It was one of my birthdays. Or maybe Christmas. My parents, perhaps panicking at the lack of good presents that they had procured for my birthday/Christmas morning, rushed to Coles (née Bi-Lo) and bought the “Champagne” edition of “The Late Show”.
By this time, the Australian sketch show was more than 15 years old. Of the original cast – Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Judith Lucy, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Jason Stephens and Tom Gleisner – only Mick and Judith would have been recognisable to most of my peers.
I’d seen the DVD at Coles and had expressed a passing interest in it – my appreciation for 90s Aussie sketch comedy had been growing exponentially thanks to myriad specials on Bert Newton’s 20 to 1.
As it turns out, it’s one of the best presents I have ever received.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve watched the DVD. Every few months, when I’ve run out of American sitcoms/dramas to watch, I throw on The Late Show. I watch all six hours of it, and then I go back to the beginning and I watch all six hours again, this time with the commentary on, which is as hilarious as the show itself. (This is not to mention the DVD featuring all the episodes of Olden Days and Bargearse, the cast’s uproarious dubbings of old ABC shows Rush and Bluey.)
That the show still has a high standing today – there is a fan page updated regularly and the clips of the show on YouTube generate more hits every day – is a testament to the brilliant comedic minds of the cast.
I was going to use the word quality there, but part of the appeal of the show was that there was never an emphasis on outstanding quality, at least in terms of production and live performance. There is an array of skits where the cast forget their lines (Jane interviewing Rob and Santo’s shady businessmen Geoff and Terry) or live skits going in directions unplanned – like Mick running around the stage during the opening bit with Tony.
In the commentary the cast admits as much. Jane says she was drunk during one of the live sketches with Geoff and Terry, and Tony and Tom talk about how ideas were often fleshed out just before going to air. Tom talks jokingly about the pain of having “an hour to fill”.
And despite it now being 20 years since the show aired, the sketches are still absolutely hilarious. My all-time favourite is “The Last Aussie Auteur”, below. It features Tony as film director Warren Perso, a man obsessed with “norgs, and plenty of them!” being interviewed by Judith, playing a disgusted film critic. Made all the funnier by the fact Tony is a renowned film buff, it contains the immortal line “Stevo, can you get that fat chick to bring me another bottle of homo water?”
Rob Sitch, who has become one of Australia’s prized film and TV producers – think The Castle, The Dish, Frontline, Thank God You’re Here, The Hollowmen – was riotous on The Late Show. He was well known for his impersonations of famous people including the bumbling John Hewson, ladiesman Imran Khan, Ringo Starr-lookalike Yassar Arafat, the rambling Bruce McAvaney, and the steadfast F.W. de Klerk. All are hilarious but my favourite has always been Archbishop Tutu. Sitch would probably be hung, drawn and quartered for it today considering the blackface, but it’s still just as funny.
He and Santo teamed up regularly in skits, two of the most memorable being The Oz Brothers and Graham and the Colonel. In the former the pair depicted Gavin and Neville Oz, quintessential Australian bogans obsessed with David Boon. The latter was a segment evolved from their radio show where the duo donned white wigs and green suits and lampooned sport – they were doing Roy and HG before Roy and HG were doing it!
I could spend thousands of words writing about all the things that have made this show so funny, and so rewatchable. Shitscared. Mr Whippy Grand Prix. Things Wogs Never Do. Dickhead Tonight. Charlie the Wonderdog. The Pissweak Kids. “Holding up a mirror to multicultural society; breaking down ethnic barriers.” Negative gearing. “I’ve got the paper!” Accidentally Was Released. I’ve Just Run Out of Melbourne Clichés. Four and a Half Minutes of Shit. Muckraking. Mick’s Serve. News Headlines. “Ivan Reitman is a genius.” Pete Smith. Shirty. The list goes on and on and on.
The cast members, whilst fond of The Late Show days, are on record as saying they’re about looking forward, not back, so we’re unlikely to ever see a reunion special a la Hey Hey It’s Saturday. But the spirit lives on. I implore you, watch the YouTube clips, buy the DVDs, learn the lines.
Happy 20th anniversary to one the greatest shows to ever grace Australian television. And good on Aunty, even if it is still number four.