Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2020

You wouldn’t want to say Australian comedy is dead, but the iron lung it’s getting around in is starting to look a little worse for wear. Oh sure, individual comedy series are still being made; people are even having careers in comedy, so long as you put quote marks around “careers” and “comedy”. But the idea that comedy is a thing in Australia? A living breathing part of our daily lives? Yeah nah, to coin a phrase.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, things were different. That’s why we started these awards: back then, the problem (as we saw it) with Australian comedy wasn’t so much that there wasn’t any of it left, but that shameless boosterism and television critics whose unconditional praise for every turd flushed down the pipe would have left a more cynical bunch wondering exactly what was in those gift baskets the publicists sent out to some reviewers at Christmas time while the rest of us were stuck writing overly long sentences. Or something like that.

Here’s the new news: those days are over. Nobody cares what reviewers say about Australian comedy because nobody cares about Australian comedy. It’s no longer part of our culture in any real way; it doesn’t set the agenda, it doesn’t shape public perception, and most of the time it isn’t even trying to be funny. Remember when politicians would be outraged at being mocked? Remember when tabloids would whip up hate campaigns against comedians who dared poke fun at society’s sacred cows? Australia in 2021 somehow has even more right-wing media and even less outrage towards comedians: that’s how bad it’s become.

This isn’t really comedy’s fault, though if we started to list the ways it actually is comedy’s fault we’d be here all week. There’s going to be a fifth season of Rosehaven and they’re still going to pretend it’s a comedy! Anyway. Comedy is suffering because the arts in Australia are suffering. Locally made television, music, film, theatre, interpretive dance, carved blocks of wood in your local park – you name it, and in the 21st century it’s become increasingly irrelevant to how Australians see themselves.

Partly that’s because of the internet: with a world of quality gear a click away, nobody really wants to be stuck watching Tonight Live with Steve Vizard. And partly – and slightly more controversially – we’d suggest that’s because Australia has spent almost all of the last 25 years with various federal Liberal governments united in the view that sport and worshipping “our diggers” are pretty much all the culture Australia needs and have directed funding to that effect. How come we never hear of the Liberals handing out huge chunks of cash to cultural bodies to try and win elections in some kind of “arts rorts” affair?

But enough. The moral of this introduction is that now, more than ever, Australian comedy means less than ever. Which ironically means it’s even more important to try and hold it to some kind of standard. If what we have today is ever going to become the seeds of a second flowering, we’re duty-bound to make sure those seeds don’t have “Charlie Pickering Jr” written on the packet. And away we go!

Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy

Runner-up

Kinne Tonight

20.8% of the total votes

Kinne’s biggest problem is that he’s making comedy for an audience that doesn’t realise someone is making comedy for them. Do people in their twenties and thirties even watch free-to-air television? You wouldn’t think so from looking at literally everything else put to air on free-to-air television. Maybe his audience is really fifteen year-olds watching to try and get an idea of what having a dull job and a bored partner will be like; they’re probably kaking themselves silly over those “before and after” relationship sketches.

Runner-up

Mark Humphries 7.30

22.9% of the total votes

Mark Humphries’ satire continued on 7.30 last year, sticking to its standard format of only having one point to make per sketch – and containing about that many jokes too. Remember when satirical sketches made more than one point? And contained more than one joke? Have the cuts to the ABC really been so bad that one joke and one point is all they can give us now? Or is Mark Humphries just crap at this satire thing?

Winner

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

60.4% of the total votes

It’s always a good idea to start as you mean to go on, so hey: The Weekly is shithouse. And yet never quite in a “fuck this shit right off” way, though that was a phrase heard in at least one of the rooms in Team Tumbleweeds Mansion during one of Pickering’s hardcore centrist rants. The occasional opening gag worked; Luke McGregor’s financial segments were often somewhat informative and mildly amusing; Judith Lucy could be funny trapped inside a paper-mache iron maiden made entirely of positive reviews of Chris Lilly. But otherwise this show is garbage, pure pandering to a millionaire ABC executive’s imagined idea of what a “young person” wants from a news summary hosted by a man who it’s easy to imagine has a lucrative side gig providing media training to the smarmier members of the federal Liberal party. It will never end.


What the voters said about The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

It’s just one guy waffling on not sure whether he should have stayed with The Project, or perhaps in his mind he still is there.

Charlie Pickering. Proof you can have a successful career as an Australian comedy “personality” despite being consitently below average in every area.

The endless Corona Cops segments were the most “surely they don’t think this is funny?” pieces of televised comedy I have seen in some time.


Worst Sitcom or Narrative Comedy

Runner-up

Retrograde

19.5% of the total votes

One day we’ll all look back on the idea of trying to do an ensemble comedy over Zoom and laugh. Shame we couldn’t do it while it was actually happening.

