Maybe things will get better next year. After all, there are two things Australian television comedy desperately needs if it’s to survive – money and talent – and there’s a fair to reasonable chance the upcoming change of government will see the money tap turned back on at the ABC. Then again, pretty much every division at the ABC has a better case for a budget boost than the department that greenlit Sando and Squinters, so lets not get carried away just yet.
But what else can we do but be optimistic after what most definitely felt like the worst year for comedy in living memory? It’s no coincidence that the biggest international smash hit Australian comedy has had in years – that’d be Nanette – basically had the message “comedy is kind of shit”: the obvious exceptions aside, Australian comedy has been running on fumes for years now and it seems that’s just the way a lot of people like it.
Would a country with a decent tradition of comedy game shows tolerate Hard Quiz? Would a nation that expected halfway decent political satire to be a regular fixture on the national broadcaster put up with The Weekly? Yes, these are shows we kick a lot; these are also shows that will be on the ABC every single week of the ratings period in 2019 just like they were in 2018. Poor programming is not an isolated case: it’s rapidly become the norm on the ABC, and saying “but what about Mad as Hell” isn’t going to change that.
To be fair, it’s almost tempting to cut the ABC some slack regarding their new policy of bringing back literally every sitcom that ran out of gas years ago for one last spin considering how shithouse – and you’ll be seeing that word a lot in these awards, just so you know – their new efforts were in 2018. Almost. But what does it say about the national broadcaster that they’ve been bringing back everything from Rosehaven (which, let’s face facts here, will never die so long as Tourism Tasmania has a dollar left in their coffers) to Very Small Business to Upper Middle Bogan to Utopia –
-and let’s just think about Utopia (back later this year) for a moment: this is a sitcom based around the idea that Australian governments constantly announce big projects and then file them in the “too hard” basket because of reasons, very fast rail ha ha ha. Which was fine back in the dying days of the Howard Administration, AKA roughly the last time Working Dog were politically engaged. But anyone who’s been anywhere near an election in the last couple of years has noticed that these days actually delivering on your policies is what gets governments elected. So why is the ABC bringing back a political satire based around an idea of politics that died with the mining boom?
We have no idea what’s going on at the ABC, and quite frankly, we don’t want to know. But from the outside it looks like somebody somewhere has decided new ideas are to be avoided at all costs (unless those costs are being carried by outside investors) and so everything old is new again. Unless Jungle can write their production costs off as a training exercise, because filming half of Squinters in LA was totally creatively necessary, obviously.
Astonishingly, in 2018 it was increasingly up to the commercial networks to step up as far as comedy was concerned. Have You Been Paying Attention? remains a highlight, and while nobody was dancing in the street over the commercial network’s sketch and sitcom output – though let us stress for anyone who’s been in a coma for the last decade or so, holy shit, Australian commercial networks are making sitcoms and sketch comedy again – shows like Orange is the New Brown and All Aussie Adventures and True Story were perfectly competent. How to Stay Married and Street Smart, not so much.
Oh wait, none of those decent shows are coming back in 2019. Then again, neither are those crap ones: 2018 was probably some kind of high water mark when it comes to Australian commercial comedy. But hey, at least we still have the ABC.
It’s a testament to a whole lot of things that have very little to do with comedy in 2018 that we even got a third series of All Aussie Adventures – a show that seemed dated a quarter of a century ago when it was the “Wallaby Jack” sketches on The Late Show. A parody of a kind of television that hasn’t existed this century, there’s only so far Glenn Robbins’ comedy charm and a collection of decent sight gags could take this series, and that turned out to be around two episodes short of what we got.
You know those sketches which are basically one mildly funny observation stretched out for two or three minutes? That’s Mark Humphries’ sketches on 7.30. Except these sketches fool you into thinking there’s something more going on by changing camera angle every couple of seconds. The result is a sort of slow, boring epilepsy that reminds you of the fact that science still hasn’t advanced to the point where it can bring back John Clarke. Sigh.
