Are cantankerous codgers winning the war on comedy?
I don’t know how it happened. It could be higher levels of blue-rinse in the water. Maybe it’s a spike in the sales of model trains. Or a sudden surge in the demand for lamingtons. But 2009 is unofficially shaping up to be The Year Of The Wowser.
With almost German precision (if I am permitted to use nationality as the basis of my point), the chorus of shrill voices responding to controversy in comedy has been oscillating at a rock solid bi-weekly frequency in recent months.
While you have to admire the sheer energy these biddies have - you can’t grant them any real depth of understanding when it comes to the art form. (And yes. It is an art form.)
After all, the people that make the most noise about scandals in comedy are usually the ones that will tell you at the drop of a tweed hat that they would never have the indignity to consume such inappropriate media in the first place.
If it weren’t for their fevered scouring of the first few pages of the tabloids, or tuning into talkback for the latest controversy, most wouldn’t even be aware of the existence of such distasteful televisual sour-meats.
News editors know this, and push the buttons of those who are most likely to pipe up. And usually, before the offending vehicle is out of the starting blocks.
In the duration of the recent wowser-wars, I can’t count the amount of times I’ve read a story about a controversy that pre-empts the actual controversy.
“Fresh outrage has been sparked over a sketch in an upcoming episode of…” is the line journalists like to use to get the meaty fires of good old white-bread fury started.
Never mind the fact that most of the general public haven’t actually seen the show, or have any idea of its context – the most important thing to know is that it will shake the very fiber of your moral being.
Outrage! Now! Look at this filth! Scream! Scream damn you!
However, last week, it looks like the wowser’s precision timing was off by a couple of beats.
John Safran’s Race Relations copped the shock of pre-ambling pot-shots but missed the veritable tsunami of public fury. Maybe it was just luck on his part – the public are a fickle lot.
Only five registered complaints were taken by the ABC (at 10:30pm) for a show which was touted by pre-packaged outrage mob The Family First Party as “the lowest point in Australian television history”.
It’s hard to say if the rest of the series will pique the lynching interests of the fist shaking masses – but it’s going to be a fun ride to watch. After all, Safran himself said the first episode contained, in his opinion, the weakest material in the series.
Maybe it’s his self-deprecating and disarming style that cleverly masks the controversial aspects of his stunts – where as The Chaser’s fester openly - and really, taking aim at a Safran gag is like zooming in on the penis of a meticulously crafted nude sculpture and decrying it as filth.
In this case, the penis not so mighty. But somehow, I don’t think the war is over just yet.
But while you are tuning your screeching vocal chords and inking your typewriters in preparation for the next assault, Mr. and Mrs. Toenail of Nambucca Heads, there is one final thought that I’d like you to consider.
If you were to be quizzed about what defines the Australian character, I can bet my bottom dollar that amongst the plethora of beige answers like “fair go” and “mateship”, you would arrive at the embodiment of the Great Australian Larrikin.
And that’s the real kicker. The very thing you protest against is the very thing that defines you as an Australian. And, like it or not, the larrikin isn’t the cheeky, black and white heel clicker you imagine him or her to be.
It’s Graham Kennedy, it’s Bert Newton, it’s Paul Hogan and it’s John Blackman. It’s Tony Martin, it’s Magda Szubanski and it’s Glenn Robins. But also, it’s Chas Licciardello, it’s Heath Franklin, it’s Chris Lilley, and it’s John Saffran.
It’s every stand up comedy show that you don’t go to. It’s taking the piss, it’s having a dig, it’s being cheeky, but it’s also eviscerating the darker aspects of our nature.
The Australian T.V Larrikin is an amorphous beast. It’s continually evolving and reflecting the culture of the time. Yes, it’s spiky. At times, it will cause you to cringe. It might even offend you.
But it’s this very edge that makes us who we are as a nation. This edge is a vital part of our unique, laconic character. If you plane off the edge, you squeeze out the lifeblood.
God forbid you have any real success in your quest to rub a black mark over every swear word, controversy or sketch that does not fit into your easily digestible, homogenized, bland boundaries.
So before you start screaming and shouting at what you perceive to be the next comedic aberration, just relax. Take a breath.
Leave comedy to the comedians, and to those who appreciate comedians of all shades. We’re enjoying it. If it offends us, our skin is thick enough to deal with it. How about yours?
Besides, if you snub out every spiky moment in television, what clips will Richard Wilkins respond to on 20-1 in 10 year’s time?
That is what you watch, right?
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