Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Back to Black Comedy

It’s probably fair to say that Black Comedy is a variable program. For every good sketch about black/white relations or deadly aunties, there seem to be a fair number which need some work.

The sketch which came to dominate Wednesday night’s episode is a case in point. A grandson and grandmother run out of Bushell’s during a worldwide tea shortage and embark on a quest to find their next cuppa. Along the way, they discover the dreadful things that the “tea-pocalypse” has made people do before eventually realising the true horror of the situation: they must do the same.

This sketch, which was a beautifully made and well-acted pastiche of almost any recent apocalypse/dystopian film you can name, sadly, had one just joke. Which was that some people had run out of tea. We realise that’s more jokes than Josh Thomas has ever put into an entire series (our review of Everything’s Gonna Be OK is coming soon!) but it’s still not good enough.

Sketch comedy is tough – and it requires a lot of ideas to fill six half-hours – but dwelling on just one comic conceit is a bad idea. A better sketch in Wednesday’s episode was the one set in a café, where a white waiter makes a jokey but potentially-aggravating gag about black coffee to an indigenous customer, and then has a minor breakdown in which he questions whether he’s racist or not. As the waiter starts to question his initial comment, he then starts questioning his subsequent thoughts, each thought piling on top of each other until it ends in a sort of mental explosion of racism. It was a very good sketch.

Generally speaking, Black Comedy is on safe comic ground when it tackles white/black relations and plays on the tensions and conflicts. Last week’s key party sketch included a fair number of decent gags on this subject, mostly concerning the white men claiming not to be racists when they purposefully selected the keys belonging the white women. Another sketch in this week’s episode was in a similar vein: a white husband walks in on his white wife just after she’s finished having sex with an indigenous man and desperately tries not to make this a racial matter. “We stole your land so you might as well steal your wife”, he unconvincingly suggests.

We love sketch comedy here at Tumbleweeds Towers and wish there was more of it on TV. And the problems in Black Comedy are far from unique to Black Comedy. Even with a decent budget, a talented cast and a big team of writers, it all comes down to the quality of the material.

What we’d like to see, generally, is a move away from putting to air sketches which contain just one joke or comic idea. Just because they’re short, it doesn’t mean that sketches can’t change and evolve within themselves, ending up as something very different to how they started out. It is a comedy after all, where anything can happen.

Follow the Money

Press release time!

Screen Australia has announced almost $750,000 of Story Development funding for nine feature films, 11 television series and two online projects.

And then there’s a lot of stuff of only marginal interest to anyone reading this, so let’s cut to the good bits – who got the big bucks:

Butch: A six-part online comedy series that follows ex-lovers, Tiff and Gem who are forced to work together to co-parent their all-knowing (and talking) dog, Butch. While Tiff and Gem try to get back out into the dating scene, Butch goes to drastic lengths to bring them back together. This series is created, written and produced by Holly Austin and Zoe McDonald whose credits include writing for Open Slather. They are joined by director Harry Lloyd (What It’s Like to be Queer), along with producers Jamie Houge (Acute Misfortune) and Jenni Tosi (How To Stay Married season 2).

Hair: A seven-part online magic realist comedy about 21-year-old Geraldine who opts for laser hair removal only to discover an incredibly hairy young woman trapped in her shower drain. Geraldine’s reluctance to accept her new found friend’s hairiness begins to expose the tangled relationship she has with her hair and with herself. The creative team features debut writer/director Mohini Herse (director of Instagram series The Out There), producer/writer Yingna Lu (Tangles and Knots) and producer’s attachment Lottie Aspinall (Don’t Forget To Go Home) with contributions from Michelle Law (Homecoming Queens), and writer Natasha Pincus (Fell).

Unbeweavable: An eight-part television series that follows the unlikely friendship between Anna, a Christian who is questioning her faith in God, and Josie, a hairdresser who is haunted by visions of her late grandmother. When the pair meet, they discover that they share electrifying, psychic visions in the form of choreographed musical numbers. While they can’t agree on what these visions mean, both Anna and Josie understand the potential of their newfound power. This musical dramedy sees writers Maria Angelico and Lucy Durack who performed together in Sisters, team up with Sisters co-creator Imogen Banks who will produce. Also attached are director Corrie Chen (Homecoming Queens) and composers Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall (Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical). The series will also provide a mentorship opportunity for associate producer, Emelyne Palmer.

