Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.
Where do you go after you’ve done the most-acclaimed stand-up show in years? Many comedians would be tempted to try and do it all again – same style, similar issues – but Hannah Gadsby, wisely, has taken her new show Douglas (now on Netflix) in a different direction to Nanette. This has turned out to be a good move.
Gadsby jokes at the start that this is her “difficult second album”. Except it’s not, it’s her 10th big stand-up show. And boy does the experience of doing those ten shows shine through in this.
Douglas is as funny and on point as Nanette but it’s also about lighter topics (sort of), with as much of the humour coming from Gadsby playing around with form and structure as it does from great material about real experiences.
Gadsby, who takes such delight in surprising audiences with abrupt 180 turns, is clearly having a lot of fun as she first signals material that she will later call back to, and then, long after we’ve all forgotten about her signalling, does the call back to huge laughter and applause. The look of joy on her face as the audience falls about is as wonderful as being in the audience and appreciating the joke and the call back. Gadsby really is the master of getting her audience to do exactly what she wants them to – and we love it.
Unlike Nanette, which was a very personal reckoning about abuse and misogyny, Douglas takes great joy in revealing that Gadsby has autism, a condition she’s comfortable with. For her, it’s a relief to know why her brain is different. She finally understands herself.
Douglas is stand-up about loving who you are – and a showcase for the (comedic) benefits of having autism. Like how spending hours obsessing over minor things can lead to some interesting and funny discoveries. And how spending (what I’m guessing was) weeks and months honing the contents and structure of this set can result in a brilliant and surprising stand-up show.
The amount of care and attention that Gadsby’s given this show is rare in all but the very best of the big stand-up shows. And while comedians and audiences have quite rightly mourned the loss of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, it’s worth asking how many of those cancelled shows would have been honed to the level of slickness that Hannah Gadsby’s achieved in Douglas? And how many would have been just an hour of whatever material the comedian could generate in time?
Perhaps this lockdown, and the brilliance of Douglas, will give more comedians the time – and the urge – to work on honing their cancelled shows. There’s no great secret as to why Hannah Gadsby’s a world-famous comedian after all: she’s just spent a lot of time making her material as good as it can be.
Even in the golden age of the ABC’s Wednesday Night comedy stronghold, the whole night was rarely all comedy. Shows like Spicks and Specks and The Gruen Transfer may have provided laughs but honestly? They were more entertainment than straight-up comedy. So having two comedy series on back-to-back should be a pretty sweet deal at a time when Australian television comedy is struggling, right?
Oh right, one of those shows is The Weekly.
The lack of actual news has finally been acknowledged by The Weekly, as it made an unsteady lurch towards sketch comedy with predictably shit results. “Charlie Pickering, ABC HR Guy” gave Pickering a chance to show off his comedy performance chops, and turned out to be a nice reminder that as a comedy performer he makes for a great newsreader. Sure, you make do with what you’ve got; what happened to Briggs anyway?
This week it really was the Charlie Pickering Show, though no doubt if we actually measured his air time it’d probably turn out to be the same contractually mandated 25 minutes it is every week. Which is fine when The Weekly is doing its usual shit mix of dull news explainers and dull celebrity interviews, but without that to lean on – we’re glad they dug up the Sports Rorts to slap the PM around with a bit, but even they had to admit it was old news that not everyone cared about in the first place – all they’re left with comedy, aka Pickering’s greatest weakness besides having to seem interested in other people.
And the comedy was not great this week. Corona Cops takes Australian comedy’s fine tradition of dubbing over existing footage and… doesn’t seem to understand that the results should be funny? Still, when you’re making a half hour show you can’t just rely on Judith Lucy’s segment having a pointless minute-long intro to fill in all those seconds. On the flip side, that edit of all the disastrous things that’ve happened to Millionaire Hot Seat contestants was gold; fire the writers, hire more researchers.
Nothing else in this week’s episode really worked, and while it feels like there should have been a difference between that sketch bringing back Scott Morrison’s PR team and the Yard Chat interview with Richard Wilkins son (why?), they both dragged on so long we stopped paying attention before we could figure out what it might be. Aside from them both being pointless, which is a weird thing to say about The Weekly when you think about it because unlike At Home Alone Together it still has a point: making fun of the news. It’s not good at it, but it’s a slightly better show when it sticks to it.