It feels like a mistake to have this in the Short Form Comedy category, as each episode felt like it went for at least an hour. Bam! That’s the kind of shitty old joke The Weekly largely stuck to – when it could be bothered making any jokes at all – this year, dropping in the occasional telegraphed punchline to confirm that yes, this really was a comedy before diving into yet another six-minute segment that was basically a less funny episode of Landline. For a show the ABC refuses to axe (unlike most of their decent factual comedy programming in 2018), this feels pretty much forgotten by the public at large. It maintains no real estate in the public consciousness, makes no impact in either the worlds of news or comedy, is basically never mentioned by the media in general and if anyone ever does have something to say about host Charlie Pickering it’s usually along the lines of how smug and unlikable he is. Kitty Flanagan was the best thing about it, and she’s left. This show is shit.
In 2018 Briggs got to help Bill Oakley review fast food, which was much better than anything The Weekly could find for him to do.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt, so Charlie Pickering’s rusted-on, ubiquitous mediocrity in the ABC comedy line up must be inspiring homicidal rage.
Do you remember that bit in The Simpsons where that deprogrammer boasts to Homer that he successfully got Paul McCartney out of Wings, and Homer yells “You idiot! He was the most talented one!” ? That’s basically the situation with Kitty Flanagan leaving The Weekly.
While Superwog undeniably does have something about it that’s different and better than most shows in this genre, it’s amazing how often it looks like just another show in this genre. Idiot characters, shouty characters, jokes based on characters being idiotic or shouty, over-the-top slapstick, depictions of the relations between the sexes that remind us why no one makes sex comedies anymore…it’s a hard slog if this isn’t your thing.
Sando‘s one of those shows that absolutely no one will remember in a couple of years time. Even us – and we wrote a blog post about every single episode of it! So, just as a reminder about why you should forget it forever, this was a program billed as a comedy which contained approximately one joke per episode and lost about 250,000 viewers over the six weeks it aired. We’re guessing those two facts are probably related.
We’ve said it all before, because there’s nothing else to say about Squinters: it’s a sketch comedy show where all the sketches are exactly the same, it’s a character-based comedy where there’s no time to develop the characters let alone opportunity to place them in different situations, it’s a show clearly designed to be made on the cheap that for some reason is partially filmed in that thriving hub of Australian comedy Los Angeles, and it’s a format where it should be easy to attract big-name high-profile comedy performers to show up for a days filming and yet the cast are largely relative unknowns. The whole thing never quite adds up; if someone told us it was a money laundering scam we wouldn’t be surprised.
Anyone involved in the creation of Squinters took everyone for a ride. Self-indulgent, unfunny, not even half-baked.
To be honest, little in Australian sitcoms excited this year, but Squinters committed the double crime of not only being lazily “written”, but wasting the talents of actors who can do infinitely better with material that wasn’t so clearly whipped up on the fly and padded out into flabby mush. The whole thing seemed to be little more than a community theatre improv bit stretched into multiple episodes and wasting time that could be better spent sitting in actual traffic.
Pitch: Imagine No Activity…but fewer jokes.
Tonightly‘s approach to topical comedy, to come at it from a woke, left-leaning perspective, was never going to please everyone in our divided nation. Even those with woke, left-leaning views weren’t guaranteed to like it, as Ballard and company’s style and tone don’t work for everyone. It’s axing, having built up a small but dedicated following and a reputation for doing things a bit differently, was a pity in the opinion of this blog. We need broadcasters and other content providers to present different voices and make different types of comedy – and Tonightly did both, four times a week, to a consistently good standard.
Remember The Roast? Wow, that was a bad, bad show. And Humphries hasn’t really changed his act since then. Which is kind of fair enough: context is a big, big part of comedy (just ask Louis CK), and dropping his smug white guy act into a variety of news programs full of actual smug white guys has gone a long way towards pointing out that yeah, smug white guys are the worst. Especially when they’re not all that funny. Good job hosting that game show though.
