Bridging The Gap Between Radio & Television

We’re now halfway through the current series of Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year, and it’s hard not to be a little disappointed in the way the show’s developed. Not because it’s a let-down, but because it’s been exactly what we expected going in: week after week of minor variations on their series of specials on Ten, which themselves were basically their radio show with pictures. Even the celebrity interviews of the first two episodes are long gone, leaving behind what is basically “Hamish & Andy’s New York Caravan of Courage Up On Blocks.”

If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to H&A’s work over the last few years, you don’t need us to tell you what business as usual for the boys means: a combination of segments that involve going somewhere to investigate some mildly odd local custom, combined with other segments based on some kind of wacky made-up sport / prank. And it generally works for them pretty well. They’ve got a knack for making silly antics seem light-hearted rather than mean or annoying – they bring the people around them in on the joke rather than make fun of them – and they’ve been at this long enough to find the comedy in pretty much anything served up to them.

They’ve also managed to come up with a couple of running gags that they’re working hard: Hamish has stacked on the pounds thanks to a weakness for American fast food, and the now-single Andy is, well, single. This weeks episode saw the button-bursting Hamish enrolled in a bodybuilding contest before revealing the creation of a fake dating show to try and find Andy a date. It’s hardly compelling or hilarious, but at least it’s a hook: much of the rest of the show consists of “we went and looked at some stuff”.

We’ve been fans of Ryan Shelton’s work for a while here, and his “100 Seconds” segment is… okay, it’s also just a truncated slice of what he used to do on Rove. But what it does do – apart from deliver some much-needed variety in a fairly one-note show – is provide an opportunity for Hamish & Andy to do some actual sketch work. We’d like to see them do more of it, (and give Shelton an extended segment – at 100 seconds, it feels like they aren’t confident he can run longer despite his Rove segments going four minutes easily) but considering we’re also the only people alive who liked Hamish & Andy & Shelton’s fake current affairs / sketch show Real Stories, there’s a good chance every single person advising them on Gap Year is advising them against it. Loudly.

As many, many reviewers have pointed out before us, Hamish & Andy are in a bit of a tricky position with Gap Year. Much of their much-vaunted charm relies on them being good-natured slackers wandering into offbeat situations. That’s fine for the occasional special: over ten weeks it’s going to wear thin, even when you’re on an entirely different continent. So far though they’ve made a reasonable fist of it. The aforementioned running gags provide a new way for them to justify at least some of their usual antics, and when it comes to comedy even a small change in setting can breathe some life into old rope.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, there’s no more good news. The interviews might have been a little dodgy, but at least they provided some variety between the stunts and travel segments. Sadly, it seems that after mixed reviews and slightly soft ratings during the first couple of weeks, they’ve-

[while we’re here, feel free to check out The Herald-Sun‘s resident grumpy old man reviewer Colin Vickery’s two stories on Gap Year that he filed on July 29 – one covering their ratings success, the other proclaiming it a dud. Sadly for those sick of his “stop making TV for the young people” stance, history has proved him to be roughly on the money: the current ratings are below a million viewers nationally, which no-one at Nine would be happy about]

– been scared off trying anything that isn’t tried-and-tested, which is pretty much always a mistake. Even massive fans of a comedy team want the same thing in slightly new and different ways, and tweaking the same old same old with a few new set-ups and Hamish’s greased-up gut isn’t going to keep things fresh. The individual segments are pretty much always still strong, but they’re too much alike.

Despite the clear and obvious effort H&A have put into making their television show an actual television show – for all the snark some reviewers have dumped on them, at least it’s not a static panel chat show like so much local comedy has turned out to be – it’s still much too close to their radio work. On radio you can churn over throw-away gags and if a show doesn’t work there’s always tomorrow: on television having your show feel like the raw material for a “best-of” DVD is not exactly the tone you want to be striving for.

More importantly, on radio you don’t have to provide variety. The format does it for you: you do your thing, then there’s a song or two, then there’s the ads, then it’s back to you. Even if all you do is the exact same thing over and over, it’s broken up enough simply by the format to ensure that the listeners – if they like what you’re doing – won’t get too tired of it. On television though, it’s just you. People will turn over during the ads (or record it and edit them out), so they end up getting a much more concentrated dose of your work. If you don’t vary what you do a lot, it’s going to get stale. And Hamish & Andy don’t seem to have worked that out.

You can’t tell from the highly edited version available on DVD, but The Late Show is a prime example of a comedy (fresh from radio as well) knowing that you can’t expect people to keep laughing at the same kinds of jokes over and over again. As it originally aired, The Late Show was extremely varied: live sketches, in studio sketches, monologues, fake news, vox pops, making fun of commercials, sports jokes, musical numbers – they threw everything out there to fill a fifty minute show. Gap Year runs 45-odd minutes, and usually only features four or five segments, some stretching close to ten minutes. We’re not saying the segments themselves aren’t good, but they’re just not different enough from each other to keep the laughs coming.

Sadly, even in our fantasy dream world of perfect comedy it’s more than a little unlikely that Hamish & Andy’s first proper television series after becoming massive successes on radio would have seen them make a serious effort to change up their act. Being big radio stars is what got them the gig, and with the amount of money Nine reportedly put into this show they’d be wanting that radio magic and plenty of it. Be careful what you wish for: being a repeat of their radio show is exactly why Gap Year is faltering.

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1 Comment

  • pete hill says:

    Good article. I think that its H & A’s fundamental niceness that has been one of their biggest success factors. In a celebrity world filled with abnoxious egos, a pair of geniunely nice and un-assuming guys seem like a breath of fresh air with none of the self-righteous smugness that marred much of the work of the Chaser. However its this very niceness that has made many overlook the inconvenient fact that much of their work is pretty routine and often rather thin. Unlike the boys of Get This, H & A never rebelled against the conventions of commercial radio. The were content to slot their humour firmly within the parameters of FM-funnymen criteria- play all the top 20 songs the station manager wants you to play, mention the sponsors at least once every 5 minutes, plug the right TV shows as ordered, agree to squeeze in yet another interview with Roberta Williams etc etc.
    With so many colossal egos on commercial radio, H & A stood out with their mildly cheeky humour, their affection rather than contempt for their audience and their self-depracating humility. And since they played by the rules and attracted the age-group of listeners most attractive to sponsors (16-22), the station masters were more than happy to let them continue long enough to build up the hype and publicity to attract the big auidences.
    Hype has a way of disguising slender material as something greater than it actually is. Just look at movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Somehow, amidst all the fuss, too few people seemed to notice what a rather ordinary comedy it was. I think a similar thing has occured with Hamish and Andy.