Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Bachelor Recap: Snow, Bridesmaids, and Models

We begin, of course, with the traditional recap of last night's action, in which we are reminded that twenty-four women we had no connection with met one man we had no connection with, and then some of them went home.

We are then shown Blake on a boat. It's only just occurred to him that one of the contestants could be his future wife. Only just. It only just occurred to him that the premise of The Bachelor is indeed the premise of The Bachelor.

Meanwhile at the house, Chantal would like to get to know Blake more, whereas Anita would like to know more about Blake. For her part, Alana wants to see more of Blake. The variety of opinions is quite amazing. They all want to go on the first date with Blake, to which end Blake has sent Osher with a "first date card", the traditional way for a gentleman to court a lady on television.

It could be a group date or single date. Anita would definitely like it to be a single date, not a group date, because she feels she is one of those women who is more attractive to a man when by herself rather than with nineteen other women.

Unfortunately though, Jessica will be going on the date, which doesn't surprise Holly, because as a professional netballer she sees deeply into human nature.

Blake shows up at the mansion in a car, and explains that with Jess, "It was her smile, it was the look in her eye, it was a spark", so there's clearly a pretty profound connection here. Jessica can't believe Blake actually came to the house to pick her up - she's never known a man who could drive before.

Jessica always thought she would settle down and start a family, but at twenty-four she realises she's on the verge of drying up and shrivelling into a useless husk, so it's about time she went on TV and tried to pick up a stranger.

As Blake and Jessica drive off, the crucial question is raised: is this a date or a kidnapping? It's still unclear as Blake stops the car in a middle of a blizzard: he has apparently driven her to the Yukon. Jessica sees the snow and becomes convinced Blake is a wizard.

"I'm a romantic at heart, I wanted to do something special for our first date," Blake said, and what is more special than asking the production team at Channel Ten to come up with something?

Jessica is pretty smitten: ever since she was a girl she longed for a man to shower her with fake snow. Back at the mansion the other women file their nails and talk about how much their lives suck. But at the snowfields, Blake thinks the date is going better than he'd ever imagined, inasmuch as Jessica has yet to spray anything toxic in his eyes.

There's a chandelier hanging above the ice rink. What?

Jessica leaps into Blake's arms. They both fall over. Overcome with the romance of the moment, they take a moment to watch an ad for Wonderland, wondering why it is that Ten is pretending it's a new show.

By the way The Bachelor is proudly brought to you by Ford, so you know who to send your letterbombs to.

Back at the ice rink, Jessica jumps into Blake's arms again in case we'd already forgotten that happened. Luckily, nobody has suffered a severed artery. Blake informs us that the chemistry between Jessica and himself is fantastic; but like any young man in the first blush of romance, what he's really looking forward to is doing this with nineteen other women.

Blake has a present for Jessica, or more accurately, Channel Ten has a present for Jessica and has hired Blake to hand it to her. It's a dress. "It's like something out of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe!" Jessica gasps as a talking beaver leaps out of it.

Back at the mansion, Sam is jealous, which is pretty novel. A new dating card has arrived, promising "a big day". Alana surmises that this means it is wedding-related. "What else do you call a big day except a wedding day?" she says, which is pretty stupid logic, but unfortunately she's going to turn out to be right.

On this date, a lot of women have been invited, including Anita, which is lucky because the look on her face as the names are read out made it pretty clear she was about to go on a killing spree if she didn't get to go on a date.

Back to the frozen tundra of Spitzbergen, and Jessica is now dressed as the White Queen, and sits down with Blake to dine on Turkish Delight.

Jessica can't quite believe the depth of feeling she already has for Blake. I hope this isn't going to continue for the rest of the series. The show desperately needs someone to call Blake a wanker to provide a bit of light and shade. Maybe they could get me on the show to do that.

Blake thinks this is the best first date he's ever had, possibly because it's the most heavily sponsored.

Jessica is impressed by the fact Blake is a perfect gentleman, meaning that he hasn't tried to grab some boob while the cameras are rolling.

And then suddenly, Blake speaks the words that every woman longs to hear after suffering severe head injuries: "Jessica, will you accept this rose?"

And then they kiss, a moment made all the more romantic by the knowledge of all the other women he'll shortly be kissing.

