Why is Australian Comedy So Shit – An Official Investigation

For years now we’ve argued that we need more Australian comedy in general if we’re ever going to get more of the good stuff. Guess what? We were wrong. Our theory was that Australian television needed to make a lot of bad television before anything good would come along as the bottom 90% of anything is always shithouse. Let’s say it again: WRONG.

Going by our theory, once we had a Mad as Hell, everyone would be working hard to make a show that was even better. Why try to make a show worse than a show that already exists and is doing well? Obviously the current show would become the new benchmark and the only things that would get on the air would be shows that were even better.

Oh look, The Weekly‘s back for 2018. There goes that theory.

Meanwhile over at Channel Ten, they’ve been airing the best comedy panel show made in this country this century in the form of Have You Been Paying Attention? So again, going by our theory, Ten’s post-HYBPA? comedy output should be striving to be even better. And again, our theory is wrong: our apologies for reminding you of Cram! and Show Me the Movie. They’re shit.

Obviously not everyone in Australian comedy can be as funny as Shaun Micallef or Working Dog. And maybe in the past this lack of talent might have been enough to explain some of the clearly substandard “comedy” shows being put to air. But increasingly it’s clear that those who control what we get to see on television are actively encouraging this downward trend. It’s not an accident that standards are falling: rubbish is what the networks want to put to air.

Don’t believe us? Explain Peter Helliar. Not only is he a regular on The Project and host of Cram!, but he has a ten part sitcom coming up on Ten later in the year. Remind us again: what’s he done to make him a commercial network’s top comedy property? We’ll wait.

And then there’s The Weekly. We, uh, haven’t been big fans and going by its recent run of average ratings and zero media presence we’re not alone. So after four years of failure, maybe it’s time to try something new? It sure is – that’s why the ABC have not only brought it back but are now running it after Gruen, the strongest possible lead-in they could give it.

So while Mad as Hell – you know, the show that does everything The Weekly tries to do, only funnier – airs at 8.30 when viewers have a natural point to turn over to another network (but they don’t, because it’s a show worth watching) good luck finding a show on a rival network to turn over to if you don’t want to watch The Weekly when Gruen finishes at 9.10pm. With a popular lead-in and no alternative viewing up against it, The Weekly is in the best possible position to rate well… unless it turns out people would rather turn their televisions off than watch Charlie Pickering. Lets see how that pans out.

All of which begs the question: what’s going on here? It’s not like the decent comedies are rating flops or anything – they’re actually doing really well. And the shit shows are generally doing badly – if The Weekly was a ratings powerhouse the ABC wouldn’t be using actual ratings powerhouse Gruen to prop it up. So logically then, our television networks should be looking to succeed by… doing the opposite of what they’re actually doing?

It’s not even like the way to make good comedy is a mystery. Hughsie We Have a Problem isn’t exactly our cup of tea, but by giving a proven comedy talent – we can’t stress enough that Hughsie definitely isn’t our idea of a rockin’ good time, but he’s good at what he does – a show where he can dick around doing what he thinks is funny, the end result is a good use of his skills and abilities.

Likewise with Tonightly, which is proving to be a nice little earner comedy-wise. Again, that’s largely down to a format that lets those involved focus on doing whatever it takes to be funny; Tom Ballard is not our favourite Australian comedian but given a format that plays to his strengths he’s able to create a pretty decent comedy program.

What unites these two very different shows is that they work because they let the funny people be funny. And these aren’t even Australia’s funniest people! Time and time and time again the path to decent comedy is shown to be “let the experts handle it”. This isn’t a sure-fire recipe for success – hello Randling – but it definitely beats the alternatives. When you hire funny people and let them make a funny show, usually you get a show that’s funny; how hard is this to understand?

“That’s easy for you to say,” we hear an imaginary voice say, “but now more than ever television is a cutthroat business – what you’re describing is the kind of risk-taking that gets executives fired”. And that’s a bad thing? Isn’t the risk of being fired why they’re paid hefty six-figure salaries? And how is continuing down our current path good for them? With Australian audiences flooded with viewing choices, choosing to make bland forgettable crap is pretty risky in itself.

We’re not saying these executives are incompetent. Their decisions are made based on a huge range of variables, many of which actively work against the creation of quality television. But every time they decide to greenlight a show that isn’t fit for purpose – seriously, is Cram! even a television show – it gets just that little bit harder to get excited about Australian comedy.

And if we don’t give a shit, who will?

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  • Hack says:

    Rick Kalowski is a man who has apparently had his sense of humour removed by surgeonss, but the Abc has to take some of the blame – how anyone could look at the producer of Big Bite and Wednesday Night Fever and think ” YES! This man knows comedy” is beyond belief…..

  • Bernard says:

    I have it on good authority that Ten is going hell for leather with local comedy. They have five (yes, you read that right) sitcom pilots they are shooting later this year. Fingers crossed some of them will be good.