The Australian sense of humor is often characterized as dry, laconic, irreverent and ironic, as exemplified by the early works of Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson, while Australian politicians and cultural institutions have been a seemingly endless source of inspiration for such writers as C J Dennis (The Sentimental Bloke), and Steele Rudd (On Our Selection aka Dad and Dave). This tradition was carried on in the vaudeville and comic larrikinism of Roy Rene (Mo), Barry Humphries, Paul Hogan, Norman Gunstone and Graham Kennedy.
More recently the parochial satire and self-mockery of such performers as the D-Generation, Roy and HG, Kath and Kim, and Glen Robbins (Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures) created landmark television comedies, while the quirks of Australian multiculturalism also provided fodder for comedy, as early as Nino Culotta’s (John O’Grady) 1957 book They’re A Weird Mob. Migrant-influenced humor has exploded onto the scene in the past twenty years, Anh Do (Vietnamese), Akmal Saleh (Egyptian), Mary Coustas and Nick Giannopolous (Greek), and Vince Sorrenti (Italian) stand out, whilst Ernie Dingo has specialised in a gently mocking comic genre, reflective of the values and aspirations of our First Nation people.
Impersonators of the famous have also enjoyed a wide following including Gerry Connolly (Queen Elizabeth), Max Gillies (Bob Hawke, John Howard and others) and Billy Birmingham (The Twelfth Man) – Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, and others). Bob Downe’s cheesy, safari suit-wearing lounge singer has become a humorously campy icon (below), while Elliot Goblet continues to steadfastly deliver quirky deadpan stand up without blinking an eye.
Representatives of the “bawdy” strain of Australian comedy include Rodney Rude, Kevin ”Bloody” Wilson, and Austen Tayshus, whose first single Australiana became the biggest selling single in Australian recording history when released, with sales in excess of 300,000 copies. Australian country music artists embraced comic/novelty material many years earlier, Chad Morgan, “The Sheik of Scrubby Creek” specialized in yokel slapstick , Slim Dusty (Pub With No Beer), Rolf Harris (Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport) , John Williamson (Old Man Emu) all had comedy hits, to be followed years later by the more urban types including Billy Birmingham (The Twelfth Man – It’s Just Not Cricket), Pauline Pantsdown (I Don’t Like it), Bob Hudson (The Newcastle Song), Chris Sinclair (Bloke), Joe Dolce (Shaddup Your Face) and the anarchic, comically-confronting techno-punk of TISM (He’ll Never Be An) ‘Ole Man River.
Among the best known of contemporary comedy performers in Australia are Will Anderson, Carl Barron, Jimeoin, Dave Hughes, Wendy Harmer, Peter Heliar, Russell Gilbert, Tony Martin, Jim Jeffries, Anh Do, Judith Lucy, Mick Molloy, Tom Gleeson, Kitty Flanagan, Chris Lilley, and Adam Hills.
Australian stand-up comedy is an important part of our contemporary culture, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival has been showcasing comic art since its inception in 1987, when Barry Humphries as patron and British comic Peter Cook as guest of honor, kicked the whole thing off. Since that time it has grown to attract over 350,000 visitors annually, with stand-up performed at live venues of all sizes across the city, from small pubs to major auditoria. The more recently- established Sydney International Comedy Festival, and its subsequent success, provides further evidence that Australians enjoy a good laugh, even if it is sometimes at their own expense.
4TR has mined Australian comic gold this week from the 1970’s through to 2000, as this period saw the emergence of several hugely popular comic talents who displayed their unique ability to tickle our funny bone, and regularly topped the ARIA charts. Foremost among them is former adman Billy Birmingham, who not only wrote Australiana for Austen Tayshus but was also the Twelfth Man, whose Goonishly profane impersonations of Channel 9 cricket commentators and Wide World of Sports personalities, scored no less than eight #1 albums and two #1 singles between 1984-2006, selling over 2.5 million copies in the process.
In the 1970’s Bob Hudson became synonymous with the NSW town of Newcastle, his debut album and hit single were called just that – The Newcastle Song – and his humorous time capsule of the suburban mating rituals of 1975, were forever etched into our collective memories.
Chris Sinclair took a famous global hit by an American female singer and turned it into a celebrated bogan anthem, so this week we recall the intriguing back story of how the song Bitch became Bloke.
Finally we remember the classic techno-punk hit from Melbourne’s famously anonymous TISM as we recall a song that we thought was called I’m On The Drug That Killed River Phoenix, but it wasn’t, and the political satire of Pauline Pantsdown, a classic drag queen parody of Pauline Hanson, the One Nation leader, with the hit song from 1998, I Don’t Like It.