Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Treating the Host with the Contempt he Deserves

After 47 years and thirty five thousand episodes, there’s not a lot left to be said about The Weekly with Charlie Pickering. And even less to be said that’s positive. But in recent weeks we’ve noticed a trend that we can’t help but applaud: more and more often, the guests are treating Pickering like shit.

It’s the stink lines that really make it work

No doubt it began a while back and we just didn’t notice, what with being asleep on the couch and all that. We’re pretty sure Judith Lucy used to at least talk over Pickering back when she was a regular. No doubt many of the other comedy guests treated the host with something less than fawning respect during their appearances.

But it’s been Rhys Nicholson who’s really kicked it into overdrive this year with some thinly concealed (comedy) contempt for the man sitting across from him. He’s been talking over Pickering and telling him to shut it on a regular basis. Is it funny? You bet.

This week saw Nath Valvo get in on the act. Better yet, he called Pickering “a homeowner”, which is about as perfect a summing up of everything that’s wrong with having Pickering hosting a comedy series in 2023 as you’ll find.

But we can’t go too hard on Pickering here (for once), because having the guests treat him as a lightweight stuffed shirt is (for once) a workable comedy dynamic. It actually gets laughs out of Pickering’s on air persona, which is… not something The Weekly has been good at in the past.

To be blunt, Pickering has no authority or credibility – even just as a host, let alone as someone who’s funny. The only way to get laughs out of what he’s doing is to have funnier people treat him like some irrelevant obstacle barely worth the effort to tell to sit down and shut up.

Ironically, admitting he’s crap and using that to get laughs somehow makes him less crap. Who knows, maybe in another fifteen years they’ll figure out another way to get laughs and The Weekly might start to get close to being funny. Or not.

Yeah, let’s go with not.

The best café coffee you’ll have all year

A new series from Aunty Donna is always something to look forward to, particularly after the recent TV comedy drought, and Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café does not disappoint.

Mark, Zach and Broden pose in Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe

In this series, Zach Ruane, Broden Kelly and Mark Bonanno have opened a trendy Melbourne laneway café in which…funny things occur. And unlike everything else the ABC’s made recently, none of the characters are falling in love, no one’s getting over a traumatic event, and there’s no big moment in episode five which will happily resolve itself in episode six.

Right out of the blocks, Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café is the kind of show where plot, character and logic aren’t really a thing. The café’s fully of wasps? Call in the Pied Piper (Black Comedy’s Steven Oliver) to eliminate them. A bloke’s stealing blueberries out of the muffins? Put him on trial, with Zach as the judge, Broden as the prosecutor and Richard Roxborough as Rake from Rake appearing for the defence.

But wait, wouldn’t it be a bit much to make the whole episode a courtroom drama? Possibly, so we find Mark, due to a complicated series of events, being interrogated by a series of Primary School teachers who suspect he’s a sex pest. Meanwhile, back at the trial, isn’t that Matt Doran reprising his role of Mouse from The Matrix in the background? Why, yes, it is!

And while Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café could be dismissed as a bunch of in-jokes and surreal nonsense, there are other types of comedy going on too. Parodies, for example, with episode three featuring the best buck’s party pisstake we’ve ever seen, featuring blokes who can’t hold down conversations with each other, dumb activities preceded by tedious health and safety briefings, and a montage of the wild fun the partygoers should, in theory, be having. Also in that episode, look out for a pastiche of You Can’t Ask That featuring Tony Martin and Melanie Bracewell, and a pointed dig at ABC iView.

The beauty of Coffee Café‘s “anything can happen and probably will” approach, and the sitcom/sketch show hybrid concept, is that Aunty Donna can go anywhere and do any type of comedy. A scene with a training montage accompanied by what seems like generic background music suddenly becomes a scene with a training montage accompanied by a song glorifying hit-and-run driving. While a sub-plot which sees the café hosting an awards ceremony for real estate agents is an opportunity for some satire about how real estate agents push up prices and rip people off.

