The Chaser ABC comedy

It’s 2046 and it’s my job to entertain the rat-children whose parents are stabbing each other with sharpened cricket bats in the fighting pits of Neo-Melville. I have made a crude Craig Reucassel puppet out of a broken lamp and am riffing on the price of gas masks. One of the children pipes up with “tell us the tale of Nanette again!”. For the first time since we ate Peter Helliar for sustenance, I weep.

This is the future of Australian comedy. It’s bleak.

Last week The Chaser announced that the ABC would not be funding their election special for the “first time since 2001”. I can’t remember the last time anything Chaser-adjacent made me laugh (2001?), but this hit the spot. We are utterly rooted, I thought. For half my life the ABC has supported “original broadcasting” by throwing money at these scrappy lads from Sydney’s finest private schools. If they’re pinching the hose for these cash cows (“I’m fungry!”), then what does that mean for the rest of us?

It’s enough to make you dress up as Bin Laden and turn on 7mate.

The promise of the ABC is the promise of Australia. That is: potential. Aunty, at its best, has been a platform where the national identity can be both shaped and subverted at once. This is why it was “the home” for Australian comedy. From Dame Edna to the D-Generation, Gunston to Safran, Kath to Kim — the ABC gave us comedy that represented “Australianness” while also lampooning it. When the ABC recognised potential and gave it a push it led to places both new and strange; these places were goofy as heck but also, ultimately enlightening.

But as Australia rescinds on its promise, so does the ABC.

The Murdoch lackeys that have comprised every Coalition government from Howard onwards have been hellbent on destroying the ABC. This is no secret. It is history, present, and future. What their death march masks is the two major insecurities of our (any) conservative party: that they are humourless, and that they are unimaginative. Naturally, when it comes attacking these insecurities, cutting comedy is an easy choice.

During the Howard era, when the ABC could still afford some fight, it countered any criticism by putting out comedy programs that were as daring as they would later be darling.

The decline of the ABC these past five years has been purposeful and malicious. Aunty was told not to take risks. What was fresh in the Howard era now sat on the shelf like a rapidly browning banana. Adam Hills, Wil Anderson, Tom Gleeson, Charlie Pickering, Dave Hughes, The Chaser — the spry smart alecs of the past were now reliable brands spreading their girth across panel shows, quiz shows, and unending Daily Show knock-offs. Chris Lilley would be wheeled out in times of need, but the cracks in the axle grease were beginning to show. A series of young and interchangeable faces were lit up (then the lights were swiftly extinguished) to distract from the fact everyone in primetime carried with them a whiff of decay.

I love John Safran, but are you still a wunderkind at 46?

Ask Joel Creasey in 20 years.

What settled over the ABC this past decade is a lack of diversity. Not just in talent, but in form. Shows like Review With Myles Barlow, Double the Fist, and Please Like Me, are few and far between. John Conway Tonight was disappeared like a dissident in a failing state.

Friends and cunts, I come to praise Tonightly, not to bury it, but its fate was sealed by its rigid adherence to a format that’s been adopted by every Tom, John and Michelle Wolf this side of the Trump era. The ABC is competing with Netflix (who failed Aus comedy terribly), Foxtel, and the world. It needs to be bold.

Coupled with the slew of clone shows with better counterparts is the sense that new and different voices are being killed in the crib. Now, I’m a comedian from Perth. As far as I can tell from watching ABC Comedy, Perth (and really anywhere that isn’t inner Melbourne or Sydney) isn’t to be properly represented on the national broadcaster unless it’s by Alan Kohler with a pie graph discussing the worth of our precious metals.

You get a sense watching ABC Comedy that it’s a good ol’ boys club of East Coast toffs turning mediocre tweets into mediocre programming, but such is life when anyone who didn’t go to a school with kilts is priced out of the arts.

This feels as though it is by design. Via government cuts and the network’s own insularity, the path to the ABC is all but inaccessible for any real outsiders. As such we have a network stifled by a conservative elite, that feels like it’s being programmed by their children. It doesn’t feel like a true representation of Australia, let alone “Australian comedy”.

If I could “make a realistic wish” of my own it would be that The Chaser and the rest of the Gen-Xers who have hogged the ABC since the turn of the century would quietly go gentle into that good night, and that their prominent place on the platform would be offered to new and exciting talent. Heck, some of it’s already on the network — lord knows The Kates should be on the $20 bill. You can see a new wave of young creators arriving on the scene, and I hope against hope that the ABC, what’s left of it, has the funding and patience to let them flourish.

But 10 years of woeful decision-making has made me distrust Australia’s most trusted network. A part of me knows that a show as brilliant and necessary as Black Comedy would get the bump if it meant another season of the Jonah From Tonga minstrel show.

And so we come to the part of the Australian character that the ABC is intended to correct: fear of the new. To the average punter, the ABC’s comedic avant-garde is Squinters. Well I’m squinting into our near future and all I see is Chris Lilley’s Netflix series and Annabel Crabb cooking Charlie Pickering and Robert Mugabe beef bourguignon.  

I’m fungry for something else.

Peter Fray

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