Barely Legal

Okay, so Legally Brown: remember when SBS used to show Chappelle’s Show pretty much non-stop Monday nights? Yes, that’s the laziest possible comparison, but we are talking about Australian television here. And yeah we know that, in the US at least, the sketch show format where the host / performer(s) comes out and do a bit of stand-up in front of an audience to introduce at least some of the pre-taped sketches is pretty common (Key & Peele still do it, for one). It’s a surprise more Australian shows haven’t used this format; with our fairly strong stand-up scene and supposed love of sketch comedy, it seems like a format that could work out here.

Ah, but does it work here? Well, kind of: while the sketches and pranks here probably don’t require a two minute intro each time, they are actual sketches and pranks. Which puts them ahead of a lot of what gets served up under the heading of comedy in Australia. The stand-up itself is a bit ropey – in last week’s episode when talking about the expectations for the show, host and star Nazeem Hussain said “Smash the white establishment? I’ll try my best”, which isn’t exactly a joke – but as the point is more about getting the audience on side than getting big laughs, that’s no big surprise.

As for the actual meat of the show… well, there’s a lot of comedy gold to be found in the multicultural experience in Australia that Housos sure as shit isn’t uncovering. While the first week was a little wobbly sketch-wise (the crap psychic was the kind of idea that always seems funny in theory but almost never works) and overall felt a lot like a show that wasn’t sure what it was up to, week two managed to deliver the kind of sketches you’d expect from a show named “Legally Brown”. And some of them were even kind of funny.

Interestingly, while there’s a heavy early Chaser influence in the pranks, Hussain (to date) doesn’t seem to be hammering the general public the way the Chaser used to when they’d reveal everyone in Eastern Sydney was racist. Last week’s people smuggler prank didn’t really work because it didn’t pull out any outrageous reactions from the white folk confronted with the “people smuggling”; without hilarious “hell yeah I want me some free slaves”-style responses, the bit kind of fizzled.

But week two’s sketch where Hussain pretended to be various celebrities he looks nothing like (on the theory that all non-whites look alike) worked because his scam wasn’t horrifyingly successful at exposing racism. Seeing a parade of white folks going “hey look, it’s Jackie Chan” would have become depressing pretty quickly – the fact that no-one believed him to be Chan (while sadly everyone believed him to be Will.I.Am) meant that at least some of the time the joke was on him.

Otherwise, there’s not a lot of real insight into, well, much of anything here, unless you think having an Indian prince go on speed dating is shining some much needed light onto… Indian princes? And the sketch with the six year old would-be terrorist was a laundry list of gags that could have happily lost a couple of items. But the focus seems to be on comedy over controversy – at least until “Uncle Sam” starts talking to politicians about gay marriage, and even that was more like time-wasting than shit-stirring. And we’re never going to complain about a show going for laughs over shock value.

Legally Brown isn’t classic comedy by any stretch, but as entry-level television stuff (that is, the kind of show SBS should be making instead of giving Pauly Fenech another chance to do the same old same old) it’s off to a reasonable start. It’s hardly perfect: this kind of long form sketches really need to contain more ideas than what we’ve seen here so far, and the pranks need to either be sillier or more pointed if they’re going to have any real impact. Hussain himself doesn’t really have much of a comedic persona and his stand-up intros are pretty weak, but if Dave Chappelle couldn’t make intro’ing sketches work it’s hard to fault anyone else for doing a sub-par job.

With a ten episode order and a fairly below-the-radar profile – unless we’re missing a whole bunch of stories about how it’s reshaping the face of Australian comedy and / or it’s offending a bunch of News Ltd readers – Legally Brown has the perfect opportunity to get the job done comedy-wise. It probably won’t (we’ve had our hearts broken too many times to get our hopes up), but there was a clear improvement between weeks one and two. If it continues, who knows? We might actually have an Australian sketch comedy show that works on our hands.

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7 Comments

  • J says:

    SBS2 is filming a new standup show. Sounds a bit inspired by The Alternative Comedy Experience –
    http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2013/10/comedian-showcase-coming-to-sbs-2.html

  • Billy C says:

    Yeah, it appears to be comics from multi-cultural backgrounds but they’re not saying that. I’ve heard Princess Pictures is paying about ten cents a spot for it.

  • urinal cake says:

    There are a few good things going for it. Luckily there are other writers and the production values are decent. But the problem is this Nazeem can not act. Chappelle was a good actor and each character was convincing even Rick James. It’s why I prefer the stand up bits to the pranks\skits since at least he can act as himself. I have a feeling the simple skit/prank material would come off a lot better if you he could deliver it with more nuance and skill.

    Material wise I understand what he and his writers are trying to do but hell you’ve got a national platform cause mayhem. At least The Chaser Boys when they were young did.

    Stewart Lee was able to segue into sketches from his stand-up but that was because most of the time he was able to keep his persona the same or switch into erudite reporter/documentary mode.

  • urinal cake says:

    It also don’t bode well when the original TACE got cancelled on ABC halfway through for what I presume were poor numbers.

  • Jez says:

    Great article. I wasn’t a fan of the first ep, but thank god comedy like this is at least being
    attempted (and making it to air, not just online). Online seems to be the only place to see stuff with bit of a unique voice. Loving these lads:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhP77-hdk7Y

    And the Aunty Donna boys know alternative comedy for sure!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtLL30fO4gk

  • Jez says:

    Nail on the head there.

  • urinal cake says:

    The Peloton was pretty good though their cafe riders skit was pretty shit (name considered). This is much better cycling based humour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47cGzu6-q40
    and the acting is better than Nazeem’s!