The sheer variety of types of comedy in Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café and the mostly excellent quality of it is staggering when you consider what the rest of Australian comedy is like now. But do not be deceived, Australian comedy is capable of excellence, and this is the proof. Put together an excellent, much-loved comedy team, add quality additional writers (Michelle Brasier, Greg Larsen, Sam Lingham, Tony Martin, Vidya Rajan, and Steven Oliver) and let them do their thing.

The only criticism we have of Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café is that six episodes are nowhere near enough.

Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe: No Reservations Required

It wasn’t all that long ago that series like Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe were part of the ABC’s regular comedy output. Today? Not so much. After decades of budget cuts and an increasingly tight focus on an audience that’s presumably excited for series like the upcoming Mother & Son reboot, something as relentlessly inventive and subversive as Aunty Donna’s latest project doesn’t stand out so much as, well, stand out a lot.

Just to make things clear, this is definitely the kind of series the ABC should be showing. Our full review is on its way: the short version is that it’s good, we liked it, you should watch it. But it’s also very different from what people have come to expect from ABC Comedy in recent years. Which is to say that if you’re a big fan of Hard Quiz and The Weekly then a musical number titled “One Of Us Has a Vibrator In Our Bottoms” is going to come as a bit of a shock (much like the vibrator itself).

In an ideal world, or even a world identical to this one only the ABC is properly funded, there’d be three times the current number of local sitcoms on the national broadcaster. Variety would simply be par for the course: the idea that this series – made by extremely popular comedy professionals with over a decade’s experience (shit, they even had their own series on Netflix) – was in any way “risky” would be as laughable as their jokes. Which is to say, very laughable indeed.

But in this world, where the ABC can’t risk alienating even a handful of their decaying Boomer audience, this kind of thing is… well, it’s not Rosehaven. Though let’s be honest: this rapid-fire, throw everything at the wall style of unhinged comedy is at least as old as The Goodies, which was also a show featuring a wacky comedy trio. So it’s not like everybody under 60 doesn’t know what they’re watching here.

Again, not so long ago the ABC was airing this kind of content on a regular basis. But a decade or so back it decided to shift the more youth-friendly comedy to the streaming side of things, later supported by turning then comedy-heavy digital channel ABC2 into ABC Comedy. The old and the old-at-heart would get the free-to-air channel. The ABC’s more youthful viewers would have the more technologically advanced methods of broadcasting that they were familiar with. Everybody wins.

Then the bottom continued to drop out of the budget and all the youth-friendly stuff was axed.

Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe is airing in the ABC’s prime time comedy slot because in 2023 there is literally nowhere else for them to put it where anyone will see it. All the other options are gone; if the ABC is going to continue to make comedy series that are anything more than safe suburban salutes to keeping it cozy, they’re going to have to air in a timeslot where people are going to see them no matter how risky that is.

The ABC archives are so full of comedy series that pushed the boundaries it’s hard to seriously argue there are many boundaries left. The only real difference between them and Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe is that Aunty Donna are generally speaking pretty darn funny. Is it a sharp break from what we’ve come to expect from the ABC’s recent comedy output? Yep. But that’s the fault of the ABC: maybe if they focused more on giving funny people a chance, this kind of thing wouldn’t be such a pleasant surprise.

Vale, Would I Lie To You? Australia series 2

These last few months have been hard for the Australian comedy fan looking for a decent laugh. And Would I Lie To You?, a well-established format, featuring well-established talent who occasionally have something funny to say, doesn’t quite cut it.

Would I Lie To You? Australia

In the final episode, which aired last night, the stand-out was Welsh stand-up Lloyd Langford. Watching the cogs turn in Langford’s head as he tried to flesh out a lie or embellish a truth was every bit as entertaining as his dead-pan zingers. If there was someone as good as him each episode this show would be a lot more entertaining to watch.

On the other hand, Aunty Donna’s Broden Kelly seemed rather muted compared to the sort of larger-than-life performance style he’s become known for in shows like Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun and We Interrupt This Broadcast. Not the right vehicle for him, perhaps? Still, not long to go until we can see Kelly do his usual thing in Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café.

