It’s a Death Row Pardon Two Minutes Late

Here’s a thought: does it mean anything that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – supposedly one of the world’s greatest live comedy festivals, at least according to their own publicity – is happening at a point in time when there is literally no long-form Australian comedy being shown on mainstream television?

Sure, there are a handful of shows that the ABC brands as comedy, but come on: The Weekly is a news-slash-interview show with sarcasm, Luke Warm Sex is a documentary, Home Delivery is an interview show, The Last Leg isn’t even Australian and The (forthcoming) Checkout is consumer affairs. There isn’t even a shitty panel show on at the moment: sitcoms and sketch comedy are now special treats only doled out a handful of times a year.

And yet Australia has provided comedy fans with “the best comedian in the world“. That would be Sam Simmons:

Last year’s winning show made clear that there is nothing random about Simmons’ comedy. Spaghetti for Breakfast featured much of the kinds of tomfoolery for which he is known, from snorting breakfast cereal to wearing a lettuce leaf as a wig, from delivering thundering tirades against people who don’t remove their bike helmets in shops to singing jingles about Laurence Fishburne. But just when things were approaching peak madcap, Simmons opened a tiny window onto his childhood that left people in tears.

All the best comedians leave their audience in tears, of course.

So what does it say about the level of interest in putting comedy on our televisions when we have “the best comedian in the world right here and yet none of our networks can be arsed putting comedy to air? Are they really so out of touch that they’re ignoring the huge mass of talent on their doorstep? Or is television comedy simply something now that only other countries do?

Of course, part of the problem with that argument is that Australian television – well, the ABC – has been extremely supportive of Simmons’ career pretty much from the outset, giving him regular work on both Triple J and jTV before airing his two television series, The Urban Monkey and Problems. Unfortunately, despite this support, Simmons never really caught on with a wider audience here and has spent much of the last few years honing his career overseas… while occasionally mentioning the lack of support he felt he was given in his home country.

But now a man “who works harder than most to eradicate being beige and full of cynicism,” and who had to move overseas to find “an enthusiastic audience for his journeys into bread shoes, taco kits, slap-and-run (the worst game ever) and disco broccoli” (remember: there is nothing random about Simmons comedy) is “the best comedian in the world”. What then does it say about Australia that he couldn’t make a go of a television career here – and that, going by the current television listings, pretty much no-one else can either?

To return to Simmons’ career, he won the awards that made him “the best comedian in the world” for an act that involved him snorting breakfast cereal and wearing a lettuce leaf as a wig: is it possible that his material, while extremely effective in a live setting, may not transfer well to television? And that by being the standard bearer for quality live comedy in this country – hello, he’s “the best comedian in the world” – with a brand of live comedy that has a relatively niche appeal, his supporters are sending out a message to non-comedy buffs that perhaps stand-up comedy isn’t for them?

Simmons isn’t up there with Dave Hughes or Wil Anderson, but he’s hardly an unknown either. He’s been a semi-regular on various panel shows in recent years, especially Dirty Laundry Live; he had his own episode of Home Delivery last year. So when the press says he’s “the best comedian in the world”, its not just heaping praise on him, its telling readers about what comedy actually is. You know that guy you saw getting surreal with Lawrence Mooney? The one who told Julia Zemiro about his troubled childhood? He’s “the best comedian in the world”.

So if you don’t find him funny – if you read an article telling you he became “the best comedian in the world” for balancing a chocolate bar on top of his skull and saying “I’ve got a Bounty on my head” and you think “eh, whatever” – then this kind of praise for Simmons is telling you that, well, you know that comedy thing? Maybe it isn’t for you. What Sam Simmons does is the best comedy in the world; if you don’t find it funny, then maybe comedy is something you’d best avoid.

Clearly this is totally insane. Nobody is going to avoid an entire genre of entertainment simply on the basis of one line in one article printed in a Sunday newspaper. Whether you find him hilariously funny or not, Simmons is just one man: anyone could refute in a second the idea that he symbolises the entirety of Australian comedy, as there’s just so many other different examples of Australian comedy available to watch out there on the… uh… oh yeah, right.


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  • EvilCommieDictator says:

    LOL! So Randum rofl

    How about Planking? Wasn’t that just lying down?

  • reason says:

    >Are they really so out of touch that they’re ignoring the huge mass of talent on their doorstep?

    Well…there is a ‘mass’ of people who are heard. The problem to some extent is the ‘mass’ who are heard are at best self promoters and networkers. There is no mass of talent, just a mass of untalented noise. The key is to identifying the tiny proportion of those with talent; unfortunately, most of these would never dream of competing with loud idiots.

    The networks themselves, to their credit, can probably even tell these this loud mass lack talent. The best they can do is give someone from the loud mass a shot every now and then, realise they’ve made a big mistake, and become more cautious about funding stuff in future.

    So in this sense it’s not entirely the networks’ fault, but it offers an explanation as to why they are ignoring comedians: the only ones they hear from are uninteresting self promoters. We see this time and again, from all networks. And what all of these comedians have in common is a careerist motivation only rivalled by politicians. But comedy isn’t politics, it’s special and the funniest people are usually a bit odd. In Australia the way the economy is, these oddballs don’t have time to sell themselves to networks. Most are working jobs and couldn’t imagine having the time to cultivate their personal ‘brand.’

    The problem with networks/funding shows is systemic, and it requires innovation and risk to break through that loud mass into the quiet and talented. Producers are better off getting in touch with people they think have potential, and asking them “hey, I want to give you some money to come up with ideas for a TV show.” Since the logic of funding shows by people who are loud and untalented clearly doesn’t work, it doesn’t sound so stupid to give a quiet person a shot.

    rant over

  • Kay says:

    Sam Simmons is a decent comedian, but not what I would call Australia’s best. Some of his comedy is a bit lazy (particularly if you are not a fan of slapstick/surreal – aka sticking cabbage leaves on your head). Even Wil Anderson, one of the most recognised Australian comics, recycles the same sort of material a lot.

    Agree with the post by reason that it’s not always talent that sees Australian comedians score TV shows or paid gigs on radio, etc. Some of the funniest shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival are often from people with no media presence (I saw a extremely funny show from a comedy group about the history of everything a few years back, who are a great example of this). Like much of the Australian arts scene – it’s connections and relationships that often elevate first and foremost, with talent being the second metric. This is especially with commissioning executives at the ABC.

    Still it’s not all bad news. There are at least more paths for Australian comics to rise in prominence these days, even if some opportunities have shrunk.