But there’s a lot of money to go around, so some people got paid without hitting the jackpot:

Tales From the United Nonsense: Tales from the United Nonsense is an 8 part series that follows the adrenalin fuelled dramatic tragi-comic adventures of the free spirited Janey Resnik, a 39-year-old Australian woman with an undiagnosed white saviour hero complex who – at a tipping point in her life – realises her life-long dream when she is posted to South Asia as a communication consultant for the UN in the politically charged years following 9/11.

Golden Boy (working title): Hassan, a charming young imam, shoots to national headlines when he saves Christmas carolling teenagers from a burning bus. However, he soon learns that the only thing Australia loves more than celebrating a hero, is tearing one down.

Unwell: Believing her partner is experiencing suicidal ideation, Carey panics and fakes a terminal illness in an attempt to keep her alive via distraction.

V: A forgettable introvert discovers that a popular augmented reality game, in her hands, can kill people. Charged with the power to help women in trouble, she reluctantly reinvents herself as a vigilante.

Rough: Needing money to pay for her mother’s funeral, a young woman in a small town turns to the world’s oldest profession in a misguided quest for independence.

And in movies:

Aussie Rules: Three relationship-challenged American women travel to Sydney in pursuit of the Great Australian Male only to land in the middle of Mardi Gras where, one-by-one, all preconceived ideas of Australia are turned upside down.

Once a Queen: Once a Queen is a Cinderella story with a different edge that celebrates the beauty and tradition of three generations of women all connected to the magical town they love which is locked in time. Shirley wants to rule, Lana thinks she wants a prince, Sally just wants to be the Queen!

Petey: Twenty-five years after a daring, cheeky boy became best-friends-forever with a stranded extraterrestrial, the alien is back with a whole lotta baggage and its ready to start a kraktix (translation: family).

How to Please a Woman: When her all-male house-cleaning business gets out of control, a mature woman must embrace her own sexuality, if she is to make a new life for herself.

Digger: Residents of a small town celebrate and embrace a mysterious stranger who is digging a hole in the middle of the desert.

While online we have:

50 Shades of Black (Girl):When Hanna gets mistaken for another, more successful black girl at a gig one night, the recognition and confidence she draws from this experience drives her and best friend Bonnie to conduct an experiment; what else can they get for free by pretending to be other people of colour?

The Emu War: An absurd take on the unbelievable true story of Australia’s war with the native emu (and how the humans were defeated).

She Becomes Her: Following a woman called Sam, She Becomes Her is a musical anthology series that explores the restrictive nature of gender roles and the social narratives that inform our lives.

The Trouble With Unicorns: A couple in their early-30s begin their first non-monogamous adventure, only to find that open relationships aren’t always as liberating as you might think.

… and a number of titles that were described along the lines of “comedy drama horror thriller” so we’ll wait and see how they shake out.

Oh yeah, we forgot to mention there’s a BMX Bandits reboot in there somewhere too. So you know, comedy isn’t entirely dead yet.

All the News that Quits

Press release time!


Transmission Films is delighted to announce THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE, starring Australian icon Paul Hogan, will be releasing in cinemas nationally on April 30, 2020.

THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE sees Paul Hogan playing himself and on the brink of receiving a Knighthood for services to comedy. “Don’t do anything to mess this up”, his manager tells him. However, despite all his best efforts, the next 6 weeks sees his name and reputation hilariously destroyed.

Joining Paul is UK comedy legend John Cleese, US comedy legend Chevy Chase, the much loved Olivia Newton-John, Aussie favourites Shane Jacobson, Julia Morris, Rachael Carpani, comedy star Jim Jefferies, Die Hard’s Reggie VelJohnson, Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight with many big international stars also joining the fun with surprise appearances!

THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE is directed by Dean Murphy, who previously worked with Paul on Strange Bedfellows (2004), Charlie & Boots (2009) and That’s Not My Dog! (2018). Murphy, who co-wrote the script with Robert Mond, is also producing, alongside Nigel Odell.

THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE sees Australia’s favourite larrikin Hoges joined on the big screen by true legends of comedy – what’s not to love? Paul Hogan is an Australian icon, and we’re delighted to continue our association with this living legend,” said Transmission Films Joint Managing Directors Andrew Mackie and Richard Payten.

“Audiences always have a great time with Paul when he’s on screen, but this film is particularly special. People ask what’s true and what’s not… What I do know is fact is certainly funnier than fiction!” said Director Dean Murphy.

THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE is releasing in Australian cinemas on April 30, 2020.

