Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2023

Welcome to the Australian Tumbleweeds Awards, in which we honour the best and worst of Australian comedy in 2023.

Last year wasn’t the worst year in Australian television comedy, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. Actually, maybe it was: 2023 felt like the year when Australian comedy just gave up. Forget coming up with anything fresh or surprising, let alone new. If you like comedy and you were born this century, good news! The joke is, there is no good news.

Sure, on a series-by-series level the year ticked along in a manner that, from a distance to a disinterested viewer or ABC executive, may have suggested a sustainable industry. Aunty Donna finally got a show on the ABC (it was later cancelled); Working Dog continued to provide the goods with Have You Been Paying Attention? and The Cheap Seats (then they brought back Thank God You’re Here). We didn’t get any Hey Hey It’s Saturday specials. Chris Lilley didn’t make a comeback.

But you can’t keep an industry running just by keeping Daryl Somers out, and otherwise all we got in 2023 was more of the same. More The Weekly, more Wil Anderson, more Chaser faces turning up a decade after we thought we’d said goodbye. What little new comedy there was felt like a contractual obligation, a series of half-baked ideas and half-hearted dramedies that bubbled up from the bowels of various funding bodies with no clear audience in mind. So hey, slap a big COMEDY label on them and just don’t mention the ratings after the first week.

Comedy can’t go on like this. When the big news for 2024 is that Shaun Micallef is coming back to the ABC – and yes, we’re as excited as anyone else, but we’re making a point here – things are looking just a touch grim. Micallef left the ABC in 2022 saying he hoped his departure would free up resources for new comedic talent; when management finished laughing, they axed everything that featured anyone new and offered him his old job back.

Comedy used to be for the young; out in the real world, it still is. But on our screens, you’re expected to wait decades to get anything more than a guest appearance on a panel show that might as well have been made in 1996. The people who made The Late Show in 1993 are now making pretty much every Australian comedy show on commercial television in 2023; it’s not that we don’t appreciate their hard work, but you’d think someone else might have stuck their head up in the last 30 years.

So even if individual shows didn’t suck (don’t worry, most of them did), the Australian comedy scene – at least as far as television is concerned because shit, movies are in a whole ‘nother category that is so much more depressing to contemplate – just keeps on getting increasingly stuffed. When was the last time anyone new came along to stir up some real interest in local comedy? What was the last sitcom that attracted attention beyond the kind of people who are reading this?

Comedy is meant to be the most popular of popular art forms, something that cuts through barriers of race and class to unite us all in the singularly human experience of enjoying something funny. Young, old, rich, poor, red-faced racist crank or unicycle-riding inner-city greenie, who amongst us doesn’t like to laugh?

Well, if we had to guess, the people behind a lot of the following.

Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy


Australian Epic

25% of the total votes

The cast of Australian Epic

Arriving at least 10 years too late to ride the “everything’s funnier if you turn it into a musical” wave, Australian Epic arrived late and turned everything into a musical anyway. With the exception of the final episode on Tampa, which was a long-overdue howl of rage at 30+ years of Australian government policy on refugees, the rest of the series was, at best, a pointless waste of everyone’s time. But with jazz hands.


The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers

39% of the total votes

Four men in their twenties walking towards a camera

Every decade or so, one of the commercial networks sees the gaping comedy hole in their schedules and green lights a prank show. Remember that one with Rebel Wilson? We barely do too! In The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers, the four members of the team take turns to both set up and be the primary victims of the pranks. It’s all about challenging each other and making each other laugh, but don’t worry, they’re all great mates really! As a psychological study of how straight white guys form relationships with each other, it’s possibly quite interesting. For anyone watching who was hoping to be entertained, it was mainly weird and uncomfortable.


The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

54% of the total votes

Charlie Pickering looking serious and determined at Sydney Harbour

Speaking of straight white men, and weird and uncomfortable, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering continued to do what it does best in 2023: inexplicably stay on air. Relying heavily on guest-authored segments to be watchable, the rest of the show consisted of middle-of-the-road summaries of recent-ish current affairs stories and wacky clips packages about… things? We honestly forget. And while being unmemorable (not to mention unprovocative, unincisive, dumbed-down and way too safe) presumably prevented it from being a target for the anti-ABC culture war mob, you’d be hard-pressed to make a case that The Weekly… is doing its job. Satire should be funny and challenging. The government should be quacking in its boots. Instead, here’s a softball interview with the Prime Minister. Followed by more wacky clips or something.