Speaking of At Home Alone Together, it’s funnier than The Weekly. Then again, so is [insert generic horrible thing here]. It’s still a mixed bag but that’s the whole point, and even when a bit doesn’t really work (that home wine tasting sketch comes to mind) it’s still possible to see what they were going for and how somebody else might find it amusing. Can we say the same about The Weekly? Let’s move on.
The weaknesses of the whole “lifestyle show parody” angle are coming clearer, but that was always going to happen. The joke in all the sketches is the same joke: the person hosting the sketch is either creepy, incompetent or having a breakdown, and this is laid over a traditional lifestyle show topic for humorous results. Or not. Already pretty much all this week’s sketches had characters paired off with someone else to interact with, which adds another layer to the hijinxs and should keep them going for the remaining five weeks even if we’ll be roaming the streets freely in a fortnight or so.
Unfortunately that means what initially seemed like the most promising aspect of this show – watching lifestyle hosts go increasingly nuts as lockdown drags on – has suddenly been taken away, leaving the prospect of it becoming a show making fun of something that’s already over and that most people will want to forget. Then again, we would have said that about Ray Martin a month ago and look where we are now.
As usual with Australian comedy, it’s the worst of both worlds (aside from the lack of deaths, obviously): At Home Alone Together will increasingly lose the only angle that made it interesting, while The Weekly remains stuck without any real news to cover as the rest of the world remains in lockdown. When’s that next Spicks and Specks reunion?
Who exactly is Kinne Tonight for? Obviously it’s a sketch show with a young cast – Troy Kinne himself is what, early 30s? – so there’s a bunch of sketches set in bars and dinner parties (well, Christmas dinner in the first episode of this latest season) and a load of observations about drunk texts and the pain of helping the olds navigate today’s technology and so on. And yet there’s something a little odd about proceedings – something that doesn’t sit quite right with today’s comedy landscape…
Oh, that’s right; this is a television comedy aimed at mainstream Australia.
It’s easy to forget mainstream Australia exists when the only Australian television you watch is comedy. We’re not talking about the actual real-life mainstream of Australian society; we’d need to make a lot more television than we currently do to give a real picture of what’s going on out there. But young adults who have office jobs and go out for a drink after work and are in a reasonably committed relationship but haven’t “settled down” yet? The kind of generic “mainstream” you’d expect to be all over the media? They’re hardly ever seen in our comedies.
Partly that’s because – and hopefully someone’s pointed this out to Kinne, because this would be a shitty way to find out – these people don’t watch television. Kids and teens watch television; parents and old folk watch television. But people in their 20s and early 30s? They’re too busy going out, having fun, and possibly raising kids to watch television. Or at least, that’s what’s Australian television has assumed in the 21st Century: plenty of young people on our screens, but not a whole lot of references to how they actually live their lives.
So while Kinne Tonight is solidly more of the same thing Kinne has been doing since 2014, at least he’s got the market all to himself. There’s no way the ABC is going to make a comedy (or any other kind of show) about white middle-class people in their 20s, and the other commercial networks aren’t really going after this demographic. Even when he does a joke we’ve seen before (that bit about the difference between weekday drinking Kinne and weekend drinking Kinne resembled the old Seinfeld bit about how his nighttime self was always screwing over his morning self), it’s a reminder that nobody else is currently doing those kind of jokes on Australian television.
There’s a lot of comedy of manners here; that Christmas dinner sketch was basically a battle of the woke, only the joke wasn’t on the idea of woke so much as it was just pointing out the ways it can be taken to extremes. And because Kinne is approaching this stuff from an insiders point of view, the observational comedy is more “this is how things are” rather than “what’s up with those crazy kids” – which again, isn’t an angle we see much of at the moment.
It’s a little strange that Kinne has this market all to himself, because there’s been long stretches in Australia where this kind of comedy was the main kind of comedy. But these days comedy itself is a niche interest, so you might as well make Squinters or Mr Black or any one of seemingly countless comedies that feature characters in their 20s without actually being about anything anyone in their 20s actually does (remember how the female lead in Mr Black worked at a newspaper?) because who’s going to pull you up?