At least Dean Murphy seems to be doing pretty well out of the Paul Hogan business. We’re yet to be convinced the opposite is true.

Also, if you don’t want the “surprise appearances!” spoiled, don’t check out the IMDB page (spoiler: you won’t be spoilt).

Still, at least this looks like it’s trying to be funny – which isn’t exactly something we can say about the latest project from Australia’s other greatest overseas comedy sensation:

After months of anticipation, Pooch Perfect will finally go to air on February 27 at 7.30pm.

Hosted by Rebel Wilson, audiences will see dog groomers from across the country battle it out to give their pups the best hairstyle.

The animals will model their new look on the ‘dog walk’ and be judged by leading dog stylists, Amber Lewin and Colin Taylor.

Geddit? Pooch Perfect sounds like Pitch Perfect, the movie franchise that Rebel Wilson was… uh, in. And when they do a cat version they can call it Pitch Purr-fect! Yeah, we should probably register that trademark before they do.

Otherwise, this is clearly some kind of television show that will be broadcast, and that’s about as far into it as we want to go. Remember when Rebel got a huge payout because Woman’s Day cost her millions of dollars in fat Hollywood paychecks and then she had to give most of it back? Presumably this is how she’s making up the shortfall.

The real question is, if this is the result of her big court reversal, who’s laughing now? Because it’s definitely not us.

Dream a Little Dream

News time!

Stan and Film Victoria today launched a comedy fund designed to help Victorian writers and producers develop Australian comedy with world-class scope and scale.

The joint initiative initially will provide up to $30,000 each for up to four Victorian writers or writer/producer teams to deliver a 30-minute pilot script and series outline.

(taken from here)

So a max of $120,000 a year to develop four comedy series: wonder which single solitary utterly useless executive got fired to fund this? Don’t worry, they’re still got plenty left.

Mind you, it doesn’t take long for the flaw in the system to be revealed:

“We want stories that respond to Stan’s creative brief and feature relatable characters with unique dilemmas fueling the comedy for a multi-season run,” Film Victoria said.

Stan’s brief, which references such shows as Catastrophe, Fleabag, Younger, The Moodys and Broad City, calls for serialised comedy, romcoms and comedy-dramas, but not sitcoms, stand-up or sketch comedy.

Hang on a second – this is a comedy fund that specifically excludes sitcoms and sketch comedy? What the hell did they think The Moodys – good job casually shoehorning that forgotten turd into a list of otherwise world-class shows by the way – was?

Why didn’t they just come out and say what they mean: “we’re looking for the next Josh Thomas”. You know, a story where some upper middle class type finds themselves – through the fault of some currently trendy issue – cast down into a wacky world of “regular” (loser) folk. Also, someone should die.

It’s 2020: if you thought comedy meant jokes and funny situations, wake up to yourself. Today, “comedy” means drama, only the characters occasionally say something that might get a chuckle at one of the producer’s dinner parties.

Stan’s chief content officer Nick Forward said: “We had an outstanding response to the Stan and Film Victoria Development Fund for premium drama projects last year and are thrilled to continue our partnership with Film Victoria in 2020.

“Our focus is always firmly set on finding the next must-watch Stan Original Series and we’re expecting big things from Victoria’s world renowned comedy community. My advice to creatives submitting their pitches this year: Go big. Be bold. And hold nothing back.”

(except for any jokes you might have in mind, you won’t be needing those)

Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher added: ““We’re excited to have partnered with Stan to find irresistible comedy ideas that have an essence that is unmistakably Australian and which will resonate with audiences around the world.”

And there you have it: please come up with something unmistakably Australian yet at the same time make sure we can get some overseas sales. We’re guessing by “essence” they mean “location”, while the “resonate” part really means “seem familiar to”.

But at least it’ll be a valuable foot in the door right? An important stepping stone on your way to a real career?

The fund is open to up-and-coming creative talent as well as established players.

So good news! Even if you become an “established player”, this is the kind of bullshit you’ll be dealing with your entire career.

99 Problems and Hughsey Ain’t One

After its strong showing in the most recent Tumblies, we figured it was time we checked back in on Hughesy, We Have a Problem. Yeah, thanks for that. Much appreciated.

Two things immediately come to mind:

1): Do Hughsey and Wil Anderson go to the same barber, and if so, why?

2): Who thought turning a drive radio call-in segment into an hour-long show was a good idea?