What the voters said about The Weekly with Charlie Pickering

The Weekly‘s ongoing sketch where Margaret Pomeranz reviews things Margaret Pomeranz wouldn’t normally review is one of the freshest ideas of 2004.

Weirdly, over nine series searching for a formula and a removable supporting cast, The Weekly has slowly morphed through slightly different versions of the same bad show, like Captain Charlie helming his own Ship of Theseus of shit.

The Weekly is proof that you cannot fire anyone from the public service for rank incompetence.

Worst Sitcom or Narrative Comedy


Gold Diggers

28% of the total votes

Two women in 1850s dresses putting on a theatrical show

A strong cast, good costumes, the type of setting few Australian sitcoms have explored before…that’s all we can come up with that’s positive to say about Gold Diggers. The principal problem of this eight-episode series (eight episodes!) was that the script felt like a first draft, with the concept half-baked and the opportunities for jokes barely explored. Still, it featured some women in the 1850s speaking in contemporary social media talk and being all feminist and shit. LOLZ!



30% of the total votes


Chris Lilley may have been “cancelled” by TV but in podcast land, he can do whatever he likes. And whatever he likes is this rambling, barely entertaining and certainly not funny continued exploration of Ja’mie, his over-privileged ex-private schoolgirl character. Now in her early 20’s, Ja’mie is a wannabe influencer and fashion designer living in L.A., trying to make it. In the hands of a better comedian, there would be plenty to be said about her and her world. In the hands of Chris Lilley, you will unsubscribe in frustration at how infrequently he has anything funny or interesting to say at all.


Mother and Son

53% of the total votes

A woman in her 70s and her son in his late 30s in a burnt out kitchen

The original Mother and Son may have got uncomfortable laughs out of… dementia? Alzheimers? memory loss? …it was never quite clear, but at least it got laughs. This reimagining fell into the same traps that most contemporary sitcoms fall into: it focused on drama and realism and forgot to include jokes. It was only when Jean Kittson turned up as Maggie’s friend Heather that the show got genuinely funny. Turns out a bit of chemistry between the performers and some actual comic situations are quite entertaining. Who knew?

What the voters said about Mother and Son

The reboot of Mother and Son is essentially a contemporary version with no humour, no laughs, no joy, no touch of finesse and no chemistry between the main actors, in yet another feeble attempt to stroke Matt Okine’s already inflated ego.

Was very sceptical of Mother and Son when it was announced then softened over time until I saw it. Denise Scott is easily the best thing about it but damn is it a slog.

Mother and Son frustratingly hinted at what it could have been, when it wasn’t busy being season 2.5 of The Other Guy. Okine isn’t a strong enough performer to hold up his half of the premise.

Worst Panel, Game or Stand-up Show



27% of the total votes

Wil Anderson posing on the set of Gruen

Can you imagine actually telling anyone you still watched Gruen? It’d be like getting excited about the new Rolling Stones album or something. There’s a point where being a long-running success starts to say something unpleasant about both your audience and your inability to challenge them in any way – but we’re talking about a show where one of the regulars is also a Qantas board member, so it’s not like being embarrassed about being a toxic blight on society is ever going to happen here.


The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers

29% of the total votes

Four men in their twenties walking towards a camera

Pranks! They don’t always suck, but after what feels like a few thousand years worth of television programs based entirely around treating innocent people like easily duped chumps, you really need to do better than this. At least a lot of the time the joke was on the other members of the team, which made the whole exercise watchable in a “guess that’s yet another half hour of the only life I’m ever going to have that’s gone forever” sense.


Question Everything

41% of the total votes

Jan Fran and Wil Anderson pose holding open newspapers

One of the many, many frustrating things about the ABC is that while plenty of perfectly decent programs get the axe for the slightest of reasons, a handful of turds just keep on coming back despite generating no interest or excitement whatsoever. Good luck trying to figure out why these particular duds are the chosen ones of management; while audiences ignore them at best and openly loathe them at worst, they keep on returning time and time again, providing nothing of value while chiselling further away at the idea that the ABC has even the slightest interest in what the viewers at home would like to watch. Bizarrely, this was never one of the questions raised on Question Everything, which was back in 2023 for a third season.

What the voters said about Question Everything

The question they clearly didn’t ask is “How do we make a funny panel show?”

How many more shows involving questions can the ABC make??

