The Wonderful World of Australian Comedy Online Part 4: Sketch comedy

In yet another indication that the future of entertainment is online, a recent-ish episode of the Mediaweek podcast revealed that Andrew Denton’s production company Zapruder’s Other Films has employed nine members of the Hungry Beast team to work on “online projects”. What exactly these projects are was not revealed; it’s also not terribly clear at this stage what types of entertainment will work best in an online context.

Sites like YouTube or Funny or Die?, probably the most popular portals for online comedy, suggest that online audiences prefer comedy videos to be short, making sketches or short series an ideal format, but this may well be as much a reflection on the state of technology as it is on how long people are prepared to sit watching something on a small computer monitor whilst sitting in a hard computer chair (as opposed to watching something on a giant plasma screen whilst sitting on a comfy sofa). And with computers and TV merging, 3D TV and touch screen monitors on the way, mobile devices getting better and better, and broadband getting faster and faster, the future of film and video delivery is far from certain. Either way, with companies like Zapruder’s Other Films making serious investments in the medium, the race to make it profitable in Australia seems to have stepped up a gear.

But, of course, all we’re really worried about here is whether online comedy’s any good or not, so my quest to find something decent continues. My first stop for sketch comedy was the website of 2007 Australian Tumbleweeds Worst Newcomer winners Ministry of Truth, a Brisbane-based “media collective” who’d contributed some sketches to jTV, but alas, they seem to have disbanded. Their website – http://www.ministryoftruth.tv/ – which enabled anyone to sign up and submit their own videos, Hungry Beast style, although without the $1000 prize, no longer exists, but if you’re curious about what they produced their YouTube channel lives on. The channel contains a number of professional-ish looking videos, of variable quality, ranging from student-level sketches, to quirky short films, to a not-that-interesting interview with Barnaby Joyce, to sub-Hungry Beast satire. Indeed the more I re-acquainted myself with Ministry of Truth, the more I wondered if it was an inspiration for Hungry Beast – the concept (and the results) were certainly similar.

My next stop was Funny or Die? I found several hours worth of comedy sketches made by Australians, but unfortunately absolutely every single one of them was so utterly shithouse that my right index finger developed RSI from hitting the Die button over and over again. Whichever of our readers suggested the Americans do it better online got it dead right, at least as far as Funny or Die? goes.

Feeling quite disheartened at this point, I decided to skip YouTube and instead check out a couple of links I’d seen posted on a forum. The first was the website of Melbourne-based sketch comedy group The Consumption, whose shows feature a mix of live and pre-recorded sketches. When you consider the recent history of TV sketch comedy in this country, it’s a wonder anyone’s still bothering, so The Consumption get points for trying, but production values aside, I didn’t enjoy their output much. The main problem with their work is that many of their sketches don’t contain many ideas. Often a single idea or gag will be stretched out for a minute or more, while some of their sketches make the mistake of prioritising weird over funny – the latter may appeal to a certain audience, but not one looking for laughs. The best sketch on The Consumption’s site is PAC: Creativity, which features a cameo appearance from Tony Martin. What’s good about this sketch isn’t Tony Martin’s cameo, more the fact that it contains a couple of funny, clever lines which he delivers really well.

A better site for sketch comedy is that of Touched by an Angle Grinder. Consisting of Greta Harrison, Matthew C. Vaughan and Troy Nankervis, Touched by an Angle Grinder is another collective of emerging artists. Most notable amongst their output is Free Internet, a short series in which Greta’s grandfather “Pops” tells viewers all about the wonders of the internet. The concept of juxtaposing the elderly with modern phenomena is a well worn way to generate laughs, but the twist in this case is that instead of laughing at an ignorant old man, we’re laughing at the internet. Social networking, LOLZ humour, internet entrepreneurs and lots of other stuff with little relation to the internet cop a serve. It’s kind of like watching early footage of Graham Kennedy, as he’s working out how to de construct the key components of television presentation and put them back together again with devastatingly funny effect. It’s exactly the kind of online comedy that should be making it to TV instead of a new series of Beached Az.

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4 Comments

  • Michael says:

    The Sexy Detective (who did a couple of sketches for Ministry of Truth, it’s true) have a bunch of work up at http://www.youtube.com/mudfilms

    Try ‘Personal Questions,’ ‘Windtalkers,’ ‘Democracy,’ ‘Blood Test,’ ‘Train Station.’

  • Iwan says:

    Thanks for the interesting read, very timely for me having just produced a series of comedy skits; we have opted for online distribution as well.

    http://www.theawkwardman.com

    Check it out when you get the chance. Would love to hear your honest opinion.

    Cheers mate,
    Iwan

  • Greta says:

    Hey there,

    Greta from Touched by an Angle Grinder here. Wow. Thank you so much for your lovely comments about our little-seen sketches. My Pops will be thrilled at being compared to The King. I’m just happy that someone was able to see past our shonky production values and questionable acting. Maybe there is a future for us in this crazy game after all.

    Keep up the fine work.

  • Johnny says:

    Good post – there’s also another Brisbane based group – ManvsPlatypus – their youtube page is http://www.youtube.com/user/ManvsPlatypus

    I don’t know wheter sketch comedy is on the wane or reinventing itself in a new context online, but it’s alot different now to what it used to be in the Python days.