The big problem Australian television comedy faces at the moment – and no, this isn’t going to turn out to be a review of House of Hancock – is that there’s a very big gap between the tried and tested performers and everyone else. Take Charlie Pickering’s upcoming new show for the ABC The Weekly – described as “a news comedy show, tonight show and chat show all in one,” by the ABC, they say Pickering will “return to his comedy roots while being a general nuisance to news makers, politicians and other charlatans.” So, reading between the lines there, it’s going to basically be The Daily Show but not quite as good.
The trouble is that they recently announced a couple of cast members, and they’re Kitty Flanagan and Tom Gleeson. Obviously Flanagan is a good get: she’s been a clear highlight on the otherwise firmly mediocre Project, and she’s got the kind of comedy persona that works well with news and current affairs. On the other hand, after five years on The Project we’re all pretty familiar with her work – shouldn’t she really get her own show? And considering she first turned up on Full Frontal close to 20 years ago, it’s hardly as if she’s a new face on the scene. Gleeson on the other hand has a career that stretches back almost as far as Flanagan’s, only a decade or more of slogging it out in the trenches has both honed his skills and turned him into a performer that it’s hard to get excited about. He’s come a long way from being “the ginger ninja” and playing The Australian Fast Bowler on Skithouse, but lengthy runs on duds like Good News World and This Week Live have made him the kind of guy you expect to see on an Australian comedy show but can’t get excited about – he’s not a headliner, he’s just a solid team player. Which is fine (and more power to him for making a living in Australian comedy), but once you start seeing names like that crop up in the cast list for a new show it suddenly becomes a lot harder to work up enthusiasm about what’s to come. It’s not that they’re not funny, but what we’re being offered is a chance to see them do more of what they’ve been doing for the past decade or so, and no-one was that excited about what they’re doing when it was fresh and new otherwise they’d have had their own show by now.
Because the Australian comedy market is so small, solid performers like Flanagan and Gleeson don’t ever get the chance to move onto something different: they’re both more than competent performers who – given the chance – could stir some actual interest out there if they were doing something outside the confines of the topical comedy chat circuit. But those opportunities to break out of the box simply don’t exist for 99% of television comedians. Still, it’s a steady gig for them, and if host Pickering – who is part of the 1% who has been judged suitable to headline their own show – crashes and burns, at least his supporting cast can walk away and do the exact same thing on the next topical comedy chat show that comes along.
By Anthony Morris