08 October, 2009

Obligatory Hey Hey post

Now does everyone remember why it hasn’t been on for ten years?

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
Um.... so? Are Indian people not capable of racism? And how were we supposed to guess their ethnicity when they had their faces painted?
  • They were re-enacting a skit they did on the show 20 years ago.
See above. Hey Hey may not have changed in twenty years but fortunately the rest of the world has.
  • There was no racist or offensive intent.
I completely believe this. The problem is not one of racism but one of complete tone deafness that the act made it to air before anyone stopped to think that in 2009, it might not be taken in the innocent spirit in which it was intended. Dismissing the act as “just a bit of fun,” only works if it actually was.

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.


  1. Yeah so now on tv instead of shows like Hey Hey which actually bought families together.. was a bit of harmless fun.. and yeah so it wasn't always funny... we have shows like um.. let me see great family entertainment of Neighbours and Home and Away... The ONLY family orientated Australian family shows on TV.. yeah sure we have shows like Spicks and Specks etc. .. but seriously not for families. OH and its ok for comedians to be racist.. sexist... etc etc and get away with it... hmmm where is the balance in that???? Geez just watch Good News Week...

    So what constitutes good comedy? Tell me where on Australian television I will see t hat?? Hang on.. most of the comedy on Australian tv is AMERICAN CRAP!!!!!!!

  2. Daryl Somers has never known when to quit. Just lie down quietly and go host 20 to 1 or something. Even Bert Newton knew when his time was up.

    Having said that, I didn't watch either of the 'reunion' shows because like you, I thought that Hey Hey belonged in my past. As for the Jackson Five monstrosity, when I saw it on the news the next day all I thought was "Wow, you don't think it's too soon to be taking the piss?" Racism didn't even cross my mind.

    Connick was right though. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation, black people still get a pretty raw deal in the US. Segregation was still being practised in the 1960s - only 40 years ago. Still a bit fresh in some people's minds to let something like the unfunny poor-taste black face skit go unnoticed and un-commented on.

    Anyway. Just my two cents.

  3. Anon, I really don't know what comedians you're referring to, but most real comedians know how to make their act appropriate for the audience. If Kyle Sandilands gets suspended for a bad joke about the holocaust (in fact, I think "bad" might be redundant there) because that's still a raw nerve for so many people (gee, I wonder why?), then I would expect at least someone in television production to take a look at this beforehand and say, "not a good idea!"
    Crap is crap no matter what the origin.

    Clare, like you, I don't see any deliberate racism but when has black-face ever been used in good taste?

    I believe there was still potential in the Hey Hey format, but the cast, especially Daryl were just past it, doing the same old lines every week. When they showed clips of old shows in the final episode, it only accentuated how stale the show had become. They did a live cross to Tom Jones, who just sat there while Daryl did all the talking.

    Interestingly, when Hey Hey was canned, Rove McManus was still signed to Channel 9. He would have been perfect to take over the show and reinvigorate it, but Daryl would never let it go.

    Hey Hey only ever brought my family together to say "I can't believe we're watching this crap."