I was doing publicity for the film Tomorrow When The War Began back in 2010 and ended up chaperoning a few social media commentators when interviewing stars from the film. It was a role I’d performed on many films before then, and would perform on many films after, but something quite surprising happened this time around. I’d just finished a round of interviews with Andrew Ryan and when he had to go he said, “Let’s hug it out, Rob…” and gave me a massive, warm, and sincere hug before he headed home. It’s stuck with me to this day because while many “movie people” were really nice to me during my time in that job (you should see the awesome autograph Zack Snyder gave me after a massive day of press), I don’t recall any of them being quite as physical and warm as Andrew.
As he wasn’t on my radar before I started working on the film, I looked Andrew up and noticed he was in a TV series called The Jesters which was about a TV comedy team, and the lead on the series – playing the producer of the show – was Mick Molloy. I’d absolutely adored Mick during high school for his work on The Late Show, and after that on radio with Martin/Molloy. As of this writing, he’s still doing radio (now with Late Show alum, Jane Kennedy), and also the AFL talk show, The Front Bar.
Getting back to 2010, however, I was really interested to see this series! It sounded right up my street, in terms of the content. Plus, I’d just met one of the titular jesters and he was a top bloke!
Well, that was 11 years ago. What happened? The Jesters, as it turned out, was on a cable service I didn’t have. So I never saw it. No more, no less. From time to time over the years I’d think about tracking down a DVD version and would get sidetracked. However, in late 2020 I finally had the thought, found the DVDs of both series, and bought them. No more excuses, I was going to see it!
So what did I think? My first reaction was that the series seemed to be based on the real-life satirical comedy team, The Chaser. Not in a straight parody way as the series is more about what happens backstage and you hardly ever see them doing the actual show. More in the way that there were so many similarities between the real group and the fictional group, it can’t have been a coincidence.
For example, it’s revealed the guys came together doing a satirical newspaper at school… like The Chaser. Some of the guys went to a super-posh Sydney boys school… like The Chaser. The group has a “musical guy” and a “guy who dresses up and will go out in public and do anything in the name of comedy”… like The Chaser‘s Andrew Hansen and Chas Licciardello . The group causes a controversy and gets sucked into the whole, “how far can you take comedy?” debate… like The Chaser did in 2007 with the debate around The Euology Song. The list is likely even longer, but they’re the ones that come immediately to mind. Chas from The Chaser even appears in Series 2 as a comedian from a rival series called Stunted, so I think it’s more than fair to say The Jesters was totally on The Chaser‘s radar.
Each episode includes plenty of sly, sometimes quite dark, references to television and show business in general and a few amazing cameos in the first series turns into many more in the second series, which just adds to the meta nature of what the series is trying to do. Of course, these are very Australian cameos on the whole and would go over the head of many, or most, overseas viewers.
It would also be a crime if I didn’t mention Emily Taheny (who is really well-known for her character work on Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell these days), who acts as Mick Molloy’s able lieutenant, keeping the comedy troupe in line. She knocks it out of the park each episode and I’m surprised she hasn’t done more comedy series or even drama work. Mad as Hell would eat up a lot of time, I guess.
Shout outs too for Ben Geurens, Christian Barratt-Hill, Travis Cotton, and of course, Andrew Ryan, for what they do as The Jesters. They really do come across as a believable group of friends who now have to work with each other and maybe aren’t the friends they used to be as a result of that. Cotton is often underused. Susie Porter and the fantastic Deborah Kennedy round out the weekly cast.
Did I like it? Yes, I did. I’ll admit I wasn’t salivating at the prospect of watching each episode as it’s not a series that’s trying to pull you from episode to episode with a tight ongoing story and cliffhangers, but over a couple of weeks I worked through both series and I don’t think any of them were stinkers. It’s perhaps not Frontline or Utopia levels of satire, but it’s not too far behind. It only got a bit weird when the final episode opened and everyone was retiring, or leaving the show, or moving country, and it’s like, wuuuuuut?! It comes out of nowhere. I presume the series heard it wasn’t continuing and so the final script was amended to be like this, but it was too late to change the earlier ones? Who knows.