Comedy Game Shows

Posted on 01 November 2012

Australia has been blessed with a number of comedy game shows on TV. Television quiz shows usually require a single set, a host(s), and a pool of reliable contestants. It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it attracts a multi-generational audience which is good for advertising.

Current State of Affairs

Of late we have lost a few of our best. The music quiz show Spicks and Specks, news-based game show Good News Week, and the TheatreSports based Thank God You’re Here are all gone. Randling has just wound up, RocKwiz and Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation may be going the same direction. These are sad losses.

Comedy game shows are the best publicity for our local comedians. Who had ever heard of Barry Morgan before he appeared on Spicks and Specks? Yet, with one appearance he was able to fill live venues in a way normally expected of international performers. People feel more confident about buying tickets to a show where they have already seen a sample of that comedian’s humour televised.

What’s Exciting and New

So what’s next? This question may well be going through the minds of young comedians who are looking for a TV break.

Ben McKenzie has a genuine love of games: improv games, roleplaying games, board games, computer games, quiz show games, etc. This weekend he and Lawrence Leung will be hosting The Game Gameshow during International Library Games Day at the State Library of Victoria. If anyone should be writing and performing a new television comedy game show, it’s Ben.

Peter Hayward and a team of cast and crew are performing the game show We Should Know Better once a month at Hares and Hyenas. They’ve managed to snag popular comedians such as Victoria Healy, Simon Taylor, and European Man, an important element to ensuring their success. They are still finding their feet, but the show has a lot of promise.

Then of course numerous TheatreSports and trivia nights are scattered throughout many of the cities and suburbs of Australia. Those with a particularly unique slant may have enough oomph to make the leap from live to televised.

Comedy Game Show DIY

What does a comedy game show need to make it? Quite a number of things. Game shows may be cheap to make, but they require a lot of planning.

Of top concern is your theme. A game show’s theme gives it coherence and signals your audience that your show is of interest. A humorous quiz show about monster trucks would a) give focus to the sorts of games and questions you would develop, such as “Wheel of Wheels” where you guess the brand of a wheel based on its tire tracks, and b) you could easily sell this to Top Gear fans and car sales, repair, petrol, and parts advertisers.

You must have likeable, expressive, and interactive presenters. Your show can sink or swim on the backs of your regular comedians. Watch an old episode of Spicks and Specks. Notice how some of the comedian guests are fine as contestants, but probably wouldn’t make it as a host. What Adam Hills did right: he interacted with the audience, he interacted with the guests, he LISTENED to others, he didn’t always need to be in the spotlight, he laughed easily, he has a firm and gentle hand that kept the show under control.

Good writing is crucial. You will need good jokes, good questions, and good games, and thereby you will need a good team of writers. One writer is unlikely to be sufficient, because ideas must be bounced around and given enough play to be assured of their effectiveness. Neither Paul McDermott, Shaun Micallef, nor Adam Hills ever made it a secret that they were reading pre-written jokes off system cards. However, the jokes were always on theme and provided the guests plenty of material upon which they could riff their own improvised jokes.

An interesting mix of guests is what will give your show life and longevity. People will tune in for the celebrities, but celebrities don’t always have a lot to say. Mix in well-known and skilled comedians. Mix in people with specific knowledge. For a gardening quiz show you could invite Chris and Marie of Chris and Marie’s Plant Farms. Mix in a few of the punters from your audience. RocKwiz is famous for screening its audience as they enter the venue, in order to select a few contestants for the night. So long as you keep mixing it up, your show will always have surprises to keep people tuning in.

Most important: MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS HAVING FUN! Comedy game shows are always more about fun than about winning. Even one guest who’s a little too aggressive can bring the tone down. This includes the style of jokes and questions. Only lightly season your show with the easy humour (sex, farts, put-downs, etc), don’t force people to swallow a whole fresh chili. It won’t go down well.

I am interested in seeing what comes next from the fertile minds of our humorous best. Let me know if you plan on setting up a new game show of some sort. I would be more than happy to cheer for you in the audience.

Peace and kindness,


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