Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Lover Come Back to Me

Hey, Josh Lawson’s got a new movie out! Though you’d be forgiven for having missed it, as this time around he hasn’t been able to stir up controversy by calling it “an Australian film for people who hate Australian films” like he did with his last film The Little Death. But like his last film, Long Story Short is another quirky take on that can o’ worms we call love – Lawson had better be careful or he’ll turn into another Peter “King of Romance” Hellier.

Unlike Hellier’s various projects, where the extent of the imagination on offer is “what if Australia made sitcoms where the wife was clearly out of the husband’s league?”, Lawson has gone all high concept here: what if you found yourself moving fast-forward through your relationship, only checking in for minutes each year? If you guessed “a whole lot of standing around going ‘what the fuck is going on?’,” collect your prize at the front desk.

Better reviewers than us – so pretty much all of them – can discuss the films strengths at length. Briefly, the performances are good, Lawson displays some ability as a director (it wasn’t until later that we realised the film, which feels like your usual expansive summer rom-com, has maybe five main cast members and takes place in three locations), some of the jokes aren’t bad, and so on. Long story short (ha), this contains most of the things you’re probably looking for in a rom-com.

The one thing it doesn’t have, is a decent plot. It’s the big screen version of your typical Aussie sketch comedy sketch: someone has a decent idea, there’s high fives all around, and nobody ever gets around to thinking up any interesting twists or developments that might logically flow from that initial idea. Hey wait, isn’t that what we said about his last film?

Whereas The Little Death at least packed in a bunch of aimless sketches into 90-odd minutes, this features just the one, as if in tacit acknowledgement that plotting is never going to be Lawson’s strong point so maybe keep the plot stuff to a bare minimum. It’s probably a smart move, but it doesn’t do much of anything to hide the fact that this is a film that takes ages to get going and then doesn’t really go anywhere.

After a somewhat fun meet cute and a lot of blathering around, our lead Teddy (Rafe Spall) starts racing through his marriage one year every few minutes. All that actually means is that he spends a few minutes finding out how things have been going (spoiler: not well) and then suddenly lurches forward another year*. He has zero agency throughout most of the film – everything just happens to him – so while any similarities to something like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol are most definitely intentional, Dickens remembered to also give us some cool ghosts.

To be fair, there are a couple of minor subplots running throughout the future that add some much needed texture to events. The film actually acknowledges that he’s moving into the future, with a few slightly amusing technological developments in the background. And Leanne (Zahra Newman) as the wife is pretty good; she has to show the changes over the years while keeping the core of their relationship alive, which is tricky to pull off as well as she does here.

This comes out and references Groundhog Day so it clearly doesn’t mind the comparison, but the difference between this and Groundhog Day – the moral of which it somehow manages to get wrong – is that once Groundhog Day established its premise it went absolutely nuts exploring every possible angle. This has Teddy leaving a message for his mate to do something a year later then it’s a year later and his mate messed up so it doesn’t happen and he gives up on trying to change things. Makes you think.

There’s really only two ways this story can end and you get absolutely nothing for guessing that this chooses the one where the entire film could have just been someone slipping Teddy a note saying “don’t let life pass you by”. After 90 minutes spent watching this, it’s a message that really does hit hard – though probably not in the way the filmmakers intended.

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*well, one version of him does – the other (who we never see) just lives through his life one day at a time. So after a while it’s basically a movie where a middle-aged man is briefly possessed by his 30-ish self for a few minutes every year.

Pop goes another one

Radio National’s new science-themed comedy quiz show The Pop Test seems perfectly designed for the golden age of audio content we’re supposedly living through. It’s putting a different spin on niche-interest topics, it features interesting people you haven’t heard of (some scientists), and there are some entertaining people you have heard of as well (comedians). Throw in some rounds of questions on that week’s theme and an arbitrary scoring system, and what’s not to like?

Well, the science bit for one. Look, if you’re interested in science maybe there’s something here for you, but if you decided to listen because Shaun Micallef or Dilruk Jayasinha or Alice Fraser or even Norman Swan is on – and you’re expecting comedy gold – well, they’ve all been in funnier shows. Especially Norman Swan.

The BBC show The Infinite Monkey Cage, which is surely an influence on The Pop Test, does a better job of mixing comedy and science because it puts the emphasis on science, using comedians who know a bit about science and can be funny about it to lighten the mood between largely-serious segments involving Professors and researchers. On The Pop Test, though, the format – which can only work if all panellists can be both interesting and funny about science – limits the comedians to trying to improvise funny answers to serious questions about science, because they don’t know about science, and limits the scientists to being serious about the science because they don’t know how to be funny.

You remember us banging on about how Australian comedy producers always screw up by limiting the scope of the comedy that can be done in their shows? Well, here we go again!

And maybe if ABC Radio made a comedy show more often than once every five, then these kinds of mistakes wouldn’t be made. Maybe.

Science is the kind of topic that broadcasters like Radio National are always going to want to make shows about, and fair enough too, there is an audience for this kind of thing. The problem is, this is a show which probably isn’t science-y enough for science nerds, but also isn’t going to work for the wider audience who likes comedy because it’s not funny enough.

On the plus side, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki isn’t anywhere to be heard on this program. So that’s two bonus points to team Pop Test.

Why Should We Watch This?

Big question first: should the cast of new ABC / Netflix sitcom Why Are You Like This? be filed under Millennials or Gen Z? The Millennial case comes strong out of the gate: the characters are clearly in their mid 20s, the first version of the series (a couple of Fresh Blood shorts) aired in 2017, the “official” cut off date for being born a Millennial is 1997, there you have it, why was this even a question.

