yet again with The Chaser…

It was probably around the “Baby Day Spa’ sketch on this week’s episode of The Chaser’s War on Everything that I realised a couple of things…

1): If you’re still keeping tabs on the number of Chaser ‘references’ to earlier sketch comedy shows, then the gag about the baby getting a massage could very well have been lifted from US sketch comedy series Mr. Show.  Who also did a ‘Make-A-Wish’ style sketch a decade or so ago, by the way.

2): Or they could just think seeing a baby getting a backrub is funny.  Which it is.

3): Being dubbed “controversial” is pretty much the worst thing that could have happened to The Chaser. Take this weeks episode – a passably but bland collection of fairly safe gags enlivened mostly by Chaz’s extended sketch about using those text message “love calculators” in real life –

(a sketch, by the way, he seemed to have worked up pretty much on his own, much as he was the driving force behind the consistently entertaining “What Have We Learnt From Current Affairs Shows” in earlier series of TCWOE.  Could it be that Chaz is the series’ real stand-out star?)

-and a couple of passable musical numbers.  Not a controversial edge in sight, no matter how hard I shouted “controversial” at the television every time someone said “arse”.  Unfortunately for The Chaser, what was by local standards a relatively competent slice of aimless sketch comedy stood no chance in hell of living up to their reputation as “rebels”, even if they did wave some fake e-mails at Malcolm Turnball early on in proceedings.

4): That said, this episode was an improvement over, say, pretty much all of series two, not to mention the first two episodes of this current series.  It’s almost as if, without the crutch of their “edgy” material to lean on, they’ve been forced to go with ideas that are just plain amusing.  Fingers crossed their next series is a revival of A Country Practice – no doubt they’d come up with something hilarious.

5): And then the next morning I picked up this week’s copy of Melbourne street paper InPress and read the following in occasional television column: ‘The TV Set’ by Andrew Mast.  It’s worth quoting at length because, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the first non net-rant example of someone actually buying into the hype around The Chaser:

“So, anyone else feeling like the rebels are without a cause? That The Chaser rolled over where you expected them to fight (or at least arm wrestle)?”

[some discussion of the mild nature of the Make-A-Wish sketch, the overwrought reaction from the tabloid press, and the excessive nature of the ABC’s two-week suspension response follows.  We rejoin The TV Set already in progress]

“Did The Chaser lads apologise in the hope that they could save the job of Amanda Duthrie, the head of comedy who was eventually rolled?  Did they not arc-up about this ridiculous over-reaction because they wanted to show the BBC what easy-going, un-Brand-and-Ross guys they really are? [Mast had earlier mentioned that compilation episodes of TCWOE have started screening on the BBC – he doesn’t seem to have realised these comps were the ones made for US television tho’] Or do they really believe they went too far?  We will probably have to wait a long while before the real behind-the-scenes stories surface… Hey Foxtel, how about a Chaser biopic? For now it seems that The Chaser didn’t just lose this war but didn’t even bother manning the tanks. Can audiences sue the team under the Trade Practices Act for their deceptive title?  Or perhaps they should re-imagine themselves as The Chaser’s War On Government-Approved Targets?”

By all reports Mast is a decent guy, but he seems to have missed the point on this one.  As much as it’d be nice to imagine The Chaser telling the Murdoch press to get fucked before driving off in a stolen outside broadcast van to beam pranks involving them vomiting on Don Bradman’s corpse direct to the public, once it became clear that The ABC wasn’t going to support The Chaser against the tabloid press they had no realistic choice but to cave.  Even their first apology – made when it still looked like they could wriggle out of things – was savaged by The Herald-Sun and others as not going far enough. It was fairly obvious fairly quickly for those who remembered how The Mick Molloy Show was kicked to death over something far less offensive that unless The Chaser showed their bellies to the tabloids on this one they were going to go down in flames.  Sadly, in this country you can only be as offensive as The Herald-Sun allows you to be.

More importantly, expecting some kind of flat-out rebellious response from The Chaser in the face of real opposition indicates a basic misunderstanding of what they do. It’s the same (willful?) misunderstanding that has noted right-wing commentator Gerard Henderson currently campaigning – read: trying to piggyback on their ratings – to send them to Mecca (http://www.thesydneyinstitute.com.au/wordpress/).  In the fantasy world where The Chaser are “rebels”, once they touched down they’d instantly do a prank that would get them executed: in the real world they’d probably just annoy some Saudi taxi drivers by asking them if they listened to Alan Jones.

(and isn’t it a good thing that the Catholic Church is no long a collection of infidel-murdering killers?  Surely a sketch showing The Catholic Church’s current tolerance of opposing viewpoints and mockery – the Vatican balloon sketch seems to have inserted itself up Henderson’s arse, judging by his current desire to have The Chaser killed – is actually a positive for the Church?)

Let’s be blunt: The Chaser’s comedy rarely exposes any kind of underlying “truth” behind the topics they tackle – if it did they wouldn’t have had half the success they’ve enjoyed (just ask John Safran). At their best, they make broad gags about baby day spas and stupid commercials; at their worst, they wave bits of photoshopped paper in politicians faces while wearing a silly costume. How either makes you a “rebel”, let alone someone who should be waging a war against the ABC – an ABC that has been very willing to give Chaser member Chris Taylor plenty of odd-jobs around the place, by the way – remains a mystery.  Not one that needs the Foxtel biopic treatment, mind you.

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