Yeah, we know that this is basically a more diverse version of the old Beauty and the Beast format, but watching this week’s episode – which, as is often the case with this show, had a reasonable cast: Tom Ballard, Nazeem Hussain, Cal Wilson and Meshel Laurie – it really was obvious that this is just a radio call in show with pictures. Pictures that don’t add much unless you’re a big fan of Hughsey chortling away. Which is still better than the way he delivers his lines like he’s shouting in a wind tunnel.

That’s not to say radio call-ins don’t have their charms, what with them being massively popular all over the world, and this does manage to mix it up a little. There’s a mystery celebrity guest, video questions, someone from the audience comes up to discuss their problem (this week: my pick-up game is weak, let’s do some role-play, Tom Ballard says “poofta juice”), there’s banter, more banter, a third round of banter…

The original Beauty and the Beast could be a pretty snarky show at times, and with a regular cast there was plenty of scope for bitchiness and character comedy. This doesn’t have much of that – apart from a fairly consistent hanging of shit on Hughsey, which we’re all on board for. Instead we get the usual battle of the guests trying to out-funny each other, which usually means there’s four people trying to do basically the same thing and results in a show that’s both exhausting and somehow boring at the same time. This kind of show used to be filed under “variety”, and a bit more variety comedy-wise wouldn’t hurt here.

This is pretty much the polar opposite of Have You Been Paying Attention? It’s a more relaxed format, the guests get to chat away, Hughsie is… inexplicably popular, and this week at least everyone got in a few cracks about his obscene wealth and him murdering one of his tenants who didn’t pay rent on time. Anything that shifts the narrative from “Hughsey, knockabout average Aussie” to “Hughsey, extremely rich man who could buy and sell you in a heartbeat” is fine with us.

As is this show in general, if we’re being honest. It’s established enough now to attract decent panelists – Judith Lucy and Shaun Micallef were on last week – and while nobody’s letting rip with the classic gags they’re generally strong enough to leave the show feeling like actual comedy and not something Rove might host.

Let’s not get carried away with the praise though either: this could still easily lose ten minutes or so, even if it’s hardly a show you’re going to give your attention to for the full hour. If you’re not watching this looking down at your phone then you’re not doing it right; maybe radio with pictures really is the future of television.

Sweetly crackin’ winners through the gap

If we can take anything from the last few months worth of news, it’s that the Morrison government doesn’t give an actual damn. Climate change? Nah, don’t worry about it. Money to sports clubs in marginal electorates? Here’s a truckload! All of which should give our satirists plenty to talk about, you’d think.

Mark Humphries’ first sketch of the year for 7.30 focused on the Sports Rorts scandal. It started off as a parody of Wide World of Sports, in which two hosts analyse what happened, before throwing to an ad break, during which there are several spoof ads for products that may be of interest to rorting politicians. All fair enough as targets for satire, of course, but not especially hilarious. So, standard stuff from Humphries, there.

Sammy J, meanwhile, re-wrote late-1970s cricketing anthem C’mon Aussie C’mon! as C’mon Pollies C’mon!, an entreaty to our leaders to lift their game when it comes to bushfires, global warming, sports funding and various other current issues. He’s done better – and there’s a problem here, in that the song is too fun and upbeat to properly convey his anger and frustration at the political class – but it’s hard to argue with the intended sentiment.

Meanwhile, on Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, Micallef only needs to put a small pause between ‘Our Prime Minister’ and ‘Scott Morrison’ to get a laugh (and make a point). And he’s been doing that exact joke and making that exact point (albeit with a range of different Prime Ministers) for years.

So, why is Micallef’s pause funnier than two whole entire sketches? Well, what it comes down to is the quality and uniqueness of the observation being made.

Most of us have spent the last few months, nay years, wishing our politicians were better. And not just our politicians, most of the world’s politicians, frankly. So, several minutes of song, repeating that one thought over and over again, isn’t really going to cut it when it comes to satire.

Similarly, the fact that certain sports clubs only got funding because they were in marginal elections, isn’t news to us. Because, you know, we’ve seen the news. So, to make us laugh there’s got to be a new observation in there.

Whereas Micallef’s pause? Sure, it wasn’t a new observation either – the high turnover of Prime Ministers in the last decade or so has been much talked about – but it was funny because it didn’t labour the point. It didn’t spend two and a half minutes on this one observation, it spent less than a second on it.

