Australian Story: Cry Me A River

It’s hard to know what to think when the ABC’s Australian Story decides to focus on a comedian. Once side of the coin is that Australian Story is a massively popular series with a huge reach: putting on a comedian is a great way to remind people that Australia actually does have professional funny people out there.

The other side is that Australian Story is pretty much 100% focused on horrifically grim tales of suffering with only the occasional ray of sunshine. If you’re a comedian and you’re on Australian Story, your tale might as well be titled “Tears of a Clown”.

And so it proved to be this week, as Corey White – winner of the Best Newcomer Award at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival – decides to team up with his sister and revisit the family haunts while recalling their mother’s massive drug abuse and their dad’s violent assholery. Yep, that’s what comedy’s all about in this country. Apropos of nothing, anyone grabbed a copy of Greg Fleet’s new book yet?

In 2003, as a member of the 2Day FM breakfast radio team, Fleet and his family, along with his co-hosts and a bunch of radio listeners, were flown to the Gold Coast to experience the different theme parks. But Fleet became desperate for a hit: “I told my wife and child that I was going out to get cigarettes from a nearby shop. I then kissed them both goodbye, walked out of the hotel, got a cab to the airport, flew to Sydney, scored heroin and made it back to the hotel about ten hours later.”

Side-splitting stuff.

To be fair, Corey’s grim childhood is the actual subject matter of his successful comedy act, thus making it slightly more appropriate for the Australian Story treatment. To be unfair, the first we ever heard of Corey White was this article, which seemed to go out of its way to make him seem less than hilarious:

All of my stand-up has a moral point. Ethical question are the only things I’m truly passionate talking about in stand-up. I’m not Seinfeld, I don’t care about socks going missing, I care about suffering and pain and our obligations to one another as human beings. I’m interested in injustice, my hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of broader society, the gap between lovely words and the horrible world. I’ve always liked that old saying, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That’s always resonated with my anal chakra.

Don’t worry if that sounds too confronting, because Australian Story‘s brought in knockabout larrkin Tom Gleeson to present this hard-hitting ep:


The first time I saw this guy was at a comedy gig in Bendigo. We were on the same bill together and he charmed the audiences with tales of his harrowing childhood.

He got comedy out of nowhere.

This is Corey White’s story.

If you feel like taking a day off work sick tomorrow, ponder just how much Gleeson was paid for saying those four sentences. Even if he did it for free, it’s too much. Sure, he turns up later on as well, but there he’s part of the story – a co-worker in comedy, if you will. Up front, he’s Tom Gleeson, Presenter. Four sentences. The last two are more like sentence fragments.

And for those of you who thought we were slandering Australian Story by suggesting it was only interested in the grim and ghastly when it comes to choosing which “Australian Stories” to tell, this is the second line Corey says in this episode:

COREY WHITE (voiceover): I thought I’d be dead by now.

Still, we do get to see some of Corey’s award-winning stand-up material, so it’s not a complete loss.

COREY WHITE: I think the hardest thing about growing up in foster care is, as an adult, trying to relate to the childhood difficulties of middle-class people. “Oh, your parents divorced when you were 17. That must have been tough. ‘Cause, ah, when I was six my Mum tried to set my Dad on fire.”

Actually we’re just assuming that’s his material, because his non-comedy material is pretty much along the same lines.

COREY WHITE (voiceover): I only have one good childhood memory. There was a man walking his dog down the street. The man fell over and he just squealed as he fell. That was my first memory and that’s a happy memory.

The second memory is walking in on my Dad raping my mother. I heard Mum crying and I opened the door and I saw.

It’s repeated tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 10am on ABC1, and then again on ABC24 on Sunday at 6.30pm. Or any time you like on iView. Or read the transcript here.

Next week’s Australian Story is about dressmaker Collette Dinnigan. She must have lost her hands in a pinking shears accident or something.

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  • dfd says:

    Not entirely sure what you’re going for here. I know you guys are professionally surly but this feels like outrage in search of an opinion.

    Fair point about Australian Story being obsessed with grim topics, but not sure why the need to attack White. His material kinda lays there from being cut up haphazardly in the Aus Story ep, but the Cane Toad show is good and worth seeing.

    Doesn’t help that the editors always cut away from or mute the audience, making his standup sections very odd.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    There’s that whole Stewart Lee bit about ‘sad comedy’ that springs to mind. But at least it’s different to the usual shite.

  • Billy C says:

    White’s show was really good this year. I’d say 4 stars and considering he’s new to writing hours that’s a great effort. Didn’t watch Australian story.

    Gleeson would not have been paid. He would have been given about ten seconds to introduce a colleague so seems weird to criticise him. Not sure if this article is trying to criticise White, Gleeson, the Australian story format, the show for focusing on a comedian. Pointing out that a show about people triumphing over diversity does is still doing the same sort of story? Or perhaps you think the shows title should be changed?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    “triumphing over diversity”. Sorry, we know what you mean.

    We’re not really fans of the ABC’s fondness for the relentlessly grim. Too many episodes of Enough Rope will do that to you.

  • Billy C says:

    Okay so that’s not generally the expression, but triumphing is still a word.