Are You Free?

In case you missed SBS’s Privatise Now: The Feed’s End of Year Special, here’s all you need to know: it was a showcase for Mark Humphries. You know Mark Humphries, right? He came out of nowhere to be one of the smug guys on WTF!, then became one of the smug guys on The Roast, and for the last few years he’s been one of the smug guys on The Feed. If you’ve ever wanted to be trapped in a hall of mirrors where smugness is reflected back at you so many times it’s impossible to tell where performance ends and reality begins but we’re going to guess a Sydney private school has something to do with it, dive right in.

That said, the show itself wasn’t half bad, and not just because it had a joke about “how do you get a cinema all to yourself? Just find one showing a new release Australian film” – it also had another joke where Marc Fennell was interviewing himself and asked “You’ve been hosting The Feed for five years… when do you think people are going to start watching?” C’mon, jokes about how the Australian media is shit are always going to find a good home here.

But Humphries… what’s going on there? It’s so weird that he’s had a career stretching back close to a decade now, because his entire act is that “fake newsreader” thing that Charlie Pickering does only without the extremely thin layer of humanity that Pickering has leveraged into becoming the outraged voice of a disinterested generation or whatever the fuck he tells himself at night. Or even that “fake newsreader” thing that Shaun Micallef’s been doing only he’s literally a comedy genius who can get laughs by lifting an eyebrow whereas Humphries just looks like a real estate agent who’d combust if exposed to direct sunlight.

Clearly being a fake newsreader is working out for Humphries because that’s pretty much all he’s ever done. But the trick to making the fake newsreader character work is you have to show a glimpse of something real under the smarm – and that something adds depth to your character. Pickering has a bunch of fake outrage that… well, it’s not actually believable, but as he’s often covering stories that are legitimately outrageous it works well enough. Micallef is trying to go along with the insanity he’s reporting on but he never quite manages it – and again, he’s usually reporting on insane stories so it all hangs together.

But Humphries is just smug. He’s doubling down on a characteristic a regular newsreader already has. There’s no comedy angle to his performance beyond “Ha ha, I’m even more arrogant and smug than the rest of these arrogantly smug smug arrogant jerks”. Not that there’s really any room for a comedy angle in his performance, seeing as he’s the front man for the kind of topical news humour that made shows like Hungry Beast into the kind of hit that wasn’t in any way a hit and has since made The Feed into a show where even the on-air cast are making jokes about nobody watching it.

So rather than playing an actual comedy character, on The Feed he’s mostly there to present but not distract from jokes designed largely to congratulate the viewer for having the kind of political views that in theory make the jokes funny: on this special he presented jokes that were more along the lines of “I don’t know who that Ray Martin guy is, but he shows promise” and an extended sketch about how Malcolm Turnbull made a shithouse basketball shot. Wait, they’re the same kind of joke.

Still, at least those involved were willing to burn bridges, what with that joke about The Chaser’s ever expanding cast and “Tugger” the sports commentator, who was basically a slightly more articulate version of Micallef’s old Milo Kerrigan character. After all, in-jokes about other comedians are always a great move when it comes to forging a career in Australian comedy.

Just look how well it’s worked out for us.



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