And every time it gets repeated, it’s perfectly timed – and, crucially, surrounded by jokes about other things. It’s not the same point being made matter-of-factly for several minutes, which is what you get in C’mon Pollies C’mon and Mark Humphries’ work. Or, to put it another way, it doesn’t feel so much like a lecture.

Cynics reading this blog probably think this is yet another love letter to Mad As Hell from Australian Tumbleweeds, or something. But it’s not. This is a plea to our satirists to raise their game. C’mon Satirists C’mon! in other words.

Wednesday Night Fever!

Ratings have begun for 2020 and the ABC has decided to lure viewers away from the horrors of a Australian summer with a big Wednesday night of comedy. But how big is ABC comedy in 2020?

It can’t be that big, because Hard Quiz is back, and it’s still just a solidly competent time-waster for fans of mildly engaging facts. Even the days of a nasty mis-match between Tom Gleeson being smarmy and contestants looking like they were about to cry is over now that the ABC casting department got the memo about only letting on flashy-dressing nerds. Logies all around?

Yeah, nah.

The traditional defense when it comes to wondering exactly why a quiz show needs to be hosted by a smug insult comedian is “it’s just an act”. Trouble is, it’s just not a good one. There’s no levels to what Gleeson does beyond “making fun of people is funny”, which is a pretty dubious proposition even if these days the show is doing a better job of finding contestants who both deserve it and can give it back. After all, all that really means is now it’s a show where smug types insult each other. How is that an improvement?


Onto Mad as Hell, and hey, why not flip the script and start off the season with a musical number? Otherwise it’s business as usual – extremely usual in fact, with no new characters or segments to be seen. Maybe Shaun shaving off the beard was seen as already enough of a shock?

It’s traditional for a returning Mad as Hell to take a “steady as she goes” approach to the first episode of the year, but even so this felt like there hadn’t been any break at all since 2019. Which is… interesting? These days Mad as Hell occupies a slightly unusual position somewhere between those older satire shows that had relatively short runs and were often pretty free-wheeling as far as format went (The Gillies Report), and the more traditional model where the format remains largely the same and the change is the news that’s being mocked (The Weekly). The best of both worlds? Sure, why not.

Of course, Mad as Hell doesn’t really need to shake up the format: it’s an extremely well-polished machine for sinking the boot into the government of the day, and with the current lot it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any shortage of material. It’s nice to see that the level of political thought on display extends beyond the usual “urggh, politicians are greedy and stupid” too: pointing out things like the Coalition currently feel no need whatsoever to actually answer questions, and that Andrew Forrest’s $70 Million bushfire donation was largely to himself for tax reasons are the kind of self-evident truths that the mainstream media seem strangely reluctant to point out.

So yeah, it’s still the best comedy on Australian television, and would be even if the bar was a lot higher.


Black Comedy has been the last vestige of traditional sketch comedy on the ABC for four seasons now. Reportedly this is the final season; it’s been a pretty good run, especially as the show’s flaws have remained remarkably consistent over the years.

As you’d expect from a sketch show, it’s hit and miss – a basement zombie training sketch doesn’t go anywhere, while a sinister all-white Indigenous Support Center is both funny and on point (tho to be honest, any time you have someone saying “it’s all a lie!”  and a smash zoom to a skeleton wearing clothes it’s a winner here). The cast remains the show’s strongest point; there’s nobody on here that can’t get laughs in the right sketch.

But a sketch on whether it’s okay to wear an flag t-shirt if you’re not black but are hot underlines Black Comedy‘s biggest problem: there’s plenty of strong concepts here but not all of them are developed into actual sketches. It was literally just three people sitting on couches talking*; why not set it in an actual pub and have someone coming back from the bar with drinks?

(Money. The answer to those kind of questions is always money)

It’s not a matter of punchlines – the running sketch about the Indigenous Support Center didn’t have a great punchline, but it earned the extra time with a couple of okay twists – but too often the sketch is just a funny concept that’s not developed comedically beyond the initial idea. Sometimes it still works (ie: “What if the Tooth Fairy wanted to borrow some money”); too often it doesn’t.

That said, the party sketch with the mate who’s just a little too right-on had the best punchline of the night when a white guy ran in and said “You aren’t going to believe this – Chris Lilley just showed up!” followed by the Black guys saying. “Lets get out of here”.

Just end every single sketch exactly like that and it’ll be two thumbs up from us every week.

*it did feel a little like it was possibly a set-up for a running sketch about student types lounging around discussing the big issues, which wouldn’t really make much difference to our point

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