Grumble Grumble Swear Swear

Over the years we’ve developed something of a reputation as people who love to hate. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth: we’re so full of hate we even hate hating, which is why we try to be fair and balanced with our critical responses to the wide world of Australian comedy. But occasionally, along comes some news that deserves nothing but a good kicking:

2011 hails the return of the Julia Morris Film Festival

After nearly 200 entries in 2010 from all over the world, The Julia Morris Film Festival (or ‘JMoFest’ for short) returns bigger and better in 2011 for its first birthday!

In case you’ve been smacking yourself in the face with a shovel over the last year to try and erase the memory of this disgrace, the “Julia Morris Film Festival” involves dupes making short films to help promote the struggling would-be celebrity as she desperately tries to keep people interested in her despite her failure to do anything even remotely funny or interesting in living memory. Said promotion involves the appearance of a Julia Morris mask somewhere in the film: our idea of putting the mask on a pumpkin and then hacking it to bits with an axe was deemed “too much effort”, especially as merely holding up a copy of her shoddy autobiography would be just as horrifying.

Yeah yeah, raise money for charity, blah blah worthwhile exposure for upcoming film-makers. Are you serious? Both these things can be achieved in ways that don’t involve promoting a tired comedian who hasn’t been involved in a worthwhile project since that episode of QI she was on a decade ago. And while there are prizes on offer, let’s be clear: you are going to be making a film to promote Julia Morris. What does it benefit a man to gain the world, if in the process he loses his soul by helping out Julia Morris?

[also, these prizes are much less than you would be paid to create a promotional video for someone. And when you enter your short film, Morris claims all rights associated with it: if it turns out that your short contains a brilliant idea for a feature film, comedy sketch or commercial, you’ve just kissed it goodbye. A fate you actually fully deserve, because you made a short film PROMOTING JULIA MORRIS.]

And while we’re a-hatin’, the 2011 Awgie (Australian Writers Guild) award nominations were announced recently, and… oh, just take a look at the comedy categories:

Good News Week: Australia Decides 2010 – Dave Bloustien, Simon Dodd, Bruce Griffiths, Warwick Holt, Paul Livingston and Ian Simmons
Good News Week: Episode 3.30 – Dave Bloustien, Simon Dodd, Bruce Griffiths, Warwick Holt, Paul Livingston and Ian Simmons
Good News Week: The First Cut – Dave Bloustien, Simon Dodd, Bruce Griffiths, Warwick Holt, Paul Livingston and Ian Simmons

Laid: Episode 4 – Marieke Hardy
Housos: Pregnant – Paul Fenech
Review With Myles Barlow: Series 2 Episode 1 – Phil Lloyd with Trent O’Donnell

What, if we may be so crude, the fuck? Even accepting that, as their website says “They are awards which are given for the script alone, recognising that it all starts with the written word’ – which, we’re assuming, means you have to submit your script to the AWG to get nominated, which might explain some of the more jaw-dropping omissions – this is a debacle of epic scale.

Put another way: Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey contained sketches. Good News Week barely contains jokes. Maybe the writers were nominated for not committing suicide once Mikey Robbins stopped being fat, thus eliminating 60% of their material?

As for the sitcom category, while it’s kind of hard to tell exactly what time period’s being covered here – Housos is yet to air, while Review was the middle of 2010 – series two of The Jesters was a): scripted and b): almost certainly a billion times better than the latest load of incoherent shouting from the pen of Paul “Pizza” Fenech. What about The Librarians series 3? We’re not saying these shows are great, just that Housos had better be pretty fucking fantastic – thus reversing a full decade of drivel from Paul “time for another no-name special guest appearance” Fenech – if this category is to scrape through with any kind of credibility at all.

And the sketch comedy category… okay, sure, GNW is light entertainment. So is wacking yourself in the crotch with a meat tenderiser. And the meat tenderiser has more on-air personality and comedy timing than Paul McDermott puts out there on GNW these days.

We could go on – does every single comedy show out of the ABC these days have to be “join us as [comedian / comedy troupe] takes a wacky look at the world of [something already covered by a ‘serious’ ABC program]” and if so that still doesn’t explain how the Chaser found a crack between The Gruen Colostomy and Media Watch to insert The Hamster Wheel – but instead, let’s end on a positive. No, not that the “revamped” Good News World will be lucky to last three weeks.

Starting next Tuesday night is ABC2’s newish (an earlier version aired on Channel 31) sitcom Twentysomething. It’s actually pretty good. If you want to check out the first episode (and you’re in Australia – stupid geoblocking), you can do so here. We recommend you do so; lord knows pretty much everything else that’s coming up soon (bar ABC2’s other c31 theft, The Bazura Project) looks like more of the kind of disposable, forgettable material that has enabled Paul “more shouting – over the top of each other this time” Fenech to call himself ‘award-nominated’ without being laughed out of town. That’s a real shame; it’d be the first laugh he’d given us in years.

