Laugh, and the ratings go up

Wednesday, May 1, 1991

By Dave Riley

As new flavours go, the taste of the TV '90s is short courses in Australian comedy. Each skit and impersonation feeds an upwardly mobile giggle streak where each guffaw and chuckle rates with McNair Anderson. Undergraduate revue and Fitzroy cabaret are treated as new intellectual life forms that have migrated, slightly acculturated, into the TV set.

Compared to its peers, Fast Forward (Channel 7) is more undergraduate than most. Its lexicon is satire and smut. The satire — much of which is very good — is sometimes like being locked in a toilet with a shoulder-high pile of Mad magazines.

Why do they do this? Fast Forward works with such promise and skill that its frequent turns for a cheap laugh are always gratuitous. While aficionados insist that everything was meant to be an easy laugh, Fast Forward's jibes at gay men's habits and women's body bits are lazy stereotyping to fill out the time until the next Just Jeans commercial.

Fast Forward's smug success rests on a formula. Basically it recycles television by culling affectation from it. Both performers and writers rely on often seen programming as surely as they do on the replay button on their VCRs to hunt down the comic twist or caricature. While this may promise a future of many contract renewals, the program already shows its age — sometimes infantile, sometimes quite spent.

Different is Andrew Denton. At Gore Hill, where David Hill holds court, Denton is a jester seeking relevance. His latest offering is Andrew Denton — Live and Sweaty — a late night gab show.

Denton is one of the best gabbers on television. Sharper and faster than most of his species, he has an affable kindness with his guests — devoid of that stilted scripting and feed lines that mark most such programs.

The point is to channel conversation and associated fun and frolic into addressing a question of import. For the time being, that is sport.

Part cabaret, part preview of the games themselves, Live and Sweaty is cast against type. The commentating team to hand isn't the boys; the sporting blazers go to Karen Tighe, Debbie Spillane and Elle McFeast.

Potted sociology it may be, but the odd admixture breeds an original package topped off with some fine live music (something rare on television).

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