Even the Americans are doing better comedy than us
Aussies consider themselves as pretty funny but sadly Australian TV comedy is no laughing matter.
Perhaps that’s not true if you are satisfied, wit-wise, with a boy smearing vegemite all over himself on a Hey Hey It’s Saturday – The Exhumation special.
Still, such antics may have a lowest rung place on the spectrum of disposable panel/skit/stunt shows that Aussie TV throws and sometimes throws up at us.
But where are the potential comedy classics, especially situation comedies, squarely situated Down Under?
Perhaps Chris Lilley offers hope with his new in-production series Angry Boys.
I didn’t find Lilley’s Summer Heights High all that funny but can appreciate his brilliant mimicry and acutely observed social settings.
Longer scripted comedy of this caliber is something Australians just don’t seem to be very good at.
Out of the last decade I could only nominate one show with a comparable cultural currency of critical and popular approval as Summer Heights High, Kath and Kim.
The dearth of enduringly good Aussie TV comedy is odd because our British/Irish heritage plugs us into arguably the world’s richest cultural store of humour.
Australians have kept pace and usually surpassed the Mother Country in things we inherited from them, such as most sports, occasional Ashes losses aside.
But in the field of funny the Brits leave us languishing.
Let’s look at two series, one Australian and one British, screened within months of each other on ABC TV and both satirizing ministerial politics.
Hollowmen was from the Working Dog team that in the 1990s produced the stinging satire on tabloid current affairs TV, Frontline.
There was one over-riding satirical point to Hollowmen; that spin triumphs over substance.
That the characters are indeed “hollow men” was demonstrated with almost crushing repetition and predictability every episode.
UK production The Thick of It also showed political expediency and self-interest invariably trumping principle but it did so in a more multi-dimensional lattice of shifting interests, rivalries, alliances, betrayals and reversals.
To take a minor, but telling point of credibility, every political player in The Thick of It swears voluminously and inventively.
But almost none habitually do in Hollowmen, except for the designated foul-mouthed party secretary.
To largely erase bad language from a behind-the-scenes look at power politics is like trying to cook fried rice without the rice.
The Thick of It is the much more worthy progeny of the grand patriarch of TV political parody, Yes Minister, where Jim Hacker became UK prime minister by campaigning against EU sausage regulations.
Just as Yes Minister sets the standard for long-running TV political parody, The Office is the benchmark for what funnyman Tony Martin calls the “ubiquitous genre” of “low-key workplace mockumentaries”.
The Office is an often excruciating study of maladjusted social meltdown, usually by David Brent, in mundane circumstances.
This humour of humiliation may not appeal to all but it appeals tremendously to local comedy makers going by the shows they produce.
ABC titles as Chandon Pictures, The Librarians, Very Small Business and you could throw in the made for pay TV show, later screened by the ABC, Stupid, Stupid Man, all live in the shadow of The Office.
They usually have monomaniacal deluded central protagonists coming a cropper in the most embarrassing and awkward fashions.
None of them are interesting or people you ultimately want to sympathise with, as you did with David Brent.
The wonderful Christmas specials that rounded off The Office showed Brent coming to terms with his insecurities and shortcomings, which he previously disastrously overcompensated for.
To find something even remotely in the same artistic league, I’d nominate the innovative and edgy first-person-point-of-view ABC2 Britcom, Peep Show.
The two oddly matched misfit protagonists of Peep Show are subjected to a sustained forensic dissection of flawed personality that is usually entirely missing from the one-note character assemblages of Australian comedy.
As galling as this may be to a superior “they don’t do irony” Anglo sensibility, even the Americans are producing better situation comedy, admittedly out of mountains of dross.
Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is Seinfeld’s darker, and I’d say funnier, comedy-of-manners cousin, while 30 Rock can be an inspired soufflé of silliness.
The US version of The Office, after a shaky start, has successfully carved out a niche in the comedy of cringe terrain, albeit as a distinct entity, greatly toned down from the UK original.
Even given the smaller volume of production the Australian humour hit-rate is pretty paltry.
With the same faces appearing in nearly every other forgettable ABC TV comedy it raises the suspicion that what we see is a cosy clique clamped to a conduit of public money.
Australian TV can be very funny, try watching the hottest new teen spunk on Home and Away or Neighbours attempt to emote their way through the dramatically climatic scene.
Unfortunately Aussie programs are rarely that chortle-worthy on purpose.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…