Kinne Tonight was a bit more focused this time around in its first episode back – no public interactions, not much live stuff, no guests – but Kinne’s sense of humour remains consistent. His relationship material is thankfully even-handed, he’s usually sure to make himself the butt of a sketch’s joke, and when he comes up with a dumb comedy character at least the central joke is an actual joke, which only sounds obvious if you haven’t been watching those reoccurring bits on The Weekly.
That final musical number about bad grammar in texts being a turn off could have done with another polish, mind you.
Press release time!
JOSH THOMAS’ CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED SERIES EVERYTHING’S GONNA BE OKAY IS GONNA BE BACK FOR A SECOND SEASON ON STAN
The series, from the Emmy-nominated and critically acclaimed Aussie writer and comedian, will return to Stan in 2021.
Need we go on? Eh, may as well.
20 May, 2020 – Stan today announced that Josh Thomas‘ critically acclaimed comedy Everything’s Gonna Be Okay will be returning exclusively to Stan in 2021.
The series, which is created, executive produced and stars Josh Thomas, follows Nicholas, a neurotic twenty-something-year-old who is forced to raise his two teenage half-sisters, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, after the untimely death of their father. The series stars Josh Thomas – the creator and star of the International Emmy-nominated series Please Like Me – Kayla Cromer, Adam Faison and Maeve Press.
Thomas, Stephanie Swedlove and Kevin Whyte serve as executive producers, with David Martin, Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner executive producing for Avalon. Additionally, Please Like Me collaborator Thomas Ward reunites with Thomas as co-executive producer.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay will return exclusively to Stan in 2021
The way they couldn’t quite be bothered to bold the final “y” in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay pretty much sums up our feelings about the whole thing.
What this really tells us is something we already knew: Thomas was hired to provide prestige, not ratings. It’s a great place for him to be, even if it does suggest he’s not actually funny, because “prestige” is the kind of thing you don’t have to prove. If people think you’re classy, then you’re classy, low ratings and general disinterest be dammed.
The real question now is, will there even be a Stan by 2021?
The world has changed rapidly in the last two months and it’s perhaps sad that just as comedians are starting to understand how to produce comedy online or at home or remotely or at a social distance, that the country’s starting to open up again.
Or maybe not? Because let’s face it, this is going to be with us for years. And this has just been the first of many, near-incomprehensible stages.
In the next few years, we’ll see a slew of content about what it’s like to come out of lockdown, or to suddenly be plunged back into it, or how people have had their lives ruined (or improved) as a result of what’s happened. And this could be a good thing for comedy. It certainly makes a change from naval-gazing dramedies about falling in love, or mental health issues, or pregnancy. Now we can have naval-gazing dramedies about falling in love, or mental health issues, and or pregnancy, but in isolation!
What this crisis has shown us, though, is that there is an audience for low budget, scrappy online content that contains actual laughs. Particularly if it can be produced quickly enough to feel timely. Gristmill’s Love In Lockdown, a six-part web series about two people falling in love over Face Time, has quickly gained good viewing figures on YouTube.
Written by Robyn Butler (The Librarians) and Lucy Durack (The Letdown), the show features Durack as Georgie, a working-from-home office manager with nothing much to do but bake, and Ned, a newly out-of-work musician and café worker, who’s turned to online ukulele teaching to make ends meet. When Georgie starts lessons with Ned, a romance between the two seems unlikely – she’s an uptight hard worker and he’s a lazy, disorganised loser – but these are strange times, and anything can happen.
Love In Lockdown isn’t a super hilarious series, but it’s funny in parts and a pleasant enough watch if you have half-an-hour (and who doesn’t these days). We didn’t quite buy that Georgie would fall for Ned (he’s a bit of a dickhead) but we do sort of buy that George (who’s desperate and lonely) might fall for Ned in these circumstances.
Or, for more straight-up – and shorter – laughs, head over to Frank Woodley’s Facebook page and check out his No Bad Ideas series. So far, he’s come up with an amusing suggestion for coping with loneliness during lockdown…
…and another for dealing with the new normal.
Or, there’s Steen Raskopoulos’ Instagram, where he’s posting one-man sketches, impressions and other nonsense on a regular basis.
