30 for 30: The Late Show

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

14. THE LATE SHOW

The Late Show cast (from l-r): back row - Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch, Mick Molloy, Tony Martin. front row - Judith Lucy, Jason Stephens, Santo Cilauro, Jane Kennedy

In Australia in the early 90s, there was a Saturday night sketch comedy show called The Late Show, on ABC. 10pm every Saturday, without fail, I would sit my ass down and watch it. It lasted only two years. And, like Monty Python, I have followed the careers of everyone involved in that show.

I’m not the only one. This show truly touched a generation of Australians. Everyone who was around at the time knows it. It was groundbreaking, taboo smashing, mind bending stuff. And it made me laugh my ass of.

Amazing to think The Late Show only lasted two years, but I guess the Office and Fawlty Towers were even less than that. The Late Show team consisted of Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Jason Stephens and in the second year, Judith Lucy.

Based in Melbourne, this crew all had radio backgrounds. Again like Monty Python, it was the coming together of various writing teams. After the Late Show, those teams broke up again, to do amazing things in other fields.

But let’s talk The Late Show.

On the whole of it, it’s a pretty standard sketch comedy show. If anything, there was an overload of them on Australian TV at the time – Fast Forward, Full Frontal, The Comedy Company. But it was just – better. It made fun of itself. Maybe it helped that it was on the ABC.

So many great sketches. Shitscared. Graham And the Colonel. Pissweak World. Most of that probably means nothing to many of you. At the end of this post there are some clips. It’s a very Australian sense of humour.

Everyone at school watched it. Every Monday was always a game of ‘did you watch the late show?’, and some of the more talented smartasses amongst us would re-enact the scenes. We knew the classic ones by heart, and some forward thinking kids also taped the show and traded them.

It wasn’t just the kids at my school either. Everyone cool I know loved it. Isabelle loved them, and from memory, had a crush on Tony Martin. She even saw them once doing a vox pop but was too shy to talk to them.

They did one precious episode in Sydney, and everyone was keeping an eye out for them. These guys might just be on the street I walk home on! It was really quite a phenomenon.

I would still kill for a The Late Show t-shirt. They made them when the show was on air and I was far too young to buy stuff like that. I see one around and I almost want to offer money right there and then to strangers in the street. The ABC finally released two volumes on video, which I memorised every word.

Finally, a nice DVD was released, but it’s only 3 hours in many. Your heart would break the first time you watched it, as you realised they didn’t include your favourite sketches. To this day, it’s the only official relic of this magnificent show that we have.

I carried around the newspaper article declaring the Late Show break-up in my wallet for months. I didn’t get it. Why would they end. I decided in my head it wasn’t true, but a new series never came.

The writing teams split off. Tony and Mick ended up (back) on radio with the Martin/Molloy Show. It was on after school on the dreadful 2Day Fm network, but I still listened everyday, putting up with bad pop music. By now I was already discovering obscure music. But I would never miss Martin/Molloy.

I called up one of their competitions once and actually won some CDs, Soul Asylum’s second album and a Brownstone one.

Rob, Tommy G, Jane and Santo formed Working Dog Productions, pretty much the best TV production team in Australian history.

The first was Frontline – a no-laugh-track mockumentary of Current Affairs shows – with a bumbling host, a cynical network and the dangers of broad appeal journalism. Oh, and laughs.. Airing when I was 14-16, it did a lot to form my views on politics and the media.

One episode, the Shadow We Cast, was a defining piece of television for me, one I think about almost everyday. Anchor Mike Moore wants to reverse the damage done to minorities by Current Affairs shows. He is oblivious to his own hypocrisy, attacking Pauline Hanson, then following with stories about foreign investors. He makes a list of all the minorities he wants to help.

Prowsie, his boss, in a moment of anger, writes on a whiteboard what Current Affairs is really about. Stereotypes. Chinese are Triads. Vietnamese are drug dealers. Aborigines are drunks. And so on. Mike almost discovers this, and is pushed away and led out of the room. The camera hangs onto the whiteboard for a second before the episode ends.

You can watch the end of the episode here.

Working Dog’s best work was, of course, The Castle (1997). Their first movie, it’s the story about an Australian family who is ordered by the government to move to make way for a new airport. But the eccentric family refuses and fights the government for the right to live in their homes. It was an allegory for Aboriginal Land Rights. And the funniest Australian movie you will ever see.

Working Dog only made one more movie – the very good The Dish (2000). But they concentrated on TV instead. The talk show The Panel, the game show Thank God You’re Here and the recent, extremely good The Hollowmen. The latter follows the work lives of a fictional Australian government department – it’s a lot like the UK’s The Thick Of It.

Mick and Tony flirted with movies too. After a hosting his own failed talk show, Mick played lead, wrote and produced Crackerjack (2002), and BoyTown (2006). Tony wrote and directed Bad Eggs (2003), also starring Mick. All those movies were met with only minor success.

Mick is now a host for hire. Tony had a second day in the sun with the Get This radio show on Triple M. Running for three years, it really showed off his voice and writing talents. A runaway ratings and critical success, it’s little wonder Triple M always hated it and dumped it.

I am still excited about any project by any member of the D-Generation. I only just discovered Santo, Sam and Ed’s World Cup Fever, which brought back the news and sports of the Late Show with some fantastic sketch comedy.

I don’t know if the idea of a reunion has ever been floated around. I guess everyone is older, and all have healthy careers to some degree. But to see all of them on screen together again, playing some of these classic characters, would be a dream come true.

Because, 17 years after it went off the air, I’m still the same kid hoping for that 3rd season.

Some clips! Not just boring text!

My favourite recurring sketch is ‘Shitscared’. About Rob and Mick, this terrible Evil Knievel types, always interviewed by Tom.

Here’s the very first one

Movie world

A car stunt

Pissweak World! This is not too far from the truth in Australia.

Marine World.

Airworld

Guides. Here’s Christmas Parties and one of the three Dinner Parties.

Songs

What’s All That About

REM Song

Billy Joel

Mick and Tony Vox Pops

Shirty The Slightly Aggressive Bear

Charlie the Wonderdog

Random sketches

Still Number Four, a comment on rival Channel 9’s tagline of “Still Number One”

20 Inappropriate Love Songs

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