Vale Have You Been Paying Attention

Whoever thought it would come to this: after what – thirty weeks? – HYBPA? has finally left our screens. Well, for 2015 at least – it’s already been announced it’ll be back in 2016. And why wouldn’t it? You don’t let a show that nobody’s watching run for 30 weeks, even on Channel Ten.

For once, it’s not exactly difficult to figure out why people are watching it. Unlike just about every other comedy quiz or panel show made in this country, it doesn’t rely on comedians blathering away telling long-winded and only marginally humorous personal anecdotes. Instead, host Tom Gleisner sets up a news gag, the contestants fire off a comedy answer or two, we get the real answer and we move the fuck on.

We find ourselves saying this a lot because it’s true: if you can’t make one brilliant joke, you’d better make a whole lot of shit ones because at least then you’ve got some chance of getting a laugh. And HYBPA powers through the gags, using a fairly straightforward format – none of those shitty “games” that pad out shows like The Chaser’s Media Circus here – to throw out as many punchlines as possible.

When the show first aired there was a bit of discussion as to whether the answers were scripted. Our view: who cares? Presumably a bunch of the answers are scripted (or at the very least workshopped) beforehand, but so long as they’re funny we’re fine with it. That’s because we like to laugh at our comedy rather than sit there waiting for some endless dead-air story to finish before the next question.

No doubt there are people out there for whom the rapid-fire, suspiciously perfect nature of the replies gets in the way of the casual vibe they look for in a comedy quiz show, but let’s be honest: in Australia we simply don’t have enough comedians who can be off-the-cuff funny in a relaxed way. We’ve had a decade or more of shit comedy quiz shows allowing various blow-ins to waffle on about their carpark adventures; it’s time to let the people who can actually write jokes have a go.

That said, what we do have plenty of in this country is moderately funny breakfast radio jocks somewhat overqualified for their current job back-announcing Taylor Swift and taking calls on dubious talkback topics. Pretty much the only thing their day job trains them to do is get in fast with a one-liner; it’s kind of surprising it’s taken this long for someone to come up with a television show that utilises their abilities.

Unfortunately, with the show itself optimised for the kind of media personality who talks over the top of everyone else – and here the game show format really proves its worth, as Gleisner literally gets to tell everyone else to shut up while someone speaks – they’ve had to introduce “guest quizmasters” to showcase the usual crew of generally pointless people with something to promote. For a while there it looked like this was going to do some serious damage to the show, and even now it remains a bit of a dead zone. But the contestants – mostly Ed Kavalee – have started cracking wise about the quizmasters and with Gleisner keeping things moving it’s now generally tolerable at worst. Unless there are politicians on.

Have You Been Paying Attention isn’t flashy, or fancy, or bringing any hot new talent to our attention. It’s a basic, bare-bones show focused on being funny, and for the most part it succeeds. It’s the kind of show it’s easy to overlook, because it doesn’t do much beyond getting the job done.

Australian television could do with a lot more like it.

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  • yeps says:

    In a weird way, I sometimes adore those guest quizmaster bits. Sure, there is the dead-air let’s-all-play-nice ones, but other times…

    Because there are few things sweeter than when the Working Dog team (and their collaborators) bite the hand that feeds, and seeing a slew of Bachelorette rejects get condescended to and belittled as they were contractually paraded through the HYBPA studio was lovely. Never too cruel, but just long enough to make it clear that this was an unwelcome intrusion, and to bang out a couple of references to Rohypnol.

  • Andrew says:

    I was one of those who criticised the overly-scripted nature of the answers in the show’s early days but by now I’ve glossed over that (or perhaps they’ve just got better at making it sound ad-libbed) and it’s one of the few shows I would actually now look forward to watching. Bring on 2016!