If you had to think of a single word to describe Australian television comedy – and that word was legally required to be complimentary – you couldn’t go far wrong with “polished”. Whatever the many, many many, many many many flaws with our nation’s comedy output, one thing it pretty much always manages to do is look like something put together by a crack team of very competent straight-faced professionals.
This is, of course, literal fucking death when it comes to comedy. Decent comedy has a bit of life to it, whether it’s the writers occasionally wandering off to amuse themselves or performances that go off in a direction you might not expect. Polished comedy can be great, but if there’s not a rough edge or surprise turn in there to let us know we’re watching something made by humans all you’ve got is one of those “hilarious” comedy ads from Gruen.
And it’s been a long time since Australian television saw a comedy with as much life to it as Get Krack!n. It wasn’t a particularly even show – though in what’s probably a plus, at Casa Del Tumbleweeds we couldn’t quite agree on which episodes were the duds – but when the structure was a bit shaky there was always plenty of golden moments and when the individual jokes were a bit iffy there was often a strong through-line that held it all together.
Just as importantly, it was a comedy getting laughs out of material that Australian television comedy hardly ever goes near. Rarely does the ABC deign to put on a show that dares to point out that hey, regular average not-that-bad Australian life is still often a bit shit for many people (especially women); it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a comedy series point out that television is largely focused on making us feel worse so they can sell us crap.
Not everything worked, and sometimes it didn’t work in odd ways. Take that seemingly endless segment where the Kates were asked to literally eat shit for Reconciliation. In theory it was funny (well, “funny”) because the Kates were so keen to do the right thing they’d do the worst thing; in practice there’s an Aboriginal person asking white people to eat his shit. What are we laughing at here?
But it was a show that would try that kind of thing, which is worth applauding in and of itself. Usually in Australian comedy by the time someone gets a TV show they’ve had their anger – and most of their personality – hammered out of them (or they’ve lived a life so focused on getting on TV there was never a personality there to begin with); there was never a moment’s doubt that Get Krack!n was coming from a place that was pretty goddamn angry at a whole lot of stuff. So even when the end result was a bit shaky there was a fire burning there we really don’t see enough of on our screens, especially in comedy.
There was plenty of more traditional elements to laugh at too – they never seemed to find an end to the funny ways to point out the cliches of television production, and as a double act The Kates are definitely up there with Australia’s all time greats. The rare times they made fun of themselves for doing their jobs “properly” (like the disaster episode, where they alternated between panic, despair, and glee at the boost their ratings would get from their coverage) were always entertaining too: the baseline of Kate McLennan being over-committed while Kate McCartney was often actively disengaged (a hold over from The Katering Show) was harder to plausibly sustain as hosts of an actual (if clearly shit) morning show, but it meant that when they broke out of those roles it was often a comedy highlight.
Get Krack!n wasn’t the most finely polished comedy on Australian television, and we’re not talking about the many jokes about how shoddy the show’s production values were. But it was a comedy made by people who had something very pissed off to say and they weren’t going to let anyone stop them from saying it. We could do with a lot more like it.