[PROLONGED AND INTENSE SCREAMING FOR AT LEAST TEN MINUTES]
Look, we know times are tough for comedy at the ABC. Especially political satire. With the current government not quite far enough out the door to give them a decent kicking, and with said current government largely staffed by people who it’s safe to say have the sense of humour of a wild boar with his testicles being used as a punchbag, clearly employing comedians who actually go for the throat is a bad idea. So keeping Mad as Hell on air is a cause for celebration that isn’t celebrated anywhere near enough.
The Weekly though, remains – as we said earlier, and multiple times this year, and last year, and the year before that, and at least a few times more before even that – shit.
Juvenal wrote “It is difficult not to write satire”, but obviously he never met Charlie Pickering.
Since being ‘topical’ seems to be its only remit anymore (comedy sure isn’t the focus), the fact that ‘The Weekly’ still comes off as stale as a water biscuit fished out from under the sofa says everything you need.
But how to reward a consistently awful product? Commission more series of course!
Oh yeah, this. It’s bizarre to think that the game show format was carefully honed by networks worldwide for decades to create exactly the right balance between smart topics and dumb viewers, and then suddenly everyone went “nah, screw that, let’s go zany” and game shows turned into pissweak panel gibberish. Rove’s other big show in 2018 was one where he sat on a chair and talked about Doctor Who for half an hour, and somehow that seemed the more accessible and entertaining series.
Oh, we have a problem all right – amirite? Eh? Eh? Oh wait, as a half-arsed reboot of the old Beauty and the Beast format with Hughsey as the beast and various comedy “personalities” as the beauties, this pretty much did the job it was meant to. It’s not a job anyone was actually asking to have done, but compared to endless reality programming and… whatever else it is the commercial networks put to air (hey, we’re Australian comedy fans – we’re lucky to even know where the commercial networks are on the remote), this fell firmly under the banner of “serviceable”. Unlike something like Have You Been Paying Attention?, where even shit guests can often come out looking good, here you get exactly what it says on the tin; if Josh Thomas or Kate Langbroek or Charlie Pickering are on and you keep watching, you’ve got no-one but yourself to blame.
If you ever wondered how the classic formats of yesteryear (hang on, isn’t someone bringing back Mastermind in 2019?) would cope today, good news: Tomorrow Tonight has run that simulation, and the results were just as grim and depressing as everything else in 2018. An “updated” version of Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals, it somehow managed to turn an intelligent and thought-provoking format into the answer to the question “what if we asked the cast of The Footy Show to explain the tensions on the Korean Peninsula?” Despite being two of the more rampantly unlikable characters in the ABC fishtank, host Charlie Pickering and guest who wouldn’t leave Annabel Crabb weren’t entirely to blame, as turning Hypotheticals into a pissweak panel show where experts were outnumbered by comedians – like every other panel show this century – ensured both entertainment and information would be in short supply. Despite losing a third of its viewers over the course of eight weeks, it’ll probably be back.
Tomorrow Tonight is the worst of both hosts: Pickering trying to prove he’s the smartest in the room, and Crabb’s obsession with ‘humanising’ politicians.
We don’t need an unfunny version of News 24’s This Is Not A Drill.
Whoever has been in charge of cultivating ‘personalities’ at the ABC needs to look up the definition of the word. Because considering Annabelle Crabb and Charlie Pickering charming enough to anchor a program that has little else going on in it besides reheating some old Hypotheticals scripts with references to Lady Gaga and emojis feels like a fireable offense. Panel shows require interesting subject matter (or at least the illusion of it) and/or hosts who can win people over with their knowledge and effervescence. This show has a thrift store cooking show pixie and a man whose entire CV consists of him being able to wear a suit while laughing with cold dead eyes.
Check out that image: that’s the poster that belongs to an Indecent Proposal-style smash hit. See, on the one hand she’s got to choose between a generic Aussie stud and Eddie Izzard, who despite all appearances to the contrary is not currently dead. But on the other hand, Izzard is in Hollywood while Generic Stud is in Adelaide, so… It’s the equivalent of those pub quizzes that go “would you rather sleep with the hottest person alive, only there’s a 90% chance they’ll give you brain cancer and they’re also a dud root, or some kind of hideous mutant pig that will give you the best orgasm of your life but you’ll be filmed having sex with it and the footage will be put online”? No wonder Emily Taheny looks worried.
