18th July 2022 marks exactly 30 years since one of the most iconic comedy shows was broadcast on Australian television.
At 10pm on a Saturday night in 1992, Australians turned on Channel Two (aka ABC TV) in order to view Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch and Jason Stephens make classic sketch comedy live their studio audience and the entire country for one hour.
Titled The Late Show, and under the watchful eye of Directors and Producers Michael Hirsh, Mark Gibson, and Joe Murray, the comedy team ended up creating 40 episodes (along with a handful of ‘Best Of’ specials) over two years, including bringing in Comedian Judith Lucy for the second season. The general format of the show was a combination of stand-up, live and pre-recorded sketches that covered a range of news of the time such as:
- The Gulf War and Saddam Hussein
- U.S. President Bill Clinton being elected and his womanising ways
- Prince Charles and Princess Di’s marriage falling apart
- The evolution of Australian currency
- World religion and foreign affairs
- Australian State and Federal politics
- Popular Australian Television series, movies and music
- Topical observations in sports
But why this comedy troupe? Known as The D-Generation from their Uni revue days (with different team members who eventually left to become Fast Forward – but that’s a different story altogether for another Google Search day), they had already developed a fan base from their time producing the TV sketch comedy show The D-Generation, which was shown on the ABC from 1986 to 1987, and the 4 specials made of Channel 7 from 1988 to 1989. Not to forget, the breakfast radio show on EON FM (later Triple M) from 1986 to 1992.
TONY: Well what we did is, we realised there weren’t too many strong actors left in our cast. So many had defected to other programs. We were only left with a couple of the original actors and people like me and Tom, and Mick and Jason had until The Late Show started had done virtually no television at all… so we figured there’s no point in bothering to pretend we’re actors. So we kind of developed this alarming, almost pantomime-style to the program, and I’m not sure if it’s actually a healthy trend at all. Because you try to do something subtle, but it doesn’t quite work.
(Source: 1994-01-00 Radio National)
Before The Late Show became what it was, there were a few attempts to get the show off the ground via Channel Nine, under the header of The Late Late Show, but head honcho Kerry Packer expressed that it wasn’t suited for his network. (You can actually see a snippet of a produced sketch from the unaired pilot on The Best & Second Best Of The D-Generation DVD under ‘Bottom Drawer’ menu option – or if you have the VHS – The Second Best video.)
Let me take you back to Saturday 18th July 1992:
It’s 6:30pm. You are on Channel 9 watching Hey Hey It’s Saturday broadcasting live from the Northern Territory where Daryl Somers is promoting their tourism campaign (and have John Farnham promoting Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy Emmanuel playing his tune Initiation). 8:30pm comes, and time to flick over to the ABC where UK police drama The Bill, probably hoping Tosh doesn’t spill his coffee and Stamp arresting another juvenile. Then 9:30pm ticks over, and a new UK comedy series of Smith And Jones starring Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. That’s warming you up for 10pm, where we have “The D-Gen / Late Show“. After the ABC ident, the first sketch is a produced one, with Tony Martin as Prince Charles, centralising on the crumbling marriage of Charles and Diana. After a Spandau Ballet joke wrapping up the sketch and James Brown’s Turn Me Loose playing as the opening title theme, we are launched into an hour’s worth of The Late Show.
Not everything works perfectly though for the first episode. Some jokes fall flat or are executed poorly and technical issues happen (such as the Countdown titles refusing to play). But the overall tone of the show is set: It’s loose. It’s edgy. It’s funny. It’s live.
SANTO: There is actually alot of stuff we have to film produce to fill in an hour of television and we can’t actually get it all done at the ABC, so we find it… it’s easier to just get the home video camera out and go out to places. And sometimes it’s really unintrusive to walk into a shop. Instead of walking in with like a cameraperson and a sound man and everything. It’s just a camera, and it’s a bit of a psychological thing. They don’t feel very threatened at all, it’s like – you know, you can actually ask them all sorts of questions and they don’t sort of jump up and down and get all nervous and all that.
TONY: It’s really fast. We weren’t joking when we said we filmed that thing – the Olympic Opening Ceremony in about 7 minutes. It was filmed in about half an hour – in our lunch hour. If we had done that with the ABC, that would’ve taken – with a full crew – would’ve taken about 3 hours. But it takes a long time, but you can just run out and just literally film things real quick.
ROB: It was an original idea – we had to cheapen the show. A few years ago we were trying to make a really cheap show, and so we thought ‘Hey! Use one of them video cameras!’ and now it works because to fill an hour of television a week, you know – that we’re using every resource that Aunty throws at us at the moment and more.
(Source: 1992-10-11 3RRR The Party Show)
Over the course of the first 20 episodes, reccuring segments are created, such as:
- Mick and Tony opening up for the show (with Mick occasionally not showing up with due reason).
- Tommy G hosting the Newsdesk with punchlines galore and Rob with his impressions.
- Mick and Jason hosting Muckraking – becoming the ‘watch dogs’ of the TV industry.
- Tony reviewing niche movies for Undiscovered Masterpieces Of The Cinema.