The female panellists on Would I Lie To You? have never particularly sparkled, partly because there are fewer of them than male panellists on this show. What’s with the show’s policy of booking multiple male comedians but only one female comedian per episode? Sure, there’s usually another woman besides the female comedian. But she’s an actor or presenter or whatever Jacqui Lambie is?

Of the few female comedians who’ve made it onto Would I Lie To You?, there have been some decent ones. Georgie Carroll, who was on the show last week was a stand-out. Tanya Hennessy, who appeared this week, was less so. Although to be fair to her, she was barely in it.

When many of Australia’s top comedians are women, this is outrageous. As for panellists from ethnic minorities, leaving aside Nina Oyama, Alex Lee and Dilruk Jayasinha, er, does someone with an Italian-sounding surname count?

There’s a theory that in today’s difficult television environment, producers and executives aren’t inclined to challenge an audience’s prejudices by, say, putting someone on a show that some of the audience might dislike. Better to have someone known and bland (Charlie Pickering) than turn off a regular viewer because, shock, horror, a woman or someone non-white came on and told a joke.

So, farewell for 2023, Would I Lie To You?, a show which remains on air not because it’s entertaining, or showcasing new talent, or doing anything interesting or innovative, but because it’s cheap to make and just enough people are prepared to tolerate it.

Vale Taskmaster Australia

It’s been a long time since local comedy had a future on Australian free-to-air television.

Watching comedy – well, the trends in comedy – is a great way to figure out where television is going in general: it’s a niche product on the sharp edge of production, so whatever’s happening there will eventually happen everywhere. Based on what’s been happening in comedy, you’d be looking to sell those commercial TV shares sooner rather than later.

The cast of Taskmaster Australia

What does this have to do with Taskmaster Australia? Taskmaster – a popular UK series, which already has a NZ version – is a show where a snarky host (here it’s Tom Gleeson) and his sniveling-slash-hard done by sidekick (Tom Cashman) boss around a bunch of comedians and Julia Morris, getting them to perform various vaguely comedy-adjacent tasks.

(Like running Channel Ten? – ed)

If you’re a fan of such things, it was pretty good; the more cynical among us might note that to date pretty much all the versions of Taskmaster have been “pretty good”, and that the format itself might be the real winner here.

But to be fair, for once Gleeson’s snark was put to good use, while the contestants pretty much all got laughs at one point or another – even Julia Morris, who we grudgingly have to admit seems to have lifted her laugh-getting game in recent years.

So on the comedy side of things, it achieved its goals. It even did okay in the ratings, though it’s no Gogglebox. Maybe Ten’s fairly consistent support of local comedy is starting to pay off? Hahaha yeah nah. Nope.

Ten recently announced the return in 2023 of Thank God You’re Here, the improv show with guide rails which usually managed to be entertaining and somehow faintly disappointing at the same time. It presented a great collection of comedy legends and Rebel Wilson at a time when comedy was hard to find on free-to-air TV – so some things never change – but it dropped them into pre-scripted situations with other cast members to keep things running so the default result was usually “ok, I guess”. Some people managed to make the format work for them (Shaun Micallef, Bob Franklin); a lot did not.

More relevant to today’s argument is that TGYH‘s return is a revival of an old format. Taskmaster: overseas format. Would I Lie to You Australia: overseas format. The Cheap Seats: look, we love it to bits, but it’s a format as old as the hills. At least Have You Been Paying Attention? is a new format… or it was when it made its debut a decade ago.

You can’t get people excited – or more accurately, excited enough – about things they’ve seen before. These are all safe bets that are relying on familiarity and nostalgia to get them over the line wait did someone mention We Interrupt This Broadcast?

A show like Taskmaster is the kind of show people should be talking about. The whole point of the tasks is to create scenes that’ll have people saying “did you see that?”; pretty much every episode had a couple of moments that should have got people talking, if only to say “geez, they took that a bit far”.

