The Future Of Comedy Will Cost You Plenty

Now that their target has been reached, we can now safely direct your attention to the crowdfunding campaign to support A Rational Fear in their efforts to “commission a 10-week season of digital comedy to fill the void of political satire in this country.” Does anyone really think there’s a “void of political satire in this country”? We’re getting 20 episodes of Mad as Hell this year, plus the weekly antics of Clarke & Dawe and the usual Chaser hijinks on top of that; if anything else, we’d say “political satire” was suffering a bit of a glut at the moment. But hey, at least they’re trying: you can donate for the next day or so here.

Also basking in the glow of managing to get people to pay up front for something that doesn’t exist yet is Catherine Deveny, who somehow has managed to get people to cough up A$10,000 to pay for “a short YouTube film called The Atheist Alphabet. It’s an A to Z of atheism that answers all the Frequently Asked Questions about atheism.” Does anyone have any frequently asked questions about atheism past “how can you be an atheist and still say ‘Oh My God’?”.

But wait! As is typical of Deveny’s work in general, it’s not really about anything more than Deveny herself: “The film will be 20 minutes or so, uploaded to YouTube. It follows me from waking in the morning to going to sleep as I travel through my beautiful Melbourne on my trusty bicycle with my dog Archie in the basket.” So… no graphics, no diagrams, no primary sources, no interviews with experts? Well, presumably her dog doesn’t believe in God so maybe Archie can bark into the mic a few times.

(at least it sounds better than this, which sounds not very good at all. Considering the online behaviour of both the participants, we’re fairly sure that just by mentioning the fact we don’t think it sounds like much fun qualifies us as “trolls” – if anyone reading this does end up going, let us know if we get a mention)

The usual line people roll out when it comes to crowd-funding is “hey, if people want to give money, go for it”. The problem with that stance is that once you have direct sources of funding everything that isn’t directly funded is suddenly under the pump. “If people really wanted to see your show, they’d pay money for it themselves” becomes the cry from some of the more manic corners of the room. And because this also seems to make sense, if you’re not careful you end up in the situation we currently find ourselves in with regard to transport, schools, hospitals and the like: those who can afford the good stuff get the good stuff, those who can’t have to make do with crap.

Putting aside for a moment that these “level playing fields” are never level – public transport has to account for every cent spent while private transport (cars) gets roads built everywhere at a massive subsidy, private schools can inflate their educational results by keeping disadvantaged kids out, etc etc – the other big problem with this approach is that you only end up getting the kind of comedy people are willing to pay for. If it turns out that angry political types have loads of cash to spend on “political satire”, that’s what we’ll get. Comedy that points out that rich people are often self-obsessed wankers and the internet is full of smug dickheads? Good luck getting funding for that.

“But you don’t have to watch it.” What, you think if people can turn up to a television network and say “we’ve got a show for you and you don’t have to spend a cent on it”, the networks aren’t going to pay attention? You do realise The Roast gets a run on ABC2 because The Comedy Channel decided to fund 150 episodes of it? It’s hardly the first time this has happened either: both Stupid Stupid Man and :30 Seconds appeared on the ABC after airing on pay TV. Sure, if you’re nobody – or crap – undercutting your rivals price-wise won’t make much difference. But if you don’t completely suck, crowdfunding could make just enough of a difference to put you on the air.

So colour us massively unsurprised that these two efforts – one aimed at the beating heart of inner-city self-righteousness, the other promising to make fun of all those politicians the internet gets so riled up about – met their targets with time to spare. They’re exactly the type of thing that gets crowd-funded – not because they promise to be all that funny, but because they appeal to people who have money.

Whether they’re the type of thing the rest of us want to actually watch remains to be seen.

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  • Rutegar says:

    Yup, the crowd funding model is a curious beastie.

    apparently one of the producers of the new VERONICA MARS movie is Joel Silver of DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON and host of other blockbusters fame.

    presumably he has arranged to get a percentage of the take from the movie (points as they say in the biz) which was largely funded by average schmoes who will be lucky to get a stable digital version of the film they can watch over the internet.

    if VERONICA MARS does happen to rake in a decent box office return, wait for the calls for a Class Action so the “investors” get their own cut of the green (although how it turns out is anybody’s guess).

  • BIlly C says:

    I think there is still a void. Clark and Dawe is one short clip a week. Mad As Hell while brilliant is one half hour a week. There’s a void in shareable online Australian satire.

    You make some good points about the sort of stuff crowd sourcing will create but I’d rather it happened than didn’t. Deveny is raising money to pay a crew. She’s not taking a fee for her short. She should. It will be interested how her show does now she’s not relying on the old Atheist schtick. She’ll get less men with beards along.

    It’s interesting that her donation amounts were so high. She went after people who could afford to spend big which proves your point.
    As for ABC putting on second run shows or co-pros, they don’t do it very often and if they weren’t running those shows they’d probably be running British or American shows.