Jessica returns to the mansion, where Anita is insanely jealous of Jessica's dress: she wishes she could groom a dog like the one the dress was made from. All the women want to know if Jessica kissed Blake, but she doesn't want to tell them in case it "unleashes Pandora's box". We have yet to hear much from Pandora, but apparently her box is terrifying. Good luck when your date with Pandora comes around, Blake!

Later on Jessica is in tears because she lied about kissing Blake and because she is an idiot. But anyway.

Next day it's the group date, in which Blake will make it entirely clear to a group of women that he is in control of their lives, in true romantic style. The date will involve all the women being models for Woman's Day, because this show is all about romance and style and class and celebrity gossip and weight-loss tips.

The shoot will be bridal-themed, because these women clearly are not already obsessed enough with weddings. But only four women get to be brides, and the rest will be bridesmaids. Everyone is desperate to be a bride and not to be a bridesmaid because they don't really understand how reality works.

The brides are Alana, Diana, Stacy-Louise and Laurina. Nobody claps for Laurina, but she knows this is because they were just expecting it because she's done modelling before and so obviously she gets to be a bride because she has done modelling before and the lack of clapping is in no way connected to the fact that her personality was stolen from a vulture.

But to her credit, Laurina manages to keep her cool despite knowing that the other girls are intimidated by the fact she's a model. As the shoot begins, she feels pretty confident taking control and telling Blake what to do because although she's kept it pretty quiet, she's actually had some modelling experience.

The second photo involves Alana as the bride. She's not had modelling experience, so she looks like a piece of garbage really. To look good in a photo you really need modelling experience. It would've been good if there'd been a model among the women to give her some advice.

Blake, though, is grateful that Alana let him "guide her", making sure to say the words in a way that I want to make clear doesn't sound at all hideously creepy.

Next up is Stacy-Louise, who giggles a lot about Blake taking his shirt off, and is just generally unpleasant like that.

Diana has been dreaming about her big day ever since she saw it on Cinderella, which is a statement both alarming and weird. She also wants Mickey Mouse to be her wedding celebrant, so she saw a different version of Cinderella than I did. But I get the feeling Diana sees a different version of pretty much everything. Certainly she's seeing a different version of the photo shoot, as it seems fairly certain that when she leaves she firmly believes she's actually married.

Laurina thinks Blake is having more fun with Diana than he did with her, which Laurina can't really fathom, because Diana isn't even a professional model.

Following the photo shoot, Alana surprises the viewer by revealing she'd actually quite like to get to know Blake more. Which she does, as she sits down with Blake, and he asks to wait. I wonder what he'll do? Will he return with a bucket of water to throw on Alana's head, or a restraining order? No, it's a rose, so there you go.

Anita doesn't think Alana should get a rose unless there's been a real connection, and Anita hasn't seen that connection, so Anita thinks Blake has made a terrible mistake. Anita begins working on an Excel spreadsheet detailing what Blake's feelings really are, that she can email to Blake so he understands himself better and remembers to always ask Anita before making any major decisions.

Blake is looking forward to tonight's cocktail party. "There are so many amazing women I haven't even spoken to," he says. possibly referring to the women on this show. Laurina is pretty confident that her tactic of ignoring Blake completely is paying dividends, as she's not given him a reason to not keep her around, which, let's be honest, talking to him for thirty seconds definitely will.

The girls sit around and chat a bit. Laurina enters with a glass of wine to explain to the others how horrible she is. Sam doesn't think Laurina is here for love, which is a bit cruel, given Laurina is incapable of understanding any human emotions.

It's time for the rose ceremony. One of the women - I don't know which one, one of the dark-haired ones - says she thinks all of the women want a rose tonight. It's an interesting theory: do all the women, indeed, want to not be eliminated from the competition they have entered? Only time will tell, I guess.

As the roses are handed out, many of the women, and one hundred percent of the audience, is hoping Laurina does not get a rose, and if possible falls into a ditch or gets bitten by a pig or something on the way home. Laurina is fairly sure she will get a rose though, because when she was modelling she learned that men like women who are models, and as she has modelling experience she is fairly sure that Blake will enjoy her ability to model and therefore choose her. Laurina really wants a rose, as it would reinforce her reasons for being here. What those reasons are, we're still not sure: something to do with eating human flesh or opening some kind of portal to the netherworld I assume.

