Here we go again, for one last time… As a commenter on one of our previous blogs about Fresh Blood summed it up, it’s been “a mixed bag”, but there is some hope for the future of Australia comedy. And we stress the word “some” because given the quantity of known or semi-known comedy personnel involved, we’re starting to wonder if this is the only option out there for comedians to stay in work.
In A Woman’s World takes as its premise the idea that it’d be hilarious if women had historically been the dominant sex, largely because the world probably wouldn’t be a better place. With sketches about female cops harassing a guy for cheating on his girlfriend and how picking up would work with women making the moves they’re right about the “probably wouldn’t be a better place” bit but not so much about the “it’d be hilarious” bit. In one of their videos we see what porn would be like if it really did cater for women. Cut to a guy struggling to “keep it up”, except that “it” isn’t his penis but his pretence that kittens are lovely. Because that’s what women really want: kittens. And while it’s refreshing to see a sketch about gender relations in which clichéd women are parodied, we’d probably have laughed more if large numbers of women actually did prefer kittens to sex.
Speaking of clichés (and objecting to the cliché we’re about to object to is now a cliché itself) don’t you hate it when someone describes something as “like [THING] on acid”? Well, that’s how Puppets vs People was described in one promo we read: “Like The Muppets on acid”. In these sketches puppets live alongside humans quite normally, except the puppets we meet aren’t normal at all. How this is “on acid” as opposed to being a fairly standard concept of comedy, we’re not sure. Doing a typical prison scene only one of the prisoners is a puppet is one joke; in a five minute sketch you need a lot more than that.
Is Sam’s How To meant to be a parody of YouTube “How to…” videos? Or comedy sketches in the style of a “How to…” videos? Or are they examples of really well-made “How to…” videos? Okay, really well-made “How to…” videos with a sense of irony. As a parody it doesn’t work – the production values and the style of Sam’s presentation are way too professional – and as comedy sketches they’re kinda not funny enough, even if the advice is fairly shonky. But if you view them as well-made “How to…” videos with a sense of irony they’re quite a good watch. The piano one even has some suspense as you watch to find out how all the pieces are going to come together to sound like something semi-professional.
Also plundering the world of self-help videos for gags is The Write Stuff, a series of sketches featuring screenwriting gurus Noel and Carl Pennyman. Fake-tanned, balding and decked-out in 90’s tracksuits, sneakers and gold chains, these two have some misguided advice for wannabe writers. If you’re a writer or a wannabe writer you’ll be amused by gags about how screenwriters are at the top of the hierarchy on a movie set, and about the millions you can make from writing, but otherwise the irony may quickly wear thin. Like the world of Hollywood blockbusters this is satirising, this is glossy but lacking in real substance. And the quasi Tim & Eric “bad TV” approach really needs to be a lot worse if you want anyone to care these days.
The Experimental Research Institute at the University of Australia is the setting for We Live to Science Another Day, which begins with three science geeks panicking about how a wealthy benefactor has been sucked in to their worm hole. Helpfully, their Professor arrives to tell them that everything’s fine…except they end up choking him on a champagne cork. And that’s just the beginning of the complicated plotting, slapstick and over-the-top acting. For the audience it’s too much to absorb and mentally exhausting to keep up with, and while we don’t generally argue for either dumbing or slowing down in comedy, in these sketches that might be beneficial.
Another of the established names who were given the chance to make videos for Fresh Blood is Veronica Milsom, star of The Record, which consists of three sketches about record-breaking couples. Milsom is a good performer and these are well-made portraits of the three fictional couples but laughs are thin on the ground and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that after appearances in Mad As Hell, Hungry Beast, Live From Planet Earth and other shows, Veronica Milsom really didn’t need another opportunity to get herself out there.
Hipster culture is the topic of the Ultimate Fanj sketches, in which Charlie and Elias try to fit in with a group of cool, inner city types led by Tall Paul and Talla Paula. There’s an air of Fight Club about their exclusive hipster scene, which is based in a rundown inner city warehouse. Again, this is glossy and in a lot of ways well made, but light on gags – if it was slightly smarter we’d suggest the “style over substance” approach was meant to reflect the shallow hipsters Charlie and Elias face, but it really does just feel like lightweight mocking of cool dude pretensions (“handball was invented in Brooklyn in 2011”).
Completely improvised and filmed in one take, the Written It Down sketches are the brainchild of Matt Saraceni and Dave Zwolenski (from SBS’s A Dave In the Life). The first sketch, about a coach telling off a player for their on-court protests, escalates cleverly in to a farcical and amusing tale (others have a bit more flailing going on – the karate sketch for one takes a little too long to get going). Having said that, we can’t help wondering if even this sketch might have been funnier on stage in front of a live audience. On location, for video, it somehow loses some of its sparkle.
So… what did we learn from all that? Well, clearly sketch comedy is a lot healthier that you (and we) might have thought looking at the recent television offerings. Even if a lot of these Fresh Blood entrants already have television appearances under their belts. Which, as we pointed out, suggests that the actual comedy scene in general is pretty grim if a talent quest is the best way to get out there for experienced comedians who already have a following. Or maybe it was just an easy ten grand for them? Answers on the back of a postcard.
While a lot of these sketches are average at best, the sheer variety on offer is a useful reminder that with short sketches there’s no real reason why you shouldn’t try something a little different. Back when sketch comedy series were regulars on mainstream television, they usually went out of their way to mix things up; the recent (and by recent we mean “since around 2000”) trend for themed shows (ie, The Wedge) and series based on one performer’s “twisted take on modern society” (Kinne) often means a lot of sketches that feel a little too similar to each other.
If we had to make a recommendation – and we don’t and also who cares what we think – that would probably be it. Of course the ABC should offer more work to the funny teams, but as most of the funny teams are already established yet haven’t been given shows yet we’re not entirely sure our tastes and the ABCs overlap. But trying to make sure that any sketch comedy series in the future isn’t just the same kind of thing over and over? How hard could that be?