Sometimes You’ve Got To Take What You Can Get

Most of our objections to the state of modern Australian comedy can be boiled down to two points: most of it isn’t even trying to be funny, and it’s not even any good at whatever it is trying to do. So we’re actually kind of pleased to see both The Checkout and Have You Been Paying Attention? back in 2014. Yes, they’re the kind of diluted crap the networks constantly serve instead of actual comedy – but they’re rare examples of good crap.

Of the two, The Checkout is the one we probably won’t be bothering with much this year. The Chaser are still involved (well, Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel out front, with Chas Licciardello behind the scenes) alongside a bunch of other comedy faces – and Heath Franklin, who clearly needs the work now that he can’t keep pretending to be Chopper Read – but it’s basically just straight consumer affairs now. And by “consumer affairs” we mean five minute segments outlining the rules and regulations behind the use of the term “Australian Made”. Informative? Sure. Funny? Nuh.

Oh sure, they try to spice things up. But all the wacky animation in the world can’t hide the fact that around a third of the show is basically just reading out letters from grumpy people complaining about stuff. There’s more audience-sourced content too – cue obvious non-joke by Morrow that they’re aiming to have the entire show sourced from viewers soon – but that’s hardly a good thing no matter how severely they edit it. Also, it now features Heath Franklin.

So as comedy fans, we can acknowledge that this show is packed with useful information told in an informative fashion while also pointing out that the comedy content is sinking close to zero. And that’s fine: unlike the various Gruen shows, this at least is telling you stuff you probably didn’t already know in a non-condescending fashion (apart from that guy saying that online “if you’re not paying for something online, you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.” Uh, duh). But if you’re tuning in for the comedy, here’s hoping you find the news that actual food often looks nothing like its promotional photos freakin’ hilarious.

As for Have You Been Paying Attention?, unlike just about every other comedy quiz show in living memory, it’s often actually funny. In part that’s because it’s run as an actual quiz, not as a thinly disguised excuse for the “comedians” to tell pointless and endless anecdotes. A question is asked, someone gives a joke answer, someone else gives the right answer, next question.

Last time around some complained that the show felt overly scripted – or just plain scripted, as the argument seemed to be that no group could be that consistently funny off-the-cuff. Uh, what? You’d rather the show had more people umming and ahhing and making jokes that didn’t work? It’s not like they’re using fake laughter to make shit seem like gold: they’re putting in the work to make an actually funny show, and then people complain that it seems too funny?

Let’s kill this off while we’re here: if you prefer your comedy quiz shows to feature people more obviously fumbling for a joke, you can get out right now. Life is short and we’d like to spend as much as possible of it enjoying comedy. We’re making a firm aesthetic choice here: on this kind of show, where throwaway jokes are pretty much all you’re ever going to get, we want to get as many of them as possible. If that means not having the kind of bullshit “naturalism” that’s been all the rage for the last seemingly fucking endless decade of self-obsessed tosspots thinking that having everyone looking at them was the be-all and end-all of comedy, pardon us while we fail to shed a single solitary tear.

Whether they script all the jokes, or just edit out all the dud moments after filming or the entire show really does happen exactly as we see it on screen, we don’t really care. It’s not a “real” game show; no fraud is being committed. What counts is the end result – and like we just said, this is basically the only funny comedy quiz show this country’s produced in the 21st century. Because here, for once, the joke – not on-screen bonding or establishing someone as “a funny guy” or providing a wanker showcase, or whatever the reason was for The Einstein Factor –  is the point.

Would we rather it was replaced by an actual scripted comedy series that didn’t have to act like a topical news quiz? Of course. But as producers Working Dog seem to have at least two scripted comedy series in the pipeline (one for the ABC, one for Foxtel) plus a honest-to-God play coming up in 2014, we can’t really complain that they’re wasting all their time on this crap.

Not to mention that this kind of crap is the crap they do best: a slightly daggy quiz show featuring occasionally dubious gags (at least when Tommy G said Sam Pang played “The Guard” in the Schapelle Corby telemovie, Pang pointed out that hey, why not have him play all the Asian roles?), shonky segments (there were more jokes about how bad the “Drill Down” segment was than jokes in the actual segment) and Jane Kennedy calling Mick Molloy “Don Burke”.

Everyone seems like friends, but the kind of friends who constantly try to one-up each other with a gag. Which are pretty much the only kind of friends we want to see on our televisions. Most of the time comedy quiz shows and half-arsed panel shows look like something all involved tossed off in their spare time without bothering to hide their contempt for the audience they expect to drool all over their “hard work”. When someone comes along and puts in a bit of effort to make the end product funny, they’re going to get two thumbs up from us.

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11 Comments

  • saucy gibbon says:

    Panel shows don’t need to be scripted to be funny. British panel show are often very funny working off the cuff and even if they are scripted they don’t make it look like it. I don’t see much fumbling for jokes, maybe the problem is the comedians on these shows.

  • Rutegar says:

    “most of it isn’t even trying to be funny…”

    Exactly !

