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.

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Elegant Solution

Isn't getting home from work just the WORST?

Having to fight the traffic, bumper-to-bumper, blood pressure rising as the cars in front of you lurch forward ten metres only to stop so abruptly you almost rear-end them, horns honking, trucks belching smoke, and your life slipping minute by wasteful minute.

Or sitting on an overcrowded, overheated train, breathing in a thousand bodies' end-of-day sweat, flabby moist bodies pressed up against you as you try to keep your footing on the stop-start journey, or else being pinned between a couple of human hogs on a seat, the one on the left's belly fat oozing against your elbow while the one on the right jabs you with their briefcase, and the one in front of you has their knee a centimetre from your groin and has their headphones up so loud the whole carriage can hear.

Man, it's a drag.

Wouldn't you love to be able to get away from all that, and make that after-work period a PLEASURE, instead of a nightmarishly smelly chore?

It can be done! From March 27-April 20 this year, there's a chance for all you working stiffs to spend the early evening relaxing in an atmosphere of fun and satirical hilarity, before heading home post-peak hour feeling refreshed and invigorated by the glorious experience of laughter.

How can this be DONE, Ben, you poor saps ask. HOW? How on Earth can we combine a marvellous night of entertainment with the convenience of avoiding rush-hour traffic?

BEHOLD!



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Charlotte

Charlotte loved our kids. When you're one of those people who come with miniature people as a non-optional extra, it's wonderful to have friends who are as delighted with your kids' company as they are with yours, and Charlotte always was.

My favourite memory of Charlotte is New Year's Eve 2012, when we went, with kids in tow, to a fantastic party at her house. It was very much a grown-up party, but she was overjoyed to see us all, and our three had the time of their lives dancing all night with models and paparazzi. Late in the evening my son broke his glowstick and the stuff inside got in his eyes, causing much pain and screaming. So at five minutes to midnight Charlotte was in the bathroom with me, looking as preternaturally glamorous as a person can look, trying to wash glowstick juice out of his eyes and telling him it was going to be OK.

That was Charlotte. She was just as you thought she'd be, and nothing like you expected. She looked like she came from another planet, where people were cooler and more beautiful and never sweated. But the minute you spoke to her you knew how wonderfully, gloriously of this earth she was.

She was smart and funny and passionate and kind and absolutely ferocious in everything she turned her extraordinary mind to: television, writing, charity, friendship. She stood up for what she believed in a way that most of us can only envy - there was courage in her beyond what I could ever hope to possess.

Charlotte hurled herself at life like a meteor, consuming it in all its beauty and terror and drama and heartbreak. Once you knew her, you couldn't help but want to know her more, talk to her more, learn more about her - she was addictive.

I knew her, perhaps, better than most, and not nearly as well as some. She was a thousand things to a thousand people, and everyone will have a different story about what she meant to them.

What she meant to me was simply this: she was my friend. It's my friend I'll remember, and cry for, and it's my friend I'll be forever grateful for having the chance to know and to love. And in this time of grief and pain, I know that the people who are hurting the most are also the luckiest people of all, because they knew her, and that was a privilege so precious, and so rare, we can rejoice in it, even as we mourn.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Blocking Policy: A Public Information

A lot of people these days are on Twitter. And a lot of those people who are on Twitter can get very passionate about things. These people mostly look like this:



One of the things they get passionate bout is being blocked. For those of you who aren't on Twitter because you're on some kind of reality show where you're only allowed to use technology from the 17th century or something, being "blocked" means another Twitter user has decided that they wish not to see what you tweet, to not allow you to see what they tweet, and to, in a general sense, cut off communications between your account and theirs.

Blocking can be very upsetting, obviously. It's never nice to be told you're not wanted, and so I understand perfectly when people arc up and get snitty about being blocked. I understand why they say things like "Oh I was blocked by Ben Pobjie - turns out he's too precious to take criticism" or "Ben Pobjie claims to support free speech yet he blocks me #irony". They don't say these things just because they're cretins - they say them because they are in a state of high emotion that makes them act like cretins.

What they want, most of all, is to know why. It's agony to be blocked on Twitter and have no idea of the reason - it turns one's whole life into a desert of shifting sands. Certainty vanishes and all is a fog of mistrust and anxiety. I appreciate this.

This is why I have decided to lay out, here and now, my Blocking Policy.

That's right, all my Twitter blocking is done according to a strict charter, which governs my blocking activity. Once you know what this consists of, I'm sure you'll have a much better understanding of why I blocked you, or why I'm about to.

My Blocking Policy is a five-point policy. Every single block I engage in is done for one or more of these five points, which are, and I can't stress this enough, the ONLY reasons I ever block anyone.

So, you know, if you've been blocked by me, it was because:

1. I don't want to talk to you.

2. I don't want you to talk to me.

3. I don't want me to be talked to by you.

4. Talking, in terms of the two of us, has become undesirable to me.

5. What I want is to do things which aren't talking to you or being talked to by you.

So there you go. I hope that's clear.