But there’s a problem. Millennials are no longer “young” – the oldest ones are now pushing 40. And Why Are You Like This most definitely skews “young”… or at least, it does if you’re the ABC publicity department, who are always faintly desperate to make sure we all know they make shows that the cool kids would love if they ever went near the ABC. So from a marketing standpoint – and is there any other at the ABC? – they’re Gen Z all the way.

The real problem here is that this show kinda wants to be cool, and the ABC really really wants it to be cool, but cool and comedy really don’t go together. The funniest version of all this is one where the characters are clearly Millennials acting like Gen Z (wait, what’s the difference?) because they refuse to grow up. That would make them funnier, but it would also make them kind of dorky (note to self – research “dorky” awareness amongst Gen Z), and the ABC publicity department isn’t big on dorky unless it’s a character clearly past 35 and in a charming rural setting.

Anyway, we said a lot of what we have to say about this back in 2018, as that’s when the first episode of this series first aired. The second episode (the first two aired back-to-back: you can watch the whole series on iView) was even better, in large part because it expanded Penny’s woke tyranny to a client who’s workplace was stuck firmly back in the 1970s. Mia’s vaginal calamity subplot? Not so great.

There’s two strands to the comedy here: in one, the cliches around people in their early-to-mid-twenties are exaggerated for comedic effect, while in the other the relationship between two characters who fit together in some obvious superficial ways but are bad for each other on a personal level is mined for comedy.

(the second is also pretty much the dynamic in the ABC’s other sitcom, Aftertaste. Readers looking to pitch sitcom ideas to the ABC take note)

The first strand is well-worn territory and you know… *gestures towards shows ranging from The Bondi Hipsters to Nathan Barley*. It always seems like a good idea but hardly ever works, largely because most people aren’t really aware of what’s being made fun of and those who are often find themselves too invested in what’s cool to enjoy the mockery unless it’s really well done.

… and it is not really well done here, though the high number of cliched shock-based jokes excused by the characters self-awareness and social status (“it’s ok, I’m gay”) does raise some interesting questions about how progressive the comedy – though not the show as a whole – actually is.

The second strand is a bit more promising, even if it’s largely downplayed in the first couple of episodes. Australia hasn’t created a classic character comedy in a long time and this definitely isn’t going to be it, but we’ve got to start somewhere and “my personal beliefs require me to be pushed around by my amoral and exploitative best friend” is a dynamic with legs.

It’s funny how quickly Broad City faded from what we currently know as “the cultural conversation”, but that’s good news for Why Are You Like This? – it means that it’s stepping into a niche that’s wide open. As for exactly why it’s wide open? Well, Broad City made the mistake (well, “mistake”) of first and foremost being a zeitgeisty comedy (so once the online mood shifted to “we hate Trump”, all that great press dried up), whereas Why Are You Like This? can get away with a bunch of dud moments because it puts some currently marketable elements front and centre.

Which is a fancy way of saying that more often than we’d like it’s trying to be cool rather than funny.

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

Press release time!

Kitty Flanagan’s all new comedy series FISK to air on ABC in March

ABC TV and Screen Australia are thrilled to announce the premiere of the hilarious six-part series Fisk Wednesday 17 March at 9pm on ABC TV and iview.  Fisk is a 6 x 30 min comedy series created, written and directed by – and starring – one of Australia’s favourite comedians, Kitty Flanagan. 

Flanagan stars as Helen Tudor-Fisk, a corporate contract lawyer forced to take a job at a shabby suburban law firm specialising in wills and probate. As well as the incomparable key cast including Julia Zemiro, Marty Sheargold, Aaron Chen, John Gaden and Glenn Butcher, the laugh-out-loud series is filled with a who’s who of Australian comedians and actors, including Alison Whyte, Glenn Robbins, Debra Lawrance, Denise Scott, Sam Pang, Georgina Naidu, Bert La Bonte,
Ed Kavalee, Collette Mann, Dave O’Neil and Marg Downey, just to name a few.

Helen (Flanagan) is a contracts lawyer who is not good with people. When her personal and professional lives implode spectacularly in Sydney, Helen runs home to Melbourne and takes a job at Gruber & Gruber, a small suburban law firm.  Helen is brought in to replace Roz Gruber (Zemiro), a recently-suspended solicitor who has temporarily appointed herself the office manager. No longer allowed to sit in with clients, Roz now has nothing else to do but get all up in Helen’s business.

Ray Gruber (Sheargold), Roz’s brother, hires Helen in a fit of laziness but also because Helen is a ‘mature lady’ which has proven to be the preferred option for clients who are grieving. Unfortunately, Helen is not that kind of mature lady.

Roz is always lurking, Ray is always skiving off and there’s often a scuffle in reception that Helen is forced to take control of. With the help of the idiosyncratic probate clerk, George (Chen), Helen attempts to find her feet in the messy world of probate; where the clients are at their most irrational and it’s never as simple as just dividing up the money.

Australian comedy’s love of the law goes way back – Welcher & Welcher, Marshal Law, half your comedy faves from the 80s were studying law, and so on. So with that proud heritage in mind, we can safely say that this will be another Australian comedy series. Also, it sounds pretty good. Hurrah!

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Hughsey

Hughsey We Have a Problem is back for 2021, which is great news for people putting together a Hughsey soundboard for their all-robot commercial radio station and barely worth a shrug for the rest of us. A panel of Australian “celebrities” banter amongst themselves and occasionally solve people’s problems in between the kind of guest appearances that used to be a mainstay on talkshows back when there were talkshows? Yeah, we’ll be over here watching pretty much anything else.

That’s just our personal taste, mind you. Right from the start Hughsey We Have a Problem has been refreshingly clear about its objectives and while any objective that involves giving Kate Langbroek airtime is one we oppose, we’re not going to pretend that she’s not popular*. The Hughsey / Langbroek pairing was a massive radio draw for years, the roster of supporting guests is usually decent, people like Hughsey, it features Hughsey doing his Hughsey voice Hughsey Hughsey Hughsey.