Luckily Anita gets a rose, obviating the need to assault anyone. So does Diana, thus extending the amount of time she's had to spend without professional mental health care.

It's time for the last rose. Three ladies left: only one can stay. Will it be Laurina? Bridgette-Rose? Tiarnar? Will arrogance and obnoxiousness win the day against being boring and people not really knowing which one you are? The suspense is...I dunno.

It turns it's Laurina, Blake being unable to resist the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating world of modelling. Bridgette-Rose and Tiarnar head home, knowing their one chance at happiness is gone forever and they will live many long years of loneliness and regret. Not that Bridgette-Rose has given up entirely. "I hope there's still someone out there for me, or at least I hope there is," she says, her grief having destroyed her ability to form cogent sentences.

Back at the mansion, Laurina is devastated that her best friend has left: her best friend being...I dunno, one of those ones who just left. It's suggested to her that she should be happy that she is still in the house. Laurina doesn't care. It means nothing to her. She has no interest in Blake. "I'm here for me," she says. At some point someone will explain to her the premise of the show she is on and she will be shocked. For now, she weeps, having been told by a producer that eliminated contestants are taken out the back and shot.

Tomorrow on The Bachelor, Blake will say insincere things in a really deep voice, and the women will act really bitchy towards each other. It's the twist that will change the game forever.

BELOW: Blake and Jessica get up close and steamy on their date.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bernard's Long Night Of The Soul

The candles flickered in the library. The lone figure, bent wearily over his books, shook his head and sighed. He had been there from early morning, and now, in the small hours, he was thoroughly exhaused. Yet he would not rest, for he knew - somehow in his bones he knew - that what he was looking for was somewhere in here.

"Mr Gaynor?" enquired the librarian timidly, approaching the desk. "I really should be closing the library, sir. Perhaps you should go home."

Bernard did not lift his head, but let a light chuckle escape his lips.

The librarian was uncertain of her next move. "Mr Gaynor?"

"Dammit woman!" he exploded, turning his flashing, manly eyes upon her. "Do you think truth and justice run according to your schedules?"

The librarian had to admit, on brief reflection, that they did not. Gaynor waved in her face the hefty leatherbound tome over which he had most recently been poring. It was a dusty volume from the late 19th century, titled "HOW TO DO A SEX WITH LADIES". On the desk lay pages and pages of scribbled notes and a variety of other texts, some similarly aged, some modern, but all of them on related subjects: "HOW OUR BITS WORK" lay beside "RUDE PARTS AND WHAT THEY DO", which lay underneath "ANIMALS DOING IT IN PICTURES". Across the desk was "WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE KISSING" and "WHO SHOULD BE ON TOP ANYWAY?", while tossed in frustration to the floor was a selection including "WHERE WHICH GOES IN WHAT FOR KIDS", "HAPPY TIMES WITH WIVES" and "HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE A BOY".

Clearly the scholar had been studying intently in search of something, but what? The librarian shook her head and retreated. Locking the door behind her, she left him to his studies, all through the night.

Gaynor's eyes darted across the page in the dim light. He knew it was here: the key to all his theories, the one discovery that would electrify the world and prove once and for all that his warnings were timely and correct, and that indeed, the gays were seeking to steal his organs.

He flicked through pages and pages of diagrams and photographs and scholarly monographs and graphic depictions. He licked his lips, aroused and stimulated in a philosophical sense. He was so close, so close that he could taste it. Or at least he could taste something. It was salty.

And then...he saw it.

"YES!" he shrieked, his voice echoing around the musty halls of knowledge. All alone, he danced a dance of triumph. "I have it!" he yelled happily. "I have it!"

He leapt through the window, rolling joyously onto the grass amid a shower of broken glass, and rushed off in the direction of Officeworks to have as many laminated copies of his discovery made as possible, for dissemination amongst the media which would be in a few hours assembled on his doorstep.

