If it ain’t broke, it’s Have You Been Paying Attention?

Making a one-off funny show is relatively easy; making a long-running show is also fairly easy. Combining the two is where it gets a little difficult, and not just because of the generally held belief that a comedy that starts strong is bound to drop off quickly (aka the Fawlty Towers defense). So hats off to Have You Been Paying Attention?, a comedy panel show that features both extensive cross-promotion and actual advertising live reads and yet still somehow remains funny and entertaining as it heads full-steam towards its fifth year.

We’ve covered what makes it work pretty extensively over the years – it’s fast paced, it features a decent roster of quick-witted contestants, the news jokes are reasonably strong, the cross-promotional guests aren’t treated with kid gloves, it doesn’t care about the score, and so on – but it’s important not to under estimate the importance of on-air chemistry. Not everything out of the Working Dog stable has been a hit, but their biggest successes have all shared one thing in common: they look like shows people enjoy being a part of.

You only have to look at… eh, lets say Show Me the Movies… to see how difficult this sense of fun is to manufacture. Wacky “games” won’t cut it unless you’re Shaun Micallef and the games are so crazy everyone is laughing at the fact they’re actually going to show this stuff on television. Lengthy anecdotes from one panelist will only bore everyone else, complicated questions are boring, taking too long to explain the set-up for a segment is boring… you see the problem.

And yet week after week for close to half a year HYBPA? rotates through a reasonably large body of panelists – some of whom have been consistently awful elsewhere – and makes it look like a bunch of friends just piss-farting about. Regular panelists Ed Kavalee and Sam Pang and host Tom Gleisner provide a steadying influence, and there’s usually at least one long-time Working Dog member or buddy on the panel as well, which means that the other two slots are either taken by people who work well with them or tap into the general vibe fairly quickly.

(that vibe is also slightly more edgy than you might expect from Australian commercial television, even in 2018. There was at least one “fuck” dropped last night, and while “too soon” isn’t exactly what you’d expect to say about a joke about Princess Diana twenty years after her death, the audience reaction last night suggested otherwise. But fuck them; it was a good joke)

Whether at least some of the news jokes are either scripted or worked out beforehand doesn’t matter: there’s enough going on here that arises naturally from the set-up to make this feel like, as we’ve already said, a bunch of mates piss-farting about. The news angle definitely helps, as it’s the kind of “play along at home” element these shows need. But Working Dog have been making fun of the news since the 80s, and that bedrock level of confidence in their material definitely doesn’t hurt either – it’s hard to be relaxed about what you’re doing if you’re not really sure what you’re doing.

There’s probably more to be said here about the difference between shows you laugh at and shows you laugh with, but whatever: HYBPA? is a funny show that’s also just plain fun, and Australia could do with more of both. Long may jokes about Tom Gleisner’s age run!

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