Australia needs its own Saturday Night Live

January 15, 2014
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Once upon a time, on a tour of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) stage in New York City, a tour guide opened the doors to the studio and turned to ask his tour group to repeat the catchphrase belted with enthusiasm every Saturday night in that room. A shy chorus of “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” rang out. An extra, Australian voice added to the end of that chorus a shrill exclamation of “live”, and received strange looks.

That shrill Aussie voice was my own.

Prior to that tour group in 2010, I’d never watched SNL and knew next to nothing about that well-known introduction. I’ve felt truly robbed of the ultimate variety television watching experience (and a morsel of my own dignity) ever since. I quickly learned that I was missing out as an Australian with sub-standard variety hour television.

I don’t want to be too dramatic, but there’s a giant TV-shaped hole in my heart that aches between the hours of 10:30pm and 11:59pm on Saturday nights. This hole can now only be filled by the sound of “Live from *insert Australian state city of your choice here*, it’s Saturday night!” 

First premiering in 1975 on NBC, SNL is twice my age but it still manages to remain just as current as hash tags and cat print leggings (and on the right side of experimental). The constant turnover of weekly hosts and musical guests keep it as fresh as the Prince Of Bel Air, along with its evolving cast of writer/actors – the royal family of American sketch comedy – that satirise politics, social issues, pop culture and anything under the umbrella of ‘mock-able’ before the midnight mark.

Today, guest appearances and hosts aside, the leaders of the pack are Seth Meyers and Kate McKinnon and, after they’ve performed a myriad of sketches like ‘Weekend Update’, they’ll no doubt leave SNL to establish million dollar careers in film and television. Most SNL alums start out in comedy groups out of Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York, and then successfully audition for SNL.

Often SNL alumni go on to write and star in comedies like 30 Rock and Parks And Recreation, host late night shows and feature in films like Bridesmaids. SNL has been the launch pad for A-list celebrities like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Mike Myers, and has recurring hosts like Justin Timberlake.

So where is SNL: Australia? Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. The Australian television industry has an opportunity, and they aren’t seizing it. Of course, it costs a tonne of money to make live television, but SNL is a platform for character actors and celebrities who have talent worthy of attention. Both comedians and audiences need something different. Something live and something new. Something borrowed and something that they can chew.

Where are all of the Generation Y comedians hiding in Australia? Do they exist at all, or did we, the next generation somewhere along the line cease being the larrikin-kind of funny? I like to live in hope that the fresh-faced, undiscovered cast of SNL: Australia are probably scattered all over this vast land, from Broken Hill to Launceston, from Perth to Woolloomooloo.

The girl who asks you each morning if you’d like to upsize your coffee order could be considering the dialogue to a Julia Gillard sketch as she sugars your latte. That overzealous student who keeps up the only insightful discussion in your Postmodernism 101 tutorial? He writes the entire plot to a Karl Stefanovic impersonation while you manage to avoid eye contact with the lecturer after she asks who has read this week’s reading. These are the people we need for our lively Saturday nights: young, enthusiastic unknowns who will bring us raw, daring sketches of our own. 

It’s not just about the comedians that need a change. Aussies need live sketch comedy in the comfort of their own homes on quiet Saturday nights. Even reality talent shows, such as Australia’s Got Talent and The X Factor, have forgotten that funny is talent, too. Of course, we do have a group of fabulous character actors on Australian television (Magda Szubanski, Chris Lilley, Rebel Wilson etc) but we know them too well in 2014. The days of Kath And Kim, The Chaser’s War On Everything, Backberner, and Hey Hey It’s Saturday are over, and Australia needs something different from variety television.

Then there’s the consideration of ratings. It’s no secret that the major commercial networks – especially Channel 10 – have been struggling in recent years. If Australia were to launch its own SNL on a popular, commercial channel, instead of introducing old faces on a new sketch program to national broadcasters, comedians could have the potential to flourish or a commercial, large-scale rather than inspire smaller audiences on the intellectually-geared bubble that is late-night programming of the ABC. (Shout out to Chris Lilley. I venture over to the ABC just for you.)

I suppose it’s also our fault that we’re missing out on our own SNL. We’ve allowed ourselves to become America-obsessed, because we’re constantly fed ‘America’ through television. Also, perhaps we aren’t as passionate about our politics and our pop culture, two of the greatest subjects for satirical television, either. It’s simple, really: we can’t mock us until we focus more on us in every way, shape and form. This is a shame, because Australians – with our dry, ironic sense of humour – are so easy to make fun of. We aren’t easily offended and we have that unshakable ability to laugh at ourselves.

Just think of the boundaries that could be pushed on Australia's late-night TV.

Hayli Thomson

Hayli Thomson is a University of New South Wales graduate that’s currently studying screenwriting at The University of Technology, Sydney.

Photo: Genevieve French, The University of Sydney