- Mick and Santo hosting Commercial Crimestoppers – showcasing shonky TV commercials they find and views submit.
- Jane interviewing Geoff & Terry Bailey (Santo and Rob) on their latest shonky scheme.
- Rob and Mick getting their stunt game on in Shitscared, with Tommy G questioning their every move.
- Lampooning childrens entertainment with very adult themes through Shirty The Slightly Aggressive Bear.
- Jane and Tom highlighting quirky moments from the history of Ian “Molly” Meldrum’s iconic music show Countdown.
- Mick and Tony giving particular people a kick up the butt in Sink The Slipper.
- Re-dubbing of ABC TV’s 1970’s black and white drama Rush and making it sound hilarious as The Olden Days.
- Mick and Tony hitting up the streets to have some vox-pop interviews with random Melbournians.
- Going on an adventure with Postcard From (Insert location here).
- Music parodies of hit songs, like Frente’s “Accidently Kelly Street”.
- Exploring Pissweak World shonky theme parks.
- Toilet Breaks featuring daggy music and performances (usually from The Magnificent Seven).
- Santo and Rob bringing their radio sporting commentary duo to life with Graham and The Colonel.
There were often moments that involved other Australian personalities, but were happy to be the butt of the joke. Here are some exclusive interviews of particular moments in the show, as part of the Champagne Comedy Podcast.
Here’s star of Channel 9’s sitcom All Together Now’s Bruno Lucia on being the punchline in Shitscared and Commercial Crimestoppers.
In Episode 13, Tony highlights the Australian B-Grade horror movie Houseboat Horror for the segment Undiscovered Masterpieces Of The Cinema – which starred Countdown announcer, Radio and TV personality Gavin Wood. Here, he mentions his work on the movie, as well as Jane and Tom’s tribute to Countdown.
Episode 14 had Mick and Tony go on a Postcard road trip to Glenrowan and explore the Ned Kelly Museum, having fun with the sound and light display and the wishing well. Owner Chris Gerrett talks about the segment and the work that’s put into the museum.
In Episode 20, one of the first song parodies was “Accidentally Was Released”, a parody of the chart hit Accidently Kelly Street by Australian folk band Frente, with a near-perfect replication of the video clip starring Jane as lead singer Angie Hart. In this chat, Angie speaks about how the band’s initial reaction was to the parody, and how she reflects on it today.
The Late Show’s humour was not for everyone. It did cop a lot of criticism from veteran TV and movie reviewers like Ross Warneke, Robert Fidgeon and Robin Oliver – mainly because it was on the national broadcaster and was an easy target, especially when it was ‘8 cents a day’ from your pocket, which is what the calculations were at the time on how much it was costing the taxpayer to run the ABC.
After a few episodes, The Late Show did find its feet, especially finding a strong following with High School students. Who didn’t record the show on VHS / Beta, keep clippings from magazines and newspapers and quote lines in the schoolyard on Monday?
When the team returned on Saturday June 5th 1993 for a second season, Judith was warmly welcomed into the team to bring more laughs and witty satire with her own take on life.
The set of the show goes from a dull marble green to a more brighter orange / brown / yellow-esque setting, which gives the show more energy. While some things were retired from the previous season (The Olden Days, Shirty), others were brought in to take their places, such as:
- Bargearse – a redubbing of the 1970s Crawford Production police drama of an overweight officer, with added fart jokes.
- Charlie The Wonderdog – A lazy labrador going on crazy adventures a la Skippy with the Pissweak Kids and Gramps (legendary actor Charles (Bud) Tingwell).
- More musical parodies – lampooning Australian bands like Things Of Stone And Wood.
- Toilet Break with less-than-amusing performances selected from the defunct 1987 talent show Pot Luck hosted by Ernie Sigley and judged harshly by Bernard King. (Even making Piffy the Bellringer a household name.)
- Rob and Santo growing moustaches and idolising David Boon with The Oz Brothers.
- Musical Finales where Tony gives Mick a mission to find a particular musical talent to perform a song, but Mick ends up ‘mishearing’, and gets a polar opposite personality to perform the song. (Joan jett / Kirner, anyone?)
Season 2 Episode 1 had a very iconic live sketch which was a synopsis of the (failed) Channel 9 soap opera Paradise Beach, where everyone pointed out every cliche used. TV Historian Andrew Mercado explains more.
Season 2 Episode 1 also had the first entry of Charlie The Wonderdog – a loving Labrador by the name of Charlie (Tom’s dog in real life) lampooning another iconic children’s show Skippy. The eldest Pissweak Kid Justin Anderson explains a day of filming.
It wasn’t until Season 2 Episode 4, where the famous “Champagne Comedy” moment happened with Rob, responding to an upcoming sketch written by Tom. Rob believed it was a sketch so bad, that it needed to be pulled. However, this decision was on a Saturday afternoon, hours before it was to go to air. So Rob suggested it to play and asked Tom if he could come in with a ‘right of reply’ in a suit and a bottle of spumante to soften the blow.
Another thing in the same episode, the music parody (Out Of) Melbourne Cliches was released to the world, giving Australian rock band Things Of Stone And Wood a larger fan base. TOSAW Lead Greg Arnold explains.
