Pop Culture #661

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Pop Culture #661

With the Melbourne International Comedy Festival now in full swing, what better time to remind people that they can also watch comedy on the ABC? Actually, the ABC really need to remind people of that in general, as at the moment the only regular Australian comedy program they’re showing is The Weekly, which is a lot closer to “snarky news” than actual comedy.

So it’s no real surprise that last week the ABC and Screen Australia announced the next round of Fresh Blood, their big push to find the next generation of comedy performers: twenty teams will each receive $15,000 to create 3 x 3-5min sketches that will be released on iview in the second half of 2017. “In addition,” the press release says, “all teams will benefit from a two-day workshop in June led by industry representatives where they will explore how to work towards a sustainable career,” which is good news for industry representatives as they usually make a buck out of taking those kinds of classes.

And it’s always important to pay attention to the money with these kind of programs, because that’s usually the concrete benefit to be had: does anyone remember any of the original 25 entrants to the first First Blood program? Most of the winners there, such as Aunty Donna and Fancy Boy, already had a proven track record (which did raise the question of why we needed a wide-ranging talent quest to find people that had already made a name for themselves), and for the unknowns bundled out after the first round the brief fame they received from their sketches being on iview has well and truly faded by now.

Some might suggest that a program that was really aimed at developing new comedy talent would take a slightly more long-term approach and work with comedians to help them build useful skills instead of simply saying “show us what you got” and discarding those who haven’t somehow managed to become professionals before entering, but while that kind of approach would deliver better comedy in the long run, in the short-term who doesn’t love a fight-to-the-death talent show?

Sure, sketches like the ones touted in the press release like “LEFTOVERS from the sketch comedy trio of Pippa Mills, Helena Ruse and Andrew Mills, who have established their brand of comedy through YouTube and Facebook, amassing over 1 million views for their viral videos” and “LET’S BREAK EM UP, a game show spoof from stand-up comedian Nath Valvo and Tandem Media. Valvo takes to the streets of Melbourne to find unsuspecting couples and put them to the ‘love test’ – if they win the game there is absolutely no reward, and if they lose they have to break up on camera” are probably going to do well, but the rest?

With the focus here clearly more on short-term results than the long-term development of talent – again, the previous winners (who either “won” a sketch show on the ABC or, in the case or Aunty Donna, got a TV deal with an overseas network) were pretty firmly established already, making the talent quest part of all this kind of dubious – you’d have to think that the smarter entrants would be desperately trying to figure out exactly how much of the $15000 they can hang onto and still film three sketches.

Written by Anthony Morris