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  • k says:

    what is it you like about twentysomething? just interested. watched that first ep and didn’t laugh once. those are soome of the most hateable characters i’ve ever come across. Are you guys seeing something i’m not?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Two things really. First, the c31 series was pretty funny stuff a lot of the time (it was also a lot broader and more cartoon-like, so the “hateable” characters were meant to be like that). Second, we’ve seen past the first episode (which was a little slow, what with all the setting-up) and once the show starts getting into its ‘scheme of the week’ plots the comedy goes into high (well, moderate) gear.

  • kurt says:

    it just seems that instead of being able to laugh at the characters being losers, in the way we could with shows like peep show, the office, young ones, spaced etc, these two always seem to have the upper hand. the humour seems to lie in laughing at them being horrible and obnoxious to people instead, which is just not good comedy in my book. It’s the same problem i have with the Librarians. The lead female character is just a hateful cow.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Interesting. There is certianly that element to the show, though (for once) it hasn’t totally turned me off the series. That said, with The Office I rapidly found David Brent’s antics to be little more than the smug bullying you describe – that’s a show with a hateful lead that a lot of people didn’t have any trouble laughing at.

    I guess all I can say at this stage is that in later episodes there are at least some moments of comeuppance to balance things out.

  • kurt says:

    yes, but Brent was a classic comedy clown, he looked like an utter moron at all times, espceially when he was ‘trying’ to be smug and arrogant.

    These guys come off better than all the people they meet. The joke seems to be laughing at how lame landlords, bosses etc are for not letting them be utter C words all the time. On top of that there were just no jokes…no funny lines, nothing. Just a couple of spoiled, obnoxious little brats twatting around.

    Comedy can’t work if there’s nothing to laugh at the main characters about. Name me any comedy show where this has been a success….there’s none.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    I see where you’re coming from, but I think it’s a problem (largely) confined to the first episode, which I felt was the weakest of the series. It takes so long setting up whats going on – and what’s going on isn’t really all that funny – that the characters are stuck against a realistic backdrop, and it’s not really that kind of show.

    Eps 2 & 3, which rely much more on the schemes Jess comes up with to get rich quick, work a lot better (and are a lot more cartoony, which takes the edge off Jess), while ep 4 sees her getting something of a comeuppance. Jess isn’t a likable character, but so long as the focus isn’t entirely on her I think the show works.

  • kurt says:

    fair enough, but you seem to be defending this distinctly average show pretty hard. It’s good to see your hatred spill out against shit like good news week and the hellish ‘J-Mo’, but i find it baffling to see you support such naffness as Twentysomething.
    As far as sitcoms go, it’s just not good enough and it saddens me that this level of stuff gets on telly.
    Phew! rant finished. Thank you, I’ve enjoyed our little comedy debate.

  • kurt says:

    oh and one last thing. i don’t really buy the whole ‘shit first episode cos it was setting things up’ argument. It’s a 30 minute show. That’s a long time to not make someone laugh. I’ve seen 10 minute sitcoms with much more complex set ups get plenty of laughs in their first eps. Bad comedy is bad comedy. In these days of fantastic, tiny 2 minute comedies popping up on websites like funny or die etc, not being funny for a full 30 minute slot is downright unacceptable.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Part of my spirited defence comes from the fact that I really like sitcoms – that and sketch comedy is what I really want from my television, so I’m not ashamed to say I rate them slightly higher than I would a bunch of stand-up comics sitting around a desk riffing.

    As far as Australia sitcoms go, “just not good enough” might make sense if there was anything around to compare it to. Apart from the excretably unfunny Laid, the cupboard is pretty bare these days. That’s not to say you have to like it, just that I’m probably awarding it points for effort than a non-sitcom fan wouldn’t.

    You’re right that 30 minutes (well, 26-ish) is a long time not to make someone laugh. Sadly, sitcoms these days – even the good ones – seem to stress character over jokes to such an extent that setting things up across an entire opening episode is par for the course, especially when a six ep run is already locked in. They’re not funny out the gate because somewhere along the line they’re told that it’s more important that we “get to know the characters” first.

  • BittenByKittens says:

    But if the characters are funny characters, then getting to know them should be funny.

    Haven’t seen the show yet, so I can’t say anything about it. But I agree that it’s a strange idea that you have to build characters first and do jokes later. If you aren’t laughing as you learn about the characters, then they’re not funny, and any comedy isn’t coming from the characters but from things the writers make happen to them. To me, that’s the easiest way to make a comedy feel fake and forced and it happens all the time.

  • kurt says:

    part of my spirited argument is that i too really like sitcoms and and i hate it when this is the standard we get. Perhaps if more people came out and said, ‘this is not good enough’ then we might expect a higher quality of comedy rather than going, ‘well it could be worse i suppose, it could be Laid’, but yeah…i’ll keep on dreaming.
    I don’t really see a day when australian TV will have good comedy on, unless the whole system changes dramatically. The commercial networks want money, not quality, SBS has Paul Fenech and ABC is run by boring, old farts. There’s not even dedicated comedy departments at these channels.