When did all the comedians become sanctimonious televangelists?

By Michael Jensen.

If you turn on the television to get a laugh, you’ll probably find yourself getting scolded by a self-righteous prophet of liberal pieties instead, writes Michael Jensen.

Is it just me, or have the comics of Australia turned into preachers, moralisers, and puritanical do-gooders, whose mission in life is not to make us laugh but to tell us what to think?

Now, at one level, this is exactly what good comedy does. It exposes folly, and helps us to see with moral clarity what is right and what is wrong.

But when it comes with a veneer of hip – from a dude in torn jeans and dreads, or from a guy in a natty suit on a yoof program sponsored by the government – then it feels like a bait-and-switch tactic.

Turn on, tune in for a laugh, and find yourself laughing at those with whom you disagree because, apparently, they are scum. They aren’t cool, like us. You know, you and me, who just know so much better. Ha ha.

Exhibit A is Tim Minchin. Minchin is fancied by his fans as a latter-day William Gilbert. But doggerel sung to piano by a man trying to look like a waif is still doggerel. Rhyming it and singing it doesn’t make it true, or even witty. He picks an easy target – Cardinal Pell – and heaps invective on him. Well, maybe it was deserved, but it was scarcely courageous, or radical, or outlandish, and it was as strong a piece of sanctimony as heard from any pulpit.

Charlie Pickering. Image via Channel 10.

Exhibit B is Charlie Pickering. Pickering has recently moved from hosting Ten's newsfotainment show The Project to hosting his own ABC show The Weekly, from which he pontificates, well, weekly. In this recent piece on marriage redefinition, he moralised his way through six minutes of self-righteous sermonising, with an adoring studio audience bah-hahing at his every sly dig against those idiots who disagree with him.

This is Pickering's stock in trade. Let's not pretend he's doing anything less than scolding us, and preaching to us. He's a self-appointed prophet of liberal pieties.

Exhibit C is Adam Hills. Adam Hills has gone to England to make it big with his show The Last Leg. The Last Leg is more preachy than a televangelist's early morning show. The more moralistic it is, the less amusing it is.

The funniest thing Hills does is to call people with whom he disagrees 'dicks'. In fact, he seems to have given up on comedy altogether, and to have made his show a crash course in sweetly pious soft-liberal values. Want to know what to think, and how not to be a dick? Hills has got a half hour just for you. It is about as funny as a government pamphlet.

What's the problem with this moralising? The issue is not the piety per se, but the pretence that that's not what's going on. Why don't they all call themselves 'Reverend' and be done with? At least that would be honest. The pose of being an iconoclast, which adds to the comic an aura of authenticity, simply isn't convincing. These three aren't naughty boys, they are would-be messiahs.

They are actually deeply conservative, with a strong sense of universal and objective right and wrong, and a feeling of deep injustice when this sense is offended. They do not challenge the establishment and its values; they work for it, and preach them.

Only, it is not cool to own that out loud. You have to cover that with an ironic veneer if you want to be popular.

Dr Michael Jensen is the rector at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, NSW.

This post originally appeared on the ABC.
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