Hung Out To Dry

Considering our recent griping about Tractor Monkeys, it seems only right to start our review of Dirty Laundry Live with this: the ABC have taken exactly the right approach with this show. It’s on at 9.30pm on a Thursday night on ABC2, which is pretty much the textbook definition of “out of the way”, it’s shown live which means they can make changes week to week depending on what works and what doesn’t, and they’ve given it a reasonably long run (16 episodes), so it’ll have plenty of time to bed down.

On the other hand, this kind of thing rarely bodes well:

The public broadcaster confirmed it had engaged classifiers, editorial policy advisers and lawyers to make sure the hosts don’t get too litigious in their accusations.

Dirty Laundry has been granted an MA classification and it has to meet that rating. That means there needs to be a certain level of coarse language and naughtiness or they will get into trouble for being too prudish.

Or, you know, they could just try to be funny. And anyway, considering that outside of news programs the ABC doesn’t exactly “do” live television any more, presumably those extra lawyers have just been hired to bring the staffing levels up to, say, what Nine has for The Footy Show. And we all know how edgy that is these days.

The obvious snarkiness about having Sophie Monk on as a “celebrity guest” aside, things got off to a solid start – oh right, the show itself: Host Lawrence Mooney and a cast of semi-famous faces and comedians sit around a big desk to talk about the celebrity gossip of the week. It’s a solid comedy topic, and more importantly, it’s not one that’s currently being mined to death on the ABC *cough Daily Show knock-offs cough*. On the other hand yes, it’s another panel show. One that initially gave off strong Glasshouse vibes, which… yeah, we’ve got nothing good to say about that.

With two introductions to the panel and two introductions to the show either side of Mooney’s opening monologue (yeah, those Kristen Stewart vampire facial gags worked a treat) we’re four minutes into the show before the show actually starts. Chalk it up to first week nerves, alongside the “can I say FUCK?” “You can say fuck as much as you like, but you can’t talk about suicide.” bits. Oh, and then there’s a quiz. Joy. Fortunately they seem to just be using the quiz to kickstart discussions, which is exactly the right way to use a quiz on a comedy panel show.

Further on the plus side, these aren’t the usual TV panelists. It’s amazing just how refreshing it is to see some different comedians on television (especially when they turn out to be funny), and even though there were a few garbled moments here – there wasn’t a whole lot of chemistry between the panelists, who occasionally seemed to be shouting into the void rather than interacting with each other – the fact that we don’t already know every word that’s going to come out of their mouths is a big big plus for a television show in 2013. Even Sophie Monk, about whom we’ve previously had zero interest, came off here as someone moderately interesting. Or at least human, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of our more popular comedy panel show regulars.

It’s hard to underestimate just how far you can get on television by being entertainingly shambolic. Lord knows Australian television has underestimated it over the last decade or so – though after Live From Planet Earth, some of that reluctance is understandable. Sure, watching panelists passing around a porn movie called ‘Back Door Teen Mom’ may not be the kind of thing you’d plan to tune in to watch, but watching it happen on a live show is at least as interesting as anything else you may have seen on ABC after 8.30pm this year.

There were plenty of rough edges on this opening episode, but Mooney is a rock-solid comedy performer who’ll settle in as host and Brooke Satchwell (who’ll be a regular panelist over the sixteen episodes) came off as pretty sharp as well. Luke McGregor’s comedy interview was a highlight, and not just because it made Josh Thomas seem kind of likable; is it too soon to say “breakout star”? Probably. We’ll stick with “love your work” for now.

We’re grading on a curve here because it’s the first episode of a show that’s doing its growing up in public. So while there’s plenty of room for improvement, we’re going to assume they’re at least going to try and address the show’s problems (which are mostly to do with structure anyway; they just need to find more elegant ways to move between topics). Otherwise we’re going to give Dirty Laundry Live our highest possible rating for an Australian comedy panel show: it’s worth a look.

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  • Urinal Cake says:

    Mooney’s monologue deserved a better reception. I think it threw it him off a bit as well as Monk’s taking umbrage at every little thing instead of going with the flow.

    Mooney will improve and get into the swing of things. Satchwell and Macgregor did really well. But Mooney probably felt this was his baby so the pressure was on. You can’t really avoid giving advice about suicide but they should of done on-screen captions rather than having Mooney read it out. However I did not give a shit about the celebrity stories apart from Kate Moss made more money after her coke arrest since that was before my time.