If you’ve ever wondered how a film this obviously lacking in anything approaching widespread appeal got made, good news: it turns out that much of it was funded through private investors and product placement. It seems something called “sophisticated product placement” by the producers and “it’s a fucking commercial disguised as a movie” by everyone else raised close to a million dollars of the $3.7 million budget, while another $700,000 came from business identities in Albury-Wodonga. As for the other $2 million? That came from the usual funding bodies like Screen Australia and Film Victoria, who clearly thought they were onto a winner backing only the second shittiest of the three Shane Jacobson films to hit cinemas in 2018.
They might as well have called this That’s Not a Movie, because it wasn’t; it was a collection of moderately famous joke-tellers at a bush barbie standing around telling the kind of generic jokes readily available in book form at pretty much every op shop across the land. Occasionally a joke would be funny; more humorous were the many blatant examples of product placement that presumably covered the costs of making a film that looked like it was shot for pocket change. Putting this on in cinemas, even just for a weekend, was some kind of scam that should be investigated by the relevant consumer bodies.
The premise for this sounded alright but about five minutes in I felt like I’d been baled up in the corner by a drunk uncle while he tells the same old jokes his dad told, which your dad has already told you.
Home movies are fun, aren’t they? Having someone sit you down and force you to watch some shithouse video they knocked up with their computer’s edit software, about a party you weren’t even invited to? And if it goes for two hours? And if you’re forced to pay to see it?
That’s Not My Dog is the worst film. Not that it was really a film…
Television executives in this country make odd decisions. When Ten was presented with two sitcom pilots about an overweight man in his 40s, living in the suburbs with his wife and kids – Peter Helliar’s How To Stay Married and this show from Dave O’Neil – they preferred the weaker of the two – Helliar’s – leaving Dave to the mercy of Pilot Week. The premiere of How To Stay Married several months later suggested Dave probably never stood a chance of being commissioned. Why we wonder? It was decently plotted, it had contained some funny lines and situations… We’re not saying it was amazing – and it really is time Australian comedians stopped trying to make a local version of Curb Your Enthusiasm – but in the sitcom battle of Helliar and O’Neil, we’re team O’Neil. This showed some promise. More promising than eight episodes of Helliar’s uninspiring guff, anyway.
Look at their fresh young faces! Well, some of those involved were fresh and young… This felt like a show where old fart producers shoehorned a bunch of people who’d never worked together into making 2018’s answer to Fast Forward. Or whatever ensemble sketch show from yesteryear they had in mind. The Comedy Company? God knows… This didn’t work, anyway. Shows like this never work. No one wants “funny characters” appearing in sketches five times in half an hour. Unless they are actually funny. Which the ones in this show weren’t.
Hey, remember that time Kyle Sandilands had a segment on his radio show where a 14 year-old girl was hooked up to a lie detector machine and asked about her sex life? And this… individual… still has a career. What the fuck is wrong with this country?
The title for this was cruelly misleading. When will the Sandilands Nuremberg trial begin?!
Does anyone, anywhere, ever actually like Kyle Sandilands? I think he achieved his ‘celebrity’ status through a monkey’s paw. “You will be a rich and famous celebrity, but you will also be universally loathed by anyone who consumes any of your attempts at ‘entertainment'”.
What Kyle Sandilands lacks in talent, he more than makes up for in also lacking charisma.
It’s a marker of how little new comedy of quality was premiered in 2018 that a show which aired on community television and was released online has garnered as many votes as it has in this category. Good Afternoon Adelaide, a parody of local TV made in Adelaide in the 80’s and 90’s by Mad As Hell writer David Allen Green, has some good ideas in it, but it’s pretty obscure. Its YouTube channel has 64 subscribers and its most-watched video has had 395 views. Presumably all 395 of those viewers voted for it here. Thanks for stopping by.