So why the hell has it suddenly turned into a game show?

Photoshop? Nah, never heard of it mate

Seriously, we’re not making this up: now Hughsey is handing out points to panel members for how well they’ve solved someone’s problem, and the winner at the end of the night gets (a legally binding document releasing them from any and all commitments to ever appear on the show again? – ed) a crap glass trophy knocked up by a nearby locksmith. Why?

While we can think of plenty of reasons why this is a bad idea – it adds nothing to the show, it’s a pointless distraction that the show barely commits to, how is it even a competition if Hughsey is just awarding points for advice (maybe wait and see if the advice actually helps?), an advice show is not a game show, and so on – the only reason we can think of to go ahead and do it is because some network executive shouted at a meeting “be more like Have You Been Paying Attention!” and they realised they sure couldn’t be as funny.

Aside from this jaw-dropping decision which is honestly one of the stupider things we’ve seen Australian television do in a long time and we watched Sando, the rest of the show was… eh. The first problem was “some people are worried about taking the Covid vaccine” which seemed more like a topical news story than a problem considering Australia doesn’t currently have the covid vaccine, so presumably that HYBPA-loving network executive rang up with a few more notes.

Cast-wise, Becky Lucas and Nazeem Hussain are now series regulars, which might be worthwhile but only if Lucas continues to wear that “what the fuck am I doing here” expression she had at the start of this episode. At least the guests managed to liven things up a little; Gary Busey had his face cleaned by a parrot, so that’s something. And speaking of washed up movie stars, Ross Noble is now dressing like Steven Seagal, which is never a fun comparison to make.

These shows live or die by the panel banter and thanks to some fairly obvious editing it all moved along reasonably quickly even when the gags themselves were nothing special. If HYBPA is like the best 5% of Australian commercial radio brought to television, this is closer to the endless call-in segments that make up the rest of Austereo’s “comedy” output. But you get to see Hughsey with combed hair, so that’s something.

The real comedy highlight was early on when Ross Noble had just made a joke, the camera was on him and suddenly Kate Langbroek screeched out “No!” so obviously they cut to her. Yelling over the top of people to get attention has been her deal since her Triple R days and it’s clearly working for her; why change now?

(we did mention the show’s crap ratings, didn’t we?)

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*though possibly not that popular

Another year of The Weekly

It’s so tempting to call it The Weakly but why fall into the trap of doing bad jokes yourself, when you can switch over to The Weekly with Charlie Pickering and watch the professionals do it?

The Weekly… started 2021 as The Weekly… intends to go on: being the same as it’s always been. Except for a few things.

Ah yes, incremental change, how appropriate for a show with centre-right values.

Anyway, and to be fair to The Weekly…, introducing new cast members – Zoe Coombs-Marr and Nina Oyama – is a pretty radical move for a show which still thinks those segments where they cut together a bunch of clips from Millionaire Hotseat are funny.

Coombs-Marr’s segment, The Week In: Work, was pretty strong, showing that returning to working in workplaces is every bit as difficult as that moment last year when we all realised we had to find a way of working from home. So, with a small nod to those self-shot lockdown sketches comedians made a lot of last year, Coombs-Marr plays multiple versions of herself trying to get to work by car, bike and train, amongst other options. And with some funny side-gags along the way, such as a painful-looking stunt where she stacks it off her bike when she pedals into some tram rails, this is a strong piece.

Far less hilarious is Nina Oyama’s The Week In: The World. There are one or two alright gags in this quickfire round-up of international news, but they get stifled by the annoying newspaper animation that Oyama seems trapped in. We get it, this was trying to not be another talking head running through a bunch of news stories. But when the format of a sketch overwhelms the comedy in it, it’s time to change the format. Hopefully, they’ll improve things by the time they do this segment again. Because Nina Oyama is way better than this.

Other than that, there was no Corona Cops (hooray!) but instead Nick Maxwell cut together the best bits of Bernard Tomic and Vanessa Sierra’s Australian Open lockdown experience, and, well, it was pretty much them who did the comedy heavy-lifting there. Unless you’d already laughed at them two weeks ago when this first became a story, in which case this was utterly pointless.

And so, that was that. Apart from that dull sketch about a bunch of dead US Presidents being all cynical about Biden’s victory…

..and that bit, towards the start of the show, where Pickering tried to do that Mad As Hell gag where they put the wrong photo up, and then they change it. A gag which in the hands of someone with great timing would have been hilarious. But we had Charlie Pickering doing it, so it sucked.

Which begs one final question: where were Judith Lucy and Luke McGregor, i.e. the only people who make The Weekly… watchable? Off touring Disappointments? Working on Rosehaven series five? No one seems to know. Not even The Weekly’s Facebook page, which seems to think that Tom Gleeson and Briggs are still on the show.

Yeah, in their dreams.

Screenshot from The Weekly’s Facebook page

So Much For the Aftertaste

Over the years there seems to be a growing disconnect between what audiences want in a comedy and what the ABC thinks they want. Audiences want to laugh; the ABC thinks they want a show set in some lush semi-rural regional getaway location so they can film the whole thing in rustic houses and cute cafes like it’s a tourism commercial. Guess which group Aftertaste falls into?

So yeah, good news for Rosehaven fans who’ve been thinking “I really wish this had slightly more conflict between the main characters”, bad news for people who really wish the ABC would give their tiny handful of sitcom slots to actual sitcoms and not these soothing travel brochures. Which in this case is even more annoying than usual, as there’s clearly the basics of an okay sitcom here.

You have one stereotype (the shouty angry world famous chef) smashed up against another (the feisty can-do teen girl) in a situation where they’re forced to work together to get something they both want (he needs redemption; she needs exposure). If this moved twice as fast and packed in twice the jokes, we’d have a hit on our hands.

