Australians claim to love a laugh, but there’s only a handful of events where we accept comedy as a natural part of proceedings: footie pie nights, the best man’s speech at a wedding and elections. Exactly how elections made it onto that list remains a mystery, though most likely having Norman Gunston on-site at the biggest political upheaval this nation has ever seen – Gough Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975 – presumably played a part.
Recent elections have seen The Chaser dominate the comedy coverage, but this year we’re spoilt for choice. There’s now a half-dozen or so shows joining the ABC comedy veterans in mocking both our would-be leaders and democracy itself. But with so much on offer, which shows are worth your while?
Clarke & Dawe
Australia’s sharpest comedy duo have been serving it up to Australia’s politicians for over 25 years. Their humour is mostly verbal (once you get past the joke that while Clarke is supposedly doing impressions, he gives the exact same performance each and every week), but their wordplay is first class, and while Dawe is a great straight man it’s Clarke’s sly charm that makes the lies and double-talk they’re sending up so much fun to watch.
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell
Rumour had it that the ABC’s plans for election year 2016 – back when the election was expected in the second half of the year – centred around a one-two punch of The Chaser and Gruen Nation. Strangely, Mad as Hell was pushed to the start of the year, seemingly to avoid the election, but when Malcolm Turnbull went to the polls early he did us all a favour. Even without Bill Shorten’s zingers, Micallef and company have relished sinking their teeth into the heightened insanity of an election campaign.
Mad as Hell’s secret weapon is that Micallef doesn’t have to cover politics wall-to-wall in any given week if there’s nothing funny to say, and there are enough regular characters to keep the relentless sameness of election coverage fresh. It doesn’t hurt that over its five seasons Mad as Hell has displayed some of the sharpest comedy writing in the country; having it running during an election makes us all winners.
The Chaser’s Election Desk
The announcement of a double dissolution election seemingly caught The Chaser off guard, forcing them to cut short a series of The Checkout to shift their focus to election hijinks. It’s hard to know whether it’s the short preparation time or general fatigue that’s left The Election Desk seeming a little uninspired, but it’s hard to deny the team isn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment.
Election pranks are always hit-and-miss but none have really scored to date (unless having the Chaser team manhandled by security is your idea of funny), while having 11 on-air hosts is a joke that stopped being funny halfway through episode one. Elements still work – especially Andrew Hansen and Chas Licciardello’s media segments (someone give them their own show to replace Gruen) – but this isn’t up there with The Chaser’s best work.
SBS’s “news without the boring bits” is exactly the kind of show that shines during an election. A lot of election comedy is basically just straight reporting on the sillier things taking place during the election, and it’s surprising just how much comedy spin you can create from putting some wacky music under a relatively straight news report.
One-time Roast host Mark Humphries brings a bit of edge to proceedings as well – his recent fake election ad, “The Whitening of the Liberal Party”, managed to both send up a dodgy campaign ad and make a decent point, which is the kind of thing we could do with more of this election.
The Feed is also hitting the road, broadcasting four election specials in the lead up to the vote.
Sammy J’s Playground Politics
The premise is simple: Sammy J (appearing sans his puppet partner, Randy) takes a few minutes each day to explain an aspect of Australian politics Play School-style. Whether it’s been Bill Shorten’s flying bus (“everyone knows you can’t launch something if it doesn’t have wings”) versus the Blue-Tie Baron or a special guest appearance from Satan, the results have been hilarious. Sammy J’s spot-on performance really sells the jokes, too - turns out that slightly condescending tone Play School presenters use is a perfect fit for political coverage.
The Goddam Election! with John Safran
Having Safran back on our screens is always good news, and with The Goddam Election! he promises to take a slightly different tack by focusing on the minor parties and the role that religion plays in setting their agendas. Beginning his investigation with the rise of anti-Islam parties, this special promises to see Safran on the front line at race rallies, door-stopping Pauline Hanson and attending Church services with radical anti-Muslim groups who also turn out to be surprisingly multicultural in their make-up. It sounds like classic Safran.
Missed The Goddam Election! with John Safran? Catch up on SBS On Demand and watch the full program below: