You know how sometimes you get an idea stuck in your head and you just can’t shake it? No, we’re not talking about wondering why Tom Gleeson has his own show; we mentioned this line from The Guardian’s review of Get Krack!n a while back –
Not long ago, most of us had never heard of Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney; now we can barely imagine Australian comedy without them.
– and while we pointed out at the time it was a bit off-base considering their lengthy comedy careers, the fact that a professional television reviewer would think it was a reasonable observation has stuck with us.
See, it’s not like the two Kates lunged at Australian comedy from out of nowhere. Kate McLennan’s career includes a range of comparatively high-profile sketch shows (Let Loose Live, Live From Planet Earth, The Mansion), while Kate McCartney also has a bunch of sketch work to her name (Big Bite, Hamish & Andy) and appearances on a range of Australia’s increasingly popular dramedies (Offspring, The Time of Our Lives). They’re not new to this.
But what’s happened in the decade since they both started their comedy careers is that Australian television comedy has lost pretty much all interest in developing new talent. The networks are more than happy to find new talent and give them a go – see the ABC’s endless run of online-only talent competitions – but as far as giving anyone a chance to actually go beyond being “the next big thing”… yeah, nah.
Partly that’s because those sketch shows the Kates were in were… well, they were shit. Sketch comedies pretty much died out here a decade ago and they’d been mostly rubbish for about a decade before that. But that was largely because they were written by the same tight-knit group of shithouse writer-producers who have since gone onto fortune and infamy while the actual talent on the shows was hung out to dry.
Without sketch shows, Australian television has done a disastrous job of developing the next generation of comedy talent. Both The Chaser and Hamish & Andy have been around for close to 15 years; Chris Lilley got his big break on Big Bite over a decade ago. Working Dog and Shaun Micallef have been around for twenty years or more. Wil Anderson is no spring chicken. Neither are the Gristmill team. You get the picture.
That’s not to say no-one’s risen through the ranks. Anne Edmonds is getting a bit of attention at the moment thanks to the one-two punch of her appearances on Get Krack!n and her own series The Edge of the Bush, but she’s had five years of relatively steady work since her debut on Wednesday Night Fever (mostly with sketch troupe Fancy Boy, but also on Dirty Laundry Live) to hone her skills. We can talk about talent and having the right attitude to comedy until we’re blue in the face, but if you’re not getting a regular chance to develop your skills you’re not going to be able to make decent television.
The obvious solution is to clear out the dead wood – and with Chris Lilley at least, that seems to have happened. But the oldies are still funny; the problem isn’t that we’re not getting (some) good comedy, it’s that we’re not giving the next generation – or at this stage, the one coming up after that – the chance to become as good as the oldies they’ll eventually replace. There’s simply nowhere for people to seriously develop their television skills, which means that even when skilled comedy performers get promoted to the big leagues (well, the Australian big leagues, which, ha) they often stumble. Remember Woodley? Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane? Problems? Super Fun Night? Okay, not that last one.
Like all right-thinking people, we’re really enjoying Get Krack!n. But it’s not without flaws. Some of the ideas are great in theory but not in practice, the tone can be a little too all over the place, occasionally episodes seem to lose their way and some of the segments land more firmly on “weird” than they do “funny”. Is it better than most ABC comedy? No doubt. Is it better than the second season of The Katering Show? Maybe not.
The Kates made their comedy debuts on sketch shows well over a decade ago. Imagine what they’d be capable of now if they’d been able to get steady work in television comedy for the last decade. Imagine how much more choice we’d have when it comes to comedy today if there’d been steady work available for anyone in television comedy over the last decade. This country has a shitload of comedy talent out there getting rusty while nobody at the networks seems to have any idea how to use them.
Mind you, Tom Gleeson’s got his own show.