THE AUSTRALIAN TUMBLEWEEDSPart 2   

NEWTON
Welcome back to the Tumblies, featuring Australian comedy's brightest stars. And the cast and writers of The Wedge.

IAN MCFADYEN STARTS TO REV UP THE 'DEATH CAR'.

No, no, but seriously, congratulations to all involved in The Wedge, it really takes comedy to a new level. Of awfulness.

THE 'DEATH CAR' WHIZZES BY, NARROWLY MISSING NEWTON. HE CARRIES ON.

And now to our next award. A lot of Australian comedians start off doing stand-up nowadays. Some say it's the purest form of comedy - just you and a microphone trying to make an audience laugh. An audience made up of drunks who've ducked down to the RSL to play the pokies and if you don't make a dick joke in the next two minutes they're going to bash you, sure, but an audience none the less.

Actually, that's not entirely true. You also get to perform in front of squealing teenage girls who love your appearances on The Glasshouse even though they had the sound off at the time. And let's not forget the stoned uni students who want topical comedy about public transport and how hard it is to have a real relationship when you spend 23 hours a day playing with your new Nintendo Wii and, hey, check out my old high school notebook - how daggy was I for writing 'I heart Big Pig' on the cover?

But with the death of uni revues, and the only newcomer-friendly sketch show being run by Ian McFadyen, stand-up is the only way to get noticed. And by the time anyone realises that radio listeners and TV viewers aren't usually off their nut and might actually want comedy that's had some thought put into it...well, you're one of this year's nominees.

WORST STAND-UP
Dave Hughes
Awwwwful
The patron saint of all the hollow-faced, stand-up, failed children's party clowns, running around on midday FM radio...not even Bob Hawke made as much hay out of the ocker Aussie accent.
- oceanthroats
He looks exactly like my grandmother.
- R.Q.E.
NOMINEES
Dave O'Neill
Rove McManus

NEWTON
Dave Hughes - a worthy winner, and proof that Australians will laugh at anything said in an accent. Even if it's their own. Sadly, Dave can't be with us tonight. He's at home trying very hard to write new Holden ad scripts and is just not getting anywhere. In fact, he's now having a bath. He has a nice house these days. Very nice bath. The bath came from the proceeds of a particularly lucrative 'awwww' in a 2005 episode of The Glasshouse. Not sure who he was 'awwwwing' at, but it doesn't really matter, does it? It's the way he tilts his head after he's said it that makes it great. That's a real talent, that is. No wonder O'Neill and his 1001 jokes about hamburgers didn't stand a chance.

Maybe Hughes was 'awwwing' at his Centrelink Newstart Case manager from 1999? The Glasshouse would have to be about the cruellest mutual obligation project conjured up, wouldn't it? I mean, at least it's technically work, but it's a bit demeaning, isn't it?

Still, it's no wonder everyone's rushing down to their local open mic night to have a go at comedy. Today's stand-up comedians make it look so easy. First you make an observation, then the audience laugh. Anyone can do it. And as it's time for that part of the ceremony where the host humiliates a member of the celebrity audience, I'm going to give it a go...

(CLEARS THROAT) I understand there are a few people here tonight who like a bit of a stroll around Veale Gardens, if you know what I mean.

THERE ARE A FEW TITTERS.

Isn't that right, Alan Jones? I see you're just back from the toilet.

THE AUDIENCE PISS THEMSELVES LAUGHING.

I'm not touching that one!

THE AUDIENCE LAUGHS AGAIN.

Isn't that what the guy next to you said, Alan?

MORE LAUGHTER.

Yes, Alan's gay. Isn't that hilarious? It's not clever or satirical to mention it, but it always get a laugh. You'd think it would be more pertinent to make jokes about Alan's outrageously right-wing views, but like the Chaser boys we can't be bothered to do any real satire, so instead we're going to give Alan an award for not being quite as awful as John Laws. Come and get it, Alan.

JONES JOINS BERT ON THE STAGE.

Congratulations, mate.

JONES
Thanks Bert. I'd like to express my thanks in song if I may...

CHONG LIM AND THE BAND STRIKE UP THE INTRODUCTION TO IF I RULED THE WORLD FROM THE WEST END MUSICAL PICKWICK.

THANKFULLY, ANDREW DENTON PULLS A CURTAIN ACROSS THE STAGE, OBSCURING JONES, BEFORE GOING DOWN INTO THE ORCHESTRA PIT AND BREAKING LIM'S BATON IN HALF.

NEWTON
Thanks Andrew, that was a close one. Let's hurry on to the next award...

