The Wisdom of Crowds

There’s a whole lot of ways you can try to make a television show funnier. Two of the more popular ones are a live audience and editing out the boring bits. So how is it that Have You Been Paying Attention? seems to know how to use both in a way that actually does result in a funnier show while Gruen uses them to drain the life and energy out of every episode?

When HYBPA? first started up, there was rumblings from various quarters that its editing style somehow made it feel fake. We didn’t feel it ourselves, but those who did made a reasonable case: rather than unfolding naturally like a quiz show watched as it happened, the editing was used to tighten up the question and answer segments, giving the show a pace it couldn’t sustain if it took place live. The problem in some viewers eyes was that the appeal of a quiz show in part comes from the natural back-and-forth between all involved – turn it into a rapid-fire gag-fest and you might as well script the whole thing because you’re cutting out the fun of seeing people think on their feet.

To which we say: watching someone think is a lot less funny than watching someone deliver a funny line. And what’s become rapidly clear over the, what, 100 episodes of HYBPA? that have gone to air is that it’s a show perfectly happy to let people piss-fart about when they’re being funny. If a question doesn’t lead to a funny answer it’s cut down to the bare essentials and then they move on. The editing is in service of the laughs – as a show where the main goal is not to educate but to be funny, everything that isn’t funny hits the floor.

Gruen, on the other hand, is not a show that’s trying to be funny in quite the same way. Will Anderson’s comments are the “jokes”; the rest of the show (especially the panel stuff) largely stands or falls on the work of the panelists. So the goal is to loosen things up a bit more and actually have a more free-flowing back-and-forth taking place, because it’s the overall vibe of the show – not the snappy one-liners – that is meant to make it worthwhile.

But instead of low-key, unobtrusive editing that would foster the illusion of a bunch of mates just having a chat in front of the cameras, Gruen instead manages to cram in a bunch of moments each episode where they clumsily cut away to show the live audience laughing hysterically for a result that couldn’t shout “EDIT!” more loudly than if they hired Dave Hughes in full on “angriiii” mode to proclaim it. There’s a lot less obvious editing going on in Gruen than in HYBPA?, but every big edit really shatters the mood of the show.

The irony is that while the editing in HYBPA? works to make the show funnier – cutting away the fat, remember – the editing on Gruen is clearly there to try and convince the audience at home that they’re watching a funny show. Why else, when you have a four person panel plus a host that you could cut to when you wanted to hide an edit, do they almost always instead cut to a shot of the studio audience laughing merrily away?

Meanwhile HYBPA?, which also has a live audience, only ever shows them when coming back from an ad break. It’s almost as if they know that actually being funny is a much better way to get laughs than trying to tell the viewers that something funny just happened. We hear them laughing often enough; why slow down the pace of the show by showing us them as well?

We’re not saying the Gruen team don’t know what they’re doing – obviously these are distinct stylistic choices that they’ve chosen to make. We’re just not entirely sure why they’ve gone for these choices when all they do is slow the show down and make it feel like they think their viewers are idiots. The whole “cut to audience” thing is usually done on talk shows to signal a live segment is over; it makes sense to make an obvious edit there as when they cut back to the host time will obviously have passed. But on Gruen often they just do it after a joke, cut back to Anderson making a follow-up comment, then the show proceeds as usual. So why do it unless you feel you need to say to your audience “you just saw something funny”?

Obviously we’ve been thinking too much about this stuff. But can you blame us? We’ve got an obscure and largely ignored blog to run and there’s been nothing big happening in Australian comedy for weeks. So considering this seemingly endless post about editing (editing?!) a warning: someone better hurry up and announce some terrible sounding Chris Lilley series or Marieke Hardy solo project, Sam Simmons sitcom or Please Like Me movie, or we’re going to have to go out and buy a copy of Ben Pobjie’s comedy history of Australia and review that. And trust us, nobody wants that.


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  • Bernard says:

    Well I don’t ignore you guys.

    Why don’t you put your considerable journalistic skills to use and see what’s happening with those six comedy pilots the ABC ran earlier this year.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Didn’t we already answer that question? Anyway, this is a total guess backed up by zero research, but the answer is: none of those pilots will ever go to series because the ABC only has a very limited number of sitcom / sketch slots per year (three? four?) and all of them are booked up for the next year or so at least.

    Comedy Showcase only went to air as a way for the ABC comedy department to get cheap programming by airing pilots: after two years of Fresh Blood – the winners of which all seem to basically be financed by the online arm of US networks, which tells you how much actual investment the ABC is putting into making new comedy – why would they run a totally separate competition to find a completely new show they’d then have to pay money to make?

    (that said, if a US network decided they wanted to put money into any one of those pilots the same way they did Please Like Me or Soul Mates, then we’d see them on air in a heartbeat)

  • Wilful Ignorance says:

    Back when Working Dog launched Thank God You’re Here, they talked about editing a lot, and the fact that shows like Good News Week and The Glasshouse (I’m fairly sure they named them) would edit every single pause out so it was rapid-fire content that shot jokes out at an unnatural rate. They said TGYH would sacrifice joke for pauses if it meant maintaining the natural rhythm of performance. This was a very savvy thing to do, and I think much of the success of TGYH was owed to this approach. So it doesn’t surprise me that they’ve carried it over to something like HYBPA.

    Gruen, meanwhile, continues to suffer from that oxygen-free machine gun approach, and is just one of the many reasons why it’s a difficult watch.