It’s taken us so long to get around to reviewing Black Comedy that we might as well just cut to the chase: it was pretty good. Any sketch that features Moses saying “These laws are the word of God, dickhead” is a winner with us, and while – as most of the online reviews we saw pointed out – the show was fairly uneven quality-wise, that’s (to us at least) something of a strength in a sketch show. The whole point of doing sketches is variety: if you’re trying something different each time, you’re bound to have an uneven result.
Of course, there’s uneven where the difference is between great sketches and brilliant ones, and then there’s uneven as in the first episode of Black Comedy. But even then we’re talking about sketches that were, you know, actual sketch comedy. Housewives of Narromine might not have been built around a brilliant idea – a bitchy mum discusses how selfish her daughter-in-law is, and by “selfish” she means “gave birth when the mum wanted to go to bingo” – but an ending where everyone makes repeated tisk tisk sounds like a Skippy the Bush Kangaroo impersonation competition was a capper to what we’d seen and funny in its own right. Pay attention, Australian sketch comedians: sometimes it’s a good idea have an actual punchline.
The other big strength of Black Comedy is that it’s making jokes about real things. Much as we love the work of Shaun Micallef, he could be considered a bad influence on a lot of sketch comedy in this country: he can make surreal twists and random asides work because he knows just when to use them (and doesn’t use them all that often – it’s just that “release the Kraken!” and having his science advisor be a charred skeleton are the kind of things people remember). But if you don’t have his skill to back it up – and you’re already a fan of the kind of whimsical comedy the UK’s been punching out ever since a whole bunch of guys misunderstood the work of Chris Morris – it’s way to easy to just make random jokes that don’t mean shit.
So there’s a reason why “Blakforce” was the sketch that people were talking about from Black Comedy: jokes about the idea of “acting black” are funny because it’s a real thing in our society – and most of us are aware, if only vaguely, that while there isn’t an actual police force driving around enforcing it, it is a rule that our society takes seriously. Australia in a lot of ways is just a big country town, and in country towns everyone has to know (and stay in) their place. It didn’t hurt that they built up to it with a solid minute’s worth of dead serious reality police-style television just to make it hit home harder. Plus trying to smuggle your mates into the footy in the boot of a car is the kind of real (and real dumb) thing that’s a solid capper to a sketch where a guy’s forced to dance to prove his blackness.
That said, there was plenty of the usual “LOL random” stuff going on here too – you’ll know it when you see it – and while it’s not to our taste we did say something earlier on about sketch shows needing variety and we can’t deny that having a couple of gay guys gyrating around constantly saying “what’s dis den slut” is probably the kind of thing someone (else) finds funny. And a restaurant sketch? Guess there’s a few people who didn’t get a lifetimes’ worth of those back in the Full Frontal days.
So while overall this was good rather than great, the stuff that worked on the whole worked pretty well. After the nadir of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting and This Is Littleton, we’ve had a few sketch shows now (well, this and Kinne) that seem to have realised it’s not simply enough to have a quirky point of view – that point of view’s got to be grounded in real life situations.
Black Comedy isn’t quite up there with the 80s classic BabaKiueria when it comes to pointing out the cultural divide in Australia, and as sketch comedy it’s more on par with Kinne than The Micallef P(r)ogram(me). But we laughed and we’ll happily watch it again: for a sketch show on the ABC that’s a pretty decent result.