Not content with screening sketch comedy made during this century, Seven has decided to throw a bit more cash Daryl Somers’ way and bless us with The Best of The Russell Gilbert Show. Two hours worth over two big weeks! Yeah, bet you thought you were funny with your “The Best of? So it’ll run for five minutes then?” jokes.
Unfortunately for those after laughs, first you had to wade through Daryl’s introduction, reminding us that Russell “is a loveable rascal” and not the anti-vaxx crank last seen shouting abuse at the Victorian Premier:
Which might explain why Daryl referred to Gilbert in the past tense throughout his introduction until a weird “And I hope you’re watching tonight Russ”, which makes it sound like nobody even bothered telling him a series starring him was going to air.
“His career was sadly cut short by health issues” is as close as we get to an explanation; it seems Gilbert had a stroke a few years back in the wake of the death of his partner and isn’t the man he used to be.
And on that hilarious note, on with the comedy!
As Daryl helpfully explained, this show is a relic from the days when sketch comedy was “in vogue across all of the networks”, which makes it a useful guide as to why that’s no longer the case. It’s not that the material here is unwatchable (it’s a best-of, after all), but calling it “lightweight” feels like a disservice to our current system of weights and measures.
At least Gilbo’s mixing things up, with a bit of stand-up at the start before a lengthy sketch involving producing John Farnham’s latest album where the joke is roughly 90% “that’s the real John Farnham”. When Gilbo locks his keys in his car he goes to the nearest house, explains the situation, and asks if he can use their phone: the punchline is a fun reminder that phones used to be roughly the size of house bricks.
Other sketches don’t quite stick the landing. Where’s the one where every shirt Gilbo tries on makes him assault the salesman going? The answer will leave you thinking “I guess?” Just cutting a sketch short when there’s no decent punchline dates back to at least Monty Python, yet 25 years later Gilbo is still firmly sticking to the old ways.
Some sketches still have charm, others are aggressively stupid. Overall, it’s basic material that didn’t stand out at the time and hasn’t aged well. But hey, nostalgia still sells even if nobody watched it in the first place, right? Hang on, is that a fax machine in that office sketch?
The cast is… well, it’s great to see Roz Hammond and Bob Franklin as semi-regulars, and there’s a bunch of guest stars including Glenn Robbins and Mick Molloy*. But this isn’t really material that can be elevated all that much by great performances.
What it does have going for it is Gilbert himself, who sticks throughout to his established comedy persona of a slightly overconfident and intellectually underpowered bloke who’s essentially harmless whether he’s making ridiculous demands of a pizza chef, being a crappy high school teacher, or tricking women into taking off their tops oh hang on a second.
(he does also seem to be the kind of funnyman who goes on to win acting awards for playing “against type” as a brutal killer, an angle sadly unexplored here – though the sketch where he’s “Larry Kendall, workplace bully” comes pretty close).
The real interest in this decades-old material is that for two weeks – the second episode airs this coming Wednesday at 7.30pm – Seven is showing it 24 hours after We Interrupt This Broadcast, their much-vaunted attempt to drag sketch comedy into the 21st century.
So here’s your chance to compare and contrast: which sketch show does it best? Has sketch comedy really changed that much in 25 years? Does We Interrupt This Broadcast offer anything the equal of Gilbo’s Pantsless Cop? And will restaurant sketches ever truly die?
*it also features Mike Myers of Austin Powers fame as a crappy lifesaver, which is certainly an idea with potential