Clip Joint

Imagine, if you will, a fan of Australian comedy. Not all that long ago, this fandom might have kept them pretty busy; these days it only takes a few hours a week to keep up to date. And yet, even with that meager diet it still feels like they’re watching the same thing over and over – because the only comedy that’s left is news-based clip shows, and they’re all using the same clips.

It’d be unfair to direct most of our stink eye on this subject towards Question Everything. They’re at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to news clips. The Cheap Seats gets almost a full week to scour the news from around the world before it goes to air on a Tuesday. Question Everything airs 24 hours later; not a lot of hilarious news happening in that tiny gap.

And this year has been a bumper year for clip show comedy. Twenty-six hour-long episodes of Have You Been Paying Attention? alongside 28 or more episodes of The Cheap Seats doesn’t leave much over for anyone else.

Both those shows clearly worked hard to avoid stepping on each others toes. They’re also different shows in terms of humour. What might have got a quick answer and moving on on HYBPA? might be two minutes worth of riffing on The Cheap Seats. Yes, there were times this year when both shows – coming from the same production company, so presumably sharing at least some resources – used the same clip. So long as the jokes are different, who cares?

Well, for one, the jokes usually aren’t all that different. Someone makes a weird noise on a news report, you’re going to get a lot of jokes about making a weird noise. Of course, it’s possible to take one clip and get two wildly different gags from it, but that usually requires one of the shows to be Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell.

The whole point of clip show comedy is that it’s comedy in bulk, a rapid-fire onslaught of the most obvious jokes. See a funny clip, use the first joke that comes to mind even if it’s barely a joke and guess we’re giving Question Everything the stink eye again over that, and onto the next clip. Do that thirty times a week, you’ve got the start of a show.

There have been plenty of times in recent comedy history where clip shows have clashed. Everyone knows the ways around this kind of conflict. Cast your net wider, come up with smarter jokes – it’s all easier said than done. For one, these things cost money, and the point of a clip show is that it’s meant to be cheap.

Question Everything tries to get around these limits by getting the panel to go on extended riffs about the clips. But if they fully committed to that, then what’s the point of Wil Anderson? So he gets to do the usual gags in between and suddenly the show seems just that little bit staler.

While The Cheap Seats is clearly doing a better job with this kind of material, they’re not resting on their laurels either. They cast their net globally (and not just Across the Ditch) so their material’s more varied. The hosts occasionally pop up in sketches, which adds to the variety. They have running jokes they can pull out to use to make relevant clips funnier. And there’s actual chemistry between Tim and Mel so when the jokes falter the bungling still seems funny.

So The Cheap Seats? Actually working on being funny. Question Everything? They’re acting like they’ve got this all under control. Wil Anderson, a pretty basic collection of news clips, a couple of comedians who’ve brought in some old rope that kind of fits the topics; yeah, that’ll do.

Like we said at the start, it feels like we’re watching the same thing over and over again.

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