    Yes, there is a scandalous deficit of talent, but that is also due in large part to the above statement. Australian politicians, business, and – yes the people – DON’T WANT razor-sharp, introspective, piss-take comedy the standard of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert dissecting Australian culture. (THE CHASER boys must hate the housewife-targeted shit they’ve been reduced to now.)

    That’s why we get neutered powder puff (housewife-targeted) airballs like MAD AS HELL which will always be a pale imitation.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Micallef is a once a week show compared to weeknightly show of Colbert and Stewart. He does not have the time to go in depth.

    Also I have rarely seen him exhibit the pathetic sycophancy that Colbert and Stewart show when most celebrities or politicians show up on their show. As well as avoiding their jingoistic moments.

    Also what’s wrong with housewives?

  • Andore Jr. says:

    Watched Mad As Hell on the weekend.
    The best comedians and the best comedy happens when the person(s) doing the comedy just do not care about the reaction – if Michallef screws a joke up or it falls flat, you won’t see it written all over his face if he is fretting about next weeks TV guide write up.
    The inherent problem with panel comedian shows is that every joke is made against the backdrop of peer approval along with audience approval.

    The best way to illustrate my point would be Andrew Dice Clays “The Day The Laughter Died”. By far his best comedy work, most of it unscripted, all of it going down without any care in the world about the outcome or reaction.

  • Rutegar says:

    To be clear, there’s nothing “wrong” with housewives.

    And I accept that some may wish with all their hearts that suburban Australian housewives decided the comedic tastes and standards for an entire culture / nation / generation. (Imagination-deficient marketing departments chief amongst them.)

    But I am one of the kooky types who thinks that “comedy” shouldn’t always be so safe, so cuddly, with a warm smile and nicely coiffed hair. Comedy that’s more than just affable amusement. Pleasantly odd, but never going to outrage the powers that be in any way. COMF-EDY anyone ?

    Seditious as it sounds, I admire comedy that — gasp — may even piss people off at times and risk alienating them and spook the shit out of the Establishment. Which is why THE CHASER boys and NORMAN GUNSTON and MAX GILLIES will leave a greater comedy legacy than that nice handsome Shaun Micallef. The others weren’t quite so obsessed with being liked by the aforementioned housewife set (to the delight of the marketing department).

    Indeed, it’s been said that the landmark comedies of the past that defined generations — THE GOON SHOW, MONTY PYTHON, THE YOUNG ONES — helped decide what 15 year old boys like.

    Make of that what you will.

    PS : …

    “if Michallef screws a joke up or it falls flat, you won’t see it written all over his face …” ?!?

  • saucy gibbon says:

    The Chaser used shock humour but it always played it fairly safe. It never actually pissed off the establishment, unless your idea of establishment is Today Tonight/ACA and Andrew Bolt. There points were never much beyond the sentiment ‘all politicians are liars anyway’ which any two bit comedian can make jokes about. They never go further than their target audience’s established views. When did The Chaser ever criticize a specific piece of policy? All they ever did was stuff like go up to a politician in speedos, ask trivia questions to politicians and go after fish in a barrel targets like current affairs shows.

  • Rutegar says:

    Um … there was a masterful stunt embarassing the ineptitude of security at APEC which earned international headlines …

    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/top-cop-livid-over-chaser-apec-stunt/story-e6freuy9-1111114365813

    Nearly earned them criminal charges which of course had to be dropped because they were crap !

    and THE CHASER also lobbied hard to get the ridiculous satire restrictions at the Australian Parliament House overturned — making life a lot easier for comedians to follow.

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/11/29/parliament-house-media-rules-satire-in-photoshop-out/

    But I digress …

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Obviously this is all subjective.

    I agree with sg The Chaser usually played it safe about as much as Micallef. There was that one time with MAWF but they apologised unreservedly. So that doesn’t count. However as they got older they’ve firmly become part of the ‘establishment’ allowing politicians on THW and trying to become respectable ‘presenters’. Micallef on the other hand has always acted up if it his Olivier impression at the Logies ( a dig at the winners treating the Logies as if it was the Oscars) and refusing playing to ball on that morning show with Paul Henry. Now making fun of your peers and your employers now that’s pissing off the ‘establishment’.

  • saucy gibbon says:

    In the last series of The Hamster Wheel they had almost every politician under the sun appearing on the show to be made out they are likeable and funny. I don’t think it’s pissing of the establishment if they are bending over to help them.

  • Rutegar says:

    And like that wonderful circular ditty from the Deep South THERE’S HOLE IN MY BUCKET … we get back to the beginning …

    —————————–

    “most of it isn’t even trying to be funny…”

    Exactly !

    Yes, there is a scandalous deficit of talent, but that is also due in large part to the above statement. Australian politicians, business, and – yes the people – DON’T WANT razor-sharp, introspective, piss-take comedy …

    ———————-

    Of course Harry Belfonte could do it better …

  • saucy gibbon says:

    Finally saw an episode of Have You Been Paying Attention and can’t understand your support all the jokes are so obvious and not funny. Only a bit better than Spicks & Specks but thoroughly mediocre.