For there, flapping wildly in his hand like the cape of a great hero of antiquity, was the book that contained the key, that would end the argument once and for all and allow Bernard to usher in a new age of genuine Christian love and well-oriented decency. It flapped and snapped in the breeze created by his great cross-lawn speed, his thumb placed still in the middle, keeping it open on the page which bore the great truth, the awesome discovery he had stumbled upon. For there, upon those yellowing, crackly pages, were the words with which he would change the world:

"PENIS GOES IN VAGINA"

He cackled gleefully. From now on, everything was going to be all right.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Luck

The other day I plunged headlong into a deep depression, accompanied by the screeching siren of anxiety. My chest tightened to the point where my heart seemed liable to explode. I gasped for breath. My stomach lurched and rocked like a capsizing ship. Tears were squeezing out through my eyes and I couldn't under any circumstances tell you why. Thoughts jostled each other in my head, crashed and broke one upon the next and melted into a morass devoid of meaning or coherence that could communicate no message beyond a loud, insistent "GET OUT".

Somehow, I did not get out. Somehow, I am here writing this. Unlike the friends I've known who aren't here to write anything, I found a way out of that tiny steel box that didn't involve opening a trapdoor and letting myself fall into space.

Let's not pretend I'm here because of some mysterious inner strength that let me ride it out. If I happened to see a crack in the wall of noise that allowed me to see ahead, if I have been able, at my lowest ebb, to clutch desperately at my own insatiable curiosity and clear a small patch of smog long enough to know it would never be satisfied if I left now...that's nothing to do with me.

I've sat in cars in the middle of the night with bleeding arms and pondered how much it would hurt to drive off a cliff. I've sat in the back of a police wagon with handcuffs on wondering how I could return to a wife and children who'd seen me humiliated and dragged away for my own protection. I've spent more time than I could ever have thought I would calculating the logistics of bringing about my own disappearance.

But here I am, and here I sit.

I read my friend Anna Spargo-Ryan's post about Peaches Geldof and wondered at the stroke of luck that has seen me live my life free of the ghastly addictions that have cut others short. I wondered at the good fortune that means I'm not currently the subject of a hideous MamaMia contributor's orgiastic spree of preening self-congratulation.

Because I can make no mistake - luck it is. By luck I find myself in comfort, in a warm house with a full stomach. By luck I find myself loved by my family, able to wait for my children to come home and hug me. It's not light at the end of the tunnel that gives one hope in the darkest of darknesses; it is having something for that light to illuminate, and it is by luck that when light comes in it shines on things I want to hold on to.

Recently a friend of mine lost her son, a marvellous boy who'd been subject to health problems that kept the whisper of tragedy forever in his family's ears. I've led a charmed life to not have to suffer that. I don't live in fear for my life, or for my children's. I'm privileged with extraordinary luck that I look ahead to their future without placing an asterisk beside every possibility.

A man I once knew, a great writer and teacher, a much-loved man, died just the other day with his wife and hundreds of others, brought down in flames and horror in a war none of them had any part of. For every person who died that day, dozens wept and cursed the most pointless of catastrophes. It's only luck that separates me from any of them. That separates any of you from any of them.

It's only luck that I'm sitting here writing this, instead of sitting in Gaza listening to the bombs drop. It's only luck that you're sitting there reading this, instead of starving in an African village or swaying on a leaking refugee boat or caught in the crosshairs of fanatics in Iraq.

There are those who want you to believe it's not luck. They want you to think we should offer punishment and threats to those who seek our help, because it's by their own failings and our own virtue that we find ourselves in our respective positions, rather than chance. They want you to believe that anyone finding themselves poor, unemployed or homeless has done so through their own choice and lack of moral fibre, and that therefore we must be harsh as we seek to impress on them how badly they've let us down by not being more like us. They want you to believe that what determines the course of human lives is the notion of "the deserving" - we get what's coming to us, and so we may feel free to pat ourselves on the back for managing to earn our good fortune.

I would rather recognise how lucky I am, and how the luck that befalls us has nothing to do with virtue, or strength, or deserving. And how that luck also bestows on us a duty. To make use of our fortune, and try to pass a little of it on.

I would rather hug my children, and thank whatever I may that I can.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

THE FRIGHTBAT EPIDEMIC: HAVE YOUR SAY

If there is one social commentator who I always make sure to accidentally click on links to because I don't realise what they are, it is Tim Blair, a man whose blog brings a whole new meaning to the word "huh?"

