Looking for A Niche?
Types of Comedy We Are Currently Lacking

Posted on 22 October 2012

This year the Melbourne International Comedy Festival had 420 shows with 1939 performers. If you are creating a show for the 2013 festival, to grab people’s attention you will need to distinguish yourself. Like a tin of tomato soup sitting among numerous other brands of tomato soup, you will need to demonstrate that you offer something unique, something people want.

Below are my suggestions for types of shows that we are either currently doing without or are only sparsely being explored.

Live Political Comedy

This is the number one wish on my wishlist. Australia is experiencing something of a drought when it comes to intelligent, sophisticated, political humour. More than that we need female political humourists.

On TV we have Clarke & Dawe, probably our finest political commentators, speaking for two and a half minutes once a week. The Chaser offers us six young men sending up the establishment, but not really offering us in depth material. One of the finest recent pieces of TV political/social comedy was The Hungry Beast with a team of fourteen young comedians, three of whom were female.

On the live scene we have Catherine Deveny with her scalding remarks concerning misogyny, boat people, and right-wing religion. We also have Rod Quantock, who is something of an Australian institution, dissecting the callousness of Canberra and sounding off alarm bells concerning our environment. Then not much more, certainly not among young performers.

I’m not looking for angry young guns. I want people with well thought out and enlightened positions offering witty zingers that get their audiences thinking. I want to see Australia’s Jon Stewarts and Steven Colberts on stage. Only, I would like to see a more even division of genders represented in this. Public policy certainly affects women as much as it does men.

Genuine Family Entertainment

We have been experiencing significant attrition in this area. Sadly when the term “family entertainment” is used in advertising, it means this is a show for kids with a few bones thrown to the parents. The shows that are genuinely family entertainment: attracting children, parents, and grandparents, don’t market themselves as such. When has Weird Al Yankovic ever claimed to be family entertainment? Have you been to any of his concerts? The audience is as much fun as Al himself, given the inter-generational enthusiasm.

In Australia we have had some very fine inter-generationally appealing comedians. Of note are Scared Weird Little Guys, Lano and Woodley, and Adam Hills. These people command(ed) not only large local audiences, but are loved and respected internationally. People remember this sort of humour for decades, when all other comedy is forgotten. These comedians stimulate people’s minds and touch their hearts.

Scared Weird Little Guys have retired. Lano and Woodley have retired as a team, though individually continue to perform. Adam Hills has not been as much in the public eye since the ending of Spicks and Specks, but is still active and may be on the television again in the near future.

So, who is coming up the ranks offering this sort of humour? I can’t really count Dr Brown, though he is good. He either does comedy for adults or comedy for children. His adult humour is too rough for an intergenerational audience. Jason Chong has the potential. The improvisation troupes always offer good fair to anyone of any age. This is my favourite field of humour and we need more.

Female/Male Duos

I grew up enjoying a number of male/female duos: Burns and Allen, Collins and Alderton, Shields and Yarnell, Stiller and Meara, heck even Donny and Marie. What happened to this sort of comedy? I haven’t seen anything like it in decades. I don’t want a world where all the men do their comedy in one lonely little corner, and all the women do their comedy in another corner.

The frisson of a good female/male duo has a charge to it that communicates well to audiences. It speaks to all of our hopes, fears, frustrations, and desires. Mind you comedy duos of any sort are a bit few and far between at the moment. Most comedians are lone wolves, though that description is far too romantic. Perhaps lone lemmings: they will all jump off the cliff, but one at a time in their own way.

I would strongly suggest comedians practise bouncing off one another. Form more than one partnership, learning how to play with others until perhaps you find a good working match. This is the sort of thing that gets you onto TV and radio.


Yes, panto can be cheesy. Yes, it can be horrifyingly misogynistic and homophobic. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve seen some very fine panto in London, and Adelaide does an admirable job of putting a bit of Christmas fun up every year.

I have a feeling that it has fallen out of favour with the comedians more than with the audiences. It smacks too much of community theatre. However, it’s a great place to sharpen your comic acting chops. People’s familiarity with the subject matter will automatically draw an audience.

I have to admit, I find myself writing a panto for next year. The voices are knocking at my head and they seem to be the voices of Prince Bertie and the punk band “The Ugly Step Sisters”.

Full On Three-Act Theatrical Production

In 1987 at the inaugural Melbourne Comedy Festival the stage play Wogs Out of Work premiered. It was a smash hit and remains one of the highest grossing Australian live shows of all time. The show also led onto television and film careers for a number of its members. Who is doing this sort of show now?

A few comedians have story based shows with a theatrical element. Sammy J and Heath McIvor’s shows are most notable for this. Tripod also like playing around with the theatrical. Still more could be done.

Just make sure when you bring your theatrical production to the festival that it is in fact comedy, not absurdist drama that thinks it’s a bit funny. I went to a show at this year’s comedy festival which purported to be comedy, but portrayed a cruel distopian future. I could only figure that they wanted the extra publicity they could get from being in the festival program.

Let me know if you decide to give any of these a try. I look forward to seeing greater variety in the coming festivals.

Peace and kindness,


1 Response to Looking for A Niche?
Types of Comedy We Are Currently Lacking

  • Katherine says:

    I have been reliably informed by Morven Smith that an awesome political comedy venue exists in good old Brunswick.

    Political Asylum

    I will see about reporting on this hidden gem in the near future.



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