“2003 was the last time that all three networks had sketch comedy on at the same time,” ponders producer David McDonald. “Comedy Inc, The Big Bite and Skithouse all launched the same year, within a month of each other I think.”
His producing partner Rick Kalowski chimes in: “And Ronnie Johns was always a shell game. It was on but they (TEN) were not going to tell you when. Work it out for yourself. But when was the last time there was a hard launch of a commercial primetime sketch show? It’s been at least five years.”
“I guess Let Loose Live…” remembers McDonald.
And so in 2009 McDonald, Kalowski, FremantleMedia and the Seven Network are embarking, somewhat ambitiously, on the newest sketch incarnation on commercial TV.
Double Take is a half hour format, with a cast of almost entirely new faces, set to take apart television, music, film, politics, advertising and Australian society at large.
The cast features Amanda Bishop, Darren Weller, Helen Dallimore, Robin Goldsworthy, Hollie Andrew and Guy Edmonds, with special appearances by impersonator, Paul McCarthy.
Both McDonald and Kalowski have a long track record in the genre, having completed many years of Comedy Inc for the Nine Network.
It was a working relationship that was partivularly fruitful. Kalowski says he was eager to work with McDonald once more, so the invitation from Seven allows both to tackle sketches with a comedic point.
“Without wanting to sound immodest, they came to us because David had done 70 hours of Comedy Inc, we’d done 45 together. I’d done the last show at Seven that they really liked, The Big Bite, which was (Chris) Lilley and (Andrew) O’Keefe’s first show,” he said.
“And we wanted it to be commercial and accessible but with a brain. If we’re parodying a show the joke is not just that it looks like Sunrise. It’s using that setting to make a point.
“Or on The Biggest Loser, we’re not just using it to make fun of Ajay Rochester. The joke is we’re saying what a lot of people think about the show, which is ‘my god they drag that show out’ or ‘having everybody say the same thing 23 times.'”
The show will parody familiar television shows including FremantleMedia’s own brands such as So You Think You Can Dance Australia, and music clips including Beyonce, Silverchair, Coldplay, Britney Spears, Kings of Leon, and The Veronicas. McCarthy puts in a biting Kevin Rudd, while Julia Gillard is a prime target. It will also parody Seven’s own brands.
At a more feasible 30 minutes, the show is less taxing than the 60 minutes required of Comedy Inc, allowing for more attention to production values.
“The really important thing to us is to try something on TV that you really haven’t seen before, which is a really, really ultra-paced half hour comedy show,” says Kalowski.
McDonald, who also serves as director, is upbeat about the cast, most of whom come with a background in theatre.
“We were incredibly fortunate with the cast but also, I’ve got to say, very diligent in the testing the amount of people we did, in two cities as well. They’re fantastic. A lot of them not with a lot of television experience.”
Kalowski adds, “If you say you’re looking for comedians, or stand-ups, you’re going to screw up. We just wanted to find absolutely great actors. The best actors can do everything: drama, comedy, they can be in the foreground of a sketch or they can be in the background and not pull focus. They’re not insecure because they know their craft. I’d like to think we found seven people like that.”
Unlike Comedy Inc, or even Seven’s iconic Fast Forward, the show runs without a live audience element. That means it relies on a laugh track to colour the comedy. But Kalowski and McDonald are quick to point out the perils of delivering sketch comedy without added laughter.
“If you watch a studio comedy, multicamera show like Will and Grace without a laugh track, doesn’t matter how funny it is, you won’t find it funny. Similarly if you watch a single camera show like My Name is Earl or Arrested Development with a laugh track it’s bizarre,” says Kalowski.
McDonald points out that when pre-recorded sketches were played to a Comedy Inc audience for genuine laughter, he was still accused of using canned laughter.
“You can’t win. If there’s any laugh track people assume that you must have put canned laughter on it.”
“This is not one of those shows, I promise you, where you’re watching something which is not funny and people are screaming with laughter. It’s a hopefully, reasonably-unobtrusive natural-sounding laughter.”
The audience will soon indicate if they agree when the show premieres at 8:30pm Thursday next week on Seven.