Say what you like about him - for example, "he is desperately striving to retain the illusion of relevance", or "how has a man built an entire career on his unfulfilled desire to be chastised with a riding crop by Annabel Crabb?" or "it's not so much a blog as an open-mic night for the developmentally-delayed" - but you can't deny that Tim is never one to shy away from controversy, never one to indulge in political correctness, never one to ice the cupcake of his opinion with the butter cream of conciliation, and today was no exception, as the nation's foremost citizen journalist set to the task of determining, sound statistical means, the answer to one of Australia's most intriguing public policy questions: out of all those chicks who get on Tim Blair's wick, which one is the most mentally ill?

You might think this is a trivial matter, but to many of us, knowing which left-wing feminist is the biggest nutcase could have a major impact on our lives: when most of your life is devoted to squatting in a corner of your bathroom gnawing on Saos and muttering about people trying to steal your thoughts, it makes a huge difference being able to focus your muttering on one particular target. The time savings alone are enormous.

But let us not be complacent: the fact Tim Blair has hit upon the solution to the problem of which frightbat is the craziest frightbat, a question that has plagued mankind ever since the first man looked to the stars and wondered what the hell a "frightbat" is, does not mean there are not other, equally important questions we need the answers to. So let us now decide those answers using the tried-and-true Blair method. Please leave your answers in the comments.

QUESTION 1: Who is Australia's foremost right-wing columnist?

a) Tim Blair
b) Andrew Bolt
c) Piers Akerman
d) Miranda Devine
e) This small bowl of custard




QUESTION 2: What is a woman?

a) One of the larger species of Atlantic deep-sea fish
b) A series of irregular lumps occasionally flashing into my line of sight
c) Underpants
d) The point at which apple juice boils
e) This small bowl of custard




QUESTION 3: What did women do to Tim Blair?

a) Made fun of his smell that day he had to walk all the way to school
b) Snapped his bra strap
c) Called him "Jellytits"
d) Called him "Grima Spermtongue"
e) Stole his Chantoozies cassingle right out of his bag


QUESTION 4: At what age did Tim Blair's mother prematurely stop breastfeeding him?

a) eighteen
b) eighteen and a half
c) ten
d) thirty-six
e) four hours


QUESTION 5: Why are da ladeez so crazee?

a) Their wombs
b) We taught them to read
c) Cos they need a real man
d) They have had too many abortions
e) I have seen them dancing naked in the woods


QUESTION 6: What can be done about girls?

a) Imprisonment
b) Branding
c) The Bible
d) Make them cook dinner
e) A good shave


QUESTION 7: How can I become a famous journalist?

a) Start a blog with funny polls on
b) Wander around public parks in the nude, hitting yourself in the face with a dead possum and screaming "Natasha Stott Despoja stole my fluids!"
c) Masturbate into a cup and mail it to the Australian
d) Get incredibly angry about speed limits
e) Drop some acid and become convinced that David Marr is hiding in your oven


QUESTION 8: What, exactly, is a "frightbat"?

a) A bat which has had a fright
b) A Gray-Nicolls Geoff Marsh Signature Power-Scoop
c) A clitoris with a machine gun
d) A terrifying faceless man, enormously tall and with eerie spindly limbs, who appears in terrifying visions on the inside of Tim Blair's eyelids
e) This small bowl of custard




QUESTION 9: What is the most pressing problem assailing modern society?

a) Misandry
b) Man-hating
c) Males being oppressed
d) Emotional castration
e) Bitches


QUESTION 10: What is the first symptom of hysteria?

a) Being mean to a dude
b) Wearing trousers
c) Appearing on Q&A
d) Voting
e) Working for News Limited

Monday, June 9, 2014

R.I.K.

How can Rik be dead, if we still have his poetry?

Sometimes you see a new comedy, and you think, this is fantastic, really funny. But sometimes you see a new comedy and you think, this is not just funny, this is so new, so inventive, so different from what you've been led to believe comedy can be, that it changes your life.

It's not happened that often with me. Monty Python did it. Mystery Science Theater 3000 did it. And The Young Ones did it.

Here was a show that, frankly, just did not give a shit about the rules. It would be dazzlingly clever and outrageously juvenile in the same minute. It was as bright and loud and ludicrously violent as the silliest cartoon you could imagine. It was a sitcom and a sketch show at the same time. On those occasions where narrative poked its head through the chaos, it was only for a minute before cutting to a puppet show, or a commercial parody, or a performance by Motorhead. We who experienced it when we were young were never quite the same - it was impossible to watch that show and come away thinking about entertainment, or comedy, or life, just as you had before you'd turned it on.

