Has there ever in the history of Australian comedy been a show more aptly named than Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year? A Gap Year being, for those not in the know, a year taken off between serious, future-shaping pursuits so you can pissfart around and enjoy yourself without having to worry about the future arc of your career. And so it has proved to be with the Gap Year programs: Hamish and Andy, seemingly free of concerns about making a “proper” television program, instead pick a spot on the map and wander around looking for fun stuff to do that they can slap together in a… wait, what?
Yeah, okay: the current two-part Hamish and Andy series is not actually called Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year. It is, in fact, Hamish & Andy’s Caravan of Courage, dusting off the title they gave to their in-Australia wanderings back when a): they had a daily radio show and b): made television specials for Channel Ten. Okay, well, whatever: they’re still wandering around the countryside looking for the strange and unusual so they can crack a few jokes about it and be on their way.
On the one hand, what’s wrong with that? They’re only on television a few times a year – ten hour long episodes in 2011 and (we think) seven hour episodes leading up to the London Olympics followed by the two 90 minute Caravan of Courage episodes. Hey, it’s almost as if they signed a contract to provide ten hours of television per year instead of just filming their wacky adventures until they ran out of wacky adventures to film. Acting like a slightly more comedic version of The Leyland Brothers plays to their strengths as comedians too: they’re likable guys, they have good chemistry together, and seeing Hamish taunting Andy after Andy’s just eaten a giant bug is about as funny as a scene where someone eats a giant bug is ever going to get.
On the other hand, enough already! After their half-hearted attempt at a talk show during the first series of Gap Year failed to set the ratings ablaze, they’ve retreated to a “travel all over the countryside” formula that was already looking a little threadbare back in 2009. There may not be a limit to the crazy guys and oddball situations they can uncover across the globe, but it’s certainly starting to feel like there’s a limit as to how many times they can expect us to watch it.
They’re still doing a good job of what they do. They’re still funny, likable guys. Still, there comes a point – very, very soon now there will come a point – where more of the same stops working. Oh, with the kind of ratings they’re pulling in now they can keep doing Caravan of Courage / Gap Year television for the next ten years. But unless they start trying to mix things up now, that’s all they’re ever going to do: every time they suggest something different (if they even want to try something different now), the network execs are going to frown and shake their heads and remind the guys that the last time they tried something different it didn’t really work out so maybe it’s time to drive around Tasmania looking for giant robot sheep, okay?
Whatever your opinion of Hamish Blake and Andy Lee, it’d be a shame if all they ever did from here on in was more of the same. They’re the only current comedians popular enough to actually make a stand-alone comedy series work on a commercial network: fingers crossed one day they’ll make a series that involves slightly more than just them standing in some guys homemade lightning-proof “coffin” while he fires bolts of electricity at them.
Okay, I confess. I have never found H&A particularly funny and I have never quite understood all the hype surrounding them. There, I said it. And it pained me to say it. Partially because they seem such a pair of likeable blokes…I mean geniunely likeable blokes. They seem to have no trace of the smugness, conceit, self-importance or blantant self-promotion that most other Australian celebs tend to indulge in…ie none of the ‘showbiz arsehole’ factor, to borrow a phrase from Mick Molloy.
And mostly because they are so popular. And by voicing my opinion, I now feel such a grumpy, middle aged reactionary bore. I feel like the talent-show judge giving a low score to the cute little blonde kid with terminal cancer who plays the flute and juggles at the same time.
I think that the four most crucial factors in their success are:-
1) Whatever H&A are doing or saying, they always seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves. They clearly job their jobs. Its hard to imagine H&A being like Graham Kennedy or Daryl Somers who were lovable and cuddly on-camera and then turned into prima-donnas-from-hell as soon as the director yelled ‘Cut!’ And its equally hard to imagine the two boys treating their vocation as relentlessly hard work in the vein of Charlie Chaplin or Benny Hill and demanding that the man-slips-on-the-banana-peel-scene be given 65 takes before they’re happy.
2) They appeal to the most lucrative audience. Lets face it, in radio, and increasingly on television, if you can snare the 17-22 crowd, you’ve struck gold and the network execs will love you and the sponsorship money will keep pouring in. The P-plater Uni-students stuck in peak-hour traffic, that’s who the advertisers want you to target. That was the Achilles-heel of Get This back in 2006-2007. I found listening to Ross Noble talking about 70s British comedy one of the most funniest sequences on radio I’ve ever heard. But then, I was past my mid-30s at the time, so I knew what he was talking about. Your average 19-year-old wouldn’t have had a clue. So they would turn the dial to H&A and listen to the lads dropping anecdotes about Pink or Charlie Sheen and they would think Ah! That’s better, I know what these two guys are on about! H&A keep their humour broad, casual, un-demanding, no in-jokes, no references to old stuff, no hard-to-understand satire.
3) Hype. It has a way of feeding off itself, reproducing itself. People hear of something or someone thats popular and they think because other people like it, then they should like it too and that makes other people start to think that they should like it as well because so many other people seem to like it. Thats how a soft-core porn mills & boon rip-off like 50 Shades of Grey can become a massive international bestseller. Or why a radio-show with two mildly amusing affable young men can become one of the highest-rating programs in Australia.
4) They play it safe. H&A never break the rules- they always conformed to the commandments of Australian commercial radio such as Thou Shalt Mention the word Masterchef at least once every ten minutes. Their pranks were always mild, nothing offensive, so no make-a-realistic-wish controversies for these guys. Nothing obscure, nothing too edgy, nothing too experimental, and just keep smiling a lot- thats a recipe for a lucrative career in the Australian media. And thats why Mick Molloy, Shaun Micallef and Tony Martin are no longer on Ch-9 and why Stephen Jacobs has never left. And that’s why Get This is no longer on radio and Fifi Box still is.
Maybe H&A are keeping their best work in reserve, maybe they can still stretch and extend themselves. Maybe its the network CEOs who are holding them back? Time will tell.