And They’re Off!

One week into the official election campaign and… yeah. Remember when political satire was a central part of Australian culture? You do? Have fun down at Services Australia trying to claim the old age pension.

Warning: this show is not mentioned in this post

Slightly less snarkily, these days any election campaign really drives home the shrinking opportunities for political comedy on Australian television. The Chaser may have been staggering a bit during their final few election shows, but at least they were making fun of an election campaign. Which is pretty much all 95% of most election campaigns are good for.

Worse – well, worse for people who like political comedy, and there aren’t many of us left – political comedy just isn’t fashionable. For a long, long while there, jokes about politicians were about as mainstream as you could get. Martin / Molloy, the biggest radio comedy program in the country for years, was constantly making fun of John Howard; sketch shows made sure to always have a few political impressions handy just in case.

And now sketch comedy is dead, along with comedy on radio. But you’d think impersonating a politician would be the kind of thing that still got some laughs somewhere. Maybe the rapid turnover of leaders post Kevin Rudd (remember how Rove had a Kevin Rudd sketch every single week?) killed off impressions; more likely, the current media climate is… somewhat less tolerant of disrespect.

You don’t have to be a flaming #auspol nutter to realise that the ABC has become somewhat more conservative – in more than one use of the word – in recent years. It’s no surprise that during the pointy end of the election the ABC’s “comedy” coverage will consist of The Weekly (the ABC’s “youth news explainer” that rarely fails to skew towards the status quo) and Gruen Nation (ugh why), which-

-seriously, what’s the point of Gruen talking about the election when 85% of Australian political coverage is already focused entirely on marketing? It’s all talk about how each side is getting their message out there and cut throughs and positioning the leaders to appeal to segments of the community and so fucking on and on and on like the media aren’t the ones who actually decide which messages get put out there in the first place. Gruen covering election marketing might make sense if we had a media that was was, oh, focused on ideas and policies and benefits to the community instead of themselves, but there’s fat fucking chance of that ever happening, fuck this shit-

(ten minutes pass)

Meanwhile, over the last decade or so the ABC has all but banished overtly political comedy from prime time. It’s not doing so well outside of it either. Sammy J is barely a blip, Mark Humphries turns up when he feels like it. At Home With Julia may have been controversial and somewhat ill-judged, but at least it was treating a politician with the disrespect they deserved in a timeslot where people might have seen it. It’s simply not possible to imagine a similar parody directly mocking Scott Morrison ever getting to air.

Sure, that’s probably because our current PM is… shall we say, not exactly someone with a robust sense of humour about himself? But you’d think in an even slightly healthy environment for political comedy, having a PM who is so clearly either a): “a type” or b): marketing himself as “a type” would result in a few jokes. Or are we yet again deluding ourselves?

When nobody is making jokes about politicians, there’s an unhealthy tinge to the political debate. Politics is a serious business: that’s why it’s important to be able to laugh at it. Without decent political comedy in this country, we can barely pretend to even be a country. We’re just a collection of servants and masters, and the masters don’t like being laughed at.

Put another way, thank fuck for Mad as Hell, and that’s finishing up next week.

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