It’s not until you’ve watched, oh, let’s say ninety seconds of Aunty Donna’s new Netflix series Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun that you realise that comedy on Australian television is doomed. Not because of anything Aunty Donna are up to here: the first episode opens with a very funny little ditty about how everything can be used as a drum (but maybe not everything?). But it’s a certain kind of wacky surreal high-energy comedy that’s a) pretty popular at the moment and b) not something Australian television is ever going to show outside of graveyards and ghettos.
And realising that what little there is left of a comedy infrastructure in this country is directly opposed to what seems to be the current fashion in comedy is a bit of a downer really. Good thing we were watching a decent comedy series when it happened, hey?
Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun‘s a bit tricky to recommend in general, though, because while we’ve already established that it’s very good, it’s also the kind of in-your-face zany comedy that can be very, very annoying if you’re not exactly on its wavelength. Fortunately, it’s so good that even if you’re not, there are going to be a couple of worthwhile comedy moments here anyway, because this is absolutely packed with jokes of many different shapes and stripes.
If you’ve seen or heard some of Aunty Donna’s previous work (on stage, YouTube or podcast) some of these jokes may seem sort of familiar, in that Aunty Donna regularly reuses tried-and-tested comedy formats in their shows. But happily, they don’t overuse these formats here. And when they do, it’s funny.
One such format, beloved by fans of the trio, is their “list sketches”; basically, a quickfire cycle-through a number of increasingly ridiculous one-dimensional characters, each of whom gets one line, then we move on. And it’s in this (the only “list sketch” in the entire series, as it happens) that we encounter Randy Feltface, the first of a number of Australian references that may confuse international viewers.
Usually, comedians from other countries making shows in the US take great care not to confuse American viewers with regional references. But in this case, Aunty Donna just gets on with making the kind of comedy show they always do. A sense of common understanding isn’t the point here.
Neither is a sense of place. Their Big Ol’ House of Fun is clearly located in the suburbs of Los Angeles but most of their comedy is totally Australian, with almost no concessions made with regards to the way characters speak to each other or some of the things they discuss. And this feels exciting, like Australian comedy is finally allowed to be itself outside of Australia.
Or maybe giving a damn about where this show is set just distracts from making comedy? Why bother to make sure the audience understands everything you’re doing or where the show is set when you’re just casually killing off characters and dumping their corpses in the wheelie bin? Or when you’re having the Queen over to dinner? Or when you can just cut to something on TV? Or have the camera pan down to an electrical socket where a tiny man lives? Or dance around singing a silly song? Or cut over to the studio audience who exists at one end of your house?
Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun isn’t trying to make sense, or to be a pioneer, or to make a big statement, or to do anything really, other than make us laugh. And for all the talk in Australian TV comedy world about how this or that show is “authentic” or “real”, nothing feels as authentic and real in the world of television and streaming comedy as watching a unique and hilarious show make it to our screens, untouched by meddling producers who think they know better.
So, yes, this show is a massive challenge to the people who run what remains of Australian TV comedy. Mainly – and because – it’s just about having heaps of fun.