There is something endlessly hilarious about youngish men showing off their brilliance by testifying to an audience about the vagaries of their very important lives. Apparently. The aesthetic of stand-up comedy is strong in this year’s edition of Best Australian Comedy Writing, edited by Luke Ryan, and that’s where the weakest stuff in the anthology comes from.
On the page, the post-adolescent rants lack the ambient force of voice and personality that help them to funny in a pub; moreover, the middle-aged literature academic writing this review lacked the necessary blood-alcohol level while reading.
For some of these allegedly best pieces of writing, I suspect you had to be there and at least a little off your face. The charming, naughty, funny-guy rant seems to be the default setting for comedy in Australia. And I, for one, am over it.Affirm Press
2016 has been a very long year spent in a very unsatisfactory version of reality, and it’s the texts that achieve some degree of fictional comic imagination that provide real comic relief. Clearly topical satire has had no effect on public opinion, or Donald Trump’s run for the presidency would have foundered months ago. So it’s the well-written flights of intellectually provocative fancy that impress.
On balance, that means that the women are funnier than the men. Who needs more reality, however wryly or laconically observed, when we can have ice cream so cool people take the 50% risk of death in eating it (Julie Koh, “Cream Reaper”), or Little Women turned into a pornographic romp (Lorelei Vashti, “The Little Women”)?
Koh and Vashti write as if they have something to prove, as if they have to craft something tonally and structurally ingenious to earn a laugh. They don’t assume that they are effortlessly funny, and those lads that do assume it (no, I will not name names) really should work a bit harder. Craft, timing, and imagination are the hallmarks of great comic writing, and spontaneity should only ever be a hard-earned illusion.
If this uneven anthology turns up in your Christmas stocking, there’s enough to justify a steady browse. Some long established writers like Shaun Micallef and Amanda Keller have not released their best work, but writers of the next generation like Koh, Vashti, Sarina Rowell, Em Rusciano, David Thorne, Tracey Spicer, Robert Skinner, and Josh Earl do well. John Clarke is as pitch-perfect as ever.
Authors: Robert Phiddian, Deputy Dean, School of Humanities, Flinders University