Runner-up

How to Stay Married

39% of the total votes

Peter Helliar really should do a spin-off titled How To Stay Employed By Channel Ten, because that at least has the potential to be interesting. The basic ingredients here were all fine, though Helliar himself was the clear weak link in a show that would have been vastly improved if his character went under a bus at the start of episode one. The problem was that nothing ever happened: each week the main plot (oh no I’ve accidentally written a book calling my husband human trash and the publisher has correctly identified it as non-fiction) crawled forward while every episode had a main story that was so utterly forgettable that… what were we saying?

Winner

Housos vs Virus

48.8% of the total votes

Well don’t we feel like idiots. When Paul Fenech brought back Pizza a bit over a year ago we were all like “hey, this isn’t that bad” and “gee, maybe we misjudged him”. And then he came out with this, which even in a year that was more difficult than most to create comedy in was a complete and total waste of everything involved. Insultingly stupid and mind-numbingly repetitious even by Fenech’s rock bottom standards, this wasn’t so much a new low as a stunning breakthrough in geometry that discovered an entirely new direction for shit to flow down.


What the voters said about Housos vs Virus

The bogan comedy angle can work but not when it is dialled up to 11.

How does Fenech keep getting shows? I suppose this was relatively cheap for 7 and fills any local content quota but really, how?

I would rather watch Paul Fenech remake Mother & Son and play both parts than sit through his tripe.


Worst Panel, Game or Stand-up Show

Runner-up

Gruen

29.5% of the total votes

In a year where a global pandemic claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, it was vital to get accurate information out to people who desperately needed it. Unfortunately, the advertising industry isn’t really interested in thing like “accuracy” or “information”, which made the ABC’s regular ticker-tape parade for the industry seem even more offensive and insulting. This is a show that celebrates parasites who contribute nothing to society; the least it could do is to be more funny.

Runner-up

Last One Laughing

31.8% of the total votes

Turns out if you lock ten comedians in a room and focus their minds on winning $100,000, they take their eyes off the comedy ball. Who knew being a money-grabbing arsehole wasn’t funny? The other problem with Last One Laughing was that it wasn’t a comedy competition, it was a not laughing competition, which, you know, is the less funny of the two options.

Winner

Hughesy, We Have A Problem

43.2% of the total votes

This must be a weird show for some critics to get their heads around, because on the surface it’s doing everything right. It’s a tried and tested formula with a popular host and a decent roster of guests, many of which have proven to be very funny elsewhere. And yet time and time again the end result is an awkward squirming mess where screeching nightmare people compete to talk over each other while the host struggles to hide his contempt for all human life. If we wanted this crap, we’d listen to commercial radio.


What the voters said about Hughesy, We Have A Problem

‘Hughesy’ went from a somewhat good idea to shit very very fast.

Haven’t watched this since the first episode. I feel I have chosen well.

Wikipedia tells me this has had four series. Wow.


Worst Topical or Satirical Show

Runner-up

Sammy J

20% of the total votes

We were interested in Sammy J a few years ago, when he started doing sketches that looked at federal elections through the eyes of Play School. Then he seemed to run out of ideas, and every week just wheeled-out one of his small number of characters – the sports coach, the yoga teacher, the Play School presenter – and did roughly the same jokes he did last time.

Runner-up

The Wharf Revue

22.5% of the total votes

Such is the low standard of comedy and satire in your high-brow venues that theatregoers used to pay more than $100 for A reserve tickets to this show. It’s lucky for the writers/performers that this year’s Revue was always going to be their last ever because, for those of us who’d heard Sydneysiders gushing about the legendary Wharf Revue’s satirical brilliance for years, this COVID-enforced live broadcast performance on YouTube was a massive let-down. Trump gags the writers of SNL would spike, satirical songs with less edge than Gilbert and Sullivan… Yeah, we’ve got better stuff to watch on YouTube, thanks.

Winner

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

62.5% of the total votes

If there was a show even less relevant than usual in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis then it was definitely the one that’s spent years not so much speaking truth to power but trying to get us to understand why people in power make these difficult decisions. Because, yeah, it’s actually the public who lacks empathy rather than the other way around. Is this program satire? No. Not even close. Satire would have a point to make rather than whatever Liberal party-lite wafflings Charlie Pickering can be bothered to utter.


What the voters said about The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

How is this show still on? Give literally anybody else a chance.

Charlie is one of those guys who as a child went to an all-boys private school and thought he was “edgy” coz he saw a few African American stand up specials and grew up to be a thorough wanker.

A topical satire show that ends the year genuinely praising and thanking politicians!! Give the screentime to something more worthwhile, like a third series of Double the Fist (this is a sincere suggestion).