WORST COMEDY GAMESHOW
The Up-Late Game Show
It's a laff!
Hotdogs, alone or with co-host, spent 2006 having bad sinus and fulfilling his vast potential. As a late night game show host.
- oceanthroats
Does this show purport to be comedic? It shouldn't.
- samadriel
NOMINEES
Spicks and Specks
Australia's Brainiest Comedian

NEWTON
Yes, the Up-Late Game Show - like being yelled at by a trio of the worst used car-salesmen at Car City. If one night the show began with the entire cast dead from food poisoning and we then had three hours of just their twisted corpses slowly cooling, it would still be more entertaining.

But of course, the ULGS - and rarely has an acronym described its subject so accurately - wasn't about entertainment. It was about money, which in a way makes it more honest viewing that the other two nominations. Because while ULGS desperately begged viewers to call in and boost the network coffers via phone revenue, Spicks and Specks and Australia's Brainiest Comedian were just cheap to make. Grab a bunch of musos and stand-ups, sit them behind a desk and let the laughter begin! Yes, well, we're still waiting for that last part to happen.

But it's hard to shake off the conspiracy theory that this kind of programming is the future of Australian light entertainment. Perhaps even the future of Australian comedy. No wonder a Hey, Hey, It's Saturday revival seems a good idea in this climate.

DARYL SOMERS
Hear, hear!

NEWTON
So with TV feeding-off stand-ups and vice versa, those hoping to make - or even just watch - comedy that involves more than dick jokes and funny head-gear have been increasingly turning to the not-so-silver screen. And it's not just established comedy names like Jimeon, Mick Molloy, Tony Martin and the Working Dog crew that have been making movies either. If you're an unknown who wants to get into comedy but doesn't want to go down the stand-up path, then make a short film, get noticed at Tropfest, and fame is your reward - just ask the Double the Fist team, Adam Zwar, the guys behind SBS's upcoming sitcom Wilfred and the winner of our next category...

WORST COMEDY FILM
Kenny
Waste product
Here's an idea - let's turn a fake documentary that'd be too slow and unfunny for Comedy Inc: The Late Shift into a feature-length film! Remember: Aussie battler + poo jokes = box office gold.
- 13 schoolyards
...There were comedy films?
- samadriel
NOMINEES
Rats & Cats
Josh Jarman

NEWTON
While to be fair, Kenny wasn't anywhere close to the dregs mined by Aussie screen comedy in previous years - You and Your Stupid Mate still has the three people who saw it waking up screaming, while horrors like Thunderstruck, Takeaway and The Nugget have been ordered sealed in a lead-lined coffin and buried for the next thousand years - its astounding box office success has condemned viewers to another few years of knockabout Aussie comedies about fair-dinkum battlers who tell it like it is and stand up against the system.

Unfortunately, Shane Jacobson, the star of Kenny couldn't be here tonight to collect this award - he's too busy coming up with more poo jokes for his next appearance on 9am with David Reyne and Kim Watkins. So here to accept the award is one of Kenny's biggest supporters - Age film critic, TV reviewer, comedy columnist and all 'round social commentator, Jim Schembri.

SCHEMBRI COMES OUT HOLDING A SIGN SAYING 'TURN OFF ALL MOBILE PHONES NOW'.

SCHEMBRI
Hi, I'm Jim Schembri. Calm down, I'm not here to re-use that story about the time I had a pet cat that I didn't bother getting de-sexed and let wander all over the place and then I got really pissed-off when she started dropping kittens everywhere so I put her in a sack and was just about to throw her into the river when I decided not to and let her go - or at least, I told everyone I let her go in the two separate occasions I've told this story in print under the mistaken belief that it's funny.

And you know, I'm often mistaken about what's funny, as anyone who's read my increasingly confusing humour columns where I talk to teenage girls on public transport knows. But I'm not here as a comedian tonight - which is a shame really, I've got hours of material left over from my brief stand-up career as 'Jimbo', and plenty of jokes from my stint writing for Totally Full Frontal that even they rejected. Tonight I'm here as a critic. A critic of Australian comedy.

You know, when I wrote an article talking about the warm feeling I often get from knowing that 'one critic speaks the truth' and that critic's me - I know, it's amazing what they'll pay fifty cents a word for at The Age - I was talking about my steady stream of reviews praising Comedy Inc: The Late Shift. Because if anyone knows that comedy's hard to do right, it's me.

