One of the biggest problems to stem from the collapse of sketch comedy in this country – and wow, how pretentious a sentence is this one shaping up to be – is the way that it’s downgraded the idea of actual jokes in comedy. With a thriving – or even just barely existing – sketch comedy field it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a lot of what makes people laugh is jokes. That’s because that’s pretty much all sketch comedy has to offer: jokes and plenty of them.
When “comedy” comes to mean “lightweight drama and panel chat”, as it currently does in Australia, then jokes take a backseat. Comedy becomes more about tone and attitude, and the methods of judging comedy drift close to those used to judge drama: that is to say, trying to make people laugh becomes less important than character arcs, quality camerawork, sassy back-and-forth chat, and so on. A “comedy” show becomes one where people merely say smart-arse things, not funny things. Trying to make people actually laugh gets dropped in the too-hard-basket.
All of which is why, for the moment at least, when you ask us what kind of comedy we have enjoyed in 2011 The Bazura Project is the show we’ll be pointing to. You can argue about whether you found it funny (we did), but what you can’t argue is that it was a show – a movie-themed sketch show even – that set out to actually be funny. There wasn’t just the occasional quip or wry one-liner: every scene contained joke after joke of every stripe, from broad face-pulling to obscure film references to wordplay to parody to character comedy to pretty much anything you care to name. Again, you can argue about whether the jokes worked (we thought they did), but you can’t argue that the jokes weren’t there.
What makes this even more impressive is that The Bazura Project is a show about film. If ever there was a subject ripe for the kind of “comedy” that was too cool and hip to bother trying to do something as obvious as work towards actual laughs, film would be second only to whatever the fuck Laid was supposed to be about. And yet stars / writers Shannon and Lee went out of their way time and time again to make a show that was accessible to pretty much everyone – yes, it’s time for that stat showing that more Australians go to the movies than watch sport, just in case anyone wants to pretend that movies are somehow more elitist than The Footy Show.
Bazura referenced obscure films, but they also straight-up introduced the viewer to obscure films, and then they made jokes about films everyone at least knows about, and then they made jokes that weren’t really about films at all (remember “staple gangster”? Still chuckling over that one). In contrast to a heck of a lot of ABC output, The Bazura Project was inclusive: rather than providing a pandering guidebook for clueless wannabe hipsters – something that pretty much sums up the Gruen approach to everything – Bazura‘s motto seemed to be “hey, come check out this cool stuff!”
(It didn’t hurt that there was a robot: we’d forgive pretty much everything we hate about Gruen if Wil Anderson was replaced by a robot. A killer robot swinging a chainsaw around wildly.)
We’ve heard more than a few arguments against The Bazura Project, and guess what? They’re all wrong. Being cheap and occasionally shoddy looking and having hosts who aren’t the most polished marbles in the sack are not drawbacks when it comes to comedy: they’re actually advantages. As stated in the opening, this trend of trying to judge comedy like it was a drama – that is, to judge it by polish and performance instead of by laughs – is rubbish. A crappy looking robot with a storage crate for a head is much, much funnier than a polished, art-designed, hundred-thousand dollar animatronic model: just go watch the movie of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy if you don’t believe us.
Lee and Shannon and everyone involved with The Bazura Project set out to make a fun show, and to an extent largely unheard of on Australian television, they succeeded. In a sea of shows where comedians explored whatever subject wasn’t already taken, Lee and Shannon pulled off the rare trick of actually seeming to like the topic they were banging on about. Reportedly the numerous movie clips used means there’ll be no DVD release, which is a damn shame (though it will be repeated over summer, so set your VCRs). This is the kind of show that really does demand a permanent record: it’s definitely been one of the comedy highlights of this year.
Solution to the sketch comedy drought: Make a Sammy J & Randy Show!