Are we going to look back at any of this in decades to come and think “Classic comedy!”? Probably not. But it’s keeping us going in the meantime.
Probably the most impressive thing about At Home Alone Together is that it exists at all. A rapidly thrown-together reaction to Australia’s comedy crisis – uh, coronavirus crisis – it was largely filmed in the presenters own homes using minimal camera equipment… so yeah, if you’ve ever wanted to check out the inside of Ray Martin’s house then now is your big chance to seek professional help.
As for the show itself, it’s a lifestyle parody show, which is a genre that died somewhere between the third and fourth series of LIfe Support a couple decades ago. Having Ray Martin as host seems like it should be funny until you remember that Ray hasn’t had a high profile gig in a decade and never really had the cheesy charm of your Ian Turpies or Baby John Burgesses. A natural comedian he is not, unless he’s having a go at John Safran for going through his bins.
But on a night when The Weekly seemed to suddenly remember that its remit is to be as unfunny as humanly possible – quick, stick a sports jacket on Charlie Pickering and play loud distracting background music under both of his seemingly endless “news-in-review” segments – having something on the ABC that was actually trying to be funny was something of a relief. Remember when Julia Zemiro’s Road Trip was all about comedians? You won’t when it returns next week.
Being made up of a bunch of sketches recorded individually by comedians under lockdown, At Home Alone Together was always going to be hit and miss. The weird thing was that the two weakest sketches – Harry Potter sex play and turning your bathroom into a sauna – were put up the front. And that fake non-ad for Bleach was a bit of a head-scratcher until it became obvious what it was referring to, which was a news story that by 2020 standards took place a thousand years ago. In the age of twitter, topicality is not your friend unless you’re very, very funny.
Surprisingly though, by the end the good largely outweighed the bad. Craig Reucassel’s bins full of bottles was a good solid laugh that didn’t outstay its welcome, that fake ad for the Adelaide Wet Market filled with cheap toast was weird enough to be a decent palate cleanser, and Helen Bidou having yet another meltdown while putting out a bizarre song was everything you want from Anne Edmonds.
We’ve been fans of Ryan Shelton’s sketch work since his Rove days and presumably he’s doing just fine working behind the scenes with Hamish & Andy but his appearance here really did make us wonder why he’s not doing more front-of-camera work. Caution: the next paragraph or two is going to get even more wanky than usual.
The appeal of the lifestyle parody is that lifestyle show segments already have a plot – you start out trying to make or do something and by the end you achieve it. As most Australian sketches are basically just someone coming up with a funny idea then doing that over and over until it stops being funny then coming back with the exact same idea for the next six weeks, it’s easy to see the appeal of a format where the story work is done for you.
Most of the segments here didn’t really do much with that: Harry Potter sex fantasy had one twist – the dude was more into Potter than sex – while the sauna one didn’t even have that and the bit about making soup out of weeds went exactly where it was always obvious it was going to go.. Bidou was just a performance piece with the side joke of her son getting pissed off, but when you can perform like Edmonds that’s plenty.
Shelton though, not only had the joke that he was crap at handiwork so he’d got in his twin brother Jase to help, but then had Jase be everyone’s nightmare sibling before the segment somehow degenerated into a hammer toss with a dick pic as the prize, followed by the dick pic being blurred out and Shelton coming up with a truly pathetic excuse for losing. Comedy is subjective and if you found Ray Martin’s soapy pockets hilarious more power to you (okay, the bit where he accidentally used them next to the sink was good), but when it comes to sketch work Shelton remains the one to beat.
Whether it’s lack of oversight from the corporate bigwigs or the idea that maybe now might be a good time to make people laugh, having a comedy series on the air that’s clearly putting being funny first is a refreshing change from the majority of ABC output. It’s too hit and miss to be any kind of classic, and chances are next week will reveal that this week’s jokes are in fact the only jokes this series will be offering over its eight week run, but for now it’s the best local comedy on the ABC.
Still, it’s a shame about Ray.
Remember Danger 5, SBS’s period spy spoof series where a group of secret agents had to kill Hitler? There were two series of Danger 5, the 2012 series set in the 1960s and the 2015 series set in the 1980s, and since then, nothing. Now the team are back with Danger 5 Stereo Adventures, an eight-part series for Audible in which our heroes, Danger 5, uncover a secret evil organisation called Big Knife and try to stop them from…whatever they’re planning.
