Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Great Fruit

I’d like to proffer some words, if I may, for the Lime Champions. Those words are aces, nice, yep, ooh lovely, huh? and get in. And they’re appropriate, because in my humble opinion this pleasantly random and ramshackle weekly radio show on 3RRR is one of the best things in Australian comedy right now.

The Lime Champions are Eva Johansen, Damien Lawlor, Josh Earl and
Bedroom Philosopher, Justin Heazlewood; writers and presenters of a show unlike any other on Australian radio. Clearly aligned with Tony Martin’s recent article raising the profile of some relatively unknown British comedy in Australia, the Champions’ world is a very Melbourne take on British shows like Look Around You, Big Train and Chris Morris’ Jam – especially its earlier and scarier radio incarnation, Blue Jam.

Sketches vary between live studio reads and pre-recorded bits, lovingly cobbled together. Evil phone calls to friends sit cosily between fake talking heads, interviews with people who clearly aren’t who they say they are, pseudo-intellectual treaties on popular culture and discussions on the stupidity of cat owners. Sometimes there are guests, sometimes they clearly can’t be arsed. There are common themes (taking the piss out of Justin and the inner north of Melbourne especially) but mostly the Lime Champions are about whatever they feel like.

Sound plays an important part in the show. A messy cohesion occurs thanks to a magpie’s nest of audio snippets pilfered from history. These include synthesized bleeps from late seventies educational shows, old TV adverts for things that no longer exist and a great deal of eerie ambient noise. Last night’s show kicked off with what sounded like a sample of a laughing
Margaret Pomerantz’s 50-a-day rasp reversed, slowed and repeated into a rhythm until it became both toe-tapping and more than a little bit creepy.

In a country where Dave Hughes is considered funny enough to merit three television jobs and a breakfast radio slot, I’d given up hope of hearing anything as good as Lime Champions. They are too intimate, messy, wilfully obscure and well – funny - for commercial radio, so a tip of the hat to 3RRR for another great piece of programming. Just another example of why we really do need alternatives to the crap foisted on us by Austereo et al.

There is something special about radio comedy done well – an olde worlde charm that’s deliberately a bit naff as well as intimate and endearing. The quirkiness that defines shows like the League of Gentlemen, the Mighty Boosh, the Day Today (
On the Hour as was), Little Britain or even Flight of the Conchords might not have even made it to screen test had they not had stints honing their craft on BBC radio.

Without 3RRR it’s hard to see where the Lime Champions could have existed within traditional media. Certainly not the ABC, whose radio arm doesn’t offer the same opportunities afforded to comedians by the BBC. This is a shame because Australian comedy would benefit massively from an environment where new artists can experiment and develop away from the stage and the telly cameras. Certainly the dearth of truly great Australian sitcoms this decade has to be attributed to a lack of space in which to polish new ideas.

Listening to Lime Champions there is evidence that the BBC approach could work in Australia. At 3RRR Eva, Damien, Josh and Justin have room in which to find out what it is about their particular talents that makes people laugh and get better at it. I think they have potential for much broader appeal but as great as community radio is, it can only take them so far. Talent like theirs needs a hand up to the small screen – and one that doesn’t expect them to water down what makes them special in return. As the ABC looks to secure a meaningful role for itself as a 21st century public broadcaster it could do a lot worse than defining itself as what the commercial stations are not – a home for new, innovative and above all funny Australian talent.

Catch the Champions live every Monday evening from 7-8pm on
3RRR 102.7FM or via their online stream for non-Melbournites. They have a Faceb**k thingy for those of you that way inclined, whilst podcasts of previous shows are available from the 3RRR website. Go listen. Aces. Nice. Yep.

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