These days Lisbeth Gorr is just another media personality. She hosted a failed chat show a few years ago (Nine’s The Catch-Up), she’s put out a couple of children-themed books (mind you, which female personality of a certain age isn’t dabbling in that area?), and she’s got a show on 774 ABC Melbourne. But if you ever wondered how she got to where she is (Hint: it was in the guise of “Elle McFeast”) you can head along to a reasonably well-known torrents site and download some of her 90s comedy work, or buy them on this DVD.
Amongst the shows on offer is Breasts (1996), one of McFeast/Gorr’s better known specials, in which she, well, spends an awful long time in fruit shops handling melons. Clunkingly obvious metaphors aside, it’s actually quite a good, funny show, even with irritating 90s celebrity Kate Fisher pouting and pushing her norgs in the camera every 10 minutes. And for a show which is more than a touch influenced by Andrew Denton’s The Money or the Gun, right down to the sequences where McFeast (or sidekick Mark Warren) run up to people in the street and ask them provocative questions, it’s much more insightful. In fact McFeast and Warren are far better than Denton in lots of areas, mainly because they manage to be charming, funny and informative whether talking to the public, celebrities or experts. And for a show which could very easily have been sleazy or gratuitous, Breasts manages to both show a lot of tit and keep things warm and interesting (in a non-sexy way).
Less successful is the special Sex, Guys and Videotape (1994) which looks at male sexuality and safe sex. It’s very reliant on male celebrity talking heads discussing “the issues”, and like Agony Uncles is full of comedians and personalities either trying to be funny or failing to come out with an interesting insight. A better watch is a special on The Whitlam Dismissal (1996) which re-unites political figures from both sides of politics and manages to prompt a then 85-year old Sir John Gorton into some sexual innuendo-laden discourse with Elle. There are also a few interesting details about The Dismissal which are turned into some decent comedy sketches (and after years of Good News Week we never thought we’d describe anything involving Mikey Robbins as “decent”, but it was).
Somewhat more niche are some segments from sports comedy show Live and Sweaty (1991-1994), including a look at Collingwood’s “controversial” loss in the 1979 VFL Grand Final. Those non-sport fans who remember Live and Sweaty will recall that the show was full of ultra-niche segments such as this, and despite some amusing moments it’s really something for those with an interest in the topic. A sequence with James Hewitt, Princess Diana’s former lover, has a potentially broader appeal, but fails to work as intended. Hewitt is hired to give McFeast a riding lesson and the sequence is clearly designed to get him to give her somewhat more than that…except he remains a perfect English gentleman throughout, making McFeast look fairly try-hard and Hewitt look pretty stuck-up, neither of which is terribly funny.
But overall the work of Elle McFeast/Lisbeth Gorr is good, and it’s not hard to see why she was probably the most successful Australian female comedian of the 90s. You could argue that there were funnier female comedians of the era, but we can’t think of any who got as much solo TV work as she did. In fact, we can’t think of any female comedians who’ve had that level of success in this country since – and we say that whilst running serious risk of this post become another one of those that debates about female comedy. So, we’ll end by pointing out one of the other quite good things about Elle McFeast: unlike, say, the Hungry Beast team, who aimed to do both comedy and serious reportage but never managed to do either well, let alone the two combined well, Elle McFeast proved that it’s more than possible to get it right. Watch Breasts to see what we mean.