Typing LOL Is Not The Same Thing As Actual Laughter

One of our contacts forwarded us this press release for tonight’s episode of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting:

It is random, it’s weird it’s awkward and uncomfortable.

It’s not easy to boil down all the current cliches about what makes a comedy “good” in 2013 into a single line, but they’ve managed it. As usual with this kind of thing, the words to pay attention to are the words they don’t mention. Words like “funny”. Also “entertaining”, “exciting”, “hilarious”, and pretty much every other even vaguely positive term you could possible think of.

Who chooses to promote their show as being weird, awkward and uncomfortable? Don’t answer that, we already know and so do you: people who want you to think that it’s not a show for everyone. That somehow “getting it” will make you cooler than those morons around you who are still judging comedy on whether it makes them laugh. The fools! Everyone knows only the best comedy makes you feel like you’ve wasted your time and been insulted for your troubles.

The next line was just as thrilling:

It is dividing the audience.

Knife isn’t dividing audiences. According to last week’s ratings, it doesn’t have an audience:

new sketch comedy The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting slipped to just 292,000.

And that was before it was bumped back half an hour. With both The Voice and My Kitchen Rules pounding away at everything else on a Wednesday night, it’s time to call it: the ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up is dead. Even if the ABC could come up with a show people might want to watch, putting it on at 8.30pm on a Wednesday night is going to kill it.

Maybe the various Gruen efforts might bring a few viewers back out of sheer habit if the commercial networks aren’t trying, but television is a bullies game and once the ABC showed some weakness the commercial networks – well, Nine and Seven at least, as Ten tried their best to make Wednesdays into their light drama stronghold but couldn’t manage it – decided Wednesday nights were a corner of the playground they wanted all to themselves.

Realistically, we’re back to where we were a decade or more ago when every comedy had to survive on its merits and the sooner the ABC realises it the better. Back then half hour comedies usually aired at 8pm, often on a Monday: it’s no surprise that the closest thing to a success the ABC has had with a new show has been the 8pm only Mad as Hell. And having to make shows for an 8pm timeslot would rule out a lot of the “weird”, “awkward” and “uncomfortable” crutches they’ve been leaning on and force them to go for “light”, “likable” and above all else, “funny”.

Maybe they could move comedy over to Thursday nights, where at least it might do better against the various footy shows. The idea of actually having a night when people know the ABC will be showing comedy-themed local programming is still a good one, even if they’ve managed to shit all over the Wednesday night version by green-lighting year after year’s worth of rubbish*. Back in the bad old days, a lot of ABC comedy series vanished without trace simply because no-one knew where to look for them.

The big difference is, back then the shows themselves often weren’t half bad; giving The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting a prime-time timeslot and then wondering why it doesn’t rate is like wondering why your live stage show about that time you fell asleep on the couch during a commercial for GayMatchMaker.com isn’t packing out the MCG.


*then again, who can blame them? When Spicks and Specks was on, they could put anything on after it at 9pm and it would automatically pull in over 800,000 viewers. Now they’re lucky to get a third of that. The only possible upside to all this is that without the support of a strong ratings lead-in, the ABC will realise they have to make sure every single comedy they green-light can stand on its own as broad-based or quality entertainment. You know, like they already do with drama.

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  • Matlock says:

    “It is random, it’s weird it’s awkward and uncomfortable” – that’s funny. cause I wouldn’t even describe the show as THAT.

    I like shows that are random, weird and awkward and uncomfortable, I mean, I count myself as huge fan of a lot of Adult Swim shows – but they’re also funny. And the Elegant Gentlemen’s Guide to Knife Fighting is none of those things (apart from the title itself which is random and weird and probably the most thought they put into the show)

  • Richard Features says:

    Part of what makes a good sketch show work is a world view, a joke type or familiar structure that gives the show a sense of identity. Recurring characters are a good shortcut for this, but they can lead to quickly diminishing returns (see: Little Britain).
    The last US example I can think of is Mr Show, which definitely had a unique sense of humour, and the UK has its long tradition of radio work transitioning to television.

    Back in the long long ago of 2004, all three networks had a sketch comedy show on at the same time; Seven had Big Bite, Nine had Comedy Inc and Ten had Skithouse. Big Bite had some bright spots, but apart from that was there a single joke on Comedy Inc or Skithouse that’s fondly remembered by anyone?

    Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t seem to have any ideas of its own, just a vague desire to emulate what’s popular which could be said for almost everything on Australian tv. I know it’s an unlikely prospect, but with an increased allocation of resources and a slightly less catastrophic aversion to the unknown we might just be able to keep a few talented locals from seeking fame and fortune overseas.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The ABC dropped the ball with S&S, they should’ve rotated the hosts out like Buzzcocks.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Part of the problem was that Spicks & Specks was an ABC in-house production at a time when the ABC was getting rid of all their in-house productions. If it had either been put together by an outside production house or the ABC was maintaining its in-house efforts, there’s a pretty good chance they would have at least tried it with a new host.

  • James says:

    Very well put.

  • James says:

    It’s about chemistry.

    For me it’s this simple – good sketch comedy comes from sketch comedy groups. Until TV networks start thinking of sketch comedy groups like bands, it’s not gonna work. Bands jam together in the garage until they get good and work out their own style.

    Here’s a tortured analogy. If a record label wanted to release a rock album, would they hire five solo musicians and get them to collaborate in the studio, or would they hire a band that’s worked together for years?

