Every now and again, a TV show sneaks up on you that is so funny that you find yourself doubled over at your desk, the air crushed out of your lungs, feeling alive and dead at the same time from the sheer volume and intensity of laughs. It's a jarring scene in a quiet office environment, but was the visceral reaction I had during No Experience Necessary, a NZ/Aust co-production for Comedy Central (and available to watch for free online).
The premise of the ridiculous faux-documentary is very simple: Australian comedian Ray Badran travels to Auckland to make the greatest sitcom of all time about his life, with no real TV experience and what feels like close to no budget. Every episode follows the casting of a different character, building to the recording of the sitcom itself. Joined by local comedian Guy Montgomery as his co-producer (the only person Ray alleges to know in the country), the series begins in the Skytower's revolving restaurant, undoubtedly New Zealand's funniest location for a production meeting.
Guy plays the exasperated straight man to Ray's slack-jawed idiot, in a Larry David-style over-the-top version of themselves. As their relationship strains through auditions and rehearsals, a pile of other comedians pop up along the way. The wide-eyed Angella Dravid floats around as their assistant, stealing every scene. Rose Matafeo delivers a stupendous monologue as a gruff Outback bloke, and even international comics Lou Sanders, Rhys Nicholson and Aunty Donna drop by for a bit.
Although the cameos are well-deployed, they've got nothing on the incredible, 100 per cent true blue Kiwis that show up to audition for the terrible roles in Ray's fake sitcom. Working under the assumption that "real people are better, that's why amateur porn is so popular", casting calls are sent out on Trademe with the bold headline, you guessed it, "No experience necessary". One by one, exceptionally diverse hopefuls provide stunning performances, including but not limited to a gentleman named Pablo smoking a giant kebab and quoting Bruce Willis.
There's no sense of lampooning as we watch each wannabe give it a crack, closer evoking the affectionate spirit of Nathan For You, another Comedy Central cult favourite that blends professional comedians with salt-of-the-Earth types who are just keen to be on telly. All the while, director and Australian comedian Henry Stone smacks his gums and brandishes a knife in the background, his outlandish character at times jarring with the organic tone. But the chaos feels like the point. Paired with the crash zooms and silent-era intertitles, it all adds up to a beautiful, hilarious shambles.
With each episode a maximum of 10 minutes, it's an easy ride all the way to the glorious finale - the actual sitcom premiere itself. Bringing together all the wonderful real-life characters with torrents of canned laughter and studio applause, the result lands somewhere between Melody Rules and The Room, which feels like a great place to be. It's worth a hat tip to musicians Paul Williams and Randa as well for their killer contributions to both theme songs, emblematic of a new breed of young local talent getting the exposure they deserve.
And that's why No Experience Necessary is so exciting, even if New Zealand can't take all the credit for it. Yes, we do TV comedy well - 7 Days isn't going anywhere, Funny Girls is currently in production on it's third season and Find Me a Maori Bride was excellent. But here's an example of what happens when you give the weirdos the keys to the palace for a while.
Sure, they'll probably smoke a kebab and pretend to defecate on the kitchen bench, but they may also just make the funniest TV local(ish) show in ages.