It’s weird that Wil Anderson is still constantly working, but has never felt less relevent.

Worst Topical or Satirical Show



27% of the total votes

Wil Anderson posing on the set of Gruen

Hey, here’s a question: is advertising the same as it was a decade ago? To quote the theme song, “nah nah nah nah nah nah nah”. So why is Gruen still the same old same old? Prime time viewing on the commercial networks is basically just hours of advertising disguised as programming: even Have You Been Paying Attention? has live reads as part of the show, while the only way most people see commercials these days is by actively seeking them out on YouTube because they heard Russell Coight was back flogging cars. But to talk in any serious way about the modern world would be a): alienating for the oldies who still watch this advertisement for advertising and b): a terrifying window into a bleak hellscape where everything you do is constantly being auctioned off to remorseless inhuman entities created solely to exploit and commercialise your innermost thoughts and feelings. But hey, just so long as Wil Anderson makes a snarky quip about how AI-generated advertising will soon make every aspect of human creativity completely unwatchable, it’s all good.


Question Everything

37% of the total votes

Jan Fran and Wil Anderson pose holding open newspapers

Remember when Wil Anderson said the solution to the lack of fresh talent on the ABC was to give him another show? Okay, maybe he wouldn’t host it, but… then what would be the point of having him around? So yeah, let’s get him to host it. And if you’ve got Anderson hosting you’d better give him something to do – he can’t just introduce the new talent, that’s not fair to the audience who’ve tuned in to see him. But having a middle-aged white guy hosting yet another ABC show is a bit of a bad look, so better get in a younger woman to co-host, and she’s got to have stuff to do too because otherwise it’ll look a bit obvious that she’s just there for “balance” and… hey, where’d the new talent go?


The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

64% of the total votes

Charlie Pickering looking serious and determined at Sydney Harbour

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that you can draw a direct line from the current controversy over the ABC dumping a freelance journalist for (checks notes) having an opinion some powerful people didn’t like, to the ABC’s seemingly endless support for Charlie Pickering. Let’s explain: technically The Weekly is a satirical news program, but it’s really just the latest series to fill a slot the ABC sees as essential but nobody wants to watch – Let’s Make The News Cool. The News is what the ABC (believes it) does best: while they have bugger all interest in getting the youth interested in just about everything else (so music shows, no arts coverage, no dramas not aimed at 60-year-olds, and so on), it’s seen as essential to air news programs that appeal to the next generation of 7.30 viewers. But after decades of conservative white-anting, much of ABC News is pretty much just mindlessly parroting talking points lifted from the nation’s most rabidly right-wing press while struggling to articulate any viewpoint that isn’t earning $200K a year. And you can’t get comedy from a view of the world that sides with the top end of town, that reflexively agrees with power, that only says “We’re just having a laugh” about things that benefit the poor and downtrodden. All you get is The Weekly. And it’s shit.

What the voters said about The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

How is this still on?

I don’t know anyone who actually watches these programs. Like, not even on in the background of a dementia ward.

Can’t beat The Weekly (enough).

Worst Comedy Film


The Big Dog

22% of the total votes

A man talking on a mobile phone standing a balcony with a harbour view behind him

Is financial domination a real thing? Okay, yes, it probably is because every single sexual fetish you can think of is a real thing somewhere out there. But if you want to give loads of cash to someone sexy so they can treat you like crap, why not just pay them to treat you like crap in a way that involves something a little closer to actual sex? Anyway, this movie is supposedly about that fetish, but it wasn’t showing at any cinemas near us so we never got to see it. Do they still release Australian movies on DVD?



25% of the total votes

Santa Claus smoking a cigar and holding a bottle of beer

It’s a film about an alcoholic actor who’s now sober but with his glory days behind him who tries to reconnect with his family over Christmas. Nice job getting this out before the movie based on that Paul Kelly “How to Make Gravy” song hits cinemas with a damp thud later this year, but otherwise it’s yet another well-made Australian movie about a pretty depressing situation that we’re told is a comedy because otherwise nobody in their right mind would see it at any time of the year. You know what a comedy movie is? A movie where the cast of a sitcom goes on a vacation to a trashy yet slightly exotic location and oh right, we don’t make sitcoms now either.


Jones Family Christmas

31% of the total votes

A family surrounded by Christmas presents

Look, it was on a streaming service you’d already paid for anyway, what more do you want?

