Election time is generally seen as a boom period for Australian comedy, and who can blame them? Politics is one of the few areas of Australian life where comedy still has a toehold – the days of anyone making jokes about sport more sophisticated than the ones of The Footy Show seem long gone – and an election means that for once the general public is supposedly as interested in politics as people in the media are. Which goes some way towards explaining why this election we’re getting not one but four television series and specials where comedians have a crack at the people vying to be the leaders of this big brown land.
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell got lucky with the surprise timing of the double dissolution, as it looked for a while there that the ABC’s big plan was to get Micallef’s show out of the way early and let the professionals – The Chaser and Gruen – handle the coverage. Their loss is our gain, as Mad as Hell has continued to provide some of the sharpest and smartest political comedy we’ve seen since, well, the last series of Mad as Hell. In contrast, the once-reliable Chaser team have seemed tired and out of shape so far this election season, with The Chaser’s Election Desk being the same mix of pranks, stunts and comments about news footage they’ve been doing for every election since 2001. Some bits still work; Andrew Hansen and Chas Licciardello remain insightful observers of the election media coverage, and when the team does sketches they’re usually up to scratch. But the pranks feel more like an obligation than the best way to put across a funny idea, and the giant desk (with what, 11 hosts?) stopped being funny somewhere around the first promo for the show.
Part of the problem is that after 15 years of trying to make fun of election gaffes, election blunders and election stuff-ups, there really isn’t much new to say: that’s why Sammy J’s Playground Politics (on ABC iView) works so well. Simply by explaining various political truths (the importance of high housing prices to voters, superannuation issues) in a Play School style (he’s got the sing-song voice down pat), he gets new laughs out of old material.
Not that the show isn’t funny in its own right: a special guest appearance from Satan in the first episode is probably one of the comedy highpoints of the year (it doesn’t hurt that the episodes are all sketch-length too). But the most interesting of this election’s comedy projects is the return to our screens of John Safran, turning up on SBS with The Goddamn Election!, a one-hour special on Sunday June 26th at 8.30pm. Rather than the usual skits and sketches, Safran is looking at the election through the prism of religion, focusing on a range of micro-parties that aren’t afraid to put their religious beliefs – and opposition to the beliefs of others – out there in the hopes of attracting votes. Considering these parties seem to increasingly be the ones holding the balance of power around the country, shining a bit of light on them is no bad thing – and having Safran back getting laughs on television is something to get excited about too.
Written by Anthony Morris