What Big Knife is planning, however, isn’t necessarily the point. Like James Bond, Thunderbirds and the various spy series which inspired Danger 5, it’s really about the romp. So, don’t go in expecting a cohesive or easy-to-follow narrative – even with Shaun Micallef’s narration – and certainly don’t go in expecting cohesive comedy. Like the TV version of Danger 5, the humour can be a bit ‘random LOLZ’ following by ‘crowbarred-in gag’… Hey, look a guy with an animal head! Ha ha ha!
Most of the comedy in the first episode of the Danger 5 Stereo Adventures – a romp around the Caribbean involving the Loch Ness Monster and a pirate potion – is just different versions of the seaman/semen pun. And while we’re not saying we don’t find the seaman/semen pun funny, it gets a bit relentless.
On the other hand, subsequent episodes don’t include the seaman/semen joke but are even less hilarious. And it’s not as if the writers aren’t trying to be funny… There are crazy characters, silly foreign accents, commercial breaks (including parodies of the Bunnings Warehouse ads and Today Tonight promos), the odd excellent line (‘Quick, let’s trust this mysterious stranger!’), plus a bunch of barbed satirical digs at Australian patriotism and the ANZAC spirit. (The ANZAC stuff’s quite good, to be fair.)
Thing is, overall, it just doesn’t gel. There’s a lot of assumed knowledge about the show (an assumption that listeners know or remember who all the members of Danger 5 are), and the writers haven’t been the best at translating the kind of characterisations that work fine on TV – because you can deliver the character notes visually – to audio-only. Hence, Claire, who’s British, female and uptight is…yeah, we don’t need to spell out what her character’s like.
As for the broader concept of this being a spy series spoof, well, it is a spy series spoof, except it’s a spoof of a type of spy series that never really existed. It’s more a spy series set in ‘the past’ and because it’s ‘the past’ it’s made to sound like the kind of audiotapes people used to borrow from their local library in the 1980s, complete with those little beeps before and after the show ends… Which is mildly interesting to recall if you’re old enough to remember that kind of thing, but probably seems pretty weird if you’re under 40.
Not that anyone under 40 is listening to this kind of comedy. Probably.
Danger 5 is funny in fits and starts but is a bit hard going if you’re after a reasonably comprehensible plot and clearly defined characters which can generate a lot of decent gags. It’s not even worth listening just to hear Shaun Micallef, because if you want a Micallef spy series you’re better off watching Roger Explosion.
Television made on a weekly basis has a tendency to revert to the mean; there just isn’t enough time to make big changes every single week. But that doesn’t explain The Weekly‘s refusal to stick with any changes at all even when the basic version of the show is crap. Was it only last week that we stupidly suggested that maybe this year might see some positive changes? We’re in an abusive relationship here and we just keep on coming back.
Obviously some of our sour mood this week comes from failing to realise that this week was always going to arrive. Sure, we like Judith Lucy a lot, but the version of her segment where she “interviews” some poor sap by turning up and has an abusive meltdown in front of them is pretty much our least favourite version of her segment. Was that on this week’s episode? Sure was!
Meanwhile, Luke McGregor did roughly the same thing he did last week, only now it’s just that little bit clearer that making intentionally crap explainers should possibly be left to the experts. Remember Ryan Shelton? His segments on Rove a thousand years ago showed how to do this kind of thing right, which is why they’ve been completely forgotten today. Australian comedy: 50 years of classic gear to rip off and we’re still stuck on remaking Kingswood Country.
Something else that made an unwelcome return is the “international correspondent”, which is code for some overseas comedian you’ve never heard of turning up to do a meandering five minutes via satellite. This week’s star performer was dimly related to some slightly notable figure in US governance, which is all we remember about her and we only remember that because Pickering mentioned it twice, including as his very first question to her. What, Ronald Reagan’s great-grandkids weren’t available to do some knock-knock jokes?
Then again, Pickering’s own segment was on the hilarious and highly relevant topic of “will we ever fly again?” a question literally nobody is asking because how the hell else are we going to get to Bali? Even if people have to seal themselves inside full body condoms sleeping bag style to travel by air, people will still travel by air. And this is week two! What are they going to be asking in week seven? “As the coronavirus continues to take a deadly toll, is it time to rename coffins… cough-ins?”. Because that would be shit.