Ok, probably not. For one thing, what “jokes” there are here largely come from a): swearing (mostly him), b): saying inappropriate things (mostly her) and c): putting a weird stress on statements to indicate they’re meant to be punchlines (you know what we mean – Rebel Wilson does this a lot). If you’ve seen the trailer, where chef dude says he worked with some famous chef and she replies “yeah – as a dish pig“, you know what we mean. It’s just an observation, not a punchline, and it stays that way no matter how hard you sell it.

Part of the problem is that there’s a lot going on here and they’re focusing on things that aren’t the basics. There’s definitely a decent comedy to be made about an angry white man trying to make a comeback only to discover that in 2021 that’s not possible (on the other hand: Eddie McGuire). There’s also a decent comedy to be made about an angry man coming home and trying to repair his broken relationships, a young woman who discovers the only way she can get the recognition she deserves is by riding on the coat-tails of some garbage dude, a clash between rival cutsey cafes in a small town AND SO ON.

It wouldn’t even be a problem that it’s trying to do all these things at once if it knew what was going on at the heart of the show. It’s clearly character-based, so if it’s a comedy then the characters stay the same and the jokes come from how they deal with what’s around them; if it’s a drama, they start in one place as a person and move to another.

After the first episode though, it’s clear that both our leads are going to just… wobble around. Angry chef is angry, then repentant, then angry; bubbly teen gets disillusioned, then bubbles back. In real life, sure, people are like this. But on television, it kinda helps to have a bit more structure – otherwise it just feels like you want to be a serious character study only there’s just not enough character there.

But who cares about plot and characterisation and jokes so long as you have loads of shots of food, right? You can imagine the commissioning editor’s hand slowly drifting under the desk as they realised that this could be a series that could combine the rural charm of a winery commercial with the mouth-watering imagery of a cooking magazine if only they got rid of that pesky comedy stuff.

Of course, we pretty much knew all this going in, but so long as the ABC keeps pretending this kind of thing is “comedy” we’re going to check it out just in case. Honestly, it’s not bad for what it is – which is a very pretty show that’s filed under comedy because it couldn’t cut it as a drama and c’mon, a guy shouting at an emu is hilarious – but what it is should be something the commercial networks make.

Probably with a big fat wine & tourism sponsorship up front.

Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2020

You wouldn’t want to say Australian comedy is dead, but the iron lung it’s getting around in is starting to look a little worse for wear. Oh sure, individual comedy series are still being made; people are even having careers in comedy, so long as you put quote marks around “careers” and “comedy”. But the idea that comedy is a thing in Australia? A living breathing part of our daily lives? Yeah nah, to coin a phrase.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, things were different. That’s why we started these awards: back then, the problem (as we saw it) with Australian comedy wasn’t so much that there wasn’t any of it left, but that shameless boosterism and television critics whose unconditional praise for every turd flushed down the pipe would have left a more cynical bunch wondering exactly what was in those gift baskets the publicists sent out to some reviewers at Christmas time while the rest of us were stuck writing overly long sentences. Or something like that.

Here’s the new news: those days are over. Nobody cares what reviewers say about Australian comedy because nobody cares about Australian comedy. It’s no longer part of our culture in any real way; it doesn’t set the agenda, it doesn’t shape public perception, and most of the time it isn’t even trying to be funny. Remember when politicians would be outraged at being mocked? Remember when tabloids would whip up hate campaigns against comedians who dared poke fun at society’s sacred cows? Australia in 2021 somehow has even more right-wing media and even less outrage towards comedians: that’s how bad it’s become.

This isn’t really comedy’s fault, though if we started to list the ways it actually is comedy’s fault we’d be here all week. There’s going to be a fifth season of Rosehaven and they’re still going to pretend it’s a comedy! Anyway. Comedy is suffering because the arts in Australia are suffering. Locally made television, music, film, theatre, interpretive dance, carved blocks of wood in your local park – you name it, and in the 21st century it’s become increasingly irrelevant to how Australians see themselves.

Partly that’s because of the internet: with a world of quality gear a click away, nobody really wants to be stuck watching Tonight Live with Steve Vizard. And partly – and slightly more controversially – we’d suggest that’s because Australia has spent almost all of the last 25 years with various federal Liberal governments united in the view that sport and worshipping “our diggers” are pretty much all the culture Australia needs and have directed funding to that effect. How come we never hear of the Liberals handing out huge chunks of cash to cultural bodies to try and win elections in some kind of “arts rorts” affair?

But enough. The moral of this introduction is that now, more than ever, Australian comedy means less than ever. Which ironically means it’s even more important to try and hold it to some kind of standard. If what we have today is ever going to become the seeds of a second flowering, we’re duty-bound to make sure those seeds don’t have “Charlie Pickering Jr” written on the packet. And away we go!

Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy

Runner-up

Kinne Tonight

20.8% of the total votes

Kinne’s biggest problem is that he’s making comedy for an audience that doesn’t realise someone is making comedy for them. Do people in their twenties and thirties even watch free-to-air television? You wouldn’t think so from looking at literally everything else put to air on free-to-air television. Maybe his audience is really fifteen year-olds watching to try and get an idea of what having a dull job and a bored partner will be like; they’re probably kaking themselves silly over those “before and after” relationship sketches.

Runner-up

Mark Humphries 7.30

22.9% of the total votes

Mark Humphries’ satire continued on 7.30 last year, sticking to its standard format of only having one point to make per sketch – and containing about that many jokes too. Remember when satirical sketches made more than one point? And contained more than one joke? Have the cuts to the ABC really been so bad that one joke and one point is all they can give us now? Or is Mark Humphries just crap at this satire thing?