And while there were many elements to The Young Ones, and Nigel Planer, Adrian Edmondson, Chris Ryan, Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton - along with guest stars skimmed from the cream of alternative comedy - deserve much credit, there was never any doubt who the heart of the show was. The centre, the apex, the soaring firework that demanded your attention, the super-magnet you couldn't take your eyes off, the fizzing, freakish, fabulously funny genius driving the show to astounding heights of boundless hilarity.

Rik Mayall. There was nothing subtle about him. He threw his vulgar, brilliantly stupid comedy straight in your face with never the slightest hint of restraint or doubt. He knew what was funny, and if you didn't, he would make sure that was amended by the time he was through. There may never have been a comedic performer so utterly dedicated to doing anything for a laugh, never been a comedian who cared less about anything besides making the audience explode with delight.

If there is a pantheon to which the absolute titans of British comedy belong, Mayall is there, well deserving of his place alongside Cleese and Cook and Milligan. There are many people who do comedy - there are only a few in whom comedy flows and throbs and lives, for whom the ability to make people laugh is less a skill than a vital organ. Laughter is their blood and their marrow and the air in their lungs. Rik Mayall was as great an example of this as there has ever been. Those who knew him were as much in awe of his gobsmacking talent as those who watched him from their lounges.

This lunatic clown, this breakneck grotesque, this bizarre, shrieking, demented, glorious creature. He was as clever and as idiotic and as absurd and as insightful and as rude and as revolting and as childish and as charming as he ever needed to be, because he knew how to be funny the way a tree knows how to grow. When the world could seem grey, Rik Mayall crashed into it like an explosion in a paint factory. When all around seemed enslaved to sameness, Rik Mayall could've had his portrait in the dictionary next to "different".

The characters he played were ridiculous, bigger and madder than life, but they reflected what he represented as a performer. Rick from the Young Ones aspired to anarchism, but Rik, in the Young Ones, embodied it, the spirit of lawless riot in the comedy world. Rik was Lord Flashheart, the most interesting and magnetic person in any room, making people cheer when he arrived, winning hearts and inspiring hero worship through his charisma and daring. Rik was Drop Dead Fred, the naughty child in everyone, the mischievous imp breaking the rules, smashing the conventions, doing what respectable folk never would for the sake of a laugh. Rik was Alan B'stard, reaching the top of the tree by dominating the duller, less imaginative minds around him. Rik was Adonis Cnut, simply better at everything than everyone else. And Rik was Mad Gerald, inhabiting an insane world of his own and doing his own thing regardless of what was happening in the world around him.

I'm not sure there's anything more beautiful than a life lived to make people laugh. The heartbreak when such a life ends - it is hard to bear. But when someone's life has created joy, that joy is indelible - it doesn't end when the life does. The great consolation of mortality is that we can leave behind magic: Rik has gone too soon, but we'll never lose him. The People's Poet can never die.

I hope when he went, he knew how happy he'd made us.


Friday, May 30, 2014

The Crisis

Maybe you haven’t noticed, because you were too distracted by unimportant articles by other opinion writers, but things are pretty bad right now. In fact, many people believe that things are worse than ever.

What has caused this crisis in things? Is there any way that we can work to improve things, or should we give up on things altogether? And who should we hold responsible? Is it fair to lay the blame for things on any one individual, or are we all responsible for the deterioration in the situation, by our very complacency?

Of course there are those who will scoff at the idea that things are worse, saying it’s simply a crisis confected by those in the crisis business. No doubt, despite the compelling evidence that things are terrible and matters will have to hit rock bottom before they get worse, many people will dismiss it as so much uninformed hysteria. And yet it’s not them who’s writing an op-ed about it, is it? When it comes to talking about things, I think I prefer to be guided by the advice of people with opinions rather than people who are obviously wrong. And unlike other crises, this crisis is very much at crisis point. All indicators are suggesting that things are the worst they’ve been since records have been kept. Many modern studies show that not only are things bad, but are expected to be more bad before a certain amount of time has elapsed. Just look at the figures. Don’t try to understand them, just look at them. Scary, aren’t they? And if you aren’t frightened by the tone of my rhetorical question, can there be any doubt that you’re just stupid? Facts don’t lie, and you can be sure that of all the facts that don’t lie, the ones that don’t lie the loudest are the ones that agree with me.



