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Kill Your Darlings, No. 3

‘A Bad Habit’: Chris Lilley and How We Rate Comedy

I know I’m in the minority when I write that I don’t find Chris Lilley – and his comedy series We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High – funny. But if popularity is the measure of a comedy’s success Chris Lilley must be doing something right: millions of Australians find him hilarious.

This is usually where the discussion surrounding the mechanisms of comedy ends. The impasse lies, of course, in the structure of comedy criticism, which is polarised into the categories of ‘It made me laugh’ and ‘I didn’t find it funny’. These are the two open graves of the genre’s criticism, beyond which – unless you’re some kind of comedy obsessive, dedicated to killing jokes to see what makes them tick – there’s nothing more to say. If you don’t find a comedy funny, don’t bother trying to figure out why that is – why would you watch a comedy that didn’t make you laugh? Forget performances, script, camerawork, design, mood, or anything else that comes into play with just about every other form of scripted entertainment. Either you laugh or you don’t. And if people are tuning in to it week after week, it must be funny, right?


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