    On one hand I’m glad someone has finally out-awkwarded Thomas on the other hand I’m tired of this awkward shtick as well. I think I’m starting to agree with Bill Burr.

    And what did I say before? Australian ‘celebrities’ love to share. In fact I thought Zooey wasn’t going to say anything at all for the whole episode since Monk and Satchwell were occupying most of the discussion space with Mooney hosting and Okine filling in the gaps.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    I think the problem with Monk was that she was always half a beat off the pace – what she had to say was often interesting, but she constantly threw off the rhythm of the show. The suicide stuff didn’t help either, and yeah, they could have just run a disclaimer at the end of the show rather than halting proceedings. But again, first night nerves there.

    McGregor’s awkward antics worked because at the heart of it all he just seemed to be piss-farting around – if he broke character it felt like he’d just burst out laughing rather than the Sam Simmons approach, which would be to get pissed off and storm out.

    Celebrity gossip is not our thing here, but it’s a whole world we know nothing about, which makes it more interesting than yet another “week in review” show raking over the same old ground. Unless you’re a Micallef-level talent, in 2013 you’re best advised to find new territory to exploit. And no, that doesn’t mean “let’s do a show on ‘aren’t the media pricks'”.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    ‘Nathan For You’ works because Nathan is both brazen and awkward by essentially having no real life experience and giving him a false sense of security due to his college degree. Here there is no real attempt to give a background to MacGregor’s conceit apart from awkward comedian meets celebrities. Sure it’s funny for now.

    The thing is I try to avoid celeb news on Facebook, twitter, news sites etc so I don’t think this show is strong enough for me to watch it in spite of it yet.

  • l mcGregornorelation says:

    It’s great to see the straight white men outnumbered on a panel, also interesting making Luke McGregors first guest another awkward comedian with a strange accent, it would be great to see someone who doesn’t know Luke being interviewed, especially a woman would be great, seeing as Luke can get far more awkward.

  • Billy C says:

    It got better as it went on but I felt Mooney failed somewhat as a host. He had some funny lines but he wasn’t directing traffic. He was trying to be sniping funny guy and the host and it’s hard to be both. As a result he dominated and the others hardly got a word in. He needs to throw is open, the guests are going to cut into the host all the time.

    They should ditch the whole competition points element. It was not even clear there where questions being asked of the contestants.
    There’s also a problem where the guest and Satchwell know more about being a celebrity than the other guests. So the show isn’t sure if it’s making fun of celebrity, making fun of the celebrity culture or joining in the trash. One second Monk is saying how hard it is to start a relationship with so much attention, the next they are making joke names for her and Worthington. So they are being sympathetic and then adding to the problem.

    The real problem is the topic is vacuous. Are they the Gruen of celebrity culture or another trash mag? What’s the perspective?
    MacGregor was good but we’ll see how that goes with other guests who don’t know him already. Could be much better or stranger but people will know what’s coming.

    I don’t think I’d watch it again as the topic bores me but agree that Monk was a beat behind. As soon as I read that I understood exactly what you meant, it did throw the show off a bit. At the time I just thought it was nerves or hesitancy.
    I’m not sure what they gain from being live apart is worth the messy show. They should do it the day before and make it smoother, although then I guess you could end up with tractor monkeys. Agree that two introductions of panelists very strange.

  • TVsnob says:

    Why on earth make it live? We don’t need to see those awkward ‘moving on’ moments, it’s like watching a comedian die on stage, it was squirm-worthy television that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I think though the main problem is that it wasn’t funny, the panelists didn’t find each other funny at all and it felt like they were competing for laughs rather than having a good time hence very soft laughter from the audience. Mooney is Ok but a host really needs to make sure he’s giving everyone equal airtime particularly at the start, Zooey didn’t even get a proper introduction! It was awkward but not in a fun or interesting way, in a ‘your dad’s wedding speech is going on way to long and he’s told the same joke twice’ kinda way. Terrible! Makes Randling look like QI. Makes Tractor Monkeys look, well watchable!

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The problem with pre-recording this kind of show is – unless you’re Micallef, who from all accounts would basically record an episode of TAYG straight through – you end up with Randling / Tractor Monkeys edit crazy shows where they try to cut from joke to joke and strangle all the life out of proceedings.