I mean, you make a few comedy comments about the gays, and suddenly everyone thinks you're homophobic! C'mon people - I love lesbians! I'm always going on about how great lesbians are every time a TV show - even one I hate like The O.C. - brings out the lesbians to boost ratings. Guess what? It sure works for me! So all those claims that I'm homophobic are clearly way, way off track, even if I did once write a review of Queer as Folk where I said that 'the sight of two men kissing is the least erotic image ever'. And okay, there was that nasty review I wrote of Brokeback Mountain where I called it 'heterophobic', and that 'apology' I wrote in The Age when things really started to get out of hand where I said 'you gays are adorable - don't ever change'.

But didn't you hear me? Lesbians! I mean, come on here people, don't you understand the humour in what I'm telling you? What is wrong with you? I'm giving you comedy gold, and as a critic for The Age for close to twenty years I'm the one who knows - so why aren't you laughing?

SOMEONE'S MOBILE PHONE GOES OFF IN THE CROWD.

Who left their phone on? Who the hell thinks they're so important they can leave their phone on when I'm here? HOW DARE YOU DISRUPT MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT! THIS ISN'T A MISTAKE! THIS IS YOU NOT THINKING AND DOING SOMETHING IMMEASURABLY STUPID! DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW APPALING IT IS TO HAVE TO SHUT YOU UP? ARE YOU EVEN AWARE OF HOW BADLY YOU ARE BEHAVING? THIS IS THE POLITEST POSSIBLE RESPONSE TO YOUR ACTIONS! I TRUST YOU UNDERSTAND THAT!

JIM TAKES A DEEP BREATH

Anyway, I'm here tonight at The Tumblies to talk about my one greatest love. I first discovered it in my teens, and it's been there for me through thick and thin. Sure, there have been times when I thought I'd outgrown it, times where we drifted apart, even times where it let me down with a long stretch of simply going through the same old motions. But I always come back to it - it lifts me up when I'm feeling down, takes my mind off my troubles, and while to an outsider it might seem like just the same kind of thing repeated over and over again, those of us who know it best know that within what seems to be a limited framework there's a world of innovation taking place. I speak, of course, of masturbation.

Ha! You thought I was talking about Australian comedy! But I wasn't! Now THAT'S comedy! I'm going to write another 700 articles using that very same idea. Ha! Got you again! You thought I meant the idea of seeming to talk about one thing but really talking about another - when in fact I meant masturbation! Bet you didn't see that one coming - oops, I just did it again!

TWO MEN IN WHITE COATS COME OUT AND DRAG JIM OFF STAGE.

This is because I said in The Age that Dylan Moran wasn't as good a stand-up as Dave Hughes, right?

BERT SADLY SHAKES HIS HEAD.

NEWTON
Right, where were we? Ah yes, film - yet another avenue for original Aussie comedy that has been all but closed off. But on the bright side, you only have to sit through a bad movie once - the following category saluted those shows who can spend months telling the same jokes again and again and again and again and again...

WORST SKETCH SHOW
The Wedge
Suburban
The Wedge was just plain terrible. Destined to be dismantled and planted all over You Tube, to be picked-up and admired by German Hey Dad..! fans happy to know the Aussie comic spirit is still burning.
- oceanthroats
How many times can you repeat the same sketch?
- Bean Is A Carrot
NOMINEES
Comedy Inc: The Late Shift
The Ronnie Johns Half Hour

NEWTON
A worthy winner and so obviously the worst sketch show of the year, The Wedge is just another soulless piece of corporate thinking; a purposely dumbed-down comedy 'product' designed to attract viewers who don't really care about what they're watching, let alone expect to laugh at it. Rather than come up with actual jokes, The Wedge tried to create comedy characters that the audience would love and could appear on the cover of TV Week and star in their own wacky Ten button-pushing promos and eventually have their own just-as-shit spin-offs without ever uttering a funny line in their entire existence.

As for Comedy Inc: The Late Shift, how many years have they had to get this right? Renewed again and again to help make up Nine's local content quotas then buried in a graveyard timeslot by a management who clearly doesn't care what they do, this should be the place where the next generation of Aussie comedy talent is given a chance to mess around and take risks, to see what works and what doesn't. Instead, it was safe, pointless drivel written by hacks and performed by badly-made pine furniture.

Both The Wedge and Comedy Inc: The Late Shift made The Ronnie Johns Half Hour look like genius in comparison, which it was...well, if by 'genius' you mean 'contains actual thought'. At least it's improved slightly from the days when it was the worst thing on Australian television. Clearly those involved want to make viewers laugh, which puts them ahead of the other nominees, but they still miss more than they hit and the persistence of the Chopper character showed that they were not above running an idea into the ground, then digging a trench under it so they could go even lower.

