The short lived return of Hey Hey It’s Saturday took only two weeks to remind everyone why it was put out to pasture in the first place. The moment came during the spoof talent-show segment, Red Faces, when a group of doctors did a parody of the Jackson Five, in black face. Oh but wait, there’s more: the front man came out.... in white makeup! I bet you didn’t see that coming! Apparently, nobody thought this would be in the slightest bad taste until guest judge Harry Connick Jr, visibly offended by the act, pointed it out to them.
During a break in the live show, Connick sought an on-air apology for the act, which he got, with host Daryl Somers admitting that it wasn’t until then that he realised how the act might have been construed as offensive, or at best, insensitive.
And therein lies the problem with Hey Hey both during its waning years in the 90s and in the reunion shows – their idea of variety is stuck somewhere in the 1970s. In the previous week’s Red Faces segment, there was a performer with a very clever song which he performed very well, but the act that got all the attention was a kid who took his shirt of and smeared vegemite all over himself. Who says family entertainment is dead?
Marieke Hardy wrote a brilliant piece in The Age last week on the subject of Sam Newman – another embarrassment to Channel 9 – that for all his sexism, racism and general boorishness, his greatest offence is that he’s not funny! My standing rule has always been that it’s okay to be crude as long as you’re clever. This just wasn’t funny.
Several points have been offered as mitigating circumstances:
- Most of the people involved in the act are of Indian descent or multicultural backgrounds
- They were re-enacting a skit they did on the show 20 years ago.
- There was no racist or offensive intent.
Even putting aside the black-face/white-face thing for a moment, they were taking the piss (please don’t try and tell me it was a tribute) out of someone who died three months ago and his grieving family. Did no-one think that might have been in bad taste? I know I had none-too-flattering things to say about Michael Jackson at the time, but I didn’t try to dress it up as entertainment. I tried to dress it up as analysis.
Harry Connick has gotten flack for overreacting. What part of “judge” do people not understand? He was there to judge the act and judge it he did. If he doesn’t have the right to react as an American to an act that recalls a still raw aspect of American history, then perhaps we should remember that next time we get upset at American wags sending up Aussies – like the time South Park put the boot into Steve Irwin just weeks after his death. We can’t have it both ways.
Daryl Somers regularly laments to lack of variety on television these days but the truth is, it’s bad entertainment like this that killed it. Yes, there was a time when no-one would have batted an eyelid at such a skit. That time has passed.
I have four complete episodes of that seminal variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show on DVD, complete with commercials. It’s a fascinating time capsule. Watching it in the 21st century makes one marvel at what anyone saw in it. It was just bad comedy, smaltzy singing and circus acts. The only saving grace of these particular episodes is some energetic performances by some young hopefuls from England who called themselves the Beatles. That’s why people remember the Ed Sullivan show – not Soupy Sales. Likewise, Hey Hey was great entertainment in its day, but there’s a reason the show was cancelled.
The aforementioned Marieke Hardy has a far wittier review of the Hey Hey reunion, written before this week’s controversy, HERE.