How did we let things get so out of control? How did we allow stuff to reach this point? What is it about matters and issues that have triggered this sharp decline in the state of subjects? Can it be fixed? And if not, can it be complained about?

Experts suggest that not only is their expertise definitely real, but the current turmoil besetting the thing sector could have serious ramifications, not just for people, but for children, women, parents, seniors, the unemployed, the underemployed, the childless, feminists, homosexuals, heterosexuals, transgenders and public servants of colour. The important thing to understand is that this problem doesn’t just affect everyone, it affects you.

It’s easy to be cynical in these days of being cynical about things, but there is one thing for sure: being cynical will not get us into any mess it didn’t get us out of. This doesn’t mean there should be any kneejerk reactions. In fact Anne Staples of the Kneejerk Reaction Studies Group says that kneejerk reactions are one of the last things we should be engaging in. Other things we should avoid are hyperbole, understatement, overt racism, sarcastic remarks and sugarless cordial.

Sure, it’s true that we’ve had bad things in the past, but the difference is that these days we have the internet, allowing things to be bad faster and more conveniently than ever before. And if you’re not angry about that, you’re not only wrong, you’re a bigot.

And indeed bigots are all around us, telling us things aren’t as bad as we know they are because we saw it on Facebook. But what can we do with bigots? Attack them physically? Yes.

How much responsibility does the government bear for the issues which are tearing apart our families and self-esteem even as we type these articles? A quick look at the current landscape in Canberra reveals hills. But what does that tell us? If the government won’t take action when we sincerely believe something is wrong, then who will? The answer is that it is up to all of us to sign petitions until somebody makes us feel nice, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. Knowledge is power, and only when we are empowered will we feel truly in control of our feelings.

If you don’t believe me, listen to this story about something that happened to me just yesterday at a restaurant. An isolated incident? Perhaps, but what about what happened to my friend at the gym? Coincidence? Surely it is impossible to ignore these and the countless other anecdotes which for all we know exist and are true. If you disagree, maybe you should check your privilege. And if you disagree again, maybe you should shut up.


In short, if we want to reverse this irreversible trend towards things being horrible and everyone panicking, the time has come to put aside our differences and write as many words as possible about whatever pops into our heads before it’s too late. Time to make a difference. Don’t let the death of someone who probably died once be in vain. Stand up for something against something else. The people have spoken. In particular, this one.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Dark Hell of Reviews

OK, so here I am, performing in my show Trigger Warning at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (for which tickets are STILL AVAILABLE by the way) and I am reading reviews.

Some of the reviews are for my show, which frankly aren't all that great. Some are for other shows, and are fantastic. Some are for other shows, and are dreadful. What I'm getting at is, across the festival as a whole, reviews vary. So you might say comedy is like everything else that gets reviewed.

Every year the festival brings complaints about reviews, but this year the complaints seem to have been a little bit louder and more vehement, ranging from negative reviews to poorly written reviews to sexist reviews to reviews that seem to miss the point of the show entirely.

The Herald Sun is the target of many of these complaints, as, by now, might be expected, and they ended up biting back, in this piece by Mikey Cahill in which he argues that comics need to harden the F up and learn to take the rough with the smooth. Though there are some of us who would love to see a bit of smooth to take with the rough.

Now, I am in an interesting little position here. As a comedian I am the subject of reviews. As a TV writer I am the creator of reviews. Although I've never reviewed live comedy - because what sort of weirdo wants to do THAT, am I right guys? Hahaha - I know a little of both sides. And I say "both sides" because comics definitely see reviewers as the enemy.

Anyway, from my vantage point, as a guy whose job is, at least partially, to pass judgment upon the artistic endeavours of others, and whose other job is to try to make people laugh, I just thought I'd say a few things to both comics and critics.

TO THE COMICS:

You're gonna get bad reviews sometimes. No comedian in the history of comedy, no matter how brilliant, was so good that everyone liked them, and it's an unfortunate fact that sometimes among the number who don't like you will be someone who's been hired to review you. So you're going to get bad reviews. Sometimes this will be because the reviewer is an idiot, or because the reviewer has an unreasonable grudge against you, or because the reviewer didn't understand what they were watching. But sometimes it's going to be because a perfectly intelligent person saw you, got all the jokes, and just didn't think you were funny. It happens.

