ABC2’s Comedy Up Late is the kind of Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) stand-up showcase we want to see on TV: a couple of cameras pointed at a stage in a comedy room, with some comedians coming out and doing well-honed, five-minute sets for a live audience. This isn’t like when Channel 10 comes in and films the MICF Gala, where 95% of the acts have one eye on the cameras and are doing their most mainstream routines so they won’t get edited out of the broadcast. Comedy Up Late, like Stand Up @ Bella Union, manages to preserve the feel of a comedy room, in all its smokey, dirty, boozy glory – and with (seemingly) minimal editing of the acts.
If you live in a rural area or somewhere like Perth or Darwin or Adelaide or Hobart, where there isn’t much of a live comedy scene, this kind of show is one of the few ways you can experience a wide range of live comedy acts. For that reason alone it’s worth making. Problem is, whoever programmed the line-up for Comedy Up Late seems to have a slightly more MICF Gala sensibility than a Stand Up @ Bella Union sensibility – meaning that the kind of comedy you get on Comedy Up Late tends more towards the “first world problems” end of the LOLZ spectrum.
For us, Stand Up @ Bella Union is a more interesting program – we hadn’t seen a number of the acts before, the majority weren’t white middle-class males under 30, and most of them were pretty good. Comedy Up Late certainly had plenty of good comedians, including a number who are female and/or non-white, and a few who have also appeared on Stand Up @ Bella Union. It’s just that, overall, the material was pretty mainstream. And at the risk of sounding like inverted snobs or hipsters, that’s not all that appealing to us.
Comedy, as an artform, tends to work best when an underdog is getting the laughs – when they’re standing up to authority or in opposition to someone in a position of privilege. White middle-class males under 30, relatively speaking, are in a position of privilege; amongst other things they’ve got youth on their side, multiple opportunities open to them and lots of choices they can make about the direction of their lives. Their comedy may well reflect the experiences and viewpoints of a significant section of the Australian population, but it’s also the kinds of experiences and viewpoints we already see quite a lot of on TV.
A comedy festival, by it’s nature, is somewhere you should and can see a number of different genres and sensibilities. And compared to Stand Up @ Bella Union, Comedy Up Late didn’t do a good enough job of bringing these to television.