    Think about good sketch comedy on TV, not from Australia but worldwide. How much of it comes from an assembled bunch of unconnected writers, and how much comes from a group that has worked together? (Not to say they can’t hire extra writers and cast of course.)

    Think about Australia’s most beloved sketch shows from the modern era, and you’re basically getting the D-Gen (slash Working Dog etc) and Micallef-McCaffrie – groups that worked together longterm and built up their unique style and talents together before breaking out.

    Think modern British sketch comedy, which largely is based on comedy duos, or tight groups of collaborators. Think modern American sketch comedy, which largely is web comedy groups doing what they’ve built their skills up on online, except for TV.

    Sketch groups are the comedy equivalent of a band. The 80’s/90’s/00’s commercial network model (which Elegant aimed to ape, essentially) doesn’t work, quality-wise.

    (Counterpoint to all that – for all the talk about open writing submissions, new talent, new directors etc etc, I’m not sure that really amounted to much. It feels like it has a sole author, Jungleboys. Personally I think the show’s a dud, but it feels like it has a consistent voice.)

  • Martina says:

    I had this thought almost word for word. Great comedy is about tight scripts, chemistry between actors and energy. It’s OK to ham it up. All the most successful comedies have energy and most are at least a little hammy. This show continues to play like a series of scenes that might count as light comic relief in a quirky soap opera but don’t work as pure comedy sketches.

    Also, I’d like to share a short and futile rant. Anyone else recognise the astronaut sketch? I saw the original on the Jungleboys website about a year ago and actually thought it was quite good. For The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, however, they re-shot it with the show’s actors who gave it no energy or charisma, and they removed the funny lines. That’s right, they took something they’d previously done well and shat on it. What the hell?

  • Martina says:

    Ah. Just checked the Jungleboys’ website for that sketch. It’s gone – ‘This video does not exist – but I recognised by name a lot of other sketches that were (presumably) reworked for TV. They also ‘do not exist’. I wonder how much material was actually written specifically for this show.

  • Jimbo says:

    Red Alert !!!

    Speaking of awkward crap…have you seen today’s SMH article on Josh Thomas:


    Here’s an excerpt:

    While the show (Please Like Me) didn’t set ratings records, ranking 215th in its first week, it was critically well received. Thomas was happy with the numbers…Having pitched a second series, Thomas is relying on DVD sales “so we can give the ABC some money back – and then hopefully they will make it again.”

    Lord help us all – season two of Please Like Me!!! Following in the footsteps of season two of Laid.

    Note to Josh – the only people who watched your show were gay teenagers or people who want to bang gay teenagers. The only people who are going to buy your DVD are gay teenagers, who aren’t actually going to buy it because they can download it illegally.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Like I said before even if Josh Thomas was sexually attracted to wallabies his humour, his reflections- his shows etc would be the same. That is the irony of his predicament he loves the idea of celebrity- of being a ‘voice’ (but not a representative voice even if you go on Q&A which is a representative panel show) but yet is only of note due to his sexual preference and higher than average media profile for being on a popular panel show and willingness to appear on celebrity reality shows.

    I now prefer Jack Whitehall who at least as a comedian he doesn’t take himself so seriously. Also this is the last time I want to ever talk about this self-fulfilling media node.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It’d be worth hearing Josh explain how DVD sales are giving the ABC “money back”, considering last we checked his DVD was released via Universal and not the ABC’s own in-house label.

  • Jimbo says:

    Admit it – talking about Josh gives you a hardon 🙂

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Thomas Ward and his shit impression of Michael Cera makes me realise if I was a ‘comedian’ I can get paid to find pretty girls to do ‘sex scenes’ and then probably hit on them during the shoot like a sexually frustrated malcontent.

  • BIlly C says:

    ABC would still gets a cut of sale as they funded the series. Not as much as if they released it themselves.
    I think Universal distributes all of the ABC stuff don’t they? I know ABC often releases it and Universal distributes.
    If we wanted a second series he shouldn’t have suggested that the ABC might have shifted his show to ABC2 because of it’s gay nature.

  • Pete Hill says:

    TEGGTKF is desperately trying to be quirky and off-beat and that’s fine. But you’ve also got to have that right mix of whimsy and fun to add to the mix otherwise it just all gets uncomfortable and awkward. Remember all the way back to Spike Milligan’s sometimes good but also very un-even ‘Q’ series which proved that there was a perilously fine line between wacky comedy that works and stuff that was just bizarrely unfunny. Without a good sense of timing and a good script, attempts at off-beat comedy can end up just being plain tedious- who here has ever sat through the final (and easily the worst) series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the one without John Cleese?
    And if you’re trying for off-beat, how about getting more original material? Paintings that start talking to each other?- Terry Gilliam was doing that in the 1960s. The ‘It Isn’t Rocket Science’ sketch, merely an over-extended rip-off of the ‘Selling Like Hot Cakes’ sketch from season 2 of ‘Big Train’.
    Full marks for trying but wipe off the blackboard and start again.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    No, ABC titles are distributed by the ABC label, which is handled by Roadshow in Australia. It’s extremely rare that another company will release a series that’s appeared on the ABC. And if ABC DVDs are usually released on the ABC label, it seems fair to assume that they’ll get less money – or none – if it’s released by another company.

  • jenny gee says:

    Jack Whitehall is the worst comedian to perform on TV in the last thirty years! He is about the level of a twat you’d expect to hire on the cheap to entertain at a kiddies birthday party. HE IS MEGA-SHITE !