Still Mad as Hell always

We’re currently living through an Australian topical comedy glut. There’s not just one topical comedy on TV, there are two: Tonightly with Tom Ballard and the newly-returned Mad As Hell. That’s two different shows giving their two different takes on Australia/Invasion Day, dual citizens in parliament, Malcolm Turnbull, and various other current affairs – actual consumer choice!

So, obvious question, who does it best? To which there’s an obvious answer…

Mad As Hell 2018

…or is there?

Clearly Mad As Hell is doing the sketch comedy side of things way better. The entire show is basically a half-hour news desk sketch, a rolling news desk sketch if you will. This means there aren’t the great, juddering tonal shifts that you get on Tonightly… when it cuts from Tom Ballard’s stand-up to a pre-recorded sketch featuring one of the cast doing comedy in a totally different style.

When Mad As Hell cuts from the Shaun Micallef host character reading a story to an interview, then on to the next story, and so on, it feels like a more cohesive show. Not just tonally, but in terms of overall quality. Mad As Hell feels like a show where material is written in a house style, and to a certain standard. It’s the kind of show where material gets rejected, or re-written until it works – an attitude which even makes it into the show. When Micallef points out that that photograph of Barnaby Joyce isn’t quite right, it’s the cue for the team to cycle through about 10 different shots, the joke getting funnier the longer it goes on.

Meanwhile, on Tonightly…, parts of it feel like a first draft. Like there’s an attitude that “It’ll do”. To be fair, the Tonightly… team have more material to write each week. On the other hand, that’s not a good enough excuse.

Here’s a tip, straight out of last night’s Mad As Hell: if you’ve pre-recorded something that’s a bit average, add something funny in the background. Some dead bodies floating down the river, for example. Sketch saved!

Tonightly…, though, intends to do things very differently to Mad As Hell. At least half the show is stand-up which sometimes has a serious point to make, for example – a perfectly reasonable approach to take when you’re making topical comedy. And Tonightly…, it has to be said, does a pretty good job of expressing the real rage and frustration that many people, particularly young people, feel towards our politicians and the political process – who else is doing that on TV? Also: no knowledge of cult cinema is required to get the joke – you follow the news, you get the reference.

So, to the various people wondering why we’re giving “ongoing soft support” to Tonightly… it’s that we appreciate the difference between it and other shows, and think it’s got something to offer. Even if it hasn’t reached Mad As Hell‘s level of brilliance yet.

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  • sven says:

    Bill Shorten, or noone real, would go on Mad As Hell, which is as it should be. Clarke and Dawe never bothered with realism either (that reporting schtick that sometimes gets a run on Tonightly must be hell to edit). You want a bonkers creative team to do their thing, and shun the dullness of the external world…
    Having said that Tonightly is not so bad, but yeah real people get in the way mostly.

  • Hack says:

    Ah, cheers for taking the time to respond to my bitchy little comments. I do understand where you’re coming from, but I just feel like Ballard’s stand-up (as you say, the main focus of the show) is way too much along the lines of “topical video clip or announcement followed by weak “what the?” style response” that never (for me at least) seem to land quite right.

    To be honest, I’m just fucking sick of the ABC chucking money (in the case of Tonightly, a LOT of money) at a seemingly endless stream of topical, “satirical” shows we’ve already got Mad As Hell. Presumably it’s because no one’s got the guts to tell Rick Kalowski that there are actually other types of comedy.