move. Their biggest successes on both television and radio have always involved a major element of “what’s going to happen next?”; now that pretty much all forms of scripted Australian television are dying, keeping things as live-seeming and audience-interactive as possible has clearly worked in their favour.

Perfect Holiday is more of the same from the skilled radio hosts and it hits all the familiar beats. They turn up anywhere from a bus racing track to a casino (actually, those two places probably aren’t that far apart), they banter amongst themselves, they have a bit of fun with the locals, one of them does something mildly silly or unexpected while the other has a good laugh at them, and then it’s off to the next location. Pranks! For three weeks at the end of the year, it’s perfectly reasonable entertainment.

But, you might find yourself thinking during the 90 minute* run time, for how long? While Andy Lee seems magically immune to the ravages of time (though he does seem increasingly fond of hats), Hamish Blake is… not. They’re still handsome men and their friendship still somehow magically seems authentic, but you wouldn’t call them “handsome young men” any more, and when you’re doing a show about pranks the “young” part is pretty important.

The increasingly slender Blake having a chilli fight is amusing to watch. Watching someone 15 years younger having a chilli fight? That’s even funnier. Young people acting like dickheads is funny because young people are usually dickheads who think they can do anything; someone heading towards 40 acting like a dickhead starts to seem a little calculated, and where’s the fun in that?

Then again, there’s a reason why the phrase “canny” has come up more than once in this post. A show based around “hey, it’s a couple of old friends having a holiday and trying to recapture their youth” can easily position itself as a celebration of friendship (through pranks). Perfect Holiday already gestures towards that by having one half of the duo come up with the mildly unpleasant things the other half has to do; the fun comes as much from the relationship between them as the wacky stunts they’re getting up to.

So will the last comedy show on Australian television be an elderly Hamish & Andy still trying to put each other through the wringer from inside their mobile life support units? Judging by the state of free-to-air television in 2019, only if they get picked up by Disney.

*considering this is really just a collection of stand alone segments, this could easily have been a six part half hour series – though it probably would have felt a little too lightweight