    I’d argue all shows get commissioned because they are expected to appeal to the expected audience and crowd funding is the same.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    So ARF essentially wants to be The Onion\Buzzfeed\Gawker? Good luck.

    You could argue audiences are repaying ARF’s goodwill since they gave product out free so whatever. Deveny, Veronica Mars etc and their respective facs speak of some sticky accumulative circle jerk that neither party want to extract themselves of. It’s artistically infantile.

  • ricepicker says:

    i actually really like a rational fear so I don’t agree with your criticism. however I think comparing shows like the roast to private schools is a good way of looking at the problem. they’re opportunities for rich/connected people without talent who are unable to bring in any ratings or produce quality content, and yet somehow these types of shows inflate their ratings just as private schools inflate their results..and then they get to be on the air for yet another year. defenders might say this doesn’t hurt anyone but as you rightly point out this actually takes opportunities from disadvantaged people without contacts who might actually have the creativity to make a program we all want to watch.

    the bizarre thing about the roast in particular (I’ve met the team and even been to their offices) is that the head of the show is such a deluded idiot he actually thinks the roast rates well. the show has always had awful ratings both on air and online and the abc knows it. the other thing I know about the roast is that they bring in interns on a weekly basis so they can learn how to write comedy for tv (as if the writing team on the roast know anything about comedy they havent copied from seeing a few episodes of 30 rock). an interesting comparison is to look at the feed on sbs which came after the roast. the shows have a lot of similarities, but if you know where to find proper ratings and if you check out the online hits you can see that the feed rates higher. the roast as far as I can see is just a completely artificial attempt at a program that should have been stopped after the first year because it simply did not get any better after two years on air, and now we are getting yet another year of the same people trying to write the same awful comedy.

    what surprises me though is that the abc is committed to producing shows for ‘private school’ type creatives that are so obviously failures. to be honest I think a rational fear should have been given the roasts funding and slot this year (pretty sure the funding comes from special area at abc actually, not cc), because at least ARF has put in the hard yards building up audiences off air but the roast has never done anything to prove its worth. how is it fair to give a failing show yet another year when you have talented people like those at ARF ready to have a go? New talent needs to be given chances when others have had years to make things work.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    You make a decent point about giving The Roast’s funding to A Rational Fear (which we don’t really mind as a show – it’s certainly better than The Roast). A little too often it seems like it’s easier to just keep funding the same teams because they’ve proven their ability to produce “content”, even when that content is below par.

    We’d guess that someone somewhere at the ABC has staked at least some of their reputation on The Roast and will keep throwing money at them just to prove they didn’t make a terrible mistake. The second The Chaser decide to move on from their political comedy, The Roast will swoop in there.

  • ricepicker says:

    yeah the whole show is there because the guy who runs it is friends with that charles firth guy. it’s all pretty complicated but the guys who have sort of sold the show to the abc did it on the basis that young people need to have opportunities in television, so if you ever have the gall to criticise the show they’re going to fall back on the fact a lot of them are ‘young and inexperienced’ and that the show is only 10 minutes. in reality half the team have been in media and television for years now and it actually is not all that cheap to produce. basically there are a one or two decent people on the writing team but majority of them are smug white kids who can’t get over calling themselves comedy writers whilst doing anything they can to avoid telling jokes- it’s surprising how uncreative they are and yet how satisfied they are with themeselves.

    it’s really a pretty bizarre project, and the writing team hasn’t changed much at all from previous years so it should be interesting to see what happens when the show starts up in the next week or two. i have a suspicion it will remain inner-city smug and continue to avoid jokes (because apparently it’s better not to try jokes at all than to try jokes and fail.) the abc have acquired Fallon’s tonight show and the roast will now run after that so that should be interesting. I’m sure while people leave their tv on as they take a piss/shit break after fallon it will help the abc to trick everyone into thinking the roasts ratings are excellent while the online hits remain as a pitiful 200 per video on worldwide youtube.

    it’s sad because you’re right. these people will all end up taking the chasers spot or become producers who contribute to this corrupt system giving more and more chances to the wrong people. more pretend ratings, more pats on the back. the only thing we can hope for is that they offend someone in the liberal party so much that someone finally initiates a proper investigation into the financial legitimacy of this show (which employs more than 20 people). considering how sincerely ‘nice’ they are though I wouldn’t bet on them offending anyone, which is bizarre for a show that calls itself ‘the roast.’

  • Rutegar says:

    The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter, no strings attached. Those donors weren’t looking for a payout; they wanted to support something they believed in, and maybe get a pair of virtual reality goggles to play with. But when Facebook bought Oculus a year and a half later for $2 billion in cash and stock, backers wondered: what if I’d asked for equity instead of a poster?

    Kickstarter doesn’t allow creators to offer equity, and the company has said it never will. But a bunch of other crowdfunding sites will soon be launching to fill that gap.