Vale Hughsey We Have a Problem (2021 edition)

There’s been a lot of talk around the place over the last week or so about Hey Hey it’s Saturday. At a guess, this is how Daryl Somers likes it: even bad publicity – and it’s been all bad – keeps the memory of his most prized achievement alive. But in amongst everybody pointing out all the racism and sexism and just general creepiness that was The House that Somers built, one of the more consistent themes has been this: what the hell were we thinking?

Looking back now, it seems obvious that Hey Hey wasn’t quite right, and yet it was a much-loved part of a lot (but not all) of people’s pasts. The easy answer is that hey, we were young, we didn’t realise exactly what it was we were taking in. It was a show with an ostrich as a co-host! Dickie Knee! Wacky sound effects! Sure, Plucka Duck was a bit dodgy but, you know, Red Faces!

And yet when Nine dropped Hey Hey it didn’t take long for The (AFL) Footy Show to pick up the baton. There’s been clip compilations doing the rounds highlighting the worst of Hey Hey; does anyone think it’d be all that difficult to put together basically identical compilations based on the work of Sam Newman and Eddie McGuire? It wouldn’t be hard to find the blackface clips, that’s for sure.

The logical conclusion is that Hey Hey wasn’t some aberration, the product of a power-mad Daryl run amok. Rather it was simply Channel Nine giving their audience what it wanted; broad, loud entertainment based around dividing the audience into “us and “them” and getting laughs from giving “them” a good unapologetic kicking. They were mirrors held up to the audience, and the audience liked what they saw.

Which brings us to Hughsey, We Have a Problem.

There’s no blackface on Hughsey. There’s no real racism, or sexism, or anything seemingly controversial beyond a bunch of dodgy advice and face-pulling. But there was nothing controversial on Hey Hey either (well, during the first run at least); that’s how mainstream entertainment works.

But like Hey Hey, Hughsey is lowest common denominator entertainment designed to give the audience what it (seemingly) wants and absolutely nothing more. Which, as we’ve established, can be a bit of a problem in Australia. You think you’re having a harmless laugh at a married couple who want to know how they can get up to a bit of rooting on their honeymoon that for some reason they’re spending with the bride’s parents, and then ten years later someone’s fished out the clip and in the harsh light of 2030’s values it doesn’t look so good.

We’re not saying that Hughsey, We Have a Problem is going to end up seen as everything that’s wrong with Australia. We are saying that it’s lazy, basic, pandering television starring at least two people – Dave “I just bought a $3 million house from The Block on a whim” Hughes and Kate “get the junkies out of St Kilda” Langbroek – who’ve already shown themselves to be unafraid to act like rich arseholes. Today, that’s fine: fifteen years from now that might make them Class Traitors who were first up against the wall when the revolution came.

Or who knows? If we could predict what was going to be offensive a decade from now we’d be a lot smarter than we obviously are. “You mean these people drove to work in petrol-burning cars? Hashtag cancelled.” Or maybe being inoffensive will be the new offensive? It wasn’t offensive to be offensive fifteen years ago (it was “edgy”); half the facial expressions Dave Hughes pulls today seem pretty offensive to us.

The thing with basic, crowd-pleasing, lazy comedy is that it goes out of style fast. The comedy that lasts is the comedy where some thought’s gone into it: the creators are making fun of specific things for reasons they can defend beyond “it’s just a laff, innit?”. Sure, despite the best intentions good comedy often dates, and can end up awkward and out-of-touch – but it’s the lazy comedy that ends up looking hateful and mean-spirited.

Hughsey better hope nobody’s had their VCR running these last few years.

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