Now, more than we have for some time, New Zealanders need a good laugh. The stable, gold-paved road consumers have been travelling on for some years has turned to mud and more rain is forecast.

Forget the job summit, which only really gave employment to some caterers, taxi drivers and cleaners for a day. More locally made comedy on our mainstream television channels is needed.

It is wanted. Badly. Two things prove this. First, the sales of the recent Billy T. James DVD and CD. Local audiences have looked for comfort in hearing the voice and seeing the visage of the comedian everybody loved. Billy died 18 years ago! The CD (originally released in 1985) outsold other local artists last year and was seemingly on the shelves for only five minutes before Christmas. Second, The Jaquie Brown Diaries have been trumpeted as the second coming of local sitcoms. That a programme with a multitude of flaws (which even the lead actor admitted was a learning experience) can be so acclaimed shows our desperation for something ... anything.

Outrageous Fortune has proven over a period that we're still okay looking at ourselves, or people in the next suburb, in the national mirror and laughing at the odd shapes staring back at us. But only just.

While we need comedy - and Diplomatic Immunity is currently amusing some - we really need political satire of the sketch variety. It was bad enough that there was no satire on television during the most recent election (excluding under-rated series The Pretender). When it is done pointedly and determinedly, such satire offers an examination of politicians and others who regulate our behaviour. Good satire questions motivations and philosophies. It does not just mimic or send up behaviour, which was what the most recent satirical effort Facelift did, rendering it so limp Don Brash said he enjoyed his prosthetic impersonator.

There has been plenty to poke the borax at since December - John Key's tiresome gags about his cast, which he sold to a Wellington Mormon bishop; Winston Peters job-hunting; a former quiz master and breeder of cattle as Speaker of the House. How about a couple of film spoofs: the upstanding Dr Richard Worth in A Passage to India and the increasingly ruddy Nick Smith and his ACC board clean-out depicted as The Crucible. There's more to amuse - Telecom's Manila call-centre; TVNZ's boy wonder reporter Jack Tame and his marionette hands; the new toll road; the fitness of Jacob Oram; petrol companies' excuses for not lowering prices at the pump.

Joe and Josephine Public have a lot of questions about their financial futures that they want answered by Key's Government. Still in their honeymoon period, according to recent polls, they seem to be above stern examination. They shouldn't be.

National's 100 days of action principally saw, in its legislative programme, a rewriting of sections of law and order statutes already in force. They have moved into the Beehive and simply changed the curtains.

A 118-page amendment to the Resource Management Act doesn't ease concerns about job security. Nor does the announcement of a first budget in, wait for it - and we are, Bill - another six weeks. Even the G20 have been able to meet for crisis talks about the global financial situation but our Finance Minister looks as though he doesn't even know where the books are. Making light of the (in)action from on the Hill, among other things, is good for the family in their living room. While it does not mollify their concerns it can ease them for a short period because it focuses attention on shared frustrations and concerns.

As the Earl of Shaftesbury wrote two centuries ago, "Truth 'tis supposed, may bear all lights; and one of those principal lights or natural mediums by which things are to be viewed in order to a thorough recognition is ridicule itself."

Film comedy in the United States boomed during the Great Depression. The Thatcher years saw some of the finest television comedy produced in Britain. Our satirical peak was during the repressive, grey Muldoon years. While TV3 is culpable it is easier in this piece to scowl at TVNZ. After all, they have a charter (obviously not binding and soon to be extinct) which states the broadcaster shall "feature programming across all genres that informs, entertains and educates New Zealand audiences ... play a leading role in ... encouraging creative risk-taking" and to fulfil those objectives TVNZ will "feature New Zealand films, drama, comedy and documentary programmes". We have the writers, we have the performers and we have on-going sources of material.

We are living in a society that is losing the ability to laugh at itself. I want Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman to call in the heads of TVNZ, TV3, NZ On Air and production companies and tell them he wants his colleagues lampooned for the good of the nation.

* Matt Elliott is an author, stand-up comedy veteran and comedy historian.