The Mass Debate

(Yes, we did steal the title for this post from an old Gillies Report sketch. How us. Anyway…)

Last Sunday night we tuned in to Triple J for the first episode of Tom Ballard’s Debate Night, which is temporarily replacing Sunday Night Safran for the next six weeks (if you missed it you can listen to it on the show’s webpage). Debate Night is a series of short debates between two comedians on topics such as “That Kanye West is a Douchebag” and “That Atheists Are More Annoying Than Religious People”. Ballard hosts the show and introduces the debaters while his Triple J breakfast show co-host Alex Dyson pops up occasionally to ask people in the audience what they think, but otherwise it’s a shorter and more light-hearted take on school debates. There’s even a bell to tell the speakers when to start and stop.

First up in episode 1 were Zoe Norton Lodge (who’s written for The Checkout) and Scott Dooley (who’s been on Triple J and Nova) debating the douchebaggery of Kanye West. Norton Lodge seemed to have the easier task, and got plenty of laughs by simply listing the ways in which West has been a douchebag, while “Dools” opted for the time-honoured debating strategy of reinterpreting his side of the argument, positing that Kayne West cannot logically be a douchebag because his behaviour has gone beyond that of a mere douchebag. Faced with this clever-clever stroke of linguistic pedantry Norton Lodge’s argument appeared to be sunk, but she carried on and in the end the audience preferred her to Dools (just). Conclusion: going too far down the intellectual path wasn’t necessarily going to work for this crowd.

Indeed, in the third topic up for debate (“That Everyone Should Just Piss Off Because Australia’s Full”), Zoe Coombs Marr got heaps of laughs by taking the piss out of some of the debating clichés, such as defining words in the topic that didn’t really need defining (i.e. “everyone”). She followed this with an attempt to argue the case against asylum seekers by applying rigorous logic to the less rigorous logic of the people who write comments on Andrew Bolt’s blog…which makes what she did sound about as hilarious as a slab of concrete, but trust us it was funny.

Despite the mix of styles and approaches, and the varying quality of the debates and debaters (we’ve cherry-picked the better moments in our commentary above), Debate Night worked quite well. Being radio it has to rely on words alone, which automatically gives the participants far less scope to engage in the sort of self-indulgent theatrics which made World Series Debating (and the shows that tried to ape it) slow-moving and wankerish. And being on late night Triple J it had (and was able) to be faster-paced, edgier and more anarchic than ABC Sydney’s Thank God It’s Friday…which was a relief.

The cynics in us might argue that Debate Night is a cheap format on which to hang some laughs, but as with a lot of generic comedy concepts if it turns out to be funny and/or interesting that hardly matters. And while this isn’t comedy gold, so far it’s better than a lot of other stuff out there.

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