Laughing matter

double take“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.”

Kalowski agrees.

“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.

22 Comments:

  1. Im really really hoping TV Burp turns out good and popular.
    Im looking foward to it much more than Double Take… which the promos of look like they’re lowest common denominator (hopefully not though!)

  2. franz chong

    Should be Interesting

    Haven’t watched Channel 7 on a Thursday Night since the Out of the Question and Family Guy Days.

    By the way who was the sadistic idiot that decided that Medical Drama Night is Thursday?If I wanted to see something like that I would just visit the hospital on open day and be done with it.Way too heavy especially for those of us in medical professions.

  3. I’m not surprised at some of the negative comments here about shows like this. I don’t think that it helps that the whole article is about laugh tracks, rather than the actual quality of the show. But, anyway, FWIW, I’ve seen the sizzle reel, too. And no shizz, it’s really, really good. I was very, pleasantly surprised.

    I am particularly surprised about the comment about the Kevin Rudd song. Thought it was about the cleverest thing I’ve ever heard a comedy show say about him yet (it’s him doing the Lilly Allen song, expressing his ‘Fear’ about being found out as a flim-flam who doesn’t really stand for anything, and very funny), the kind of thing the Chaser should have been doing this year but didn’t until the last few eps (which I think have been really good again).

    I can see why people have it in for commercial comedy shows – the track record is def. mixed – but these I believe are the guys that did the late night version of Comedy Inc (The Late Shift) which was, seriously, hilarious and pretty scathing for a commercial network show (at the time, was the raciest local comedy show on tv).

    So, I reckon this one is probably the exception to the rule. Looks v. funny to me, and the cast is seriously great – top to bottom proper actors from quality stuff – plus the Kochie guy, who I think is a good impersonator. I will be watching.

  4. May I suggest that parody is going to be increasingly a difficult area to do because of changing audience habits. I don’t watch much commercial tv, I only tune in for specific shows and I suspect a lot of people now fast froward ads. So I wont get most tv ad parodies. Obviously it’s not aimed at me but this is one of the few tv shows that I can think of where a large number of people will be unable to enjoy it because of assumed knowledge.

    With falling audiences is a show which requires people to watch other shows to get the joke a great idea?

  5. I thought the Biggest Loser parody was quite funny, and they did what they set out to do in making a joke of the actual content of the show (although I agree parody is lazy comedy), but a lot of the “sizzle” reel left me cold.
    In particular they should avoid political humour, because without anything incisive to say it’s just Paul McCarthy doing his silly Kevin Rudd voice (just what they avoided with Loser). Performing a Lily Allen song? Not incisive.
    And while Paul is very good at doing Kochie, surely the man himself is a big enough caricature to render another one pointless?
    People get their daggers out whenever a new Aussie comedy show rears its head, but for whatever reason a massive percentage of them are really unfunny. Of all the shows mentioned in the story The Ronnie Johns Half Hour is the only one that made me laugh with any regularity.

  6. I would stress the importance of Paul McCarthy in that he is a real tallemt and was comedy inc. He was the guy you looked forward to seeing. Impressionists arnt always funny but he is. I look forward to it.

    Surely they could have just used a live audience?

    Seven have a good track record of not giving enough freedome to the comedians who go on to have success elsewhere – Chris Lillee, John Safran, Hamish And Andy etc…

    • I think unless they were going to film live sketches there was no point adding an audience. Clearly a decision was made to focus on pre-recorded sketches. As with FF and Comedy Inc, they had a mix of live sketches (including some that looked live but weren’t), then pre-recorded shown to a live audience for soundtrack. As McDonald points out, even when they did that people still accused them of canned laughter.

  7. Wow, extreme judgement! I get the feeling half of the people that have commented on this story haven’t even read it… They’ve just seen “sketch comedy” and “laugh track” and have damned it straight away. Lets not make ill informed comments people. How about we try having an open mind, maybe this show will be great. It is nice to see a commercial network trying a comedy again, sure the track record is not great, but who knows, maybe the team behind this show have learnt from the past and it’ll be something worth watching. The fact that they’re using actors and not comedians is encouraging. It will certainly add the the believability. And the half hour factor means there is less of a chance for dead air throughout… C’mon, lighten up an give it ago 🙂

  8. Why do the commercial networks always rely on parody comedy? It’s over done and not at all funny or smart. The last Australian sketch comedy that actually made me laugh was The Micallef Program. Comedy Inc was horrible and a low point in Australian comedy.

  9. I’ll be watching this, its a refreshing change from the plague of factual crap everywhere and there hasn’t been a good Aussie comedy show in a while (apart from The Chaser’s, although they haven’t been as good this year). Meanwhile, I’ve found the previews of this and TV Burp rather amusing, while finding the 7pm project ones dull. Should be good!

  10. “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.”

    David – really? You don’t have this in quotation marks in the story, but it sounds suspiciously like press release talk. I expect something rather more fearless from you.

    Somehow I don’t think commercial televsion will produce a program to “take apart” anything – mores the pity.

    • Rudi nope not from a Press Release, but also not a value judgement one way or the other from me, though I can see how you might form that view. I haven’t actually said how well they do or don’t take it apart, merely that this is the show’s pitch. Seven sent a sizzle reel only, so no review coming here….

  11. The ignorance is pretty funny here.
    Kenny, you’re kidding yourself if you think a laugh track has no influence on a show. Sometimes it’s appropriate, sometimes it’s not. Even a genius like you will be affected by it. How bout you wait to see if it works. Producers make good points about laugh-tracks in the story (if you actually read it).
    Bill Gates: The story talks about actors, not showcasing comedians. Also, Comedy Inc was actually quite successful and funny and won awards after its first season.
    Do you people actually read stories or just like seeing your comment published?
    The Loot Review promos I’ve seen are hilarious. And there’s a Julia Gillard clip doing the rounds which is a crack up.

  12. Unfortunately the track record for sketch comedy on commercial networks is not good. I don’t think this one is going to do much better, especially since it’s on Seven in primetime, which means it will be made as bland and middle-of-the-road as is humanly possible.

  13. “without a laugh track, doesn’t matter how funny it is, you won’t find it funny.”
    Hello!! If it is funny, then I will laugh, without some inane sound effect telling me “that was funny, so laugh”.
    ““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”. Oh right.

  14. The Wedge was a prime-time sketch show in 2006 which very successfully launched on TEN (although I’ll admit the quality did disappear by about episode 20!).

    I don’t really like the sound of Double Take mainly my issue is with them not casting comic performers. The show’s writers are just people that sit at their respective homes and churn out pretty generic scripts and then these ‘actors’ with no great comic backgrounds simply perform them because they are happy for the job in the GFC. History shows that great comic writer/performers (i.e. cast that also is involved in the writing process) makes for the best sketch comedy.

  15. 8.30 – on Thursday?

    Half Hour sounds good – Ronnie Johns is my all time fave Aussie sketchcom and being half hour allowed them to get through without any filler and it also left you wanting more, god even Robot Chicken (my current fave) clocks in at a brisk 15 minutes per ep!

  16. “Both McDonald and Kalowski have a long track record in the genre, having completed many years of Comedy Inc for the Nine Network.”…..

    If you have anything to do with that train wreck non funny show, just showing the so called “comedians” going around in australia lately, then this is going to be another flop for seven

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