Where else would a comedy special about how shit comedy is come from but Australia? Sure, it was about more than that, but that’s because it was, as former Adam Hills sidekick Hannah Gadsby herself said repeatedly, closer to a one-woman show than a stand-up comedy performance. Still, it did nail the general feeling around the world that comedy currently is kind of toxic and bad and trivial, which may explain why she hasn’t rushed into a follow-up (even the Nanette book has been delayed) and why a lot of US comedians don’t seem to be overjoyed by her success. But where can she go from here? Nanette was an out-of-nowhere, once-in-a-lifetime success based on articulating female rage and attacking the idea of comedy itself: following that with a special about the zany world of modern art might not cut the mustard.
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Tony Martin fan, used to him doing comedy in that very particular style he honed during Get This, Sizzletown was an interesting change of direction. A subtle change, for sure, but a bold one none-the-less. This largely improvised podcast was a move away from the tightly-honed scripted comedy of Martin’s sketches, radio appearances and stand-up, and a move into slower-paced stream-of-consciousness comedy, in which various talkback callers (all played by Martin) banged on about whatever concerned them until Martin got sick of them. Was it funny? Yep. Will any broadcaster, streaming service, funding body or sponsor have the good sense to give him some money so he can make a living from it? We certainly hope so.
Tony Martin’s attention to detail has produced something hilarious yet again.
Tony Martin’s podcast experiment may not always have the tight, sharp bite of his work on Martin/Molloy, or the sublime flights of whimsy and obsession in Get This, but it is thrilling to listen to one of the country’s best comedic minds riff with himself, rambling down some surreal avenues and serving up some hysterical character work.
Sizzletown has shown us yet again why a Tony Martin-free radio landscape is a fucking crime.
Sizzletown was always going to do well these awards. Not just because lots of Tony Martin fans read this blog, but because lots of comedy fans like Tony Martin. How could they not? Since the 1980s he’s been involved in one high-quality show after the other, and never stopped trying to be even better than he was before. This move into improvised comedy, where he created and played a variety of weird and wonderful characters, was a little unexpected, but it worked. Although it hasn’t done a great deal for the image of nut butter.
If you were to look up “well-oiled machine” in the dictionary, you’d… wait, do people still look things up in dictionaries? Over the years this has become the platonic ideal of Australian topical comedy, with a solid collection of guests (including a bunch of regulars who’ve developed into actual comedy characters), a format that manages to be both informative and funny without getting bogged down in the kind of boring chit-chat that kills 90% of panel shows, and a commitment to actually making jokes that’s so strong it’s even survived a procession of dodgy celebrity guests plucked from Ten’s endless run of crap reality series. It’s good television, and hopefully they can keep it going until society finally collapses later this year.
While Shaun Micallef’s never really been a political comedian or satirist, 2018 was the year in which he got pretty close. His rage at our current crop of politicians – who in the past couple of years have done little more than lurch from one leadership spill to the next while our earth warms and our rivers turn to dust – was palpable, and necessary. Micallef knew this wasn’t the time for whimsical humour about a green octopus who pops out of a cupboard when Toni Basil’s Mickey plays. Okay, there was some kraken, but Mad As Hell in 2018 was more about skewering politicians than anything else, and boy was it good. There are lots of shows around the world mixing news footage with comic commentary and parodying politicians, but from what we’ve seen, Mad As Hell is the best. SNL might have Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, and Britain’s The Mash Report might have Rachel Parris’ inane and hilarious round-up of viewer tweets, but only Mad As Hell has Darius Horsham, Dolly Norman and Casper Jonquil. And only one country has Shaun Micallef. We truly are the Lucky Country.
Mad As Hell is so damned good it literally makes everything else on Australian television seem like white noise. And God help shows like The Weekly, that dare to try and fill its time slot during its off-weeks. It remains sharp-eyed and caustically satirical, is capable of hilariously surreal flights of fancy, and has the best line-up of writing and performing talent of any production in the country. Nothing is this good. Nothing else even seems to be trying by comparison.
