The elegant Patrick Brammall

Absurd, surreal and with a mouthful title. Welcome to ABC1's new sketch comedy series.

eggkn“It’s pretty dark and absurdist. They’re pretty weird sketches,” actor Patrick Brammall openly admits.

And the title is a bit of a mouthful too: The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.

But producers Jungleboys never take the easy option. Their new ABC1 sketch show is a mix of contemporary and period character comedy. But you won’t see send-ups of TV commercials or the latest movie blockbuster.

With several lengthy sketches, many that are surreal, creators Phil Lloyd, Trent O’Donnell and Jason Burrows are said to have been inspired by the UK sketch comedy Big Train. The series also includes material by a number of first-time writers.

For Brammall (pictured, left) the series seems to be about the sum of the parts.

“There’s one sketch Trent wrote where I’m a guy who drives a Prius and has the whole moral high-ground. He terrorises a dinner party and just makes them do things because he drives a Prius. I play a maniac, essentially, and everybody has to do what I say,” he says.

“There’s another sketch called ‘Walking Off in the Same Direction’ with a few genre moments. There’s a couple of sweethearts saying goodbye before the war, then walking off in the same direction, so it’s really awkward.

“There’s some sweet, minutiae comedy as well, rather than in-your-face. And plenty of sight gags too. Damon Herriman (pictured, right) in a bald cap is very funny.

“So I’ll be as interested as anyone to see what the tone of the show is, because the brief was open to a whole bunch of writers. So there has been lots of different input.

“I don’t know what the tone will be like until I see them put together. I know the sketches that I do individually are quite funny or weird, but it remains to be seen.”

He is also joined in the series by Georgina Haig, Darren Gilshenan, Robin McLeavy, Craig Anderson, Janis McGavin, Dave Eastgate -and of course Phil Lloyd.

“We did a sketch yesterday where I’m at a Key Party and I picked up some keys that no-one owns up to and I insult everyone in the room. So I play really ugly, vicious characters which is incredible fun. I don’t know how good it is for my profile but it’s really good fun!”

Punctuated throughout the series are Renaissance paintings, accompanied by contemporary punchlines. These also feature in the handsomely-produced opening credits. I ask about that mouthful title, which seems like a random after-thought.

“I think Jason (Burrows) was into this idea of high class and elegance juxtaposed with something that’s not elegant, such as knife-fighting. They tossed around ideas and this one just stuck,” Brammall surmises.

“I remember when they changed This Christmas to A Moody Christmas and I thought it was a terrible name. ‘It’s a pun, it’s the family name, like Packed to the Rafters.’ But ultimately it doesn’t matter what the name is if the product is good.”

Moody Christmas was also produced by Jungleboys, an acclaimed series in which Brammall very nearly played the lead role of Dan, instead of his brother, Sean. He went on to win an AACTA Award for his performance.

“There was a clash with some of the dates, because they had to shoot the London component with Dan over Christmas in 2011. I was doing The Importance of Being Earnest with the Melbourne Theatre Company and I couldn’t do it,” he recalls.

“I’d already identified the part of Sean as the best part. That and Terry (Darren Gilshenan) were two fantastic parts.

“Thank God they talked me into it, because I had a ball. Phil and Trent were a joy to work with. They’re so talented and so low key. It’s very collaborative.”

Whilst Brammall looks forward to reviving Sean Moody for the comedy’s (unannounced) second season, the challenge in Guide to Knife Fighting is in playing characters who only exist for a matter of minutes.

“The biggest challenge is to try and inhabit it as truthfully as possible because it’s not long-form and you don’t get to sit in the character. You’ve got to hit it straight away and signify to the audience ‘This is the kind of person I am,'” he says.

“The more I think about it over the years, the more I think comedy is to do with surprise. If you can see it coming, it’s not as funny. Although Little Britain did that well. You knew what the punchline was going to be, but you enjoyed the ride so much. But I had friends who hated Little Britain for that reason.”

Comedy, we agree, is such a personal art-form. While one might tolerate a mediocre drama, we’re far less patient with a mediocre comedy. Brammall expects audiences will be vocal about their thoughts on his new sketch show.

But he remains optimistic.

“Australia hasn’t had a good sketch comedy for a long time.”

The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting airs 9pm Wednesdays on ABC1.

3 Responses

  1. I see it’s getting a hard time online, but I thought it was very good, in the Big Train (UK) tradition – which may have taken some viewers by surprise. Not all great, but a lot of good things and excellent performances.

  2. I’m praying this isn’t going to be a Sam Simmons style of comedy where random weirdness substitutes for wit.

    “Australia hasn’t had a good sketch comedy for a long time.” Australia hasn’t had a good sitcom for a long time, either.

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