Tuesday, 3 February 1998

Where Have All The Comics Gone? Feb 3, 1998

Where Have All The Comics Gone?
Article by KATE HERBERT for Herald Sun, early Feb 1998

Since The Last Laugh laughed its last in 1996, the joker and their jokes seem to have wandered off stage and onto the airwaves. Its closure marked the end of the boom era of live comedy in Melbourne, indeed in Australia.

Initally, it was television which had the royal flush. Now it seems that radio has killed the live comedy star. Breakfast and Drive Time radio comedy gangs are the rage. Several of the D Generation worked on radio before the success on ABC TV of the satirical masterpiece, Frontline.  Now we have not only funny DJs but also radio comedy commando teams

Grant Tothill, Programming Manager of Triple M, says that Richard Stubbs and the D-Gen started the new radio comedy era. Mick Molloy and Tony Martin have a top-rating drive-time program on FOX. Wendy Harmer escaped the comedy capital to be Queen of the airwaves on Sydney's 2DAY FM, although she is on comedy maternity leave at present. Judith Lucy, with Helen Raser, did The Ladies' Lounge on Triple J but recently began a Sunday brekky show with Kaz Cook on FOX.

Triple M, says Tothill, wanted to 'combine rock, sport and comedy' so they have 'exceptionally quick-witted' comics, Tim Smith and Steve Bidwell, doing breakfast. They are negotiating a further series of The Schnitzel Brothers, with Eric Bana and Dave O'Neill.

Most of our top live comics have given up the smelly, boozy barroom environs of comedy clubs. Comics, says Tothill, "like radio as a medium and radio has adopted them." Clubs folded over the years and we are left with the Comedy Club in Carlton and a number of one night a week pub venues which have a few old hands and myriad wannabees.

Angus Bell from Token Productions describes Comedy try-outs as people getting up relatively new. Some of them break through and some continue. Some have been there for years and never change. Some die and go on to live their lives elsewhere.'

Some of the good old boys and gals, Bell says, are still treading the boards at live venues. Greg Fleet and Matt King feature regularly at The Espy in St. Kilda and do shows for the Adelaide, Comedy and Fringe Festivals. Christine Basil, Pommie Johnston, Chris Bennett, Dave Grant, Kim Hope, Will Anderson, Dave Hughes, Brad Oakes and Adam Richards are a few of the other die-hards awaiting their radio gig.

The crowds stopped coming to venues such as The Last Laugh and Comedy Cafe, audience expectations were rising and the cost of top comics was escalating. TV snatched the golden boys and girls and offered them big dough. Now there are whispers of certain comedy radio celebs getting $900,000. Better than braving the hecklers in a blokey bar, eh?

In the 80's, television comedy took risks. Rod Quantock did Australia: You're Standing In It, Max Gillies The Gillies Report and Dingo Principle. Vizard and McFadyen produced The Eleventh Hour but struck oil with Comedy Company. Sketch and variety shows followed thick and fast: Larger than Life, Big Gig, Kitson and Fahey and, in the 90's, Fast Forward and Full Frontal. Television syphoned off all the funny buggers.

Where are the stars not heard on radio? Jimeon is huge in the UK. Jean Kitson is somewhere in Sydney. Rod Quantock, Glynn Nicholas and Max Gillies are in theatres. Vizard produces, Mark Mitchell does Con and Marika, Mary-Anne Fahey made a TV satire. Many do corporate gigs. Why do pubs for $200 when you can get $3,000?

Live comedy is now left for dead. There is no money in it for artists or producers. Commercial venues such as The Comedy Cafe produce US. acts who pull audiences. The one saviour of live comedy in Melbourne is The Comedy Festival in April that has a huge program of local and overseas artists.

What happened? Did we get bored eating bad food and watching questionable shows at exorbitant prices when we could watch Vizard? Were the 80's the era of going out, being rowdy and spending cash?

Perhaps we are too busy in our '90's scramble for comfort, to go out, or maybe it is just cheaper and more convenient to listen to gags in the car, the shower or from under the doona.

Comedy on radio
·       Fox FM
·       Tracey & Matt in the Morning with Russell Gilbert 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Martin & Molloy  4-6pm Mon -Fri
·       Best of Martin & Molloy 9-12am Sat
·       Foxy Ladies: Judith Lucy with Kaz Cook Sundays 9-11am
·       (Sydney 2DAY FM) Wendy Harmer with Peter Moon 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Triple J
·       Adam Spencer with Helen Raser Departure Lounge 4-6pm Mon -Fri
·       Mikey Robbins with Stephen Abbott 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Roy and HG Sunday 2-5pm
·       Triple M
·       Tim Smith and Steve Bidwell 6-10 am Mon -Fri
·       (Sydney)Andrew Denton with Amanda Keller 6-9am Mon-Fri
·       Crud Julian Schiller and Tony Moclair 7-10 pm Mon -Fri
·       GRILL team 4-7pm Mon-Fri
·       Dougie and Dunstall 10-12am Mon-Fri
·       TTFM
·       Early Openers 6-9am Mon-Fri

Live Comedy venues still running
·       Comedy Cafe Lygon Plaza Carlton
·       The Espy, St. Kilda Tuesday Nights Sunday Arvo The Waiting Room
·       The Armadale Hotel: Mondays
·       Elbow Grease: The Other Room Nicholson Hotel N Fitzroy Sundays
·       Star and Garter: Sth Melbourne Thursdays
·       Construction Site: Ringwood weekly

Live venues gone to God
·       Last Laugh and Le Joke
·       The Comedy Cafe
·       Hilton Comedy Room
·       The Banana Lounge
·       The Flying Tapeze
·       The Prince Patrick
·       Dick Whittington
·       Albion Charles
·       Botanical


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