What do you get a pair of comedy writers? A change of government, please
The couple have been exploiting the weaknesses of politicians for almost 10 years now, after first meeting on ABC’s short-lived satirical series The roast, where they were hired by Charles Firth of Chaser, although they had no practical experience writing comedy. Williams was studying music, while Humphries worked in a warehouse and engaged in public relations.
They quickly got closer to each other and started working together on short videos. “We just noticed we were laughing at each other’s jokes,” says Humphries. “And at one point we decided, ‘Oh, let’s see if we can just go out there and do a little something.’ “
They pumped up short nocturnal sketches to The roast, before moving on to Food at SBS with “some hopeless gaps” in between. It was to Food their skits started to break through – not just locally with Barabbas but internationally when a CNN logo skit talking about what it was like to be assaulted by Donald Trump garnered a few million views and was attracted the attention of international news sites.
“This is how sometimes satire the daily news can be humiliating,” says Williams. “Because [Trump sketch] came out and it went really well, and then it’s kind of like, OK, do the next one.
Humphries adds, “It’s a blessing and a curse. I am so desperate to rest on my laurels, I would love to rest on my laurels. But the flip side is if you made a bad sketch, you know you’re going to do another sketch tomorrow. So already, you are moving forward. But now with 7.30, the pressure is a little higher, because it’s once a fortnight and it’s a big swing, whereas on SBS we were doing four a week.
The joke rate is high in all of their skits, with throwaway lines often captured only during repeat viewings, so it’s no surprise to hear that Shaun Micallef is a big influence, as well as American comedian Tina Fey, with Saturday Night Live comedian Norm Macdonald and American animator Stephen Colbert.
“Putting together so many jokes into one thing, that was the point of what we were doing,” says Williams. “And that’s something that Mark really had an influence on me, you want to play the very first sentence like a joke, which isn’t always a cool thing to do.”
they joined 7.30 at the end of 2018, marking the first piece of televised real estate once occupied by satirists John Clarke and Bryan Dawe, who held their weekly Thursday night spot for 25 years before Clarke died in 2017. On the contrary, l The lack of a daily deadline refined Williams and Humphries’ satire and made it even more ambitious.
Their sketch Greta Thunberg Helpline (‘for adults angry with a child’) has gone viral, with over 20 million views and a retweet from the teenage climate change activist herself. This has skewered not only climate-denial politicians, but every angry baby boomer within earshot. Another targeting outraged Karens (and Darrens) at Bunnings was perfect for our period of pandemic weariness, while the India travel ban sketch highlighted what the government is really afraid of (Hint: Andrew Bolt does not agree with them).
Do they ever think politics is beyond satire?
“I’ve thought about it a lot, this question, ‘Is satire dead?’ Williams says. “These conversations were more active during Trump and QAnon, but I think politicians will always be flawed and people will want to listen to others not care.”
That’s also why a character like Barabbas works, because he’s not “as toxic” as some members of the One Nation team, for example. “It can be a bit more unpleasant,” says Humphries.
They write their 7.30 sketch on Wednesday and film on Thursday with their usual cinematographer and editor Chloe Angelo. With such a tight deadline, things don’t always go smoothly – they are stuck in the ABC parking lot and have always edited sketches like 7.30 goes to the air.
“I remember the locked budget running with the card to the control room,” says Williams. “I think I almost knocked over Annabel Crabb. That’s the part that gets a little bit risky, but in the end we don’t deliver the latest COVID report, do we?”
Humphries adds, “And then there was one night we delivered it and then it’s like Bob Hawke was dead. And it is 7.35. OK OK… “
Their book is clearly aimed at the current state of the political game – its summary of the recent crop of prime ministers is funny but depressing, and serves as a grim reminder of what happened to Australia’s only female prime minister, Julia Gillard. “If you ignore the tsunami of sexism, the threats that she should be thrown in a straw sack at sea, and the fact that a man stole the role from her halfway through her tenure, it turns out to be went very well. “
Does any of them have any hope for politics?
“I do,” says Williams. “I actually feel a little guilty for doing what we do, but I think the vast majority of the time people are probably going into politics for the right reasons. If it was all about making money, you could make more money in the private sector, as Malcolm Turnbull did. But I have faith, what else are you gonna do?
Said Humphries: “I have a good deal of empathy for politicians. I wouldn’t be able to do it. I wouldn’t have the skin. Now, I don’t know if it’s thick skin or shamelessness, it’s like two sides of the same coin. But I don’t think I would have thick enough skin to handle the constant slings and arrows of labor.
“I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful. I am also encouraged by the number of young people who seem to get involved in politics, more than when I was in school. But we feel like we have a lot of hiccups right now. Since 2013, that’s when Clive Palmer came in and suddenly brought in all of these really, I will generously say, unconventional candidates. It was then that I felt the wheels fell off.
If there’s one thing they have hope for – in terms of pure comedy, of course – it’s for a Labor government.
“From a satirical standpoint, we would like to see a change in government,” says Humphries. “Just so that we can do different kinds of sketches. I mean, how many more climate change skits can we do? We are not aligned with the party, but we are open to it.
Any advice for Anthony Albanese then?
“Side step for…. “Humphries laughed.
And the punchline? We’ll just have to wait and see.
On politics and things released on June 30.