Winner

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

60.4% of the total votes

It’s always a good idea to start as you mean to go on, so hey: The Weekly is shithouse. And yet never quite in a “fuck this shit right off” way, though that was a phrase heard in at least one of the rooms in Team Tumbleweeds Mansion during one of Pickering’s hardcore centrist rants. The occasional opening gag worked; Luke McGregor’s financial segments were often somewhat informative and mildly amusing; Judith Lucy could be funny trapped inside a paper-mache iron maiden made entirely of positive reviews of Chris Lilly. But otherwise this show is garbage, pure pandering to a millionaire ABC executive’s imagined idea of what a “young person” wants from a news summary hosted by a man who it’s easy to imagine has a lucrative side gig providing media training to the smarmier members of the federal Liberal party. It will never end.


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

It’s just one guy waffling on not sure whether he should have stayed with The Project, or perhaps in his mind he still is there.

Charlie Pickering. Proof you can have a successful career as an Australian comedy “personality” despite being consitently below average in every area.

The endless Corona Cops segments were the most “surely they don’t think this is funny?” pieces of televised comedy I have seen in some time.


Worst Sitcom or Narrative Comedy

Runner-up

Retrograde

19.5% of the total votes

One day we’ll all look back on the idea of trying to do an ensemble comedy over Zoom and laugh. Shame we couldn’t do it while it was actually happening.

Runner-up

How to Stay Married

39% of the total votes

Peter Helliar really should do a spin-off titled How To Stay Employed By Channel Ten, because that at least has the potential to be interesting. The basic ingredients here were all fine, though Helliar himself was the clear weak link in a show that would have been vastly improved if his character went under a bus at the start of episode one. The problem was that nothing ever happened: each week the main plot (oh no I’ve accidentally written a book calling my husband human trash and the publisher has correctly identified it as non-fiction) crawled forward while every episode had a main story that was so utterly forgettable that… what were we saying?

Winner

Housos vs Virus

48.8% of the total votes

Well don’t we feel like idiots. When Paul Fenech brought back Pizza a bit over a year ago we were all like “hey, this isn’t that bad” and “gee, maybe we misjudged him”. And then he came out with this, which even in a year that was more difficult than most to create comedy in was a complete and total waste of everything involved. Insultingly stupid and mind-numbingly repetitious even by Fenech’s rock bottom standards, this wasn’t so much a new low as a stunning breakthrough in geometry that discovered an entirely new direction for shit to flow down.


What the voters said about Housos vs Virus

The bogan comedy angle can work but not when it is dialled up to 11.

How does Fenech keep getting shows? I suppose this was relatively cheap for 7 and fills any local content quota but really, how?

I would rather watch Paul Fenech remake Mother & Son and play both parts than sit through his tripe.


Worst Panel, Game or Stand-up Show

Runner-up

Gruen

29.5% of the total votes

In a year where a global pandemic claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, it was vital to get accurate information out to people who desperately needed it. Unfortunately, the advertising industry isn’t really interested in thing like “accuracy” or “information”, which made the ABC’s regular ticker-tape parade for the industry seem even more offensive and insulting. This is a show that celebrates parasites who contribute nothing to society; the least it could do is to be more funny.

Runner-up

Last One Laughing

31.8% of the total votes

Turns out if you lock ten comedians in a room and focus their minds on winning $100,000, they take their eyes off the comedy ball. Who knew being a money-grabbing arsehole wasn’t funny? The other problem with Last One Laughing was that it wasn’t a comedy competition, it was a not laughing competition, which, you know, is the less funny of the two options.

Winner

Hughesy, We Have A Problem

43.2% of the total votes

This must be a weird show for some critics to get their heads around, because on the surface it’s doing everything right. It’s a tried and tested formula with a popular host and a decent roster of guests, many of which have proven to be very funny elsewhere. And yet time and time again the end result is an awkward squirming mess where screeching nightmare people compete to talk over each other while the host struggles to hide his contempt for all human life. If we wanted this crap, we’d listen to commercial radio.


What the voters said about Hughesy, We Have A Problem

‘Hughesy’ went from a somewhat good idea to shit very very fast.

Haven’t watched this since the first episode. I feel I have chosen well.

Wikipedia tells me this has had four series. Wow.


Worst Topical or Satirical Show

Runner-up

Sammy J

20% of the total votes

We were interested in Sammy J a few years ago, when he started doing sketches that looked at federal elections through the eyes of Play School. Then he seemed to run out of ideas, and every week just wheeled-out one of his small number of characters – the sports coach, the yoga teacher, the Play School presenter – and did roughly the same jokes he did last time.

Runner-up

The Wharf Revue

22.5% of the total votes

Such is the low standard of comedy and satire in your high-brow venues that theatregoers used to pay more than $100 for A reserve tickets to this show. It’s lucky for the writers/performers that this year’s Revue was always going to be their last ever because, for those of us who’d heard Sydneysiders gushing about the legendary Wharf Revue’s satirical brilliance for years, this COVID-enforced live broadcast performance on YouTube was a massive let-down. Trump gags the writers of SNL would spike, satirical songs with less edge than Gilbert and Sullivan… Yeah, we’ve got better stuff to watch on YouTube, thanks.

Winner

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

62.5% of the total votes

If there was a show even less relevant than usual in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis then it was definitely the one that’s spent years not so much speaking truth to power but trying to get us to understand why people in power make these difficult decisions. Because, yeah, it’s actually the public who lacks empathy rather than the other way around. Is this program satire? No. Not even close. Satire would have a point to make rather than whatever Liberal party-lite wafflings Charlie Pickering can be bothered to utter.


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

How is this show still on? Give literally anybody else a chance.

Charlie is one of those guys who as a child went to an all-boys private school and thought he was “edgy” coz he saw a few African American stand up specials and grew up to be a thorough wanker.

A topical satire show that ends the year genuinely praising and thanking politicians!! Give the screentime to something more worthwhile, like a third series of Double the Fist (this is a sincere suggestion).


