Aussie Life

Aussie life

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

April is the cruellest month for anybody who despairs at the state of contemporary humour. Where are the Ealing comedies of our time, the Carry On films, where is the P.G. Wodehouse, the Evelyn Waugh, or the Tom Wolfe of today? April is cruel because it is the month of a display of vulgarity and smut labelled comedy which demonstrates the sad gulf between real humour and what nowadays passes for it. April is the month of  the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Now I know taste in humour is subjective, but not that subjective. Anyone can make jokes. Only talent can make comedy, and talent and public funding don’t go together. Once the dead hand of grant-dispensing bureaucrats falls on an area of artistic endeavour you can kiss creative excellence goodbye. ‘Arts’ subsidies force arts talent to fit administrative criteria – this is acceptable contemporary art, this is music, that thing over there is sculpture. Add the aesthetically fatal restriction of ‘quotas’ based on race or sex or physical incapacity, and, especially with humour, the ever-shrinking range of potential material imposed by the obligation to avoid ‘offending’ assorted victimists, and there’s not much left for talent to work on. Indeed, you could argue that subsidies discriminate against talent by giving the talentless but modish the opportunity to present themselves to the public without the need to appeal to the public’s judgment. Our greatest living comedian, Barry Humphries, doesn’t need state subsidies, and anyway, would probably no longer qualify for them if he did, since the Melbourne International Comedy Festival ‘cancelled’ his name from an award, taking exception to various remarks he made about – you might have guessed – ‘transgenderism’.

State subsidies go to those the state approves of, and since, despite an allegedly conservative government in Canberra, the state in its bureaucratic manifestations is almost wholly in the hands of the Left, they go to leftists, or to those who conform to leftist canons. Comedy festivals do, which is a paradox because the Left has no sense of humour.

You can search the dour pages of the Guardian or those unsold piles of the Saturday Paper or any other leftist publication or television or radio production and you won’t find anyone with the skill of, say, Tim Blair or Mark Steyn at combining comedy and satire with social comment. I mentioned this, as tactfully as I could, to a left-wing friend who dropped in while I was writing this article.

‘That’s balls,’ my friend replied. ‘There are plenty on our side who can make you laugh. What about Rod “Cap’n Snooze” Quantock, or if he’s a bit yesterday, Tom Ballard or Hannah Gadsby? – she’s a riot. What about’ – this with the air of delivering an irrefutable argument – ‘what about Mandy Nolan?’

I’d never heard of her. It turns out that as well as being a stand-up alleged comedienne, she writes a column in her local Byron Bay newspaper. Here’s a sample, taken from a smutty rant about a metal tower put up by the shire council, which according to her is ‘phallic’.

The big metal willy is the perfect addition to the roundabout at West Byron – perhaps a nod to the pricks who don’t listen to community consensus. Maybe it’s a big rapey cock. No doesn’t mean No for them.

That is among her more restrained observations. But Mandy is not solely a wit. She is also a candidate for federal parliament, representing – who else? – the Greens. I suppose a Green wit would be twice as annoying as each of those Green half-wits we have to put up with.

‘Anyway,’ my friend added, ‘if Mandy doesn’t make you smile, you’re the one with the humour problem, not us. Tell you what, forget about the Melbourne festival, there’s a much funnier one coming up with Mandy in it called MidWinta on the Coast.’ He produced a brochure inserted in his Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Have a look at this.’

You could tell the brochure was about comedy because it had a funny picture of Jesus in his crown of thorns on the cover, peeping out of a pram wheeled by Mary. Joseph was pointing a finger at the reader, like Lord Kitchener in the World War I recruiting poster, with a speech balloon saying: ‘It’s too late for us to book in at Marie Stopes but it’s not too late for YOU to book for MidWinta, Australia’s bestest laugh-fest ever!’ (I have since read that a conservative columnist who suggested that MidWinta might consider drawing on the Islamic faith as inspiration for next year’s satirical cover was denounced on Twitter as a ‘racist shit-stirrer’, among less printable epithets.)

The brochure spoke of ‘diversity’ as a ‘keynote’ of the festival but as I flicked through its pages diversity was notable by its absence. All the acts were stand-up monologues, and all were apparently ‘hilarious’. A ‘fantastically hilarious’ monologue by Nimbin comedian Jarrod Bogan, the brochure proudly explains, has been selected by Deakin University as a set text for advanced ‘creative writing’ students. I quote an excerpt, to give the flavour.

So I sees this dude who’s building a house right next to the beach, for f*ck’s sake. Just where rising sea levels will wash it away. 

I says to him, ‘Are you a denialist like that asshole Morrison?’

‘No,’ he’s gone, ‘I’m a Pentecostalist.’

‘Well screw you,’ I says.

(Note the author’s skill, characteristic of many Australian comics, in reconciling American linguistic borrowings with an ersatz ockerism.)

I recognised the photo of another of the performers, billed as ‘Wacky Zaky with his ack-ack-acky’ Mallah. I don’t know how funny he is, but when he makes a joke I’d advise his audience to laugh.

Anyway, at my friend’s insistence, and as one who is not afraid to be proved wrong, I have agreed to go to MidWinta to see how amusing the Left can be. I have to admit that the heart quailed at the thought of ‘Deadly Funny’ – ‘Cheeky and loud, black and proud… the freshest and funniest First Nations talent from across the country’ but there are plenty of alternatives, with stand-up comedians Billy Foulis from Scotland (‘What’s under a Scotsman’s kilt? Ask Mandy Nolan’); Lenny Smutter from New York (‘Wanna knock out Putin? F**kin’ send in Will Smith’); Benjamin Wuhan from China (‘We no start Covid, ha ha. Is Uighur plot’); ‘feisty female funster’ Maria (formerly Marco) Miasma from Milan (with surtitles); and ‘home-grown political comedy trio’ The Meanies – Kristina (‘the Godmother’), Penny (‘Cruella’) and Katy (‘the Hatchet’). If their combined efforts can’t persuade me that Leftists do have a sense of humour, what could?

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