Comedy: What is it Good For?

Australian comedy: what’s the point? Making us laugh, sure – but a fart can manage that. Which puts the collected works of Charlie Pickering in a pretty bad light.

On the other hand, there’s this:

Which was a timely reminder that, once upon a time, Australian satire used to go beyond just re-stating what was being said on the nightly news.

Clarke & Dawe

Sure, Clarke & Dawe were world class; we won’t see their like again. And shows like Mad as Hell – well, just Mad as Hell come to think of it – also do good work making fun of the facts behind the fiction. But it’s just a little surprising that, at a time where “the explainer” seems to have become a central part of what’s left of television comedy, that most comedy explainers don’t explain much and aren’t very funny.

Partly that’s because of the whole “Clarke & Dawe were world class” thing. Partly it’s because those who used to make shows explaining things in funny ways have vanished from the ABC in recent years: John Safran and Judith Lucy come to mind, but there have been plenty of others giving it a stab in recent years.

And why wouldn’t there be? Explaining stuff in a funny way is a sure-fire format – just ask the advertising geniuses at Gruen.

And yet, shows like Gruen and The Weekly almost never seem to get to the heart of the matters they’re discussing. Clarke & Dawe could nail the problem with Australia’s power market in under two minutes: Gruen takes 40 minutes a week to tell us that advertising is… good? You know, the opposite of pretty much everyone’s visceral reaction to it in all its forms.

One of the many reasons why Clarke & Dawe were loved – or just highly regarded – is because they were on the side of the general public. When 2022’s ABC decides to get a laugh out of explaining something, they always explain it in such a way that they’re talking down to their audience.

There’s no real sense of amazement or confusion or astonishment that we could have somehow found our way into such a bizarre situation, because the people putting together these explainers like things just the way they are. The Gruen panel might dislike an individual ad campaign, but the idea that being bombarded by advertising is a good thing is always taken completely for granted.

And if The Weekly tried to explain why the power market is so screwed up, sure, they might touch on the fact that we’ve turned an essential part of society into a market where some make huge profits while others freeze. Based on past performance though, they’d do it in a meandering, kak-handed way that would leave you with the impression that yeah, things are stuffed – but what are you going to do?

Comedy isn’t the place we should turn to for the solution to all of society’s ills. But when the comedians talking about those ills seem to think they’re not really ills at all – or at least, not ills they’re particularly concerned about, cue Wil Anderson making yet another hilarious joke about how advertising is inescapable – then what’s the point?

Well, apart from telling people that this here right now is exactly as good as it’s ever going to get and hoping for anything better is a futile waste of time. But why would the government broadcaster ever want to tell people that?

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