But this isn’t happening; nobody is writing Taskmaster recaps, no Taskmaster hashtags are trending, nobody is feeling left out by not watching it. It’s not building an audience, it’s not getting any buzz, it’s not creating any stars, it’s not providing a launch pad for new faces.

Free-to-air television is a declining market. If you’re just treading water, you’re going backwards. Australian television comedy isn’t generating any breakout hits because all the choices being made are safe ones. That means Australian television comedy is going backwards, and there’s not a lot of room left before it backs right off a cliff.

Taskmaster Australia was a perfectly good show. That’s not good enough.

Getting well like a maniac

The new Netflix dramedy Wellmania is a glossy, fast-paced dramedy about screwing up, thwarted ambitions and having to make changes to get what you want. To be honest, it’s not the kind of thing we usually get excited about. And having seen four episodes, we’re definitely not excited about it. But alongside We Interrupt This Broadcast, it’s the only Australian comedy-ish program currently on TV which isn’t an imported concept (Taskmaster, Would I Lie To You), a show which should have been axed years ago (The Weekly) or a revival of an old favourite (Rockwiz)*. So, yay?!

As food and lifestyle journalist Liv Healy, who’s on the verge of making it big in New York but finds herself trapped in her hometown of Sydney due to health problems, Celeste Barber is perfect casting. You can absolutely buy her as a hard-drinking, hard-drugging party girl, schmoozing her way around the Big Apple’s hottest dining establishments. And when Liv finds that she has no choice but to stay in Sydney, go to the gym and eat right, Barber simply uses the physical comedy skills she perfected in her mocking impressions of models and influencers on Instagram to get a laugh.

Liv sat at a breakfast bar with a glass of orange juice

Sadly, though, a laugh, or, more accurately, several decent laughs per episode, is about all we get, as Wellmania is largely a drama about a woman, her best friend, her close family, the guy she fancies, and all of their issues.

Liv’s best friend Amy (JJ Fong) and her husband Doug (Johnny Carr) can’t get sex right anymore, leading to Amy going on a journey to get the spark back. Liv’s brother Gaz (Lachlan Buchannan) is planning his wedding to Dalbert (Remy Hii), and seems like the sensible, together one of the Healy siblings. But is Dalbert really the right man for him? Then there’s Liv’s Mum Lorraine (Genevieve Mooy, who older readers will remember as PR woman Jan in Frontline). She’s just retired and doesn’t know what to do with herself. Is the Boomer retirement dream she’s been sold all it’s cracked up to be? And finally, there’s Isaac (Alexander Hodge), a former addict who’s now teetotal and celibate that Liv falls for at the gym? Can she get him into bed?

All this allows for a wider range of explorations of self-help, self-improvement and just generally dealing with stuff, just don’t expect them to be deep ones. And definitely don’t expect there to be much in the way of comedy. Wellmania gets laughs from the odd sharp line or isolated moment of slapstick. If you want something where the focus is on the funny, you need to make your peace with Wellmania and move on. Namaste.

* Thank God You’re Here is also returning soon!

And Then I Got High

We don’t often link to profile stories but we think you’ll agree this one is something special:

No-one cared who Jason Gann was until he put on the mangy dog suit.

For 10 years, Jason played the misanthropic, bong-smoking dog, Wilfred, first in a hit comedy series in Australia on SBS, and then in a US version starring opposite Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood, with guest appearances by Jason’s comedy hero, Robin Williams.

The US series premiere became the highest-ranking debut sitcom ever for FX Networks. It was praised by the Chicago Tribune as “the strangest new show on TV. And the funniest.”

In the show, the rest of the world sees Wilfred as a dog, while his owner sees him as a man dressed in a dog suit – described as part Australian Shepherd, part Russell Crowe on a bender.

The gig required Jason to put on a grey, fluffy dog suit that would define his adult life. By the time filming started for the first US season, he’d been wearing the suit for a decade, and it had become like a kind of psychic prison.

