If you saw the title of this post and expected it to consist of the following seven words – “There are none, sorry to trouble you” – then you’re wrong. Well, sorta wrong. Wednesday’s Hot Breakfast podcast contained one tiny little titbit guaranteed to interest the comedy nerd of a certain generation: Mick Molloy’s account of those infamous sketches from The Late Show where he gate-crashed TV shows in his Bart Simpson underpants. And because we know very well that there’s no good reason to listen to The Hot Breakfast on a daily basis, we’re going to share it with you now.
Download the episode here and fast forward three and a half minutes. There’s not a lot of detail, but the key fact is that the first underpants sketch, in which Mick Molloy jumped onto the set of Ernie & Denise during a live show from Myer, was born of desperation. Molloy and Tony Martin had turned up at Myer to film a door-buster sale sketch but had failed to get the footage. Luckily they spotted that Ernie & Denise were filming upstairs and they quickly came up with the underpants prank.
The result wasn’t exactly clever comedy, but as anyone who saw it at the time remembers it became an instant phenomenon. The following week, by popular demand, Mick gate-crashed Good Morning Australia, surprising Bert Newton. Then some shonky ABC special effects made it look like he’d also disrupted a discussion on media ownership on Lateline. But despite the popularity of these pranks this is where it ended. The following week’s Late Show began with a sketch in which Mick and Tone officially retired the Bart Simpson underpants, placing them under glass which was only to be broken in an emergency.
Viewing these sketches in today’s media climate, where simple, repeatable comic ideas like this are what comedians actively set out to create, Molloy and Martin’s decision to stop pulling the underpants prank after just a couple of weeks looks like a bad idea. But back in the 90’s this sort of restraint and good judgement were commonplace. Why would you do the same thing over and over, running an initially popular idea into the ground, when you can get out on a high and do something else?
It’s the kind of attitude we wish the makers of comparable recentish sketch shows like The Chaser’s War on Everything had. Or anyone trying to repeat their success. People remember The Late Show fondly because as a viewer you never knew what would happen next. Today’s TV comedy is usually fairly predictable, with characters turning up week in, week out – sometimes year in, year out – staying far beyond their welcome (we’re looking at you again, Chris Lilley). Repetition may be cheap, it may be easy, and your producer may claim it’s a good way to “build a brand” or some equally soul-destroying media wank, but as a viewer it’s a massive disappointment – and that surely can’t be good for TV comedy in the long term.
Does it make you guys sad that without everything you hate, you wouldn’t exist? You’ve made me hate Daryl Somers more because he’s responsible for you. Is that your strategy? If so, good work.
To be fair there was some structure to The Late Show though. I mean, Tony Martin and Mick Molloy doing the introduction monologue, Tommy Gleisner at the News desk, Shitscared, Mud or Bargearse, there were a lot of reoccurring segments like Commercial Crimestoppers and of course it would get topped off by Graheme and the Colonel and then the musical gag. There were lots and lots of things that were only done a couple of times though and showed the kind of moderation that we don’t get today where we’re bludgeoned over the head with the same repetitive thing over and over again – I think The Jesters showed this problem with the pranks from The Chaser’s War on Everything perfectly in their last episode. But there was some semblance of structure to The Late Show and then forays into completely uncharted territory which if it was successful would often provide the finest moments of the show for that week. I think the earlier their work, the more unpredictable things were, from the 80s ABC TV series of the D-Gen to The EON FM Breakfast Show where it seems to me at least that they were at their most experimental and things really were very unstructured other than FM playhouse being a staple. I think they progressed to a more structured approach as they went along with each big project they tackled. I could be wrong, but that’s how it seems to me. Running an idea into a ground also seems something that shows with longer seasons struggle with, as they become in-jokes that the long-following audience get and end up becoming a signature of the show or that particular or a group of characters. In terms of sketch comedy, the more moderation and the more plentiful the ideas, all the better. The prime example is that someone really needs to outlaw the Gotcha-calls/pranks/set-ups from all forms of comedy!
Is that a compliment? Either way you hate Daryl Somers, which is the only sane attitude to have towards the man.
There’s a difference between regular segments and doing the same gag over and over again, obviously. And yes you could accuse various members of the D-Gen/Late Show of doing the same (or similar) gags over and over again, but they always seem to make them different enough to get away with it. That’s something you couldn’t really accuse The Chaser or Chris Lilley, or, as you rightly point out, the likes of Matt Tilley (with his gotcha calls) of. With these comedians you get the same jokes/scenarios/conceits/whatever over and over and over and over again. The different between them and better comedians is that better comedians can either come up with lots and lots of different ideas, or are smart enough to identify a goldmine of gags that they could exploit for years (I’d put Clarke & Dawe in this category, John Clarke’s hit on a very clever conceit for these sketches, and he writes them so skillfully, that they never get tired).
No, but it does make us sad to think that if you actually read this blog, then the version of it inside your mind – you know, the one where we never got all positive about actual good things like The Jesters, or The Sweetest Plum, or Boytown Confidential – wouldn’t exist.
I listened to that clip and it’s interesting how Mick says ‘I’ instead of ‘we’, like he did all that stuff on his own.