Scott Kara: Acting the news clown is no joke

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Seven Sharp hosts Greg Boyed, Alison Mau and Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Supplied
Seven Sharp hosts Greg Boyed, Alison Mau and Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Supplied

There's more to being funny on the news than the inane "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" comments between the sports guy and the newsreaders. Although, I have to say, Hilary Barry's not bad at the wry, understated quip at the end of the news bulletin - to which Mike McRoberts gives his best "Oh Hilary, you're such a card"-type grin.

Oh, and from memory, the famously well-spoken - he was downright posh actually - Philip Sherry also liked to have a little bit of a jovial old chuckle at the lighter, more breezy news stories back in the day.

But seriously, there is far more to making news funny than flippant jokes and off-screen fist pumps which accidentally get caught on camera, a la Wendy Petrie.

When Seven Sharp starts at 7pm on Monday, that Jesse Mulligan fella will have his work cut out for him.

Because on shows like 7 Days, where Mulligan was a star attraction, the comedians can get away with almost anything, taking the week's biggest and most oddball news stories off on all sorts of dodgy tangents. And more often than not it's hilarious, because dirty and deviant humour is generally quite funny. But 7pm is not the time slot to be potty-mouthed and disgusting, which makes being funny a serious challenge.

However, this column is not solely about Seven Sharp, because it hasn't even started yet. This is more of a look at the funny people who have graced our news shows over the years. There haven't been too many of them, because news is a very (very) serious business after all. But it sure is refreshing when you can have a laugh to counter the death, murder, and mayhem.

That's what loud and proud Nightline original co-presenter and journalist Belinda Todd did with her risque antics on TV3's late night news show, back when it started in the early 90s. With her shock of red hair and disregard for TV's still rather boring boundaries, Todd was outrageous and daring. Yes, she had a dirty mind, like when she sprung her "69 positions in 60 seconds" skit on the unsuspecting New Zealand public (where a stark naked couple got it on in bed simulating different sexual positions). And for the fearless Todd, any story was fair game, including taking the mickey out of TV3 when it went into receivership.

"Anyone want to buy a TV station?," she asked viewers. "Let's go shopping."

Then there was Marcus Lush on TV2's late night show Newsnight, hosted by Alison Mau and Simon Dallow. Rather than being outrageous, he was his typically curious and inquiring self and asked, not so much the difficult questions, but the cheeky ones of people you normally wouldn't talk to for a news story.

On Newsnight he talked to everyone from an emu farmer (the hot new farming trend of the late 90s, don't you know), to the PR person at Auckland's "rock star hotel" The Centra (also very late 90s). Sitting on the bed in the flash executive suite he wondered, "If a rock star has been staying here, what condition is the bed going to be in?"

PR person: "You ask all the nitty gritty details don't you? But actually, you'd be surprised. When Axl Rose stayed it didn't even look like he slept in the bed."

So Lush went and got the real dirt about what they find in the rooms from the maid: "Cigarettes and condoms," she smiled.

But being the funny guy in news can be a lonely, cruel world. It's hard. Take the Herald's resident cartoonist, Emmerson, who wanders the newsroom tirelessly, visits the photocopier countless times a day, and makes endless cups of coffee, on a desperate search for that golden gem of a line that will make people laugh - or at the very least, crack a smile.

The thing is though, on live telly, that search for the killer line is a very public one. That's not hard. That's just scary.

Then again, perhaps the news and current affairs guys at the two rival channels should forget about infotainment at 7pm, because if you ask me there's far too much info in my 'tainment as it is.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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