Madeleine Chapman: You're probably not watching the funniest Friday night show

By Madeleine Chapman

Jono and Ben could learn a little lesson from watching Friday night's funniest show, writes Madeline Chapman.
Andrew Mulligan and Mark Richardson host the Prime TV show The Crowd Goes Wild.
Andrew Mulligan and Mark Richardson host the Prime TV show The Crowd Goes Wild.

There are three funny local shows that currently air on Friday nights in New Zealand. Two of them - Jono and Ben and 7 Days - received more than a million dollars apiece in funding this year from NZ On Air. The third, The Crowd Goes Wild, received none.

Taking up TV3's primetime 7:30pm slot on a Friday is Jono and Ben, which despite being a hybrid of talk and sketch, remains a comedy show at heart. With an ensemble populated by some of New Zealand's best comedic talents, a heap of funding, and solid ratings, it's one of our unambiguous success stories, particularly given its youth focus.

But the show feels restricted somehow. While the pre-taped segments are beautifully shot and look (fittingly) like a million bucks, there's something middle-of-the-road about much of the show that suggests there might be a surfeit of voices leading to a somewhat compromised vision.

Many of the segments are variations of the most successful bits from overseas shows.

'Making Shapes' (Japan's Hole in the Wall), 'Kids Write' (The Tonight Show's 'Kid Theatre'), and 'Next Actor' (Ellen) are all funny, though not exactly groundbreaking. But their inclusion makes sense: they rate overseas so they'll probably rate here.

Two hours later at 9:30pm, 7 Days fills the role of 'adult' comedy with permission to swear and be a little more controversial in their humour. With a rotation of both local and international comedians, there's no shortage of laughs.

A scene from the comedic television show 7 Days.
A scene from the comedic television show 7 Days.

But again, there's a sense that the interactions are a little forced, or that the best bits don't make it to our screens. A colleague went to a taping of an episode and it was three hours long, which suggests some heavy editing to create half an hour of snappy jokes.

All the while, it's easy to forget that The Crowd Goes Wild is even still on television. Hidden away on Prime at 7pm, when everyone is either watching Shortland Street or can't be bothered changing the channel after the news. But despite the obscurity, The Crowd Goes Wild might just be the most consistently funny show in New Zealand.

With absolutely no funding from NZ on Air and having to put out a half-hour show every weeknight, the small team at The Crowd Goes Wild are forced to rely on themselves to come up with all the content.

There's no writers' room and no off-screen talent paid to pitch them zingy one-liners. Everything is written or conceived by those who say it on camera - and you can tell.

What The Crowd Goes Wild team have realised, whether deliberately or out of necessity, is that if there are funny people in front of the camera, chances are they'll be funny. While there are scripted lines and pre-recorded news footage, each topic is followed by unscripted chat between the hosts. It's these moments that are the most entertaining, precisely because they feel so genuine.

With live television comes the risk that something will be said that can't be unsaid. Last week, co-host Mark Richardson said a dumb thing. He suggested Caroline Wozniacki needed a boyfriend to play tennis well.

While Andrew Mulligan admonished him on the air, a producer could also be heard yelling at him from off-camera that he was wrong. The comedy came not from what Richardson said but because it was handled in the same way people handle disagreements in real life: by yelling at each other. It was an entertaining shambles that could never have happened on the more polished Jono and Ben.

A new segment on the Jono and Ben show called Making Shapes. Photo / Jason Oxenham
A new segment on the Jono and Ben show called Making Shapes. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The point here is all three shows are presented in a way which suggests they're free flowing and allow for spontaneous interactions. But only on The Crowd Goes Wild does it feel like the on-camera talent are truly able to be authentic, with the live recording meaning you know you're getting the best (and worst) of them every night.

Glimpses of these moments can be seen in Jono and Ben, especially when they are interacting with kids on the show. But in the studio it sometimes feels like they are sticking to a tight script, removing the opportunity for the kind of spontaneity that the Crowd deals in nightly.

While covering the sports news and speaking to athletes who have mastered the art of creatively improvising within a set of rules, The Crowd Goes Wild team have learned to do the same with their show.

Jono and Ben are funny. Guy Williams and Laura Daniel are funny. Jeremy Corbett and Dai Henwood are funny. But it feels like there are too many people standing between them and the camera.

- NZ Herald

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