Going Home In A Body Bag

We’ve been a bit distracted by the ongoing Ja’mie circus to keep up with the rest of the world of Australian comedy these last few weeks, but don’t think we haven’t noticed that things have been happening. Clip show-shaped things even. Okay, that proves nothing, you can say “clip show” at any time of the year and you’re bound to be describing at least most of the ABC’s comedy output. But still, Shock Horror Aunty? Good clip show. Tractor Monkeys? Bad clip show. Hey, at least for one brief week you could choose between them.

But what’s the difference between a good clip show and a bad one? Well, in a good one the clips are, you know, not shit. And by that we mean they’re actually about something more than “oh ho ho, those people in the past sure weren’t like us, right guys?” Shock Horror Aunty generally presents clips that are either stand-alone funny or of some historical interest: Tractor Monkeys presents clips so Dave O’Neill can talk about his camping trip. Some people might think the latter is the better entertainment option… but going by the ratings, not too many people.

Meanwhile, Gruen Planet has also wrapped up, thus dooming the rest of the ABC’s Wednesday night line-up to ratings obscurity. What should we complain about this time? Oh, here’s something: the Gruen series is so hateful yet so impressive because it manages to pull off a trick usually only accomplished by high-end US cable TV dramas – it flatters the viewer for being too smart for television.

Gruen viewers are clearly too sharp to fall for that “advertising” malarkey that the rest of the sheeple soak up. They see right through the scams and lies that make up today’s media, cutting away the set dressing of Western Civilisation to the very heart of What’s Going On In Society thanks to the guidance of… a bunch of people who work in advertising? Oh yeah, Gruen viewers are geniuses.

And as for Legally Brown (which wraps up this coming Monday) it did what we hoped it would do: be occasionally funny without becoming the heart of a “controversy”. Because we’re really really tired of people missing the point when it comes to comedy. Short version: if you don’t think you should laugh at certain things, then don’t laugh. You, personally: don’t laugh. Everyone else can decide for themselves if the subject matter is funny or not.

Anyway, the show itself wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute but there were enough actual laughs in there (ie: the guy doing “Spirit Yoga” last week being told his spirit didn’t want to go back into his body and that if he wanted to get his spirit back he’d have to “make an application to the courts”. Or the bit in Muslim Shore where a girl was described as “DTF – Down To Fast” during Ramadan) to keep us coming back. There’s a big difference between a comedy made by people who think they know what’s funny but really don’t and people who do know what’s funny but just can’t generate enough material yet, and LB is usually found behind door number two.

Our big problem with a lot of the comedy output in Australia is that it’s just not that interested in making jokes. Legally Brown follows (mostly) the lead of Australia’s “golden age” of sketch comedy – you know, Fast Forward, The D-Generation, The Comedy Company, The Big Gig, those shows – in that it’s a): trying to make jokes about real-life Australian culture, and b): the culture it’s making jokes about isn’t the mainstream media culture. So they can’t afford that bullshit laid-back ABC approach that thinks “subtle” is better than “funny” – they have to be broad to get their point across because they’re not making the usual points.

The moral of the story is, if you’re a comedy genius, then you can make subtle work: if you’re working in Australian comedy, broad is almost always your best bet if you want to get laughs*.



*not valid for Paul Fenech.

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  • urinal cake says:

    I think there are a few things going on with ABC and ‘comedy’. The first is tick boxing. The second is they then want to create a concept they can sell os such as Office/Wilfred/Rake. The third is that they allow the talent to use the ABC simply as an extension of their brand rather than fulfilling something broader (ratings, social inclusiveness, critical acclaim).
    It seems quite clear to me now Thomas never really wanted to make a comedy but rather drama. The second and third point are linked- probably because the ABC believe in keeping costs down and auteur theory. That’s fine if you have extremely talented individuals- you don’t.

    Obviously Gruen is Australia’s QI/HIGNFY but not with the early days of brilliance.

    I dipped in and out of ‘Legally Brown’ so it’s not really fair to comment but I will. It seemed fairly lazy and obvious.

    The big point about Fast Forward etc is that they were expensive because of writers, production etc. The problem is money. Okay maybe you could get Carl Barron write and star in a cheap sitcom and it would rate well.

    This subtle vs ‘jokes’ thing is partly cultural don’t you think? There’s some unwarranted adulation of this laid back, laconic Australia where people say slow, slightly quirky stories that are gently humourous. The club scene isn’t really like that and most Internet stuff isn’t like that.

    Comedy (on tv) is really at a dead end. None of the commercial tv networks have attempted it recently iirc. I think the live scene and possibly the Internet (when people start making real money) will be where it’s at.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The problem with wishing that the ABC would hire an executive who would actually steer the comedy department more towards making shows that weren’t just indulgent wank by the creatives is that the current head of comedy is the creator behind Wednesday Night Fever.

    As for subtle vs jokes, it seems more that comedies are being made by people who want to look cool, and looking cool means not trying too hard. Telling actual jokes? Nice one, try-hard.

  • urinal cake says:

    Hopefully he’s a better commissioner than producer/creative. WNF was in a different direction at least. Backwards to the 90s.

    Thomas didn’t even try acting.

  • urinal cake says:

    I like how comedy is only mentioned in relation to the BBC.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Thanks for the heads up – we’ve discussed this one further in our next post.