But it wasn’t entirely a dead loss. For starters, there was an astonishingly poor “wacky corona home videos” style clip collection – you know, the kind of thing that tries to have it both ways by being both a collection of mildly notable news clips and a half-arsed “sketch” – that ended by cutting back to a clearly unimpressed Pickering who said “wow” in the kind of tone that suggests someone’s getting fired. No doubt a lot of work goes into finding the clips for these bits but if they can’t figure out funnier ways to use them… wow.
And hey, Tom Gleeson’s back! Coming to us from lockdown in… some kind of family country estate in the Macedon Ranges? We don’t know if Pickering was joking about the estate covering “multiple postcodes” or not and frankly we don’t care, because hearing that kind of passive-agressive dig on air is pretty much the only way we’re ever going to find either of these clearly very well-off sods remotely likable.
We’ll get back to you regarding which one we felt sorriest for. We’re guessing whichever one has fewer butlers.
Press release time!
ABC & Screen Australia announce At Home Alone Together, a lifestyle show for a world in which nobody has a life
ABC has partnered with Screen Australia on a joint initiative in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic which will culminate in a new eight-part comedy series At Home Alone Together, starting on ABC and ABC iview on Wednesday 13 May at 9pm. It’s the survival series we all need right now: a lifestyle show for a world in which nobody has a life. A comedic take on the lifestyle magazine genre, At Home Alone Together will gather Australia’s best comedians and revered actors to give audiences advice on how they can live their best life in the time of COVID-19.
Hosted by beloved ‘national treasure’ Ray Martin, each half-hour episode will feature regular contributors, including comedians Anne Edmonds, Ryan Shelton, Becky Lucas, Christiaan Van Vuuren and Adele Vuko, who will share their knowledge, inspirations and advice on how to achieve self-improvement during the corona crisis, covering a range of topics, including D.I.Y, wellness, parenting and personal finances. Each week they’ll be joined by a variety of Australia’s funniest comedians and favourite actors who will assist them by providing handy hints, clever hacks and entrepreneurial know-how to help everyday Australians optimise their time in isolation. At Home Alone Together will show us how the Coronavirus isn’t just a pandemic – it’s an opportunity.
Host Ray Martin said, “I’ve worked in journalism for over 50 years, but it’s always been my dream to front a lifestyle show. 60 Minutes was all well and good, but it never gave me an opportunity to build a pergola. Australians are experiencing a difficult time and I believe I’m the right person to step up to hold the country’s hand through it – just so long as that hand has been thoroughly sanitised.”
ABC’s Head of Entertainment and Factual, Josie Mason-Campbell, said,” We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the comedy industry into crisis, so as well as making a great show that will encourage Australians to do what they do best in a crisis – laugh – the ABC also wants to support the writers, performers, producers and technicians who are the life blood our of industry. We’ll commission ideas from teams across the country who will write, produce, edit and deliver sketches and bring them to a mass audience. It’s no mean feat to go from concept to screen so quickly – At Home Alone Together is an extraordinary project for this unprecedented time.”
Online Investment Manager at Screen Australia, Lee Naimo, said, “The entire comedy industry has been impacted by COVID-19, but it’s emerging writers and performers who have been the hardest hit. This project presents an opportunity to give these creatives experience with a broadcaster and help them develop their careers during this time. At Home Alone Together will entertain a nation hungry for relevant content while employing a sector of the industry hungry to flex their comedy muscles. I can’t wait to see what these teams bring together in these unique circumstances.”
At Home Alone Together will be produced following strict COVID-19 OHS guidelines, using modern production techniques requiring minimal crew for broadcast standard results. Much of the series will be recorded in the contributor’s homes, either using their own equipment or a single person crew.
So, Australia, come and meet your new best friends who are here to help you through the crisis!
So… people stuck at home are going to be filming sketches on their phones and sending them in? How could it possibly go wrong? Though using “hungry” twice in the same sentence isn’t a good sign.
Still, it’s not like there’s anything else out there we’d rather be watching. Here’s hoping John Safran sends in a clip of himself going through Martin’s bins.