Not Quite Comedy

It’s a sad fact, but in the current climate pretty much the last thing any of our television networks want their comedians to be doing is comedy. Hey, we don’t understand it either – presumably it comes down to producers finding themselves out of a job if they let the comedians put together their own shows, because it sure isn’t that audiences don’t like (good) comedy. The fact remains: in 2010 you’re going to see more of The Chaser’s Andrew Hansen on the astonishingly pointless Strictly Speaking than you will on The Chaser’s own TV series.

Just to add insult to grievous bodily harm, Strictly Speaking, while supposedly a kind of competition for up-and-coming public speakers – yeah, like that’s an employment niche crying out for new talent… guess they must be running out of people to ask those long-winded questions on Q&A – quickly proves itself to be little more than a training ground for crap stand-up comedians. Each week a bunch of stilted, relatively charisma-free types gather to judge a group of slightly more charming would-be public speakers. As always in Australian television, let the Aliens vs Predator catchphrase be your guide: whoever wins, we lose.

This is the kind of shoestring effort that should under no circumstances be shown outside of a Sunday afternoon timeslot, so I’m guessing the ABC programming department somehow thought Chris Lilley’s Angry Boys would require less than an entire calendar year in editing and slotted it in for early October – only to realise at the last minute that Lilley likes to take his time making sure he gets every single speaking role in his shows, so they had to throw on this below-broadcast quality effort to bridge the gap.

Seriously: it’s a televised public speaking competition that features (in the episode I watched) someone doing a fake sports call, someone cracking jokes about how “you can’t open the windows at the underwater observatory” and someone being forced to talk for two minutes about the game of rock paper scissors (though to be fair, judge Father Bob did get in a good joke about growing up too poor to be able to play rock paper scissors). It’s bad stand-up, filmed in a high school’s B drama center and judged by a panel whose advice seems roughly as useful as an inflatable safe.

And then there’s Andrew Hansen out the front hosting, trying his hardest to… well, that’s not really true, is it? He’s doing his usual semi-smarmy act, throwing the occasional limp joke out there to remind us that he used to be on a show classified as “comedy”, but otherwise this show could be hosted by a chair that was leaking stuffing and it wouldn’t really lose anything. Not that you can blame him – given the chance to be funny he usually takes a pretty decent swing at it (unlike, say, Chris Taylor, who’s hosting work has been both much slicker and much more successful at erasing any memory you might have of him being a comedian), so clearly the brief here was to turn the funny down. Because like it says at the top of this post, who wants to see comedians being funny these days?

The same question is dialed down to a niggling doubt watching the first episode of Tony Martin’s recent interview show A Quiet Word With… largely because Martin is a skilled interviewer talking to someone (Bill Bailey) whose career he’s clearly interested in. Honestly, simply seeing a lengthy interview conducted by someone who knows what they’re doing that doesn’t dissolve into shameless tear-jerking or blatant emotional manipulation is such a f**king relief that if this doesn’t win every single Logie available then the TV Week awards can no longer pretend to even the slightest vestige of credibility. Hang on a second…

That said, the harsh fact remains: it’s a show containing Tony Martin where Tony Martin isn’t constantly being funny. By definition, this is a little bit of a bad thing. It’s great that he’s getting to be on television, and it’s awesome that he’s doing smart and humorous interviews with interesting people. But there are other people in this country who could be doing that: to the best of our knowledge, there’s no-one else in the world who could have come up with, for example, Grant Spatchcock’s Gourmet Pizza.

No doubt the remaining five episodes of A Quiet Word With… (shown at irregular intervals over the next few months, so keep an eye on the TV listings) will be must-see television. After just one episode it’s already taken a somewhat large dump over roughly 90% of Enough Rope. Still, when next it returns to the screen it’ll be hard not to occasionally wish Tony Martin had a gig on television doing flat-out comedy, not simply dropping in the occasional pre-heated Andre Rieu gag during a pleasant chat. Because while television might not want to feature comedians doing comedy, there are still a few of us who feel otherwise.

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  • ewe2 says:

    Great rant, where’s my inflatable safe?

  • Pete Hill says:

    Come on, the ABC has a noble tradition of sucking the humour out of funny people and reducing them to blandly pleasant TV hosts. Adam Spencer went from being co-host of Triple J’s breakfast slot to being the mild-mannered host of the science shows Sleek Geeks and Quantum. Peter Berner went from Backberner to hosting the Einstein Factor. Paul McDermott went from The Big Gig and Das Kapital to hosting Strictly Dancing. Michael Vietch went from The D-Generation to hosting Arts Sunday. And Andrew Denton went from on-the-edge humour of The Money or The Gun to sickeningly fawning over Princess Mary and her hubby Frederick on Enough Rope. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning these people for doing these jobs. I mean Denton was a very good interviewer (even if his ploy of making his subjects burst into tears felt like a routine gimmick at times). Tony Martin’s extensive knowledge of cinema would make him a great host of a show about movies. Michael Vietch’s passionate interest in military history would make him an ideal choice to host a documentary series on such a topic. But the problem is when funny people who want to do comedy programs don’t get the chance to do so and are instead strait-jacketed into doing things where their comedic skills are restricted against their will.