What the voters said about Jones Family Christmas

I had to Google what these movies were because I’ve never heard of them. This has happened for the past five or so years now! Which is a great indicator of how bad and how truly awful the Australian cinema industry is.

No thanks.

Jones Family Christmas is the real big dog.

Best New Comedy


From The Hideout

23% of the total votes

Tony Martin and Pete Smith pointing at Djovan Caro's The Room t-shirt

This inter-generational dialogue between Pete Smith, Tony Martin and Djovan Caro hit the mark early and after just seven episodes it’s set to continue in the same vein. Sometimes it’s a pop culture nerd out, other times it’s an opportunity for celebrity anecdotes, or to give ventriloquism a go. Either way, we’ve liked and subscribed.



25% of the total votes

The cast of Deadloch

In a world where most broadcasters and streamers will only consider making a comedy if it’s a dramedy, there are surprisingly few examples of good dramedies. This is one of them. Deadloch was both a well-scripted, intriguing murder mystery, and funny. It also had more to say about misogyny, class, sexuality and white/indigenous relations than The Weekly… has managed in nine years. A new series of the show, or some kind of spin-off, seems assured.


Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe

53% of the total votes

The cast of Auntie Donna's Coffee Cafe

Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe was one of the best new sitcoms from the ABC for ages, so naturally, they axed it. The Aunty Donna guys will be back with something new and brilliant, of course, but the ABC’s failure to recognise and reward the inventiveness, originally and sheer hilarity of this series says all we need to know about the ABC in the 2020s.

What the voters said about Auntie Donna’s Coffee Cafe (and Deadloch)

Aunty Donna are consistently sensational.

Trust Aunty Donna and The Two Kate’s to bring the comedy thunder this year. Both very different, but equally brilliant. Endlessly rewatchable; just more of both please.

Aunty Donna. World class.

Best Comedy


Tony Martin’s Sizzletown

30% of the total votes

Matt Dower and Tony Martin pose between a warehouse and a wire fence

77 episodes in and Tony Martin’s Sizzletown is as fresh and funny as it was when it started six or so years ago. How can it still get big laughs from the same set of characters month after month? Combine Tony Martin’s well-honed ability to take the piss out of traditional media, everyday idiots and old films and TV, with Matt Dower’s top-notch editing skills, and you have a show which will probably never get tired.


The Backside of Television/The Last Year of Television

32% of the total votes

Mitch McTaggart sitting with an old television on his lap

It might be difficult to believe if you’ve been watching a certain kind of Australian comedy, but being funny doesn’t have to mean being stupid. One of the many, many joys of watching the work of Mitch McTaggart is that the man clearly knows exactly what he’s talking about. Sharp, insightful, balanced – when he starts throwing insults they’re both well-judged and well-deserved – and above all funny, at times it feels like McTaggart comes from a parallel world where television doesn’t automatically mean garbage. Or maybe he’s just really good at his job.


Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe

33% of the total votes

The cast of Auntie Donna's Coffee Cafe

It pretty much sums up the current state of comedy that the winner of this award for 2023 was axed after one season due to a management change at the ABC. Seems the new guy decided that Aunty Donna wasn’t a good fit for his vision of ABC comedy – a vision which we can only assume consists of the words “be less funny”. Traditionally the winner of this award is some long-running classic of Australian comedy held aloft by all and sundry as the kind of top-notch work that will run and run until those responsible retire or die – you know, efforts like Clarke & Dawe or Mad as Hell. Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe was the equal of those shows; it seems that in 2023 being the best comedy of the year isn’t good enough for ABC management.

What the voters said about Auntie Donna’s Coffee Cafe

The Aunty Donna show had so many jokes. Great to see an actual comedy, not a ‘dramady’.

True Australian comedy.

They are very funny.

We asked our readers… What did you think of comedy in 2023?

There was some great stuff, though more comedies should aim to be as funny as NCIS Sydney accidentally is.

We’ve left sketch comedy behind and evolved into something more… not sure what it is, but it’s something.

On one hand, we’re all sick of seeing the same people fronting or guest starring in every show, but when they get newer performers in (as is the remit for Question Everything), they just aren’t very good. So I think 2023 has been another year of the Catch-22 of comedy that has existed for a few years. Also, is there any work for actors or journalists anymore, or is it just comedians stepping into every role in every show/ film/ advertisement? Why would one go to drama school or train in journalism when your best bet for any media work is to go to Gaulier or do the stand-up circuit?

