From Le Chat Noir to the Weimar Republic, political comedy has always had a presence in Cabaret. Satirist Dan Ilic will bring politics, comedy and music to this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival with live show A Rational Fear.
When the political landscape gets bleaker and more ridiculous, it’s often remarked that at least comedians will have plenty of material. But for Ilic, who was in the US making satire for Al Jazeera during the 2016 election, a state of politics that verges ever further into self-parody means actual comedians are having to work harder, and dig deeper, than ever.
“Before and after Trump came in there was a stark difference,” Ilic tells The Adelaide Review. “After it became much harder to make jokes; Trump is a joke of his own, and in comedy it’s hard to have a joke on a joke.”
“Rather than making the regular apples and oranges joke you have to dig a little deeper to find the jokes that people aren’t really touching – the celery and the broccoli. We’re looking at issues as a whole, and finding ways to elevate or burst the bubble of sadness in other people’s lives, rather than Trump himself.”
Ilic first came to prominence through his work on the ABC’s Hungry Beast, fostering an investigative yet irreverent style that pre-empted the current boom in Australian comedy and news satire. “When I first started 15 years ago there wasn’t a lot of space, even when we were doing the first round of digital funding for A Rational Fear there wasn’t a Daily Show-style show on Australian television,” he says. “Now you’ve got The Feed, The Weekly, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, but also digital outlets like The Betoota Advocate and The Shovel.”
As executive producer on now-axed ABC news comedy Tonightly, Ilic played to an emerging audience whose tastes had shifted from their parents’ in both format and medium. Critics of shows like Tonightly and Get Krack!n often point to low broadcast ratings as a symptom of malaise in Australian comedy, but for Ilic this misses the point – the real audience isn’t camping out in front of the TV on Wednesdays. “It has demonstrably changed how everybody consumes their news. Social platforms have become the place where you would like your work to be distributed.”
One such viral success came through Tonightly’s musical satirists Bridie Connell and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, who will join Ilic at Adelaide Cabaret Festival. “Music and comedy is something that’s always been close to my heart, and we’ve done a lot of musical comedy, parody sketches in the past,” he says of the pair, who won an ARIA for their #MeToo-referencing song Sex Pest shortly after Tonightly’s cancellation. “Not only are they incredible songwriters but they’re incredible improvisers; they’ll play a couple of songs they’ve written, but then we’re going to take suggestions from the audience on topics in the news that week. They’ll go away while we do the rest of the show, write a brand-new song in 50 minutes then play it at the end.”
“A Rational Fear is a comedy panel show, kind of a bit like Q&A on crack,” he says of the show’s format. “It’s a bunch of comedians and funny voices on stage ripping to shreds the week’s news through monologues, discussions and sketches. The ethos of the show is making fun of how the media makes you scared of everything. We try to find topics that the media is trying to make us scared about, and then pop the fear bubble. The idea is you come in to the show filled with anxiety, and we make you laugh at the things that the world is telling us is scary.”
In addition to the general setting of heightened surrealism Australian politics has operated on for the past decade, the festival’s June date means Ilic’s panel will also be sifting through a new political landscape following the federal election. But, speaking before the poll, Ilic is cautious to write off the Morrison campaign. “I don’t think Scott Morrison is a bad communicator,” Ilic says of ‘ScoMo’. “I think Scott Morrison is very effective in his communication, he really has worked on being the every man, but in order to to be the every man he isn’t someone who’s extraordinary. He’s very ordinary.
“It’s fascinating to watch a former communications person who was in charge of selling this country people overseas go about his days discouraging people to come to this country. There’s this beautiful symmetry in Scott Morrison’s career.”
Whatever the outcome, two things are certain: politicians and the media will still be finding things for us to fear, and comedians like Ilic will be digging in to find out why.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival
June 7 – 22, 2019