Vale HYBPA? season 78 or thereabouts

The funniest thing about Have You Been Paying Attention? is – okay, there’s a lot of funniest things about HYBPA? and we’ve covered just about all of them a whole bunch of times. Australia isn’t great at comedy quiz shows or comedy panel shows, so it’s a blessed relief to have this one around for 30 or so episodes a year getting the job done in a way that just about every other attempt to make a comedy panel show has not.

But here’s one funniest thing we haven’t mentioned before: it’s also managed to do (by accident) what the ABC (and SBS) have been desperately trying to make happen for at least a decade – be an informative news show. Who would have guessed the secret of news comedy was to focus on the comedy and not the news? Guess the guys behind Hungry Beast should have done an educational lecture on that instead of graffiti gangs or rural health care or the cost of ojklnZZzzzzzz

[a two hour nap later]

Snark aside (briefly), the ABC has been desperately trying for years to find a way to combine the two things they like to think they do well – news and comedy – and pretty much every single attempt has fizzled out. From Hungry Beast to The Weekly, they’ve been chasing a dream of informing the kids about the world by making information fun. They just forgot to make the fun side of things fun. And now SBS is in on the act with The Feed, which continues to, uh, exist.

It’s not news that the only time news comedy ever works is when you put the comedy first. What makes HYBPA? so interesting is that the news is an actual close second. Usually decent news comedy treats the news as a starting point: you might learn something from Mad as Hell, but if you don’t you’ll still have a good time. But HYBPA? really is a halfway useful way to get caught up on the week’s events while keeping yourself informed on the state of Sam Pang’s facial hair. It seems lightweight, but there’s a lot of information being presented in an entertaining way.

In contrast, traditional news comedy shows from the public broadcasters have taken the approach of making a regular boring news program with the surprise twist that the news reports feature jokes. Problem is that they’re usually based on a current affairs model circa 1987: what news program runs a five minute segment on anything these days?

HYBPA? is much closer to modern entertainment-focused news reporting than these shows – it’s all about short snippets, information kept punchy and read on-camera unless there’s good visuals, and with context built up over multiple stories instead of one big long info dump. Rather than spelling out “President Trump is bad” in one story, they build up that impression through a collection of tiny news stories about Trump over weeks. Which in the age of social media, is a lot closer to how we actually get our news than… you get the idea.

You could argue that this approach loses the in-depth reporting that the comedy is meant to be sugar-coating. News flash: if people aren’t watching, they’ve already missed out on the quality in-depth news you’re trying to sneak past their defenses. And there’s no real reason why a running joke about a news issue can’t contain depth: if you’re making jokes about a dodgy government deal every week, it’s going to become obvious that the deal is, well, dodgy.

Jokes are a really good way to get information across; for one thing, people tend to pay attention to them. If your idea of news comedy is “a way to get people to pay attention to the news”, then you really need to pay more attention to telling good jokes than a regular comedy that’s just making fun of current events. And yet when the ABC tries to do this, we get The Weekly, The Glasshouse, the more boring Chaser efforts and that time they tried to do a regular comedy segment on 7.30.

Which is why we say, another thirty episodes of HYBPA? next year? Yes please.


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