Or should I say, 'digging a Tench'? Of course not, no one likes Tench...

WORST NEW TV COMEDY
David Tench Tonight
Form over content
Nothing glues me to the screen like a animated hydrocephalic pederast with little-boy hair, lobbing softballs at nobodies!
- samadriel
For a while I thought this was a spot-on parody of Rove-type shit. Then I realised you're supposed to laugh for real.
- Emergency Lalla Ward Ten
NOMINEES
The Wedge
Thank God You're Here

NEWTON
A runaway winner in this category, receiving the only unanimous vote in these awards, David Tench Tonight was a new low in Australian television. OK, we've had more than our fair share of pandering, promotion-heavy faux-talk shows over the years - I've hosted a few myself - but claiming that having a CGI host was cutting-edge television instead of just a fifth-rate, computerised Ossie Ostrich without the smarts was just insulting. It was as though all the cash was spent on the technology and the campaign where Andrew Denton boasted of the technology, while the actual content was borrowed from Christmas cracker jokes on small slips of butcher's paper.

And with such a depth of hatred directed towards Tench, I'm sure the winner of the next category will come as no surprise. And if it does, we could use you as a contestant on Bert's Family Feud, 5.30pm, weeknights on Nine. We can't keep re-running the clip where a contestant said 'vibrator' forever, you know.

WORST OVERALL COMEDY
David Tench Tonight
Spoof comedy
Tench is the future of Australian television. Hes what those Mad Max mutants watched to get angry enough to try and kill Cookie from The Young Doctors.
- 13 schoolyards
I mean, even if it was a parody of Rove-type shit, it would still be lame.
- Emergency Lalla Ward Ten
NOMINEE
The Wedge
The Glasshouse

NEWTON
What more is there to say about David Tench Tonight? I mean, apart from the fact that it's a complete failure as far as comedy goes in every way. Why have a cartoon host if he's just going to act like a regular (if slightly smarmy) human host? Why have a cartoon host if you're not going to take advantage of the animation to make him do things a human couldn't? Why have a made-up host and then not bother to give him a character to justify having a made-up host? Why create a fictional character that's even more bland than Rove? Why have real guests if they're just going to sit there and giggle or not get what few jokes are made? Why have a talk show with a fake host when that means that any interesting or worthy questions can simply be laughed-off or ignored by the guest as a joke? Why have a fake host do a real interview when his being fake means there is zero chance of there ever being any real chemistry or rapport between the host and a guest? Why run around trying to create a mystery about who is behind Tench when the real mystery is why he never says anything interesting and his show is so shithouse? Why put the show on at all unless it's because a bunch of PR companies said they want another talk show on Ten and are willing to slip Ten a few bucks to put it on? Even the McFadyen 'death car' would be a better host. It could run over the guests for starters. And back over them for an encore. And if you think I'm bitter that they didn't ask me to host, you're a lot more incisive than Eddie McGuire.

On the surface, there's no real reason why The Wedge has to be as awful as it is, it could have been a decent, entry-level sketch show, bridging the gap between children's television and that long-promised adult comedy show that Australia'll get around to making one day. But that would have been hard to do - and well beyond the show's mastermind Ian McFadyen. Instead we were given a collection of barely one-joke characters, who then did their only joke week in, week out with only the smallest of variations to let you know you hadn't stumbled into a time warp and travelled three months back in time. In comedy it's a given that if you take a funny situation and drag it out, first it stops being funny and then eventually it becomes funny again; The Wedge is what happens when you try this with something that wasn't funny in the first place. It's like a nightmare now - how will we explain this to future generations?

Or indeed how to explain the success of The Glasshouse, which combined pre-teen political humour, babbling guests, and a trio of hosts more than happy to shout over everyone else if it would give them an extra second of airtime, and yet still managed to persuade people it was sharp satire instead of a showcase of everything that's wrong with comedy. If people were bothered by its axing they seemed to get over it very quickly, probably because it was a programme impossible to really get attached to. If people thought they were attached to it they presumably realised very quickly that they really wouldn't miss it, largely because it was as hollow as the thing filling Wil Anderson's latest The Killers t-shirt. Which would be Wil Anderson.

But after the long, long drought in Aussie TV comedy that took up most of the first half of this decade - a period, let's not forget, where even my morning infomercial show was hailed as cutting-edge comedy and Merrick and Rosso were given not one, but two shows, on separate networks no less - it seems that we've somehow reached a stage where TV networks are given points simply for trying Australian comedy. How else to explain the following results?

