Stan have embraced self-isolation for its comedic potential in their new series focusing on Australian comedians in lockdown. The talent includes Dave Hughes, Tom Ballard, Nikki Britton, Nazeem Hussein, Wil Anderson, Claire Hooper and several others.
Well, you’ve got to laugh, right? That’s the theory, anyway, and there’s certainly some weight to the idea that in our darkest moments what we really need is not some grim social realist drama reflecting our actual experiences, but a good chuckle to take our minds off our worries. Preston Sturges made a movie about the concept that the Coen brothers really liked.
The good folks at Australian streaming service Stan have kind of split the difference, though, deciding to both acknowledge the current situation we all (well almost all—stay TF home, ya goons!) find ourselves in, and dish up a heaping helping of comedy to aid in our collective mood.
The central conceit of The Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival is simplicity itself. Drop off a camera at the homes of various Australian comic luminaries, have them film their own little spot of stand up—and occasionally sit down—and cobble the lot together into four digestible chunks, with ubiquitous Aussie comedian Dave “Hughesy” Hughes providing connective tissue as a kind of telecommuting MC. There you have it: Australian ingenuity in action, all in service to a captive audience.
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Based on the first episode, the first and most obvious thing that becomes apparent is that all the comedians involved have pretty nice joints in which to shelter in place. Meaning either comedy is a far more lucrative hustle than we’ve been led to believe, or they all broke quarantine in order to shoot their bits in rather fetching townhouses, or some judicious framing and editing was employed to crop out the black mould and cracked drywall. With that in mind, any humorous kvetching about the travails of quarantine should be taken with a pinch of salt—because nobody here seems to be doing to too hard.
That caveat aside, it makes for a pretty good time, although reviewing comedy is very much like dancing about architecture—at the end of the day if you laugh, then it’s good, and if you don’t, then it’s not. Subjectivity rules the roost.
In the first episode, which clocks in at a biscuit under half an hour, we get Tom Ballard telling us about the time he had gay sex with a witch. Becky Lucas takes us on an imaginary tour of an increasingly sordid wedding reception. Purple puppet Randy Feltman (Heath McIvor), clearly distancing from his usual human sparring partner, Sammy J, ruminates on how the pressures and the sudden paradoxical freedoms of lockdown have brought our more feral impulses to the surface. Nikki Britton takes us through a particularly fraught first date. And Rwandan-Australian comic Oliver Twist opines that ordering UberEats to his apartment is considerably better than being stuck in Malawi refugee camp. Interspersedm we get Hughesy basically being dragged by his wife and kids.
It’s a good time, within certain parameters. Chiefly, it’s impossible to manufacture the energy of a live comedy audience within the current conditions without it coming across as patently artificial. And while the production team get marks for not even daring to try to do so, the whole exercise is a reminder that we’re not going to be enjoying live comedy for a while yet—the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Sydney Comedy Festival for instance are still canceled for this year.
Balancing this is the intimacy and sense of generosity that this specific format engenders. We might be getting a bit sick of the “we’re all in this together” faux-familiarity certain multimillionaire celebs have tried to hit us with over the duration of the ‘rona, but this—our homegrown funny folks, in what are presumably their own homes—actually does more for the viewer’s sense of community than bloody Wonder Woman roping in her plutocrat mates to sing John Lennon ever could.
The coming weeks will bring us a packed roster of comics, including Nazeem Hussein, Tommy Little, Aaron Chen, Wil Anderson, Claire Hooper, and more. All up, The Australian Lockdown Comedy Festival is well and truly worth a spin. I’s not like you’ve got much else to do right now, have you?