There’s definitely a lot to unpack there (“like a kind of psychic prison”?). Obviously the main takeaway if you read through to the end is that Wilfred, the rough-as-guts bong-smoking dog, was so popular as a concept that the context around him doesn’t matter. His fans don’t give a shit if he’s in a relationship sitcom or a commercial selling dope – they just can’t get enough of him. And dope!

For everyone else who watched Wilfred, the idea that a bong-smoking dog is 99% of the joke is pretty much just confirming some long held suspicions. The US version was fine in that “we’re not quite sure what people want to watch on these new prestige TV services so let’s just throw everything at the wall and hope people still like Elijah Wood” way of fifteen years ago. Ride that gravy train Gann!

The Australian version, which was the one we largely focused on here, was kind of… well, not creepy exactly, but definitely had some offbeat ideas about comedy relationships. Which co-writer Adam Zwar explored in his later local sitcoms up to and including Mr Black.

(looking back at the careers of Wilfred’s creators, it seems there’s a fairly clear divide between the guy in the dog suit – the kind of “one good idea” that careers are made on – and the guy who actually turned that idea into a show that was more than just a commercial for dope)

It’s a little odd that this story completely ignores the fact that Gann (together with Zwar) was pretty much an established figure on the comedy scene before Wilfred – more than established really, after two seasons of The Wedge and his own spin-off Mark Loves Sharon. But presumably the idea that it was the dog costume that made his career, and not years of hard work, is an easier sell. Especially now that it’s clear he’ll basically be buried in that dog suit.

It’s also surprising how Zwar – co-creator and co-star of Wilfred – just vanishes from this version of events. You’d think when the “offers rolled in from the US”, Gann’s co-writer and co-star would be just as entitled to put his hand out. Instead, he just… didn’t bother?

Still, even if there was backroom strife back then, it’s over now. Zwar and Gann are friendly enough for Gann to recently appear on Zwar’s podcast, and Zwar himself made it to Hollywood a few years later:

Thanks to their impressive body of work, Zwar and Brotchie were lured to Los Angeles about four years ago. Although his career has seemed like a smooth transition from local to national and international success, Zwar said he had suffered his share of rejections and setbacks.

“There’s so much heartache along the way,” he said. “You can spend months and years on a project – unpaid – and then it doesn’t get made. You can even have all the finance locked in and the show cast and then a network might have a change of heart.”

Turns out the moral of this story can be summed up in one line: “Drugs: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”. After all, a court case over a brutal drunken assault on a bus driver that dragged on for over a decade is now summed up with “But the story of the incident and trial followed him for years to come”.

Possibly that’s because “Gann, however, refused to pay the damages or Mr Hosny’s legal fees after relocating to America to film a US version of Wilfred for cable television.” It wasn’t until 2018 that a US court ordered him to pay up, which presumably he’s since done.

But hey, at least he’ll always have the glory days of Wilfred to look back on:

One review said the show was the rare sitcom to achieve “two series of perfection”, and that Wilfred was comparable to UK comedies Fawlty Towers and The Office.

Yeah, that wasn’t us.

When You Get So Down You Can’t Get Up

Australian commercial television’s been putting in the hard yards as far as local comedy goes over the last few weeks, with results that are… look, we’ve already used “comedy” once, those truth in advertising guys aren’t going to let us use it again. Onto The Weekly!

Charlie Pickering looking serious and determined at Sydney Harbour

Remember when The Weekly used to pretend it was covering a whole week in news? This week Pickering was up to Tuesday by the half way mark – presumably to leave enough time for Roy & HG to do the exactly same act they’ve been doing for the last 35 years. Shouting never really goes out of style, does it?

