Around Christmas time I downloaded and listened to a podcast of a lecture at the Adelaide festival of ideas by Kathy Laster called “The Dark Side of Kath and Kim“. I really disliked the lecture which argued that Kath and Kim was a very dark expose of contemporary materialism. Laster finds little to like in most of the characters.
I was going to do a review and critique of her lecture, but never got round to it I’m not going to spend the time refreshing my memory now, but will make a couple of observations of impressions I have though it’s possible my memory is not entirely accurate.
Here are a couple of points.
1. It’s full of 70s soft-left ideological cliches. For example, she mentions that Centrelink is now often located in shopping centres. I’m not sure if she says baldly that this is a bad thing, but there’s an ‘It’s come to this’ flavour of what she’s talking about. How terrible that Centrelink and other government services are delivered like commercial services! I remember wondering why Laster thought that the standard street full of shops with the odd post office and government office was somehow less commercial than a shopping mall. (Declaration of interest someone who shared my surname and whom my father thought may have been a distant relative, Victor Gruen, designed the first shopping mall!).
2. She says that Kath and Kim is ‘about’ materialism. It’s a critique of materialism. Well yes that’s true, but I don’t think it’s a strident critique of materialism. It seems to me it’s also a celebration of it. It is I think an affectionate picture of the lives of the alter-egos of the script-writers and actors in today’s materialist world. It contains no political barbs or suggestions that things could or should be different. It’s a comedy of manners.
I wouldn’t have bothered posting this if I’d not seen Shaun Micallef’s enjoyable article in yesterdays’ Age about funniness. I think there are two types of comedians in the Australian comedy firmament (and I presume that of other countries). There are those that have not escaped a sense of humour that is heavily influenced by a peer group whether it be a social one (adolescents, undergraduates) or an ideological one. Then there are those who have gone beyond that and have something original to offer – usually some presentation of a particular personality and/or sensibility. In this classification (at least as applied by me, in The Glass House Will Anderson and Corinne Grant are the former type of performers, whereas Dave Hughes is the latter type of performer someone who’s gone beyond peer group driven humour.
I also think that good humour is very often driven by a kind of affection for characters even when it’s black humour and even if the characters or their actions seem odious. Dame Edna and Sir Les are pretty odious characters but we like them (though I’m not sure I’d say I have an ‘affection’ for either.) For those old enough to remember the old man played by Wilfred Brambell in Steptoe and Son is a dreadful selfish manipulative bastard. But we’re not really invited to dislike him. He’s just a given. And we understand him that way, and empathise with his son Harold’s predicament.
Anyway, I’d definitely put Shaun Micallef amongst the second (good) class of Australian comedians. I think he’s terrific so I was pleased that he agrees with me about this. And I don’t think he’d think much of Laster’s interpretation – but who knows?
This is the key, I think. No matter how funny your material is and no matter how much funniness you are blessed with, unless they like you it’ll all be for naught.
Glenn Robbins, Russell Gilbert, Jane Turner and Gina Riley, Lano and Woodley are all comedians I’ve seen perform whom, it would be fair to say, the audience not only laughed at but really liked – if not loved.
These comics all run that terrifying risk of rejection from an audience by offering themselves to them apparently unarmed. There’s a sense of these comics stepping onto the stage like children; naive, blinking from the dazzle of the lights, pitching themselves as just one of the audience, or even less than the audience sometimes. No hiding behind suits and ties and desks and microphones and irony – that’s not to say this colder approach won’t get you laughs, it just they tend to be harder won; obtained more on a joke-by-joke basis – though, hey, I’m not complaining – just as long as they’re there somewhere.
I’d be interested in others’ views on all this.