And it is entirely your prerogative to complain about reviews - as I say, often those complaints will be justified. But also remember that a reviewer's job is just to give an opinion, and sometimes their opinion will honestly and without malice be that you suck. It doesn't mean you do, though - you're probably great. Never forget: the only truly accurate review is "did they laugh?"

TO THE CRITICS:

First of all, remember this: you're a writer. You're an artist. Your review is, in itself, a performance, and your job is to write well, just as much as the comic's job is to tell jokes well. And just as the comic needs to be able to take criticism of their artform, you need to be able to take criticism of yours. So don't write articles about how precious comedians who can't take criticism are, while demonstrating just how poorly you take it yourself. And keep alive the possibility that criticism, even of a critic, can be justified. Maybe, if you're being slammed, it really IS because you're not writing very well. 

A review of Alice Fraser's show was very positive, but its focus on her appearance and clothes was dreadful. Later on Twitter, the author tried to explain that focus - but if there is a good reason to focus on a comic's appearance, that's the sort of thing that should maybe be IN the review, if you're going to go on about how they're dressed. Otherwise the reader doesn't know why the hell you're talking about it. And that's bad writing. 

So if you're a critic, please do not forget that you should be trying to write something good here. Whatever opinion you have of the show you're reviewing, put that opinion across clearly, compellingly, entertainingly. And don't be as precious as the comic who whines that you didn't give them enough stars.

Fact is, most bitching about critics from comics I hear isn't about a bald opinion, it's about the way reviewers go about their jobs. So look, here's a few things I think comedy critics need to do to do their jobs well:

- Let the reader know what actually went on. By which I mean, don't make your review simply a recitation of your own feelings. Every critic needs a keen awareness of the fact that they are passing opinion on a subjective art form, and seeing as their view is simply one of many, it's entirely possible that readers of your review might enjoy what you hated, or vice versa. With this in mind, please attempt to give a sense of what the show was about, the style and the tone and the feel of the thing, as well as your good/bad judgment. What did you like, what did you hate, why did it work, why did it fail. There's not much space to cover all bases, but there should be some kind of effort made to make the review as informative as possible. In particular, the audience reaction is quite important - if you hated it, but everyone else there loved it, that's worth mentioning; in fact, it's pretty necessary to mention it.

- Review the comedy. Unless the performer's appearance is part of the act, don't mention it. Their job is to be funny, and your job is to assess their job. Stuff that isn't part of their job, isn't part of yours. And while we're at it, don't write dumb stuff about what a comedian is like "for a female comedian" - women haven't been a novelty in comedy for some time now, try to keep up.

- No spoilers. Way, way, wayyyyy too many reviewers of comedy shows still quote punchlines verbatim in their reviews. Usually this is done as a recommendation - "Look how funny this was!" - but guess what? Comics quite like to keep their jokes a surprise. Because it's funnier that way. When you quote our lines in your reviews, you're cutting our jokes off at the knees. It's entirely possible to describe what the subject matter of a show was without sabotaging the act.

- Don't be a dick. At least one comedian I know was less irritated by getting a poor review than by the fact the reviewer tweeted the link to the review directly to him. This is a dick move. Don't do this. Any comedian seeing someone send them a link to a review is going to think it's positive, because why else would they be so eager for them to read it? And then to see it's a bad one is an absolute kick in the guts. You've got the right, and the responsibility, to call it as you see it, but it's an ignoble impulse to want to rub someone's face in your takedown of their work. 

In fact, it's really better not to send your review to the comic, no matter what it says. Some comics are like me, curiosity forever overcoming prudence, and would go mad knowing reviews exist and not knowing what's in them. Some, however, genuinely don't want to read reviews at all. Don't go trying to force them to. If we want to know what the reviews are, we'll find them. We don't need you pushing it in our faces. Please respect our right to avoid the reviews if we want to.

But most of all, write well. Write honestly and skilfully and with passion for your craft. And if you get criticised for what you write, do remember that at least you're not on stage for an hour every night, having a bunch of strangers write their own review with laughter or silence every few seconds. The most hurtful critic of all is a quiet room, which is why writing is such an attractive profession - you don't have to face that quiet.