Worst COVID Comedy

Runner-up

Love in Lockdown

25% of the total votes

Despite containing occasional laughs, this tale of an online romance, set and made during the first Melbourne lockdown, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. For one thing, the “everyone’s learning the ukulele in lockdown” thing was already over by the time this came out, and secondly, did anyone actually buy that Georgie (Lucy Durak) would fall in love with ukulele teacher Ned (Eddie Perfect)? A man who even by Melbourne hipster standards was kind of a dickhead.

Runner-up

Retrograde

27.5% of the total votes

Also made and set during lockdown, Retrograde showed how COVID had impacted the lives of a group of 20-somethings. Through a series of video calls between the group, we see relationship breakdowns, job losses, people with health conditions being forced to shield, and drunken freak-outs. Not since Josh Thomas was making shows for the ABC has such self-indulgent, unfunny crap been made in this country, and yet even a global pandemic couldn’t excuse the abject tedium that was Retrograde.

Winner

Housos vs Virus

57.5% of the total votes

If there’s one thing we’ve always begrudgingly admired about Paul Fenech it’s that he can come up with seemingly endless plots about the antics of dodgy idiots in Sydney’s western suburbs. Then came Housos vs Virus and even Fenech ran out of things to do by episode three. Which meant that the remaining episodes were padded-out with re-runs of previous plots or extensive karaoke sequences – and that episode six didn’t get made at all! What a winner of a program.


What the voters said about Housos vs Virus

Is it possible for me to vote for Housos more than once? Please let me know.

I actually know someone who once said to me that “Housos is the best shit on TV”. What’s scary is he might be right.

Did this even have a plot by the end of the series?


Worst Comedy Film

Runner-up

A Sunburnt Christmas

6.5% of the total votes

An Australian Christmas movie? Who’d have thunk it? So this scored points for novelty alone… and then lost them for being all over the place. If this is a movie for kids, why is a five year old running around with a (real, loaded) shotgun? If it’s a movie for adults, why is so much of it aimed at kids? And why is a wacky comedy set-up about an escaped convict hiding out as Santa also a film with a bunch of super-serious dramatic scenes involving the tragic death of a loved one? More like A Confusing Christmas, amirite? *crickets chirp*

Runner-up

Rams

9.4% of the total votes

And again, another Australian “comedy” movie that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Sure, it’s well made and has decent performances, but is it a moving tale of the reconciliation of two estranged brothers or a film where Sam Neill is all but wanking at watching his prize ram getting it on with a ewe? It’s not that comedy and drama can’t go together, it’s that Australia doesn’t seem to have any movie-makers who can put them anywhere near each other without giving the audience whiplash.

Winner

The Very Excellent Mr Dundee

75% of the total votes

Where to begin with how this all went so very very wrong? We’ve got other awards to hand out so let’s try and keep it short: getting Paul Hogan in a comedy film to play a sad sack yearning to escape the gilded prison of Hollywood was definitely “a choice”, but it totally sunk what was always going to be an extremely leaky boat. Without a funny – or even particularly likeable – central performance, everything else here fell so flat it looked like an elephant had stepped on it. Hoges’ various wacky mix-ups were painful, the touching scenes made viewers want to touch the remote to get this crap off, the special guest cameos were depressing or low-rent or both, half the time “Hollywood” looked like the back streets of Port Melbourne, and what was all that “Mr Dundee” stuff about anyway? If they were trying to protect the good name of Mick “Crocodile” Dundee, they failed.


What the voters said about The Very Excellent Mr Dundee

I watched this with my Nan and she turned it off 20 minutes in.

Paul Hogan should really have done a “Farewell to Debt” tour instead.

Hogan’s delivery of “That’s not the line” in the trailer made me sad.


Best New Comedy

Runner-up

Amazon Original Australian stand-up specials

11.1% of the total votes

OK, so there was maybe a bit of good timing in that these specials, recorded in 2019, were ready to air early in the pandemic, but, helpfully, they were also pretty funny. Judith Lucy vs Men (pictured) was one of the obvious stand-outs – an hour of rage and hilarity about Lucy’s life of dating failure – but there were also strong sets from Dilruk Jayasinha, Anne Edmonds and many more.

Runner-up

At Home Alone Together

28.9% of the total votes

If we were Prime Minister, we’d make the ABC give a bit of money to up-and-coming comedians every year, not just when there’s a pandemic. Sure, At Home Alone Together was a bit patchy, and there plenty of obviously dud characters and sketches, but that’s also the point: make stuff quickly, don’t allow management to interfere, and give people with potential an opportunity to learn… that’s basically what The Late Show was and look at all the comedy gold that came for that team thereafter. At Home Alone Together may not have been brilliant, but it had a lot of spark, and it felt like it could be the start of something. Maybe even something really good.

Winner

Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun

48.9% of the total votes

Aunty Donna finally hit the big time with this polished, inventive and very funny series for Netflix. Set in Los Angeles, but feeling totally Australian, this surreal program went off in every direction possible – then found some more – caring little for logic, continuity, physics or time. A series from Aunty Donna should have been made in Australia years ago – it’s not like no one pitched it – but, oh no, Australian broadcasters were too busy. Too busy greenlighting things like Rosehaven series five.


What the voters said about Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun

Aunty Donna. Just so great.

Those Aunty Donna boys can do no wrong in my eyes and it was a treat to watch them get this Netflix show. They had some pretty big guns on the show too – Scott Aukerman, Weird Al and Paul F Tompkins. Colour me impressed and the obligatory – haven’t they done well – for good measure.

Can we move from “the chaser boys” to “the aunty donna boys”?


Best Comedy

Runner-up

Have You Been Paying Attention?