(speaking of shouting, ongoing segment The Bureau of Cancellations really should be paying royalties to Mick Molloy circa The Late Show. And he should have been paying royalties to John Belushi on Saturday Night Live. And we’ve almost certainly missed out a few links in that chain. If you’re not taking off your shoe and banging it on the desk, you’re not doing it right)

With Margaret Pomeranz, Tony Armstrong and Roy & HG now semi-regulars on The Weekly, it feels safe to suggest that the series – which has never actually figured out what kind of show it is beyond putting Charlie Pickering behind a desk and one year it couldn’t even manage that – has entered its “ABC Warehouse” phase. Old favourites, people who want to be old favourites, people who wish they were old favourites, have we got a deal for you!

Unfortunately that deal involves having to be in a sketch on The Weekly, which is almost as solid a guarantee of a laugh free experience as “up next on A Current Affair, Pauline Hanson has her say”. When will these people realise that wishing on a Monkey’s Paw for “Australian television exposure” has consequences?

Otherwise all The Weekly has to offer is a reminder that the edict to never run a favourable story about Labor in the lead-up to an election extends beyond the news department. Seriously, when the “satire” is basically identical to the regular current affairs programming, what the fuck is the point?

Would I Lie to You? Australia, Taskmaster Australia and We Interrupt This Program might currently be sapping our will to live – or at least, our will to keep this blog alive – but at least the only agenda they’re promoting is one of general mediocrity.

The Weekly feels like propaganda, an agenda-driven show where the comedy is there largely to soften the fact that when watching it you’re never quite sure if the next joke is going to be about how renewable energy can’t be trusted or Labor can’t be trusted or trans people can’t be trusted.

Remember that year they spent making Sky News’ Andrew Bolt seem like a harmless boozer? Remember this week when they made Sky News’ Peta Credlin seem like a zany word nerd? Remember all those jokes about how the housing market was working just fine for rich people and “Corona Cops” and wow the living really do envy the dead in 2023.

Here’s an idea: how about making some jokes about how these people on Sky News are not quirky and are in fact garbage. Otherwise people are going to think your show is also garbage oh wait that ship sailed five years ago. Bring back Briggs!

Betooting Their Own Horn

Press release time!

And In Breaking News… A Message From The Betoota Advocate.   

Paramount+ Announces Australian Original Series, The Betoota Advocate Presents.

An iconic name on all social media feeds, it’s only natural for Paramount+ to turn to The Betoota Advocate to cover off on Australia’s most polarising news stories in the Paramount+ Australian original series The Betoota Advocate Presents.

On creating this original series, Editor At Large, Errol Parker and Editor, Clancy Overall said: “As Australia’s oldest and favourite newspaper, The Betoota Advocate has knocked back countless offers to make all manner of TV shows over the years.

“Finally, Paramount+ and Warner Bros. Australia have agreed to let us make the TV show WE wanted to make, and one that everyone else was too afraid to go near – as well as lining our pockets in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

“So, with the universe aligning, we present the modern history of Australia that nobody really talks about… for a reason. This series tackles four pillars of Australian history. Corruption, money, religion and tribalism.

“From the Fine Cotton racing scandal, to Murdoch and Packer trading blows in the Super League war, to the rise and fall of the Hillsong Church, to riots on Cronulla beach. The Betoota Advocate does not shy away from the depraved, the cringe, the hilarious and the pathetic.”

Produced by Warner Bros. Australia for Paramount+, The Betoota Advocate Presents is coming soon.

The Betoota Advocate is one of those satirical sites you’d think wouldn’t translate all that well to television. A lot of their news story jokes are basically just the headline, and there are a lot of jokes that don’t really work: it’s quantity not quality that gets them over the line, especially when the hits go viral and the misses are quietly buried.

On the other hand, who else is doing this kind of thing at the moment? Making a decent TV comedy series can boil down to picking the right format (it’s not like we’re getting another series of Brass Eye) and waiting until a few years worth of targets and material build up. The internet sucks the laughs out of literally everything within hours, but on television what’s your competition? The Weekly?

As per usual when it comes to anything that isn’t a panel show or quiz show that’s really just a panel show, we remain guardedly optimistic until reality – or some really bad casting choices – gives us reason to think otherwise.

This Week’s Homework Assignment

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