Also with Season 2 Episode 4, the Toilet Break segment brought us a young kid named Piffy The Bellringer. Real name Remi Broadway, his popularity was so big, they invited him onto the show, ringing the bells on Graham & The Colonel’s desk in Season 2 Episode 5.
The musical finales where Mick would stuff up the band requests Tony makes were becoming more popular, TV Chef and What’s Cooking? host Gabriel Gaté describes what it was like to be mistaken for Frente and sing his version of the song Accidently Kelly Street.
Season 2 Episode 10 featured a teenage Darren Schutz performing magic tricks on Pot Luck, and was highlighted on the Toilet Break, In this chat, Darren explains the response he got from being highlighted, and what the cameraman did wrong during his illusion.
Season 2 Episode 13 had another particular Pot Luck ‘Legend’ for the Toilet Break – Michael Warren. The Elvis-loving musician talks about the attention he received after being featured on The Late Show.
Season 2 had become very strong for the show. One of the iconic moments were the musical parodies where the songs became more popular than the original, such as ‘Skivvies Are Back’, a lampoon of the Australian band The Sharp‘s 1993 hit Scratch My Back. In this interview, drummer Piet Collins talks about his thoughts on the parody.
Other moments in Season 2 Episode 15 is where Julie Poulter was lucky enough to be the Work Experience Kid over two episodes.
In the same episode, Comedian Mikey Robins sat in the audience when Arnold Schwarzenegger (Tony) shoots Dr. Aaron Beaucaire.
Both feature in the Champagne Comedy Podcast, with Julie describing in detail what it was like behind the scenes, and Mikey talking about working with Aaron on Good News Week.
In Season 2 Episode 16, The Late Show travels to Sydney to broadcast a live show to celebrate Sydney winning the 2000 Olympic bid, and the big reveal when Bargearse (Lucky) was in the audience. One of the audience members Journalist Lawrie Zion, is a long time friend of cast member Santo, as well as a friend of the whole cast.
Lawrie spoke to the Champagne Comedy Podcast about the bond he has with the D-Generation, and how strong and important The Late Show was.
Season 2 Episode 18 sees Judith at work, bringing in TV personality Ken James and his ‘stalker’ sketch.
Ken chats to the podcast about being involved in the production.
Even the actors playing the Pissweak Kids felt stardom for simply doing pissweak acting. Brothers Nic and Justin Anderson chat about their time on the show.
With Bargearse becoming a household name thanks to the redubbing of the 70s cop show Bluey starring Lucky Grills, his daughter Shanra chats about how The Late Show gave her father a new fan base that lives on to this day.
The final episode for Season two was broadcast on Saturday October 30, 1993, with the final musical act being Don Lane performing Sinatra’s classic Saturday Night. While the cast wave to the camera, little do the audience know that this would the the final ever show.
The ratings were good, newspaper and magazine articles were all over the place. Merchandise consisting of t-shirts, hats, VHS tapes of “Best Bits” compilations were flying out the door.
Then 1994 came around. Where is The Late Show?
Rumours were going around as hot as Mick going off in bed. The truth being, The Late Show had run its course behind the scenes. The team were exhausted and had ideas for other projects (one of them became Frontline). Even if those projects didn’t come to fruition, Mick had his foot out the door if they returned for a third season. So after two seasons and 40 episodes, The Late Show was done.
During their run, there were 3 x “Best Bits of The Late Show” VHS compilations, and full VHS releases of The Olden Days and Bargearse. Fast forward to the 2000s, and the Champagne Edition of the Best Bits were released on 2 x DVD set with a “Volume 4”, as well as The Olden Days and Bargearse making the DVD presser in 2007 with extra clips of The Late Show hidden as easter eggs.
Why hasn’t the show ever been released in full or not put on ABC’s iView streaming service? Simply put, lots of the jokes are very topical and dated and a product of its time. The show was not perfect when it was broadcast live. Glitches, errors, and jokes do not reflect a fair representation in today’s world, plus copyright and music issues hinder any release. If anything, the Champagne Edition DVDs are a perfect reflection on what they were trying to achieve on a nightly basis, as well as the strongest material they created.
Here at ChampagneComedy.com we tried to organise some type of reunion in podcast form, but things could not come to fruition due to various workloads of everyone, which we totally respect. In late 2021, Jason Stephens did chat to us in detail about The Late Show, and how a reunion would happen in a perfect world.
In 2014, Santo mentioned to us in an interview:
It would be great to do a Late Show reunion or another Panel again at some point. It would be great. It really would. But then what happens is that it would get in the way of exciting projects. If we go back and do something, then maybe Thank God You’re Here wouldn’t have happened, so we just like to look forward to do stuff. Some things work, some things don’t – but we just keep moving forward.
But please, if you get a chance, listen to the podcast and escape back to a time where the cool things were tucked-in shirts, choker necklaces and staying in on a Saturday night to enjoy some…
The ChampagneComedy.com fan-produced recap of Season 1, Episode 1 of The Late Show.