OK, so The Chaser. Everyone knows about it. They'll be back next week, and hopefully the experience will not turn them tame and insipid in any way, but drive them on to more inspired feats of comedy.
Below is something I wrote in the aftermath of the infamous sketch, because every bit of commentary I saw seemed to miss the point by some distance. Some pieces made some good points - I agree with those sticking up for the Chaser's right to make bad-taste jokes, I agree with those who said it's the show's job to push boundaries and test the limits and so forth - but even those mostly missed the point of what the sketch was actually about. And as for those blasting the show for crossing lines, destroying lives, spitting in faces etc, I found it unbearable. Those who claimed the problem is that the show was no longer funny may or may not be right, but it was irrelevant to the issue at hand - which was the only good point contained in what I thought was one of the most ridiculously wrongheaded articles, by Shaun Carney and I'm not in the slightest bit interested in debating whether something's funny or not). And even now, two weeks later, all commentary continues to miss the point, to my mind.
Everyone must make up their own minds, but I honestly think the media hysteria has blinded people to what the sketch actually was, and I also think I'm at least as well-qualified to comment on it as the political analysts and shock jocks that have dominated the debate. And since the piece below was not wanted by a variety of media outlets, I'm having my say here. If you hate The Chaser and all it stands for and always will, you probably won't get much out of it. If not, do read on:
ON THE CHASER
Making fun of sick children? Disgusting. Outrageous. Disgraceful. Unacceptable. For doing such a revolting thing, those terrible Chaser boys should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. For mocking those poor kids, they should be sacked. Blackballed. The ABC should lose its funding. How could they do such a thing?
The only trouble, of course, is that they did no such thing. They never made fun of sick kids. Not in the slightest. And no reasonable person making up their mind based on the actual sketch – as opposed to having their mind made up for them by squawking tabloid headlines – would come to the conclusion that they had.
Now, I admit I do not know any Chaser members personally – as the 800 pound gorillas of Australian comedy to my pygmy shrew, we move in different circles – and so it is, I concede, possible that they sat down and thought, “Bloody sick kids, let’s take them down a peg or two”. However, I consider it susbtantially more likely they sat down and thought, “You know the Make A Wish Foundation? Wouldn’t it be funny if there was an organisation like that, but one that was really, really bad at its job?” I think this is more likey for the simple reason that that is precisely what they did in the sketch.
Contrary to those who saw it as a vicious attack on sick kids, or on the real Make A Wish Foundation, it wasn’t an attack on anyone. It was actually a conventional piece of sketch comedy based on the classic premise of taking a well-known character, situation or institution, and coming up with an absurd, grotesque or incompetent version. The Make A Realistic Wish Foundation is, in fact, nothing more than The Chaser’s version of Monty Python’s Silly Olympics, Saturday Night Live’s male, talentless synchronised swimmers, or even bumbling Maxwell Smart. The humour lies not in laughing at sick kids, but in the very fact that we know how appalling the “Make A Realistic Wish Foundation” is. The fictitious foundation itself is the butt of the joke – in essence, the point is not to mock the sick kids, but to side with them against the dreadful fools at their bedsides. To suggest that the fact that terrible fictional characters do terrible things to others means the creators are mocking the victims is just silly. The Chaser was no more mocking sick kids than John Cleese mocked Germans by making Basil fawlty a racist, or that Ricky Gervais mocked the disabled when his David Brent showed his utter insensivity to a wheelchair-bound colleague. Comedic characters are often terrible people – this is what makes them comedic. We’re laughing at them, not the innocent folk who have to suffer their obnoxiousness.
Please note, this is not in any way attempt to convince those who didn’t find the sketch funny that it was; comedy is utterly subjective, and to try to claim that one’s own opinion on what’s funny is in any way objective or definitive is ridiculous. That, of course, does not stop people trying, and a hundred comedic experts have sprung up since The Chaser aired to claimed that the “real problem” is that the sketch just wasn’t funny. Patently untrue – people don’t call for sackings and funding cuts just because things aren’t funny. Thousands of hours of unfunny material is broadcast every year without a furore. Commentators like to claim that unfunniness is the problem in order to dodge the quite accurate accusation that they are joining a herd of confected moral outrage and self-righteousness. The fact is, whether it was funny or not is completely irrelevant to the question of whether The Chaser was mocking sick kids. If they were, making every last person on earth bust a gut wouldn’t change the fact, and if they’re not, stony silence from every viewer does not give reason for moral condemnation.
I don’t doubt that some were upset by the sketch. That’s unfortunate, but as any comedian or comedy writer knows, if you want any hope of amusing people, you have to risk giving offence. I’ve seen comedy deal with subjects including racism, Nazism, incest, bestiality, sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, war, disease and famine. Any of these and a hundred other apparently tamer topics could cause distress – there’s practically no subject that has no chance of offending anyone. That’s the nature of comedy, and any comedian worth their salt takes that chance all the time. But the fact that a piece of work can strike a nerve with you doesn’t mean it was targeted at you, and the fact a TV show upset someone – however worthy and genuinely long-suffering that someone is – doesn’t mean that they are right and the makers of the show deserve to be cast into the outer darkness. Especially when, one suspects, much of the outrage and offence being expressed comes less from genuine spontaneous reaction and more from the efforts of media hypocrites desperate to whip up a new moral panic to reinforce their self-assumed position as guardians of the public good. After all, sketch show The Mansion did a similar gag last year. America’s The Onion and Australia’s Shaun Micallef have both in the past given their own spin to “make-a-wish comedy”. No howls of outrage there, because they weren’t The Chaser, the enemy that Murdoch papers and “current affairs” programmes alike are just itching to snipe at. The Chaser could act out verbatim re-enactments of Mother and Son, and the Herald Sun would scream about their tasteless assault on Alzheimer’s sufferers.
So it’s a shame if you were offended, especially if you have suffered the trauma of ill children. But be assured, The Chaser wasn’t having a go at you, or your kids, or anyone. And if you are the sensitive type, perhaps you shouldn’t be watching the show (and nor should children, sick or otherwise). Personally, I’m going to go on watching. Because even if it’s not perfect, I know that it’s comedy. If you don’t understand that, maybe you should go look for the remote.