Worst COVID Comedy

Runner-up

Love in Lockdown

25% of the total votes

Despite containing occasional laughs, this tale of an online romance, set and made during the first Melbourne lockdown, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. For one thing, the “everyone’s learning the ukulele in lockdown” thing was already over by the time this came out, and secondly, did anyone actually buy that Georgie (Lucy Durak) would fall in love with ukulele teacher Ned (Eddie Perfect)? A man who even by Melbourne hipster standards was kind of a dickhead.

Runner-up

Retrograde

27.5% of the total votes

Also made and set during lockdown, Retrograde showed how COVID had impacted the lives of a group of 20-somethings. Through a series of video calls between the group, we see relationship breakdowns, job losses, people with health conditions being forced to shield, and drunken freak-outs. Not since Josh Thomas was making shows for the ABC has such self-indulgent, unfunny crap been made in this country, and yet even a global pandemic couldn’t excuse the abject tedium that was Retrograde.

Winner

Housos vs Virus

57.5% of the total votes

If there’s one thing we’ve always begrudgingly admired about Paul Fenech it’s that he can come up with seemingly endless plots about the antics of dodgy idiots in Sydney’s western suburbs. Then came Housos vs Virus and even Fenech ran out of things to do by episode three. Which meant that the remaining episodes were padded-out with re-runs of previous plots or extensive karaoke sequences – and that episode six didn’t get made at all! What a winner of a program.


What the voters said about Housos vs Virus

Is it possible for me to vote for Housos more than once? Please let me know.

I actually know someone who once said to me that “Housos is the best shit on TV”. What’s scary is he might be right.

Did this even have a plot by the end of the series?


Worst Comedy Film

Runner-up

A Sunburnt Christmas

6.5% of the total votes

An Australian Christmas movie? Who’d have thunk it? So this scored points for novelty alone… and then lost them for being all over the place. If this is a movie for kids, why is a five year old running around with a (real, loaded) shotgun? If it’s a movie for adults, why is so much of it aimed at kids? And why is a wacky comedy set-up about an escaped convict hiding out as Santa also a film with a bunch of super-serious dramatic scenes involving the tragic death of a loved one? More like A Confusing Christmas, amirite? *crickets chirp*

Runner-up

Rams

9.4% of the total votes

And again, another Australian “comedy” movie that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Sure, it’s well made and has decent performances, but is it a moving tale of the reconciliation of two estranged brothers or a film where Sam Neill is all but wanking at watching his prize ram getting it on with a ewe? It’s not that comedy and drama can’t go together, it’s that Australia doesn’t seem to have any movie-makers who can put them anywhere near each other without giving the audience whiplash.

Winner

The Very Excellent Mr Dundee

75% of the total votes

Where to begin with how this all went so very very wrong? We’ve got other awards to hand out so let’s try and keep it short: getting Paul Hogan in a comedy film to play a sad sack yearning to escape the gilded prison of Hollywood was definitely “a choice”, but it totally sunk what was always going to be an extremely leaky boat. Without a funny – or even particularly likeable – central performance, everything else here fell so flat it looked like an elephant had stepped on it. Hoges’ various wacky mix-ups were painful, the touching scenes made viewers want to touch the remote to get this crap off, the special guest cameos were depressing or low-rent or both, half the time “Hollywood” looked like the back streets of Port Melbourne, and what was all that “Mr Dundee” stuff about anyway? If they were trying to protect the good name of Mick “Crocodile” Dundee, they failed.


What the voters said about The Very Excellent Mr Dundee

I watched this with my Nan and she turned it off 20 minutes in.

Paul Hogan should really have done a “Farewell to Debt” tour instead.

Hogan’s delivery of “That’s not the line” in the trailer made me sad.


Best New Comedy

Runner-up

Amazon Original Australian stand-up specials

11.1% of the total votes

OK, so there was maybe a bit of good timing in that these specials, recorded in 2019, were ready to air early in the pandemic, but, helpfully, they were also pretty funny. Judith Lucy vs Men (pictured) was one of the obvious stand-outs – an hour of rage and hilarity about Lucy’s life of dating failure – but there were also strong sets from Dilruk Jayasinha, Anne Edmonds and many more.

Runner-up

At Home Alone Together

28.9% of the total votes

If we were Prime Minister, we’d make the ABC give a bit of money to up-and-coming comedians every year, not just when there’s a pandemic. Sure, At Home Alone Together was a bit patchy, and there plenty of obviously dud characters and sketches, but that’s also the point: make stuff quickly, don’t allow management to interfere, and give people with potential an opportunity to learn… that’s basically what The Late Show was and look at all the comedy gold that came for that team thereafter. At Home Alone Together may not have been brilliant, but it had a lot of spark, and it felt like it could be the start of something. Maybe even something really good.

