At the moment, Australia’s free-to-air television networks are currently showing four new locally made comedy (well, light entertainment really, but we’ll take what we can get) programs a week: Would I Lie To You? Australia, Taskmaster Australia, Hard Quiz and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering. If you’ve been wondering why it’s been a bit quiet around here lately, there’s your answer: good luck working up the enthusiasm to cover those side-splitting winners on a regular basis.
What is interesting about those four shows, in a depressing way that’s increasingly par for the course in Australian comedy, is the talent – or lack thereof – in front of the cameras. Fifty percent of these shows are hosted by one man: Tom Gleeson. Of the rest, 25% are hosted by Charlie Pickering, who is also a team captain on Would I Lie To You? Australia.
So these two are the funniest people in Australia? That’s why they have the hosting jobs all sewn up – because they’re the best there is at what they do? It’s not just laziness, pre-existing fame, entrenched privilege and a massive lack of imagination that keeps serving them up to us, right?
And that’s the best laugh you’ll get from either of those two men this week.
Look, we get it: hosting a pre-recorded show is a moderately difficult gig that not literally anyone can do, and when you bring in established names you hopefully get their established audience along for the ride. Australian comedy is a tough sell at the best of times – while we’re here, keep an eye out for We Interrupt this Broadcast, Seven’s new sketch show starting Tuesday at 7.30pm – and a Logie-winning name might be the difference between success and failure.
No, the real problem here is the system that let these two repeatedly fail upwards until they’re now somehow the biggest names in Australian television comedy despite being about as funny as letting a sentence run on and on and on without any kind of clearly defined point but let’s just keep it going because that’s how things have always been done around these parts.
Gleeson’s act revolves entirely around him playing a smarmy smug smartarse: now that he’s the top dog, the joke feels more like having an arsehole boss following you around at work*. Pickering’s act is… what, being slightly too young to be a real newsreader? That ship sailed a decade or so ago, but good on him for sticking with it.
Both of them come across as competent on television. There’s no reason why they can’t host two shows at once, especially shows as firmly forgettable as these ones. The problem is that all the comedy currently on Australian television is forgettable, and all of it is hosted (or near enough) by these two.
If you don’t think we deserve better, congratulations: your job as a commissioning editor awaits.
*to be fair, he’s a reasonable fit for Taskmaster and Hard Quiz was built around his act. So a better question is, why is half the comedy on our televisions at the moment based on a smug dickhead host treating people like shit?