When Tony Martin and Mick Molloy officially “split” as a comedy team in late 2007, the smart money was on Tony Martin coming out the winner. Wait, “the winner”? Who the fuck thinks like that? Whatever their personal differences, we don’t know either of them personally and so – because we’re not a pack of dickheads – we have no reason to take “sides” in whatever’s going on. They used to work together a lot; now they don’t.
Still, it’s useful to compare their relative careers, especially as prior to their “split” they’d both been largely working solo anyway. Shit, their last real official joint project had been the Martin / Molloy radio show back in the 1990s: Martin had helped out on Molloy’s “ill-fated” The Mick Molloy Show and they’d both appeared in and worked on each other’s solo movies (Bad Eggs for Martin, Crackerjack for Molloy), but they’d largely stayed away from each other’s radio shows (Molloy’s Tough Love, Martin’s Get This), only making rare – and, it should be said, to our ears somewhat awkward – appearances.
So when the News Corp papers ran a story in mid 2007 saying the duo was feuding – well, Martin was feuding, Molloy didn’t seem to be saying or doing much – realistically it didn’t make all that big a difference to their on-going careers. Which, at this stage, saw Martin in the middle of a resurgence thanks to the success of Get This while Molloy was… well, not doing quite so well.
His second film, Boytown, was a box office fizzle, and in Australia unless you can fund your own films (as Working Dog did with Any Questions for Ben?, the follow up to their financially disappointing The Dish), one flop means it’s all over: despite occasional references to a script set during Schoolies Week, Mick is yet to make a third film. His news comedy show The Nation also tanked; he hasn’t fronted a comedy show since. And when Tough Love wrapped in 2006, his headlining days on radio ended too.
And yet quietly over the last year or two Mick Molloy has been staging something of a comeback. We say “quietly” because while he’s firmly in the mainstream eye, he’s increasingly working outside the turf monitored by comedy nerds such as ourselves. Much as we’ve enjoyed Molloy’s work in the past, there’s no way we’re sitting through three hours of Triple M’s “The Hot Breakfast”, even if from what we see and hear it’s increasingly obvious that Molloy – and not fatuous AFL blowhard Eddie McGuire – is the star of the show.
Likewise we’re hardly fans of the pre-game waffle Seven slaps on before the AFL game on Saturday nights, but it’s increasingly clear that Molloy is more than holding his own there. Seems the axing of Before the Game on Ten was a blessing in disguise for him: while on that show he often seemed to rarely get much of a word in – for all his brash, blokey reputation it’s clear on panel shows that he isn’t one to shout over other people, but more on that in a minute – in a more knockabout context where he’s the sole comic relief he’s simply able to be funnier. Basically, someone like Lehmo works on a panel show because he’s pushy; Molloy works because he’s funny.
Which is why Molloy’s work on Have You Been Paying Attention? is what’s brought him back in focus. For a performer like Molloy, it’s the perfect set-up: improvised enough that his ability to be off-the-cuff funny stands out, structured enough with the quiz show format so you don’t spend the entire show waiting for Kate Langbroek to shut up. It’s hardly surprising that he’s rapidly become pretty much a regular there, as his jokey sleaze is both different enough from the other regulars (Sam Pang is kind of wry, Ed Kavalee is… enthusiastic?) and funny enough in its own right to make him a vital part of the show.
Originally this post was going to build up to Molloy’s first appearance on another show we figured would be a good showcase for him: Dirty Laundry Live. Uh… no. We haven’t been playing as much attention as we should have to DLL this year, so the fact that at 50 minutes it’s become something of a bloated and only occasionally funny drag had passed us by. Starting off an episode with 15 minutes (including introductions) on celebrity deaths and mass grieving didn’t exactly kick things off well either. Since when was this a serious look at the psychology of celebrity? Since when did anyone even want that?
For a live show it really could have done with an edit, even though then the monstering of Jane Gazzo probably would have been cut (she revealed at around the halfway mark that she’d been the personal assistant to Courtney Love for one solitary week, everyone piled questions on her – as you do – she waved them all off and basically said next to nothing for the rest of the episode). But even editing couldn’t have made this into a must for Molloy fans, as he returned to Before the Game mode: occasionally chipping in, telling a quick story or two, and generally not making much of an impression.
There are roughly a billion reasons to hate panel shows – you can start with “they’re shit” and work backwards – but here’s a big one: Mick Molloy is inarguably one of Australia’s most consistently funny comedians (which is to say, he’s still funny after 20 years). He’s a major talent and an asset to any show he’s on. But panel shows don’t give him a chance to shine, because – to be blunt – he’s not an arrogant arsehole (on television at least). When a format penalises a performer for a): being funny, and b): not being an arsehole, that’s a bad format.
Whether Molloy’s time in the sun will last long enough for him to get a solo project up – if he even wants to do one, as at the moment he seems content to work as a bit player – is a mystery. Maybe it won’t even last past this year’s AFL season. We’re just glad to have him back and being funny on our screens.
Now, if someone could figure out how to do the same for Tony Martin…