Good comedy is a fragile thing, and there’s no better way to nip it in the bud than with bad editing. Just take a look at the sketch Tony Martin did on last Friday’s 7pm Project (they’re doing sketches now? But more on that later) with the extended version available here on the show’s website. Both versions work – and on the broadcast version you get the advantage of Tony’s very funny outro, which is a callback to an earlier story – only the extended version features more Ed Kavalee (in the world’s tightest flannel shirt) and a coffin-shaped VHS tape cover (where was the legendary cover to The Crays complete with fake blood? Oh wait, the R4 DVD of the third season of Dexter did the exact same trick) plus an extended run at classy video store “The Movie Reel”. They don’t make a huge difference to the running time but they do give the comedy time to breathe. Making it noticeably funnier.
It’s hard to know whether the broadcast version was edited down by Martin or The 7pm Project. It’s not like Martin doesn’t have form when it comes to handing in projects that have run long: some of the reports about the infamous “funnyman feud” between Martin and Mick Molloy over Martin’s Boytown Confidential documentary (which remains, in potential at least, possibly the funniest film made in this country this century) claimed the difficulties began with Martin handing in an over-long cut of the mockumentary. Judging by the brief clips available on the DVD of Boytown, a five hour version would be just fine by us; cutting it down to barely a minute seems to be taking the whole concept of “editing” a little too far.
That’s not Martin’s first encounter with overly harsh editing, though in the case of The Late Show DVD (and the VHS tapes that came before it), he may have been the one wielding the scissors. There’s no argument that the Champagne Comedy DVD collection of The Late Show hits pretty much every high note of the series, and to be fair much of the collection was put together when legalities, combined with the time and space limitations imposed by VHS tapes, made savage editing a necessity (the DVD collects the three VHS compilations, with extra bits only available on DVD). But if you’ve got access to the original recordings, whether recorded at the time or grabbed off the ‘net, it doesn’t take long to realize that while all the best laugh-getting moments made it to the collections, the build-ups that often made those moments so funny didn’t always make the cut.
The DVD version of The Late Show often makes it look like a rapid-fire sketch show pumping out the gags, jumping all over the place and never sitting still for a moment. It’s a great collection, but compared to the original it loses a fair bit of the series’ charm. The show that went out on the ABC was often a bit of a mess, a ramshackle affair held together at times solely by the fact that everyone on-screen seemed to be having a whole lot of fun. That setting often made the classic moments so great: Graham and The Colonel is all but incomprehensible without the forty or fifty minutes of show (and seeing Rob Sitch and Santo Cilauro acting together in other sketches and segments) that proceeded it, and even then it took a good few weeks to work out exactly why seeing them throw away pages of script was so much fun.
Probably the best purchasable example of what The Late Show actually was is on the DVD release of Bargearse / The Olden Days. Martin added close to twenty complete sketches and skits from The Late Show as Easter eggs on that disc, and while the sketches themselves might not be classics (The Four Kinsmen singing the Body Count track Copkiller aside), seeing them complete and uncut makes them seem a lot funnier than many of the snippets on the Champagne Comedy DVD.
All that aside, if Tony Martin’ sketch on The 7pm Project proves to be the start of a trend (and it could be: it seems Lawrence Leung has also done a segment in recent weeks) it’ll be a move well worth celebrating edits or not. After six months it’s clear that no one in charge is going to make the hard decisions required to turn that show into something worthwhile –
[basically, they need to decide whether it’s meant to be a comedy or a news show – straddling the middle just means the audience never gets a chance to realize it’s okay to laugh: “millionaire found dead in bushland – now here’s Tony Martin with a funny report on video stores” is not how you sell either comedy or news]
– so the best we can hope for is a sped-up version of what Rove ended up being: a show where individual segments were well worth watching followed by segments you wouldn’t watch in a pink fit. Of course, that’s the formula that doomed Rove, as DVD recorders and YouTube meant viewers could just pick out the good bits and ignore the rest. But if they manages to get a few good sketches on before the axe finally falls, maybe The 7pm Project won’t be a mistake they’ll have to edit out of the history books.