Shaun Micallef still notching up a consistently high laugh rate on Mad as Hell.
Congratulations go to Shaun Micallef for consistently and quietly out do his more contemporary and more self obsessed and arrogant peers (Charlie Pickering, Rove, Nazeem). He proves you don;t have to swear, shout or steal jokes to be sharp and satirical. When he is no longer active people will miss him dearly as there is no one that is remotely close to being is acolyte.
Podcasts thrive, TV dies.
I really liked the bit in the Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation reboot when Aaron Chen claimed Paul Keating wrote ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’, and Tim Rogers gave this great little delayed laugh and then hugged Aaron.
It wasn’t a great year overall, especially for narrative comedies, which almost entirely tanked on the ABC and Channel 10.
There was more, and yet it all felt less.
On TV? An ever-shrinking pool of “talent”. If it weren’t for Micallef we’d be in real trouble. There’s some great comedians doing some great live stuff on stage, but we don’t seem to be able to get them to translate it to the screen. Time for a Big Gig reboot.
Eventually we’ll find some talent that rivals Shaun Micallef and Tony Martin, this was not the year for that.
Business as usual – more shallow, unfunny political comedy and mediocre sitcoms that needed another five drafts.
Sad. Mostly rubbish. The people writing this material have little clue about comedy.
Lots to be excited about. Channel 10 are leading the way. Can’t be too long until we see a locally made multicamera sitcom back on our screens. More tonight shows is good for the industry.
It’s amazing to think Hannah Gadsby appeared on Josh Thomas’s vanity project Please Like Me. For all the pot shots Gadsby and Micallef take at people and institutions I just wish they would criticise people such as Thomas and Pickering respectively on something they actually have authority on – who’s funny and who’s not.
Once again there’s been a plethora of new programs with some new faces but with the same result. The death of Australian comedy goes back to the early 00’s with the success of Rove McManus where his cutesy routine was popular with young girls who giggled at him saying silly things in a loud silly annoying manner. This ushered in the likes of Hamish and Andy who are the kings of the smartarse uni student type of comedy which has saturated Aussie comedy like a cane toad infestation with their unfunny double act that makes you wonder if they have family or friends working in the television industry to offer them so many opportunities. Where everything Hamish says is followed by an idiotic smug smirk as if to say “you must laugh now”. This also enabled Charlie Pickering, Claire Hooper, Josh Thomas and others the green light to enter the fray and poison comedy along the way with every bad joke. Australian comedy is dead until this ilk of comedian has lost influence for good.
Too much Charlie Pickering. What was with the Channel 10 pilots with all of the ageing white male comedians who have already had their own shows? Pretty much everything that wasn’t Tony Martin or Shaun Micallef was pretty forgettable.
I just gave up, to be honest. I just thought “what is the fucking point of supporting Australian comedy when Charlie Pickering is still clogging up the ABC schedule like a fucking fatberg of used condoms, filthy wet wipes and industrial levels of smugness in a London sewer?”
Overall, Twitter was more entertaining.
A case of being careful of what I wished for: I’m always hoping to see new comedy faces on our screens, and then we got Skit Happens. HtSM, Hughesy…, Dave, Show Me the Movie, Hard Quiz etc. all poorly executed work from people who have been around long enough to do better. Pilot Week copped flak for being very white-blokey, but the lineup for the rest of the year was almost the same across the board, barring OITNB and Black Comedy. In contrast HYBPA has done well with their new guests all very natural and excellent value. Losing Tonightly and getting skits on 7.30 was a poor trade. Unsure what the ABC2 rebrand purpose was. Mad as Hell, Sizzletown, Nanette, Sammy J, Taboo were highlights. Here’s hoping for a more dynamic 2019.
Bring Back John Clarke!
Apart from some quality podcasts, stand-up and the odd online thing, Australian comedy, especially at the movies and on TV was pretty shit.