Stand (up) In The Place Where You Live

Earlier this week 10 broadcast a stand up comedy special from Aaron Chen, If It Weren’t Filmed, Nobody Would Believe. It’s ok. One of the best jokes is hidden in the opening title; Chen also undergoes a mystery costume change halfway through that is never (directly) commented on.

The show is pretty good, not amazingly great. It’s worth the price of entry for a live experience, probably not something you’d purchase to watch again and again. But that’s where we are with comedy on Australian television. Not quite a dumping ground, not exactly a showcase.

Stand ups don’t record their shows when they’re exciting and new. That’s when they’re out there milking their new jokes for all they’re worth. A decent show can generate a year’s worth of work, maybe more if they can tour it overseas. You’re not wasting that on television.

But while recording a show at the end of the run makes financial sense – now you can flog it to the people who’re interested enough to watch you but not interested enough to go see you live – artistically we’re getting a dead fish. Fresh new work from a comedian engaged with the world around them? Nah, just the last gasp of a bunch of ideas they had eighteen months ago.

When someone’s clearly on the way up and getting better all the time – ie Aaron Chen – this kind of show is a time capsule. Nothing wrong with that; we laughed a lot. Drowning during a boring story: so good.

But the more Australian television puts to air stand up specials, the more it stops being the place to go for the best in Australian comedy. If only because the best stand-up comedy is always going to be out there, live on stage.

Well, unless you’re going to see Dave Hughes.

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2 Comments

  • Evan says:

    Not sure what your point is here. No comedian is going to go on TV with fresh, untested material. There are so few opportunities to get in front of a big audience here, so much like the Oxfam and Allstars Galas on ABC the acts are going to put their best foot forward and deliver the gear they’re most confident in.

    It not only makes business sense to shoot a show after touring it, it also means you’re capturing the (in theory) best version of the show because the material has been tested and refined. It’s up to the act to keep it feeling fresh, and some do that better than others.

    I agree the best place to see Aussie comedy is live on stage, but television used to be a way for comedians to find new audiences. Now what many are doing is self-funding specials like this to put up for free on YouTube in hopes it will take off online.

    I think we should be encouraging broadcasters and steamers to commission more standup, both specials and line up shows. It’s way cheaper and quicker to produce than sitcoms and ‘dramadies’ but still gives you an entertaining program that showcases fresh faces and helps them build a profile.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The trouble isn’t so much with the stand-up side of things, it’s that as stand-up becomes the primary form of comedy shown on television (or more accurately, everything else gets dropped while stand-up remains a cheap time filler), television becomes a second class venue for comedy. Performers aren’t being given the opportunity to create new comedy specifically designed to work on television so television becomes a place stuck with an inferior version of live performance, in the same way that a filmed version of a play isn’t as good (technically) as a movie.

    When people started making programs especially for television, they developed techniques designed to work with the medium to create more effective entertainment. We have a decades-long legacy of learning how to make comedy that works on television – but because it costs more to do we’re throwing that in the bin and just filming stand-up sets for peanuts and going “good enough”. It really isn’t.

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