How many elections is it now that The Chaser have covered? Eleventy-Billion? And considering the punishing repetitiveness of the Australian electoral cycle its only fair to expect a little wear and tear on the boys when they’re hauled in front of the camera to crack wise about an election between The Guy No-One Likes and The Really Unpopular One. Put a slightly different way, it’s no surprise that with their latest election series The Hamster Decides occasionally things slip into the realm of “check out this hilarious clip”.
Clips aside, most of the segments here are your standard-issue Chaser: seeing Chas Licciardello and Andrew Hansen punch their way through a couple of issues via rapid-fire clips and Craig Reucassel providing a funny summary of an issue that leads into a prank is familiar both from The Hamster Wheel and The Checkout. The difference is that this time it’s all about politics. All. About. The. Politics. So much politics, so close to home.
When doing election-based comedy (or just covering the election on the regular ABC news) it’s way, waaaay too tempting to gather all the clips of a politician stating their message then put them all together to reveal that politicians say the same thing over and over and over again. Big deal: that’s just what politicians have to do if they’re going to have the slightest chance of getting their message onto the news. Putting those clips together tells us nothing past “here’s the message they’re trying to sell… which we’re now helping them get out there”. When this leads to Andrew and Chas talking about the secret vault where Abbott’s “secret plan” is kept, it’s worth it; when there’s no punchline, all that’s left is a lot of not much.
But to follow our politicians lead and stay positive, the compare and contrast stuff here manages to be both informative and funny, thus rendering Gruen completely superfluous. Though the big problem with the ABC’s election coverage persists as the curse of “balance” strikes again: no-one outside Liberal Party Headquarters thinks their NBN scheme is on par with Labour’s as far as quality goes, yet the Hamster sketch – which basically pointed out that the Liberal’s scheme was only slightly cheaper but much slower, in accord with the generally accepted facts – ended with a “oh ho ho, it’s all too confusing”. No it’s not: you just told us one side was better than the other.
Having Abbott cough “bullshit” into his fist is comedy gold: a montage of Abbott going “aah”, not so much. Having senator Doug Cameron on was great for Cameron – he certainly seemed to be kak’ing himself – and seeing him struggle to say something positive about Rudd practicing gangnam style was chuckle-worthy. But as always and we’ll never stop saying this, getting politicians in on the joke makes us choke back bile. It’s an easy segment to put together and the questions themselves can be funny and the politicians acquit themselves well but what’s the point? The politician is going to laugh along and seem like a decent person and then be involved in cutting benefits to the sick or the poor or the elderly and it’s THE DAY THE LAUGHTER DIED.
There are two ways of looking at The Hamster Decides. One is that the nation deserves – nay, demands – quality election based comedy and if that’s the case you might as well get in the experts. The other is that the nation deserves – nay, demands – quality election based comedy and if that’s the case why not get in some new guys to mix things up a little? Either side has its merits: while The Chaser are the ones this year who seem to feel like they’ve had enough of this kind of thing – Gruen, being pure evil, maintains the glee and energy of pure evil – it’d still be a shame to lose them entirely from the election media landscape.
The big problem is that the ABC currently has close to 90 minutes of election-based comedy coverage per week and the election is lucky to be generating 20 minutes of worthwhile material. While politicians and the quote-unquote “media elite” no doubt think quantity and plenty of it is what’s required when it comes to gasbagging about elections, what’s really needed is intelligent and insightful examination of the issues. Again, that rules the smug admen and showboating political hacks of Gruen right out. But when it’s only week two of your comedy series and already you’re revisiting Julia Gillard having a sandwich thrown at her, perhaps it’s a sign that our politicians just aren’t as interesting as they think they are?
Good luck taking that message to Parliament next time the ABC funding arrangements come up.