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We first got “the Internet” on our family computer in 1996. I recall staring at the thick CRT monitor for about 15 minutes as images on the Thomas the Tank Engine homepage appeared line by line and thinking this was pretty tedious.
Skip forward to 1999 when a friend and I realised we could use our modem to make prank phone calls. The recipient – typically a classmate we didn’t like or, more often, their parent – would pick up the phone and hear something akin to a fax machine trying to establish a connection. We, on the other end, would hear confused voices coming out of the modem’s internal speaker.
This gave me my first Friday detention; we did get a bit carried away. It also gave me my first fit of internet-spurred laughter – though certainly not my last.
1. Catchphrase: snake charmer
I love everything about TV gameshows: the music, the sound effects, the fabulous prizes rotating slowly. I’ve written questions for a few. I even hosted my own on Channel 31. But I could never dream of matching this infamous 1994 moment from the UK’s non-Burgo version of Catchphrase. The way everything comes together is just magic.
2. Mr Bankrupt
Mr Bankrupt was an Adelaide institution, much like Glenside. The discount retailer was known for its loud and annoying ads with probably the most over-the-top voiceover on Australian television. I love making fun of advertising but I don’t think it’s possible to make them more ridiculous than the real thing. And if you thought that ad was irritating, imagine a whole classroom full of 13-year-old boys doing their own renditions.
3. Aunty Donna’s Cresps
As a rule, I hate all comedy and comedians. But the first time I saw Aunty Donna talking about crisps and tea towels on a Channel 31 Melbourne show called Lost Dog TV back in 2012, I snapped my finger, pointed at the TV and said “yes”, then went online and watched their entire back catalogue. They are quite simply the greatest sketch group in Australian history and it was evident right from their earliest work.
4. Stuart has cancer (dress rehearsal)
The original and the best of SNL’s “The Californians” sketches. Depicting Los Angelenos as blond valley girls and beige surfer dudes who can only communicate using freeway routes is brilliant satire but what makes the dress rehearsal version so great is the actors cracking each other up. As soon as Fred Armisen (who rarely corpses) says “whattayoudoinhere?” you can see in Bill Hader’s eyes that he’s gone. And once he’s gone, they’re all gone.
5. A succulent Chinese meal
I’ve been obsessed with the Democracy Manifest video for more than a decade. There are literally 15 killer lines in those 60 seconds. I quote at least one daily, even going so far as to shoot a shot-for-shot parody just for fun.
Over the last couple of years more and more of the story behind that 1991 incident have trickled out, but this brilliant ABC podcast from Lawrence Bull is the definitive explanation of Mr Democracy Manifest, Jack Karlson.
It’s not all laughs, but one particular anecdote 12 minutes in about his first time in prison in the 1950s had me rolling. And kudos to sound engineer John Jacobs. Can’t wait for the Jack Karlson biopic: A Succulent Life.
I first discovered the joy of Simpsons shitposting in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott and some hilarious memes from a page called Simpsons Against the Liberals appeared in my feed. There are now scores of Facebook groups where people mash up images from The Simpsons, paste other people’s heads on to the characters and add captions for satirical effect. It’s an incredibly versatile format.
I reckon the best is Compuglobalhypermeganet Australia & New Zealand – no doubt because so many Aussies were effectively brainwashed by 20 years of The Simpsons every night at 6pm on Channel Ten. And since the launch of the website Frinkiac in 2016, it’s never been easier to get a Simpsons screenshot and make your own meme.
The guys who created that website deserve the Nobel prize for literature.
7. Interview with Anonymous hacker
This is one of my favourite early sketches from my good friends and fellow Mad as Hell writers Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall and Andy Matthews. They do fine work.
8. Penis inspection day
I saw this prank some Melbourne high school kids played a couple of years ago and thought it was hilarious. They’d gotten the pedantic language and formatting of the school letter spot on. It was especially funny because I went to an all-boys middle school and I was pretty gullible so I couldn’t help but imagine what my own reaction would have been. I suspect I would have been quite freaked out.
Kids have been pulling this one all around the world since at least 2010. Guess that makes it a classic.
9. Bob Johnson smashes prices!
It’s been 15 years since Australia’s funniest and therefore best radio show – Get This with Tony Martin, Ed Kavalee and Richard Marsland – went off the air but every now and then I’ll be driving and suddenly, a random line like “this box of sand isn’t compatible with my printer!” pops into my head. I would have included the Warwick Capper soundboard prank calls but Mark Humphries beat me to it. Instead, here’s my favourite fake ad.
10. Peter Russell Clarke swearing
When it comes to TV chefs, as it often does, I came of age during the Iain Hewitson period. I’d never heard of Peter Russell Clarke until around 2008 when some sweary bloopers from a series of 80s cheese commercials surfaced online. They’re pretty funny on their own but I came across this video on Instagram recently where someone has mashed up the intro to his ABC cooking show Come & Get It with the bloopers. To quote Keith Floyd, just brilliant!