In For the Long Haul

Having Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation and Have You Been Paying Attention? on back-to-back (there was even time this week to go from one to the other without missing anything out) is both a great way to get two-and-a-bit hours worth of something close to actual entertainment from the commercial networks, and a handy way to do a bit of compare and contrast between the two. They’re similar shows that are often funny in very different ways but yet still manage to deliver similar jokes: HYBPA? isn’t exactly known for its physical comedy but sticking Tom Gleisner next to a Rugby player twice his size did get a laugh out of us.

So hey: how great is it to have two Australian television hosts who are in their second or third decades of just doing comedy? There’s an idea floating around out there that comedy is a young person’s game and it’s one people at all levels have bought into: TV producers will tell comedians they’re too old when they’re barely in their 30s, while plenty of performers seem happy to race through comedy on their way to being all serious (or just doing stuff where their lack of comedy skills is no longer a drawback). The result is that many of Australia’s older comedy figures still active in the media don’t actually do much comedy: that forthcoming episode of Andrew Denton’s interview show where he talks to Madga would have been a sure-fire laugh riot in the late 90s, but these days it seems set to be a warm bath with the occasional wry smile thrown in.

And comedy is hard. We’re not really the types to go on about how drama gets all the awards and kudos while comedy has to do pretty much all the same stuff and be funny on top to be a success, but you only have to look at the wide range of Australian “sitcoms” that are really just tepid dramas to realise that there are an awful lot of comedy performers who’d like to get the hell out of comedy on the first bus that’ll stop to let them on.

Both Shaun Micallef and Tom Gleisner have occasionally dabbled in various less-funny media work, but to date they’ve largely made comedy their home. And watching their respective quiz shows on a Monday night, it’s not hard to see why: they both really seem to enjoy it. Obviously it takes a lot of skill and practice to make television comedy seem effortless, but both of them really do seem to be having a lot of fun just piss-farting about.

That’s what sets them (and in part, the shows they host) from your more run-of-the-mill comedy panel shows (and yes, we did appreciate the many jokes on HYBPA? this week at the expense of Cram!). It’s one thing to be a decent television host – even Australia has plenty of them – but it’s another very different thing to be a comedy show host who actually adds laughs to proceedings. Take a look at Spicks & Specks (it’s not hard to do – it’s basically propping up ABC Comedy); Adam Hills is a perfectly decent host doing all the right things, but despite what the ABC publicity department would have you believe, Hills himself isn’t really anything special. He’s pleasant enough and handsome with it, but he never stakes out any comedy ground for himself.

We’ve gone on about Micallef enough over the years for his virtues as a performer to be well trod ground; everyone now understands that when a TV writer says that Micallef is “divisive” or “not to everyone’s tastes”  what they really mean is that he’s funny and not everyone wants that in a host. But Gleisner is just as impressive in his own low-key way: not only does he keep things moving along (no easy task when you’ve got five comedians each trying to fit in one-liners every time a question goes off the rails) but he gets in his own jokes – which are often surprisingly harsh – and usually gets a couple swipes in at Sam Pang each week. Much like Micallef back when TAYG was largely about him mocking Josh Thomas, he gets in just enough character comedy to be a distinct comedy figure in his own right – not just the guy who asks questions while everyone else cracks wise.

There are few truly rubbish hosts on Australian television; even Dave Hughes managed to make his own show work. But a great host lifts the whole show. There’s a lot of reasons why both TAYG and HYBPA? work, but the fact they both have truly funny hosts is a definite plus.

The again, Randling had a reasonably funny host and look where that ended up.

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