Classic Moments in Australian TV comedy

The Norman Gunston Show

All of us have our own golden age of television comedy, a time usually bookended by our early teens and late twenties, when we laughed the loudest and longest at the lovable imbeciles and cantankerous dirtbags who rule the TV comedy roost. For me that time lasted only from 1973 to 1979, but what a time it was. That’s when towering British comedies such as Till Death Us Do Part, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin strafed the family telly with their side-splitting electrons.

Australian TV comedy never reached those leg-rattling heights. With such a small population and television production budgets to match, we just couldn’t approach the quality or quantity of the UK’s comedy output. Still, we turned out a few great comedy moments here and there. Some of them intentional. Some of them not so intentional.

Sally Struthers on the Norman Gunston Show

Norman Gunston was a fictional tissue paper-speckled (he was a “bleeder”) media personality who hosted and starred in several comedy shows bearing his name from the 1970s to the 1990s. There were many classic Gunston moments. I’ll never forget the time he visited an L.A. cinema that unbeknownst to him featured live sex acts on stage. “What’s playing, cowboys and Indians?” he asked the ticket booth lady. As he disappeared inside, she turned to the camera and said, “Who is that psycho?” Seconds later he stormed out with a grave look on his face and reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s absolute bedlam in there. The projector has broken down, and people are up onstage, tearing each other’s clothes off.” Norman was most famous for his hilarious celebrity interviews. This is one of his best.

Iggy Pop on Countdown

Countdown was a top 40 music program that showcased live rock acts and music videos from Oz and elsewhere in the world. One of Countdown’s creators, Ian “Molly” Meldrum, presented a pop news segment on each edition. Even on the best of days, he dithered and blundered his way through it, but when a chemically-enriched Iggy Pop made a guest appearance, he had no hope. Check out Iggy’s dance moves in the following clip. He looks like he’s trying to struggle out of a straitjacket while having an epileptic seizure.

Graham Kennedy on Kingswood Country

Kingswood Country was a comedy series about Ted Bullpitt, a bigoted grumble bum who only had eyes for his Holden Kingswood. If his wife or another family member asked to borrow his beloved car, he’d leap to his feet in protest and roar something like, “You’re not taking the Kingswood. I just Ajaxed the dipstick!” In one episode, Ted’s wife, Thelma, won a competition where she got to cook dinner for TV legend Graham Kennedy. Kennedy used to host In Melbourne Tonight, a long-running variety show. Thelma is supposed to serve Kennedy her prized meatloaf, but the ever-erring Ted brings in a plate of dog food from the kitchen by mistake. The look on Kennedy’s face when he realizes he isn’t chowing down on meatloaf is one for the ages.

David Thai on Pot Luck

Pot Luck was a talent show that aired in the 1980s. The quality of the acts that appeared on it ranged from the bad to the naked flame in a munitions factory. David Thai fell into the latter category. Thai was a needle-thin fedora-wearing Vietnamese singer who fancied himself as a combination of John Farnham and Michael Jackson, with a dash of Bruce Lee. The flamboyant and mercilessly candid judge Bernard King, who once gave a hapless Sinatra wannabe a score of minus five, delivers one of the funniest critiques in talent show history.

Rags the Kangaroo on the Early Bird Show

Kangaroos are gentle, cuddly, harmless marsupials, right? Wrong! Rags dispels that gross misconception in this classic clip from The Early Bird Show, a Saturday morning children’s TV program of the 1980s. With headlocks, face jabs, and crotch kicks, Rags shows his bungling handler and Marty the Monster who’s the boss. Incidentally, Marty is what a gerbil looks like when you’re on drugs.

Sir Les Patterson on Parkinson

The famous British TV interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson did a number of his talk shows here in Oz over the years. Sir Les Patterson, Australia’s cultural attaché, was a guest on one. Sir Les is a creation of Barry Humphries, the comic genius behind Dame Edna Everage. How to describe him? If you took the most disgusting, politically incorrect wino you could find and passed him off as a politician, you would have Sir Les. This clip is safe for work. If you work on a wharf.

Bert Newton on the Don Lane Show

The Don Lane Show was a top-rating tonight show which was beamed into Aussie homes from 1975 to 1984. The talented and very likable Bert Newton was Don’s sidekick, as he was Graham Kennedy’s years before. Often when a major overseas guest appeared on the show, Bert would impersonate him or her during the show’s wheel segment. Here Bert sends up the whistling kettle-voiced crooner Demis Roussos. It’s thirty-nine seconds of twenty-four-karat comedy gold.

John Clark and Bryan Dawe on Lateline

Lateline is a news analysis program which is still going strong on ABC TV. Once a week, comedians John Clark and Bryan Dawe appear on the show to satirize a current news story in the form of a studio interview. In this instance it was a supertanker that from all accounts was designed and built by Mr. Magoo.