Anybody would think Tom Ballard has found his TV calling.
After a string of dalliances with Can of Worms, Agony, Q&A, The Project, Reality Check and First Contact, he finally has his own comedy vehicle Tonightly with Tom Ballard.
When it launched in early December, Ballard came bursting out of the gates, with so much bravado I wondered if it could be sustained. Given the ABC Comedy show is briefed with tackling daily news I decided to wait before reviewing. It’s still early days, but boy the signs are encouraging.
The young Ballard is in his element as the snarky, Gen Y host of this 30 minute takedown. Half the show is his opening monologue, a limitless whiteboard of topics, delivered with various degrees of anger, cynicism, puzzlement, shouting and social observation.
This week he has tackled African gang violence, Japan’s ‘Suicide Forest’, Home Ownership, Centrelink, Oprah for President, Smashed Avocados and The Ghan. In fact he wished he had the ratings for The Ghan instead of the 70,000 or so he is attracting. Understandable.
“I don’t know why I’m talking to this, nobody’s watching,” he joked at one point.
This week he has had to comment on the Craig McLachlan allegations, cleverly done by inserting Ballard’s own face into a Doctor Blake Mysteries scene, with all the editing speed of Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey.
“Channel Seven I am available…. reshoot everything that has Craig in it and put me in there!”
There are plenty of news shots and clips of reactionary media thanks to the Daily Mail, Nine News Now and more. Ballard knows he only has to run these and stand back with a raised eyebrow for desired effect. Out of context, they do the humour all on their own….
Bravely using dramatic pauses, Ballard’s delivery is straight out of Late Night 101, nicely balancing an intimacy with the home viewer, but playing to an obviously tiny studio crowd. He also only draws upon his sexuality honestly, such as a coy nod to Chris Hemsworth, which neither highlights, nor avoids.
That leaves the rest of the show for desk-bound chats with his select contributors and to throw to pre-recorded stuff. Things are less-even from this point with Bridie Connell’s segments sometimes too long, but Greg Larsen hitting some bull’s eye targets.
Larsen’s interview with Mark Latham about his campaign to Save Australia Day was so dipped in irony I couldn’t tell if Latham was in on the gag or not. It didn’t matter. I was laughing at Latham on the ABC whilst hearing his negative whines about the leftist-ABC he was appearing on. And Larsen was agreeing.
Greta Lee Jackson also weighs in with sketch material to added effect. Ballard also ran an interview with UK comedian Jimmy Carr which probably offended. You get the feeling he wants to offend you at least once a week.
If I have any early criticism, it is the prolific F-bombs dropped throughout the show. Not because I am offended by them, but because they distract. Yes I get that it’s cool to swear on ABC because you can, but language is better used for dramatic effect. If the audience is just waiting for the next one to drop, there is a risk we miss what’s being said in between.
Where other daily comedy shows have had mixed success, Tonightly is delivering. Much of this is due to its confident host.
As is the nature of such territory, I hope it gets enough shows under its belt before the first outrage threatens to derail it.
Tonightly with Tom Ballard airs 9pm weeknights on ABC Comedy.