So a hung parliament means there’s no clear nationwide winner, right? Usually yes, but in this case one group (no, not The Greens) is a clear winner: ABC comedy. Having a country where both major parties have an equal claim on the reigns of power is their dream situation, because for the last… oh, since at least whenever The Chaser became the only stand-alone political comedy on the ABC, the ABC’s approach to political comedy – it’s not even worth dignifying it with the term “satire” – has been dominated by one concept. Here’s a clue: it’s not “being funny”.
Balance is about as useless as cat-only monocles when it comes to comedy. For one thing, not everything is equally funny. More importantly, only one political party is in government: they’re the ones with the power, they’re ones actually doing things that affect our lives, and so they’re the ones that we should be making fun of. That’s not to say the opposition should be ignored, but they’re basically going to just be opposing a lot of stuff with the occasional inoffensive / stupid policy thrown in. They simply don’t have an equal impact on our daily lives.
And yet, for years now the ABC – across the board really, but let’s stick with comedy here – has been obsessed with one thing: balance. In all of The Chaser’s work there’s been a clear push to ensure that both sides of politics get a roughly equal serve. This idea is shithouse. Again, not everything is equally funny. Having a balanced comedy show means that hilarious topics either go begging or remain barely explored while dull or obvious jokes are shoe-horned in. You could possibly argue that all of Australian politics is equally hilarious and so a balanced view is both easy and natural. But the only way to sustain that view is to believe that every single policy expressed by every side of politics is equally good / bad / whatever. Perhaps if you’re independently wealthy and don’t think society exists or that you are in any way part of it this view is possible: out in the real world some ideas / policies / people are simply better than others.
Not to mention, who the hell wants to watch a comedy show where the makers don’t have – or aren’t allowed to express, as ‘balance’ seems to be an overall ABC policy – actual opinions? Without concrete views, good comedy is all but impossible; even slapstick says something about the human condition. For anyone committed solely to being funny and not pushing a party line, balance will come from the ebb and flow of politics anyway – just not in the course of one episode of one show on one night.
(Clarke & Dawe escape this trap by a): being filed away as part of “news”, and b): only doing one segment a week. If they had a whole show – or even a second segment in a week – it seems likely they’d feel the pressure for “balance” a lot more.)
But now, right now, right this second, the ABC’s policy has finally paid off. With both sides jockeying for power, “balanced” comedy has finally come into its own. So for one week only, Yes We Canberra! won’t feel like a wobbly grab-bang of decent jokes smooshed together with the results of a “Yeah, Gillard’s hilarious this week, but now we need 10 minutes on Abbott… fuck, we’ve got nothing” all-night writing session. Enjoy it while it lasts: once someone finally does get to sit in the big chair in Canberra, the ABC’ll be back to their balanced best. Even if that guarantees they’ll be giving equal time to unfunny comedy.