WORST OVERALL CHANNEL FOR TV COMEDY
JOINT WINNERS
Nine
Old fogies' home
I'm voting for Nine because...they don't actually do any comedy, do they? If they did, I wouldn't fucking watch it... And they treated Frasier like shit for years.
- samadriel

ABC
Still number four
The ABC made the five best Australian television comedies of the 90's. What happened?
- Bean Is A Carrot
NOMINEE
Ten


NEWTON
After a year of presenting utter dross (The Wedge, David Tench Tonight) and a selection of programmes that would struggle to make the B-list of Australian comedy (Thank God You're Here, The Ronnie Johns Half Hour, Real Stories), Ten looked sure to triumph here, but it seems that history wins the day in this category.

The ABC's back-catalogue of comedy programmes is peerless in Australian television. It can count among it's successes The Late Show, Frontline, The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) and The Games. But battered by budget cuts, shaken by allegations of bias and forced to create more of the kind of mainstream, instant hits that might prove its worth to a populous constantly ear-bashed by anti-public-funding zealots, the ABC virtually ignored comedy whilst simultaneously being very smug about the tiny amounts it did make. That and it failed to green-light mousePATROL, the Shaun Micallef and Tony Martin-penned sketch show which anyone with any knowledge of comedy could have told you would have been brilliant. What a way to celebrate their 50th anniversary!

Then there's Nine whose recent history is mainly one of axing things. The pissing-on-the-carpet opener of The Mick Molloy Show may have been misguided (not to mention unfunny) but should the show really have been axed? Would those 60-somethings who called up talkback radio to complain really have watched the show anyway? As for Micallef Tonight, trying to turn a brilliantly surreal comedian into a bland tonight show host was never going to work. Micallef couldn't do it, nor should he have been asked to.

But now we turn to those talented Australian comedians who have found work overseas. Or at least we would if we could afford Barry Humphries. So here's Jono Coleman and Lady Julia Morris, instead.

COLEMAN AND MORRIS APPEAR ON STAGE. COLEMAN IS EATING YOGHURT AND LAUGHING AT ALL THE GREAT JOKES HE IS CONSTANTLY THINKING OF, BUT IS NEVER ABLE TO SAY BECAUSE HIS MOUTH IS FULL OF YOGHURT. MORRIS IS BUBBLING WITH EXCITEMENT THAT EVERYONE IS EXCITED THAT SHE IS PRESENT. EVEN THOUGH THEY AREN'T, LARGELY BECAUSE THEY CAN'T REMEMBER WHO SHE IS ANY MORE.

MORRIS
Well, I know you're all dyyyyying to find out why I'm a Lady, considering that I'm an Australian and not married to Sir Jack Brabham.

MORRIS' OPEN-MOUTHED GORMLESS SMILE IS ALMOST AS REVOLTING AS ALL THE YOGHURT NOW COMING OUT OF COLEMAN'S NOSTRILS. COLEMAN CONTINUES TO CHORTLE. ALEX PAPPS IS STANDING BEHIND HIM HOLDING A MEAT-TRAY OF YOGHURT.

COLEMAN FINALLY MANAGES TO GET A FEW WORDS OUT DESPITE ALL THE YOGHURT.

COLEMAN
It's good to buurrr-see that burr-comedy is as healthy today as it was when I left these shores. Burr-burr.

COLEMAN BEGINS VOMITING BLOOD AND YOGHURT ALL OVER THE LADY JULIA MORRIS' GOWN. MORRIS LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY.

JEANNIE LITTLE
You're stealing my act, Morris!

MORRIS LAUGHES HYSTERICALLY, BEFORE POINTING TO KATE LANGBROEK AND ACCUSING HER OF STEALING HER ACT. LANGBROEK POINTS TO FIFI BOX, WHO POINTS TO JO STANLEY, AND ON, AND ON.

MIKEY ROBBINS, EATING LOW-FAT YOGHURT AT THE SOUTH SYDNEY ROOSTERS TABLE WITH RUSSELL CROWE AND ANDREW DENTON, ACCUSES COLEMAN OF STEALING HIS ACT. COLEMAN IS NOW BLUE IN THE FACE AND CLOSE TO DEATH.

MORRIS LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY. MCFADYEN'S 'DEATH CAR' ACCIDENTALLY BACKS OVER THEM.

THE ORCHESTRA START TO PLAY LOVE IS A BRIDGE BY THE LITTLE RIVER BAND, TAKING US NEATLY TO PAGE 3...

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