    The “competing for laughs” thing was very much there but for the first night of a developing show it’s a problem they should be able to fix. Same with Mooney stepping on the panel a bit as host.

    It seems to boil down to a choice with Australian panel shows at the moment: over-edited shows that are watchable but bland, or live TV that screws up but has a bit of energy to it. With those the only two options (our preferred choice – skilled professionals who know how to make a tight half hour of television that isn’t edited down from 90 minutes – seemingly being off the table), it’s about time the live option got a shot.

  • Jimbo says:

    I tuned in to this show, hoping for a Josh-free experience (when was the last time you saw an ABC show that didn’t have Josh Fracking Thomas on it?). After all, there was no mention of Josh in any of the promo material for the show. And what do you know? Half way through, along comes the now-compulsory Josh segment. Does the fracking ABC Charter have a new clause that stipulates Josh Fracking Thomas MUST be in every single show on the ABC? Jesus, can’t he just stay at home for a few weeks…

    By the way, I hereby declare Matt Okine the funniest person on Australian TV (yes, even better than Micallef – them’s fightin’ words!).

  • PEntrove says:

    I completely agree. Rather than trying to cultivate someone to be interesting, the abc should just find genuinely interesting people. It’s majorly arrogant and patronising the way they flex their PR manipulation muscles (which are too small to be effective anyway) and tell the Australian people who we should like and who we should find entertaining. That’s the core of this poor kid’s presentation to Australia. It’s not ‘please like me’, it’s just ‘you will like this guy because that’s who we think you should like’. Whoever is responsible for Thomas clearly thinks he’s great, and hell maybe he is, but for whatever reason he lacks that edge and necessary part of himself to appeal to Australians.

    So yeah, it does seem like ABC has some Josh Thomas clause because they’re clearly trying to promote him to the point where nothing is changing- he isn’t able to win over anyone. Unfortunately the ABC is run by people who think they know better than everyone else, because they work in media, because if they work at the abc they know better, but they very clearly don’t. They want to rip off woody allen’s act with Thomas, who doesn’t have the intelligence, creativity or context to flourish as that kind of character. It’s embarrassing, and it’s not all Thomas’s fault.

    I could go on about the ABC, but I totally agree about Matt Okine, great comedian, very with it and relevant. Not at all made up or constructed by idiots at the ABC. I watched RAW this year and thought he was pretty great. Hopefully he’ll be given a bunch more chances on these types of shows because he’s way more honest and interesting than affected Thomas.

    Speaking of Raw, and admiring Okine’s performance on it, I can’t help but think it’s a good representation of how people like Thomas get on the ABC and stay there. On the topic of ‘cultivating comics’ for Australia, you only have to watch that Melbourne Raw comedy program this year to see it in play. I’m pretty sure the people who run that program aren’t connected to the abc, but it’s the same self-interest that guides them to manipulate the type of comedy we get in Australia

    The judges criteria for Raw is:

    “The overriding aim of RAW Comedy is to uncover and support new performers with the potential to make a sincere contribution to the artform and the industry, in the years ahead.”

    They decided to give the first prize to a sweet little dyke named Demi Lardner. Cutting to and from the creepy comedy ‘judges’ of the night (who appeared humourless), it’s no surprise they selected her as the winner. The judges don’t want to sit there and honestly appraise comedy, they want to get their own agendas and grubby fingers in the comedy process and manipulate what we take to be funny. They turn everything into a bullshit political move.

    ‘Oh it’s a young lesbian girl with short hair, Australia doesn’t have one of those yet, we had better give her the first prize.’

    Should I feel bad for imagining that’s how it went down? Perhaps it was unspoken, but it’s pretty clear the judges, just like the abc, were pushing a futile agenda. Because the people with the potential to make a sincere contribution to the artform and industry are funny people first, and their identity comes second. Because when someone’s identity comes first and their talent never, you get people like Josh Thomas and the channel ABC.

    Would Demi Lardner have won if she didn’t fill the role of ‘young and sexually ambiguous girl with short hair?’ It’s doubtful, though it’s certainly not her fault she won.

