If you’re of a particular political bent, chances are you’ve been waiting for The Guardian to set up their Australian branch for a while now, what with Fairfax staggering around like a drunk at a child’s birthday party when it comes to providing a non-Rupert Murdoch perspective on things. Even we’ve been excited: in the UK The Guardian has Charlie Brooker as their humour columnist and he’s generally considered to be fairly competent at it. So naturally their Australian branch would be going after A-grade comedy writers, right? And so we waited.
And now it’s here! And it’s hiring all the people sacked from Fairfax for being crap. Ha ha ha, this is what happens when you expect good things. If you read Andrew Bolt you’d know that.
To be fair, only Catherine Deveny was sacked from Fairfax for being crap – well, sacked for making sex tweets about a minor according to the official version, sacked for being too much for the old men at Fairfax to handle according to her and feel free to decide which version has more basis in reality ’cause we’re saying nothin’ – because while Helen Razer was dumped by The Age as a columnist in the 90s she’s been back writing reviews and opinions for them over the last decade. But she was dumped by the ABC in 2008:
In the September 15 episode of Media Watch, presenter Jonathan Holmes charged Razer with “patronising” Berkoff during the live interview on September 7. Less than a minute into the exchange, things became tense when Razer addressed Berkoff as “dear”. He told her he had trouble understanding her accent. Razer then called the playwright a “curmudgeon” and a “pugilist”, before abruptly terminating the interview.
Anyway, that’s all in the past, as they both now have regular gigs in the new left-wing voice of Australia. Razer is the local TV critic:
I’ve been meaning to have a word to my local Labor branch about the quality of their newsletter for some time. “Dear Comrade”, it begins; a salutation that now seems every bit as apt to me as “Yo, Bitch”. Comrade? I am no longer a comrade but lapsed rank-and-file who would rather stay at home and yell at the television that endure another moment spent in hopeless love with a vanished past.
And Deveny seems to be the food critic:
Perhaps it’s genetic. Mum tells a story of driving home late from work one night in the 70s after a long day and deciding to treat herself with a Choc Mint Drumstick on the drive home. It was a perfect summer night, no one on the road and she sang along with the Bee Gees, window wound down, Drumstick in hand, elbow hanging out the window. Luxury. Suddenly she heard through a megaphone: “Two hands on the steering wheel lady, this is the police.” Which it was. She got such a fright she dropped her ice cream on the road. Did it teach her a lesson? She just bought another one. STICKING IT TO THE MAN! YEAH
And The Guardian AU’s comedy? Oh look, it’s the team from The Roast. What, Rodney Rude wasn’t answering the phone?
We bring this up not to point out that despite the new venue these two are operating firmly according to type – Razer’s very first word is a reference to herself, Deveny is “STICKING IT TO THE MAN!” – nor to suggest that opinionated women by their very nature are going to have a rough ride in the Australian media. Nope, today we just want to talk about a sadly familiar wider trend: hiring people not for their expertise in a subject matter, but because they’re meant to be amusing.
We’ve written before on this “just add comedy” approach and why we don’t like it – see pretty much every post we’ve ever made about The Gruen Transfer and its offspring. Basically, if you’re going to be funny JUST BE FUNNY. And if you’re going to discuss a topic then said topic deserves to be treated with respect, not just as a launching point for a bunch of shithouse gags.
Put another way, people who are meant to be actually amusing write humour columns. They don’t need a wider hook to lure people in: they’re funny, and that’s enough. Unless they’re not funny, which is every single Australian humour columnist because it’s hard work writing 800 funny words a week and if you really are funny it’s much easier writing jokes for television. Or advertising.
On the other side, if you’re actually interested in television (we are) or food (kind of), then you want to read someone who knows what they’re talking about. Razer at least has a history of reviewing live shows – reviewing in a snarky, self-obsessed, look at me fashion yes, but she occasionally provides some insight into why something is or isn’t working that you couldn’t get just from reading the poster.
Deveny, on the other hand, seems to treat every single paid writing gig she gets as an opportunity to foist a bunch of her half-arsed stand-up material on her readership. At least when she was writing about television she had a history of writing for television that on the surface justified her employment; as for food, presumably she eats it. Like every single other human being on the planet.
By the way, The Checkout wrapped up its first series last night. Much as we usually hate that kind of thing we didn’t mind it for the most part, because when it tried to be funny it usually was and when it wasn’t trying it had real information to impart. We’re still going to file it under consumer affairs rather than comedy – there’s a comedy show to be made about consumer issues, but it probably wouldn’t have long segments explaining how extended warranties are a rort – but the comedy material was a lot stronger than many of the ‘straight’ local comedies we’ve seen of late.
Our point is, if you’re going to do two things you need to be good at both. To take a non-Checkout example, Clive James’ television reviews were both bang-on regarding the shows he was discussing and funny in their own right. And if you’re not good at two things, you should stick to just the one: if you’re reviewing television (or food), figure out how television (or food) works, figure out how to explain that intelligently to your readership, then JUST DO THAT. Don’t do a half-arsed job then think if you talk about yourself a lot it won’t matter because it’s not a “real” review anyway.
Because just quietly, no-one gives a fuck about you.