What is it with comedians getting all cathartic and emotional in their old age on shows like Anh Do’s Brush with Fame?
Arguably, the rot started a decade ago with Enough Rope, where Andrew Denton asked famous people uber researched questions designed to make them cry. Most of them did (although props to Judith Lucy who famously didn’t rise to it).
Since then, TV producers have taken the celebrities crying idea and made it more high-concept. We’ve seen them looking into their genealogy and crying over their long-dead ancestors in Who Do You Think You Are? We’ve seen them getting all emotional when Julia Zemiro drives them back to their childhood home in Home Delivery. Now, celebrities are getting their portrait painted by Anh Do while he interviews them about their lives. And they’re crying again. And that’s before they see the painting he’s done!
To be fair, the painting Do did of last night’s guest Magda Szubanski wasn’t bad. She was complementary, anyway. And the big reveal of the portrait was preceded by some interesting chat about Szubanski’s life. Well, interesting if you want to hear about Szubanski’s Polish Resistance family, and her struggle with mental illness and her sexuality, stories which are already well-known if you saw her on Who Do You Think You Are? or read her autobiography Reckoning.
[SIDEBAR: Speaking of Reckoning, was anyone else annoyed that there was very little about Szubanski’s comedy career in there? We learn how she got into comedy and about some of her career highlights, but if you’re after an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the making of The D-Generation or Fast Forward, or even Kath & Kim, you’ll be disappointed.]
Anyway, what’s most interesting about shows like Brush with Fame – to us – is that their existence suggests that comedians doing comedy really, really isn’t something the general public want to see anymore and/or something broadcasters are happy to broadcast anymore. Famous comedians doing almost anything other than comedy = Ratings hit. Comedians doing what they’re famous for, comedy? = Sorry, we have no money for that.
And while Brush with Fame does what it sets out to do perfectly well, it seems kind of like a missed opportunity. Both Magda Szubanski and Anh Do are pretty funny when they’re on form, imagine what they could do if they were given half an hour of TV and the brief “Just be funny”.
Comedy is hard. Really really hard. Doing it well is even harder. Martin/Molloy wrapped things up after three years becuase it was too damn exhausting.
Light entertainment is much easier. And that’s what more than half of the “comedy slots” are nowadays. Light entertainment. IT’s soft, it’s fluffy, you can have a few minor weeps, and nobody has to get exhausted.