    My point is, in a few years time when Josh Thomas goes bald, we’ll all be subjected to people like Demi Lardner on these types of panel shows because they’re selected to fill stereotypes the judges/produces/theabc perceive as necessary comedy roles (because america has them). Demi Lardner might become a hilarious comedian, but it’s doubtful she won raw comedy this year because she was the funniest. She wasn’t. She was certainly a fun and happy performer, and she’s definitely interesting (much more than Thomas), and maybe she’ll go on to develop into someone who appeals to people. There were also much worse comedians than her that night too. But based on Josh Thomas’s success, as someone who was cultivated to fit a particular character, we can only assume the same won’t work for Demi because comedy can’t be faked and people don’t really buy what the abc sells and they never have. The compulsory Josh segment doesn’t work because compulsory segments just don’t work.

    So the problem is obviously the agenda of producing comedians, which is how we get people like Josh Thomas who then populate all these shows. It’s patronising to great comedians who also happen to have a different sexual orientation or whatever. But then the abc knows patronising. The Josh Thomas clause really does need to be taken from the abc’s constitution, but then any clause to promote any comedian should just be scrapped.

    Until then, we’ll be stuck with Josh Thomases after Josh Thomases in all their amorphous but definitely unfunny forms.

    (And lest anyone think I’m being sexist or homophobic, I happen to love many talented gay and female and ‘minority’ comedians, but I love them because they’re talented any have something to say)

  • Urinal Cake says:

    From what I’ve seen Okine’s a good middlebrow/observational comic (I’ve said before how hard that is) but let’s not get carried away. When he tries to the social and political bits -even though his heart is in the right place- it falls apart.

    Now fuck me I’m going to defend Thomas. Thomas is the most popular young Australian’ comic now. It was TAYG that launched him. And only now the ABC seems to be promoting him. He’s not going to run to the UK or US either (going by interviews). The ABC hitching their wagon to Thomas makes sense. They probably see their next Hills in him. And the thing is Thomas would be all too willing to oblige for the dependable pay check to pay off his mortgage.

    I saw most of Raw too. For me it was excruciating watching the desperation of most of the contestants. Demi Lardner imho deserved to win she was easily the most confident and funny person on the night. Only the faux-nervous guy came close. Yes people had funnier jokes but usually it was the opening joke and fell away from there.

    Is there a way to get rid of nested comments?

  • Matlock says:

    I’m just bitter I didn’t get through the first round at RAW.

    Grumble grumble grumble. (folds arms angrily, sulks in the corner)

    Oh, who am I kidding, I was terrible.

  • Jimbo says:

    I’m with ya. Cameron Duggan was robbed by coming second at the RAW comedy finals. His set was sensational – every line was gold, and the way he delivered those lines was very slick and professional. Demi Lardner was OK, but it was clear she has some work to do to get to a professional level. I would have put her at number three (with the wharfie guy from WA coming second). At least she’s not as lame as ‘Lessons With Luis’.

    By the way, please don’t ever mention Josh’s name in the same sentence as Woody Allen, or I will tear your gonads off with my teeth!

  • Jimbo says:

    Yes, I know a few people who didn’t get through the first round. I’ve got to stop hanging around with wannabe loser comedians! The worst bit is telling them, “yes, honestly, you were really great (snicker, snicker)”.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Josh Thomas may not be the new Woody Allen. But my guess is Woody Allen would love to have Thomas’s fans. He’d treat them just like his daughters.

  • Matlock says:

    But I WAS great. People just didn’t get me, that was all. I’m ahead of my time. They’ll see, I’ll show them!

    ………………, I have some seeeeerious issues.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    If you look at it a lot of stand-ups they really hit their stride(i.e. fame, fortune) in their 30s and 40s. It’s just people like Amstell, Thomas (maybe Murphy) got lucky early.

  • PEntrove says:

    Unfortunately the comparison to Woody Allen is unavoidable, but rest assured the resemblance isn’t there. Woody Allen was a funny and creative writer, Josh Thomas is a kvetching neurotic, although come to think of it he isn’t even that. I wonder what he’s really like under it all? Maybe interesting.

  • Chris Everett says:

    You were obviously at a different show than a lot of others were. In fact Demi Lardner the Lesbian, had her boyfriend there that night so wrong on several points. She also went on to win in Edinburgh, maybe they just wanted an Aussie Dyke…..Dyke or no Dyke she obviously has talent. Mmmm something tells me you don’t look at true facts and back up what you have to say or even follow up.
    Sour Grapes maybe????