In the lead up to the first Hey Hey reunion there was a huge section of the audience screaming for live variety back on television. And they were right. They got it with last week’s seamless reunion show.
And there was another part of the the audience who reminded us the show had ended its 28 year run because it had arguably passed its use-by date. After the second reunion show, they may also have a point.
The Red Faces ‘Jackson Jive’ revival, which saw 5 men in black face -and one in fake white- might have been better left to the archives, particularly given the show had Harry Connick Jr. as a guest.
Connick Jr., who hails from New Orleans, sat grim-faced through the sketch, scoring it 0 points.
A polite Connick Jr. said, “Man if they turned up lookin’ like that in the United States….”
“You’re right actually,” replied Daryl Somers.
“It would be like Hey Hey, there’s no more show,” said Connick Jr.
The issue was so significant it resulted in an on-air discussion between Connick Jr. and Somers later in the show.
“It didn’t occur to me afterwards. I think we may have offended you with that act,” said Somers. “And I deeply apologise on behalf of all of us. I know that your countrymen …that’s an insult to have a black face routine. So I do apologise to you.”
“Thanks Daryl,” replied Connick Jr. “and I just want to say on behalf of my country, I know it was done humourously, but we’ve spent so much time trying not to make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart. And I know it was in good fun and the last thing I want to do is to take this show to a down level, because you know how much I love this show and this country….. I feel like I’m at home here.
“If I knew it was going to be part of the show I definitely wouldn’t have done it,” he said.
“But thankyou for the opportunity. I gotta give it up to Daryl, because I told him at the break, ‘Man, you need to speak up, as an American. Not as a white American or as a black American, but as an American I need to say that.’ So thanks for giving me the opportunity.”
For better or worse, Hey Hey remained true to its history on both of its reunion specials.
Yes it brought back broad variety, spontaneity, madcap live television. It took us back to simpler times before recessions, terorrism and when the word entertainment became closely aligned with SMS votes and eliminations. To have strided into the GTV9 studio like they had never left was an achievement in itself.
But amid the nostalgia both shows were also punctuated by jokes about people’s appearances and race, particularly with the cartoons and subtitles scrawled on the bottom of the screen. Last week an overweight Red Faces singer had to endure the words “Deflate him” supered over his performance and references to “Super Mario.” The boy who smeared Vegemite over his body was branded “It’s Michael Jackson.”
Surely a contestant going on Red Faces knows they are in for a ribbing.
But the question in comedy, as other television shows are currently finding, is where to draw the line. While we are seeing a number of incidents of media running stories on distatesful comedy before the audience has had a chance to respond, it is also worth asking what post-mortems the Hey Hey team did after its first show before staging the second.
Hey Hey was also at pains to point out it had progressed to a modern era, with email, Facebook and Twitter. But does that include its comic sensibility too -or would that be a sell-out?
For Nine the questions it faces will be driven more by economics than morality, or any lack thereof. How will it package the show moving forward? Dismissing unanswered questions about its on-going cast, the show proved it has legs and an audience, which would seem to override politically incorrect hiccups. After all The Footy Show is still here…
Meanwhile it seems clear there remains a ferocious majority of Middle Australia that adores Hey Hey and a polite minority happy to acknowledge its comedy as part of their youth.