Winner

Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun

48.9% of the total votes

Aunty Donna finally hit the big time with this polished, inventive and very funny series for Netflix. Set in Los Angeles, but feeling totally Australian, this surreal program went off in every direction possible – then found some more – caring little for logic, continuity, physics or time. A series from Aunty Donna should have been made in Australia years ago – it’s not like no one pitched it – but, oh no, Australian broadcasters were too busy. Too busy greenlighting things like Rosehaven series five.


What the voters said about Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun

Aunty Donna. Just so great.

Those Aunty Donna boys can do no wrong in my eyes and it was a treat to watch them get this Netflix show. They had some pretty big guns on the show too – Scott Aukerman, Weird Al and Paul F Tompkins. Colour me impressed and the obligatory – haven’t they done well – for good measure.

Can we move from “the chaser boys” to “the aunty donna boys”?


Best Comedy

Runner-up

Have You Been Paying Attention?

26% of the total votes

If this was on the ABC it’d be hailed as a national treasure, and rightly so. A news comedy that’s both (mildly) informative and (consistently) hilarious, it’s one of the few shining spots in both Australian comedy and free-to-air television as a whole. It’s solid, it’s reliable, it mixes things up so the hour run time never feels dragged out, it’s a place where comedians can turn up and actually be funny while host Tom Gleisner keeps things moving while firing out the quips at a rapid rate. It’s a gem.

Runner-up

Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun

38% of the total votes

Having seen enough of their earlier pilots to know that a half hour slot wasn’t exactly the best venue for their particular brand of comedy, we were both relieved and laughing extremely loudly at this. Australia’s loss is the world’s gain: with lightning fast tonal shifts, agreably dumb gags and just enough character work to hold it all together, this extremely silly sketch-ish show was a comedy highlight of the year no matter where on the globe you were accessing Netflix via a VPN.

Winner

Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell / Pagan Holiday Special

66% of the total votes

As the rest of the ABC commentariat seems to drift increasingly towards the right-wing side of the street, Micallef is single-handedly keeping alive the idea – or even just jokes about the idea – that the ABC is anything but moving in lockstep with the rest of our increasingly unipolar media. Put another way, he makes jokes about the people who are actually running the country, and we can never have too many of them. Also, and we can’t say this often enough, those jokes are consistently hilarious. It may have been running since before many of us were born but Mad as Hell continues to be the only thing that makes living in Australia worthwhile, which is fortunate as our generally successful handling of COVID-19 means the alternative is slightly more difficult to achieve at the moment.


What the voters said about Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell / Pagan Holiday Special

Mad As Hell remains a clear winner.

Mad As Hell remains the only appointment viewing.

As much as Shaun’s documentary series may disapprove of it, I’m celebrating Mad As Hell‘s win with a to-be-determined number of Bundy & Cokes.


We asked our readers… What did you think of comedy on 2020?

Challenging… both to make and in some instances to watch. But despite criticism let’s hope the industry never stops trying.

It’s been a strong year with the streaming services and podcasts filling a quality content gap that TV has been fucking up for years.

2020 was a pretty bad year for comedy, apart from HYBPA and Mad as Hell. At least some new talent was able to enter the comedy scene with shows like At Home Alone Together, although they were quite rushed.

We needed comedy and we got some. As TV continues to die a slow death it was great to see streaming services putting out Australian content. I just hope they keep it up. I also hope Paul Fenech wins the lottery and fucks off to a remote island to retire from TV forever. Or maybe he could just have one good idea. Just once.

If you watch nothing else, watch Aunty Donna’s Netflix series. An incredible achievement and proof Australia can make world class comedy in our own voice. Haven’t they done well?

Global pandemic, bushfires, recession. Just when you think things can’t get any worse Australian comedy is there to prove it very much can.

Sigh…apart from a few trusted favourites (Micallef, HYBPA), some surprises (Mitch McTaggart’s special, and yes I actually liked At Home Alone Together a lot, even the Ray Martin bits), and some shows I didn’t get to see (don’t have Netflix), it felt like slim pickings in what I’m sure was a difficult year for all.

It definitely got a lot worse before it got a lot better. Like every year, all the old stalwarts need to step the fuck aside and let those with proper skills, a wide range of comedic skills and creativity to be the ones making comedy. Aunty Donna was a first good step forward, now everyone needs to follow suit.

2020 starts with Ed Kavale on Dancing with the Stars, 2021 starts with Ash Williams on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! 2022, Tony Martin on The Masked Singer, bet on it.

oh what’s the point

The above is a selection of the many comments we received. Thank you for voting and commenting, now comes 2021…

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