The big giggle

Wednesday, July 3, 1991

By Dave Riley

What an odd miscellany The Big Gig (CH2) is. Resting on busking and theatre restaurants, it is a transposed exercise in the giggles. Take one BG each Tuesday, and if the melancholy persists, it is not the fault of the ABC.

This program tries hard. It's fast and feverish, with more acute handycam angles than a proctoscope. Indeed, its scenic wares are becoming more bizarre each series. Huge caricatures of native fauna festoon the outer reaches of the happening crowds below. Performers must get out their gags among the throng and leave it to providence and the director as to whether the at-home or on-hand audience catches the delivery of sweated-for punch lines.

As set-ups go on television, this is brutal. While there is too much floor management to just go out there and "die", the absence of drunks or hecklers fails to hide the fact that each routine is spent once delivered. Television is so greedy that one week's laughter assumes there is more of the same to come next time — no repetitions allowed.

The Big Gig's humour, schooled and honed on stage and sidewalk, owns to all the swagger of what is called new comedy. This is rather bizarre because, if it is new, what it's an alternative to isn't very clear. Its pedigree hails back to the Gillies report of the mid-'80s (as do some of its writers and performers). The major difference between then and now is that The Big Gig rests on stand-up routines and shrinks away from its predecessor's political edge.

While the performers may choose to pursue laughter in this ambit, the occasional satire is marred by a shrill nihilism. This may generate the shock value of the Doug Anthony All Stars and broaden the material penned by Patrick Cook, but in this world of no major allegiances such an acerbic discourse has a depressing hollowness after a time. The absence of partisan laughter in The Big Gig has probably more to do with the cynical pragmatism of eight years of Labor in office than any self-censorship on the part of the performers themselves.

The rest of the comic interventions come thick and fast, both good and bad, fresh and staid. Into its fourth series there is an aged tiredness around some of the regular material and a tendency to fall for formula.

Ultimately, the program's rampant frivolity will make it very hard to recall what was memorable about The Big Gig.

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