26% of the total votes

If this was on the ABC it’d be hailed as a national treasure, and rightly so. A news comedy that’s both (mildly) informative and (consistently) hilarious, it’s one of the few shining spots in both Australian comedy and free-to-air television as a whole. It’s solid, it’s reliable, it mixes things up so the hour run time never feels dragged out, it’s a place where comedians can turn up and actually be funny while host Tom Gleisner keeps things moving while firing out the quips at a rapid rate. It’s a gem.

Runner-up

Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun

38% of the total votes

Having seen enough of their earlier pilots to know that a half hour slot wasn’t exactly the best venue for their particular brand of comedy, we were both relieved and laughing extremely loudly at this. Australia’s loss is the world’s gain: with lightning fast tonal shifts, agreably dumb gags and just enough character work to hold it all together, this extremely silly sketch-ish show was a comedy highlight of the year no matter where on the globe you were accessing Netflix via a VPN.

Winner

Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell / Pagan Holiday Special

66% of the total votes

As the rest of the ABC commentariat seems to drift increasingly towards the right-wing side of the street, Micallef is single-handedly keeping alive the idea – or even just jokes about the idea – that the ABC is anything but moving in lockstep with the rest of our increasingly unipolar media. Put another way, he makes jokes about the people who are actually running the country, and we can never have too many of them. Also, and we can’t say this often enough, those jokes are consistently hilarious. It may have been running since before many of us were born but Mad as Hell continues to be the only thing that makes living in Australia worthwhile, which is fortunate as our generally successful handling of COVID-19 means the alternative is slightly more difficult to achieve at the moment.


What the voters said about Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell / Pagan Holiday Special

Mad As Hell remains a clear winner.

Mad As Hell remains the only appointment viewing.

As much as Shaun’s documentary series may disapprove of it, I’m celebrating Mad As Hell‘s win with a to-be-determined number of Bundy & Cokes.


We asked our readers… What did you think of comedy on 2020?

Challenging… both to make and in some instances to watch. But despite criticism let’s hope the industry never stops trying.

It’s been a strong year with the streaming services and podcasts filling a quality content gap that TV has been fucking up for years.

2020 was a pretty bad year for comedy, apart from HYBPA and Mad as Hell. At least some new talent was able to enter the comedy scene with shows like At Home Alone Together, although they were quite rushed.

We needed comedy and we got some. As TV continues to die a slow death it was great to see streaming services putting out Australian content. I just hope they keep it up. I also hope Paul Fenech wins the lottery and fucks off to a remote island to retire from TV forever. Or maybe he could just have one good idea. Just once.

If you watch nothing else, watch Aunty Donna’s Netflix series. An incredible achievement and proof Australia can make world class comedy in our own voice. Haven’t they done well?

Global pandemic, bushfires, recession. Just when you think things can’t get any worse Australian comedy is there to prove it very much can.

Sigh…apart from a few trusted favourites (Micallef, HYBPA), some surprises (Mitch McTaggart’s special, and yes I actually liked At Home Alone Together a lot, even the Ray Martin bits), and some shows I didn’t get to see (don’t have Netflix), it felt like slim pickings in what I’m sure was a difficult year for all.

It definitely got a lot worse before it got a lot better. Like every year, all the old stalwarts need to step the fuck aside and let those with proper skills, a wide range of comedic skills and creativity to be the ones making comedy. Aunty Donna was a first good step forward, now everyone needs to follow suit.

2020 starts with Ed Kavale on Dancing with the Stars, 2021 starts with Ash Williams on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! 2022, Tony Martin on The Masked Singer, bet on it.

oh what’s the point

The above is a selection of the many comments we received. Thank you for voting and commenting, now comes 2021…

Tears for Years

Okay so 2020 was a crap year… for comedy (let us know exactly how crap in the Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2020 – voting is now open!), and in a surprise to just about no-one, The Yearly kept that trend going.

Usually we like to faff around a bit before cutting to the chase, but honestly: if you ever wondered just how much comedy you can get out of “ha ha we didn’t realise how bad it was going to get” jokes, then watching The Yearly will have you thinking exactly that, only without the “ha ha”.

We feel your pain, Judith

Of course, The Yearly‘s job isn’t to be funny: it’s all about providing viewers with a chance to remember things they’ve already seen, like Charlie Pickering’s face. But you know, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wearing masks, TikTok clips, invisible Opposition Leaders, Dave Hughes pulling faces while talking about sport; surely there’s still some laughs left in there somewhere, right?

Unfortunately this overriding mission – it’s 58 minutes of hey guys, remember when this happened? – doesn’t really leave a whole lot of scope for jokes beyond “well, guess we were wrong about that”, “what was the deal with that?” and “yeah, we remember that”, none of which are all that funny after the fourth or fifth time. At least Luke McGregor explaining the budget contained actual information.

Seriously, this was a show looking back at 2020 that had a segment on how scary 2020 was that just… made the same points but in a spooky voice? We never thought we’d miss Tom Gleeson – and we don’t – but at least he had an established comedy character the show could use to put a new-ish spin on the same old jokes. Without him, all this offered was generic gags on “remember when” stories interspersed with sketches that might possibly have been funny if they hadn’t relied on the non-existent comedy stylings of one Charlie Pickering.

But of course, some things in 2020 just weren’t funny. When it came time for the Black Lives Matter protests, out came the sad music and the thoughtful coverage… while in no way examining any of the underlying issues, which was a bit of a problem as over on SBS 2020: The Last Year of Television was doing the exact same thing right down to the serious music, but actually making some real points about how the overwhelming whiteness of Australian television is part of the problem. Anyone see Briggs on The Yearly? Us neither.

As end of year clip shows go, probably the best thing we can say about The Yearly is that the Corona Cops segment only went three minutes. Actually, no: the best thing we can say about The Yearly is that, even more than a regular episode of The Weekly, it really smacked viewers in the face with exactly why Pickering’s “comedy” work on the ABC is so consistently shit.