Needs more help from government and more opportunity.

A few drops of positives amongst an ocean of negatives.

I could do with fewer panel/topical shows. At the very least, the formats could stand to be more adventurous.

You know things are bad when Paul Fenech is the standard bearer of comedy. He is the only one that has successfully cultivated an audience and knows what they want and sees themselves (sometimes literally) in his work. He is the only one that will keep working 10 years from now while others have faded into obscurity or are doing a show filled with member berries trying to recapture former glories that didn’t really exist in the first place. This isn’t necessarily praise, more just an observation of how truly dreadful Australian comedy has been for the past decade. This needs to be fixed urgently.

Horrible state of comedy on TV is reflected by the AACTA awards. Best shows were Aunty Donna and Mitch McTaggart. Neither nominated. But Gold Diggers is!

Commercial television is dead. It’s a shame, but it’s true. While it’s great to have a few reliable staples (Have You Been Paying Attention, Thank God You’re Here), mixed with some truly brilliant fresh blood (Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe, Deadloch), the majority of offerings have been nothing but dreck.

In 2023, I listened to more podcasts then any other medium combined. The comedic shift is here, bebe.

Summed up with the statement that I will never, as long as I live, understand the mania for Colin from Accounts.

Again it’s the ABC and some streaming services that bring us the gold. 7 took a shot at it with We Interrupt This Broadcast which did have some great sketches in there. Shame it’s been removed from their streaming service. Then they gave Fenech another show. Am I alone in thinking sketch comedy should be far bigger at the moment given increasingly short attention spans?

The funniest Australian comedy moment of the year was Sam Campbell brute-forcing discussion of Plucka Duck into Taskmaster, and Julian Clary saying being on Hey Hey it’s Saturday was “not a career highlight”.

All round another disappointing year for Australian TV comedy (the same could be said for the past 10 to 15+ years). Almost the only things worth watching were the same popular shows of the past few years. Fortunately we had a few decent efforts from Aussies on YouTube (Damian Powers’ Expanded Minds Only and a short or two from Hot Dad productions come to mind) and I can’t help but think next year will be an identical case. I hope I’m wrong. What a shame when there are so many Australian comedians and comedy writers doing great things overseas right now. Whilst I don’t think “defunding the ABC” is the answer replacing most of their dinosaur conservative staff and eliminating bonuses and promotions for those that play it safe could go a long way towards promoting fresh comedy talent.

Vale Cal Wilson, kind, generous, funny and gone too soon. Perhaps someone can reboot Sleuth 101 in her honour.

Quantity begets quality, at least in part. 2023 on TV had something at least half decent for everyone. Betoota and Australian Epic for the edutainment crowd, Thank God You’re Here for people who haven’t watched TV since it was on telly last time. Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe was too scrambled for my personal taste, but I’d take it over season 10 (!) of The Weekly any day. Deadloch likewise was very popular with people who I know don’t otherwise engage with Australian TV. Of course real stinkers like The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers kept local TV humble, and the misguided Gold Diggers wasted a strong cast on terrible material. We Interrupt This Broadcast a patchy but enjoyable show of mostly new-to-TV talent; in some ways the most exciting thing of all… and of course we can’t be having any more of that.

In podcasts, From The Hideout might have great talent but it’s still three blokes sitting around gasbagging. Starship Q Star (technically a December 2022 debut, sorry) showed what can be achieved with strong sitcom writing and talented comedy performers. The Sizzletown train shows no sign of slowing down, having become one of the most dependable regular releases in the country. Not wholly a comedy due to its episodic nature, but I also enjoyed Simon Hall’s Minuscule Musical.

The above is a selection of the many comments we received. Thank you for voting and commenting, now comes 2024…

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1 Comment

  • Tim Chuma says:

    So bitter! You could, I don’t know NOT WATCH the shows you don’t like? The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers was the only one I refused to watch due to looking ball-tearingly awful.

    Not even Judith Lucy can get me to watch Charlie Pickering’s show.

    I tend to appreciate Sizzeltown more for the character work and storylines rather than jokes. More of at “that is funny” vibe than actual laughs for me but that’s always been the way with Tony Martin’s stuff.

    You can tell the people who are not actually good at Improv on Thank God You’re Here they just start swearing. I have tried with the Cheap Seats, it just seems like jokes they did not get around to using on Have You Been Paying Attention. I did go to see someone from their appearance on that show so it does work.