Satire? You’ve Got to be Joking

Sometimes when you want to get rid of something, slowly whittling it down to nothing is the way to go. Other times, a big rug pull to get it over and done with works best. And when you’re the ABC looking to trash 50-odd years of satirical content, why not both at once?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Over the decades, the ABC’s track record when it comes to satire is spotty at best. BackBerner? Gillies and Company? Everyone trying to be satirical on 730 who weren’t Clarke & Dawe? Massive, years-long stretches of Good News Week and The Glasshouse? There’s a reason why most truly funny people run a mile from the term “satire”.

The important thing was that it was there; the door was firmly open just in case someone decent came along. And it gave the ABC an identity, something that set it apart and brought viewers in. If you were unhappy with the politicans of the day, the ABC presented something – usually of dubious quality – that stuck it to them. You know, the whole “giving an audience what they want” thing.

And they kept on doing it. When The Chaser finally staggered offscreen, having reduced the idea of satirical comment to “stupid stunts”, the ABC brought back Shaun Micallef and got him to do Newstopia for them only better. Over on ABC2 there was Tonightly (briefly). And just to keep the satirical ball rolling, The Weekly was there to fill in the gaps and oh wait we’re starting to see where the rot set in.

But for a while, things weren’t too bad. After John Clarke’s sudden departure from this mortal coil, Sammy J was given the Clarke & Dawe slot; meanwhile, Mark Humphries started turning up on 730. Neither of them were what you’d call “good”, but again, the point was to keep the door open in case someone good came along.

Then the doors started closing. Tonightly had already flamed out. Sammy J got the axe. Humphries left (jumped or pushed, who knows). And of course, Mad as Hell finished up. Being the kind of high profile satirical program that you’d think would require some managerial gesture towards replacing, the ABC made sure to say nothing and do even less.

It’s not like satire has gone out of style or anything. The internet’s full of the stuff; even local producers are doing pretty well out of it. But the ABC seems to have made a decision somewhere along the line that making fun of politicans? Yeah, that’s not for us. At all.

But what about The Weekly? Maybe once we might have said “well, at least it’s keeping the door open”, but after Mad as Hell ended and was not replaced it’s clear that there are no guaranteed timeslots for satire. All that’s left is to judge The Weekly on its merits, and… yeah, about that.

There’s really no reason why The Weekly couldn’t go hard on politicans. It’s just a man behind a desk saying stuff; maybe say something insightful or funny once in a while? Instead, it’s a clip of a news report calling New South Wales “the asbestos state”, then Pickering says “that won’t look good on a license plate” while they show us a picture of a license plate that reads THE ASBESTOS STATE and the audience goes wild.

That’d be fine if… actually, that kind of shit joke is never fine. But if it was the worst joke on the show, we’d live. Instead, The Weekly just stumbles around, barely aware of what comedy even is, using up its stockpile of Millionaire Hot Seat intros because eh, they already got the intern to compile them so might as well.

It wouldn’t be more difficult for them to make the same shit jokes only about shit politicans. It wouldn’t require any more effort to watch the actual news instead of Sky News. Their refusal to engage with politics on any level beyond “here’s a clip we saw on the news, wild huh?” is a conscious decision they’ve made: soft targets only, fellas.

Which seems to be ABC policy across the board these days.

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  • […] way, this is worrying stuff. The only comedy currently on Australian TV – not just the ABC – is The Weekly. Do you feel well-served by broadcasters and streamers? We […]

  • Andrew says:

    i don’t know if u guys subscribe to the TV Tonight weekly newsletter but i loved this from today…

    “Does Charlie Pickering read the papers late? “On Sunday Virgin announced pets on planes.” Actually it was Thursday.“And we arrive on Wednesday and Rupert Murdoch’s love life.” Nah, it was Friday?”

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