2020 was a garbage year full of truly awful events; it’s tough material for a comedy show to tackle, especially a topical one like The Weekly. If you’re good at comedy, you find a way to engage with the world while still getting laughs – Mad as Hell, for example, found a strong balance between genuine outrage and silly surrealism. But the theme running throughout The Yearly was basically “all this would really suck… if we gave a shit, ha ha”.

Usually when we hate on the Corona Cops segment, it’s because it’s astoundingly unfunny found-footage bullshit. But here’s another reason: eight hundred people died in Victoria because of coronavirus: public health measures – enforced by police – were a sizable part of what got that outbreak under control. That’s not to say you can’t laugh at them, but making silly, dismissive jokes misses the point of what’s actually going on in at least some of the footage being used.

People who give a shit about the society around them can find a comedic take on that kind of situation (are police really the best people to be on the front lines of a public health emergency adversely affecting migrant and marginal communities?); people who don’t give a shit take footage of cops walking around and dub over it with limp jokes about how their police horse has coronavirus and “can we hide in your place? The virus is out of control!” Because ha ha cops telling people to wear masks is hilarious oh wait 800 dead.

The Yearly is made by people who don’t seem to know how to make the news funny, because to them the news is something that happens to other people. In 2020, that simply wasn’t the case; it was a big hurdle to leap, they smacked right into it, and having Pickering end the show by praising our leaders – that’s right, all of them – for focusing on the nation’s health over the economy while The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ played quietly underneath was stomach-turning. As more than one person said in 2020, get this shit off.

*

Charlie Brooker didn’t invent the bitchy clip show, but he did do a pretty decent job of locking down the format in such a way that now anyone can do it. This isn’t a bad thing: television needs as many sure-fire formats as it can get. So while Mitch McTaggart’s SBS special 2020: The Last Year of Television didn’t bring anything remotely new format-wise to the field of snarky year-in-review programs, it didn’t have to. The content was the point, and when the content is Australian television the laughs (at it) just keep on coming.

Keeping the focus on television gave it a major advantage over the more wide-ranging approach of The Yearly, in that most people don’t willingly watch Australian television. This meant that it was actually new information that, say, The Gloaming was crap or that Home & Away cut out a couple of mild gay kisses in Australia but left them in for the NZ version or that the recent Halifax F.P reboot just swapped out one minor police character for another mid-series without explaining why. Seems the promos on commercial television are totally insane: who knew?

This lazer-like focus on television for the full (SBS-with-ads) hour also had one big drawback: the whole thing got a bit samey after a while. Segment-for-segment, it was easily better than The Yearly, where even Judith Lucy’s take on television felt a little unfocused and an extended toilet paper sketch had us looking back fondly on the toilet paper jokes on Housos vs Virus.

But at least The Yearly kept mixing things up, presenting what was often pretty much the same material as Television (Pete Evans is a nutjob; who knew?) in a variety of ways. Television was the better show, but it just had one rock-solid approach to everything; to be fair, when you’re pointing out how morning shows are massively racist and Australian drama uses rape as a story device, you’re bound to get a bit repetitive.

(bonus points for taking aim at the ABC’s possibly meant to be comedic Operation Buffalo: that series was nuts, and not in a good way. Also, what’s the deal with Australian drama and snipers?)

Fortunately, while pointing out that Australian TV is crap is a cheap shot, it’s a cheap shot that always works; just ask this blog. And it wasn’t entirely a haters parade: Bluey pretty much stood alone in getting the thumbs up, which honestly seems about right for Australian television in 2020.

But when McTaggart did decide to sink the boots in, he went about it the way it should be done: he knew what he was talking about, he chose his targets well, and there was just enough passion behind the hating to make it clear that, on some level at least, this was a show made by people who actually gave a shit about the kind of country that puts racist, simplistic, pandering shows like A Current Affair and Sunrise to air day after day.

Also that A Country Practice clip featuring attempted cow murder was a classic.

The most wonderful time of the year

After a not-so-great year, for either humanity or comedy (vote now in the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2020!), it’s the holidays – a time to relax, eat and drink too much, and enjoy some Christmas laughs.

The Chaser’s War on 2020, a series of end-of-year videos on The Shovel’s YouTube channel, has got a bit of attention, mainly for their sketch in which former Movie Show critics Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton review the year 2020 like it’s a film.

Yeah, okay, we get the joke – and it’s a decent enough joke – but do we have to watch it play out over more than three minutes when that’s pretty much all it is? That one joke.

Other sketches in the War on 2020 series are along similar lines, i.e. there’s an decent satirical conceit at the heart of the sketch…and that’s about all.

The series has its moments (i.e. Norman Swan with his toilet paper stockpile in the Dickhead-19 sketch) – and any decent human being is on-board with the sentiments in Writing White Characters and Symbolic Gesture Day – but that’s not enough. Be funnier, dammit!

Laughs were in greater supply in Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell Pagan Holiday Special, an hour of Christmas comedy that featured many much-loved characters in a half-hearted parody of A Christmas Carol.

Casper Jonquil was Tiny Tim, Dolly Norman returned as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Darius Horsham played the Ghost of Christmas Present, and who better than Brian Pegmatite to play the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Add in parodies of Vera and Call the Midwife, a Claymation Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer,and a version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy), with Stephen Hall and Francis Greenslade dressed as teeth, and this was a pretty-solid hour of comedy. Better, we’re predicting, than tomorrow night’s The Yearly, anyway.

The lesson here? At Christmas time, even in the middle of a global pandemic and a climate change emergency, the satire should be a bit more subtle. There were as many hard-hitting gags about our awful government in Mad As Hell as there were in the War on 2020, but Mad As… made sure they were funny. Or at least stupid.

And right now, stupid jokes are about all we can cope with.