Australian comedian vs. The State.
There is a buzz brewing and the secret is slowly being let out of the bag. What secret? Well, that Australia isn’t just the land of kangaroos, beaches, laconic surfers, and sunshine. It is also home to one of the most conservative governments in the western world, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
While many Aussies cringe at his winking and his lies, Abbott’s God-fearing, economically laissez-faire, climate change-denying, gaffe-prone repertoire is starting to garner the attention of the world’s media, from Al-Jazeera to political satirist John Oliver.
But those looking for relief from the torrential flood of idiocy coming out of Abbot’s mouth don’t have to look overseas for a dose of comedic relief. Australian-based comedian, Jordan Shanks (aka FriendlyJordies), has developed a cult-like following through a series of news reports that offer a biting and sarcastic take on the issues being peddled by Australian political parties and their media cronies. The issues range from the rise of minor parties in the parliament to the environment to the release of Schapelle Corby.
Whether its portraying Tony Abbott as a washed up boxer or implying that members of the Liberal party are somehow the missing link in the evolutionary chain, Jordan’s videos pack a brutal punch. This in-your-face, hard to ignore edge is makes his fans laugh and his detractors fume.
As a self-professed fan of his satire, I wrote to Jordies to find out what makes him tick, whether he gets hate mail, and if he considers himself fit for higher office.
Pretend I am typical, fat American redneck or even a smart but clueless West Coast American hipster…how would you describe Tony Abbott to me?
There’s something to love for both. If you’re a hipster you’d like the fact that he rides a bike 2-3 HOURS a day. Sometimes he shakes the hands of word leaders in his workout gear, still sweating and apologising with a quick “Sorry, I didn’t have time to change.”
If you’re a fat redneck good news! He’s basically George Bush Junior with abs! Just as many verbal gaffes, loves oil, huge fan of god, he used to tear down pictures of Che Guevara in university and put up posters of the Pope. Super disciplined, uncompromising. He’s basically Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 and the little kid is Rupert Murdoch.
How did you get started making videos on Youtube? Or maybe better, how did you get your start in comedy?
I started out while I was interning at a major radio station in Sydney. Very sore loser thing to say but “I was glad I was booted out, man.” It was like the station manager read 1984 and thought “yeah, I guess a totalitarian regime would boost productivity.” His office overlooked the entire station while inbuilt radios blared the station’s air play 24 hours a day. I remember one day I was yelling over a commercial about, get this, a special offer for a women’s only gym where you got “a weeks free membership” even though basically every gym on the planet does that, to ask where Justin Bieber got his new tattoo, because that was my job for the day, to write a script about that when I realised – commercial radio sucks.
Listening to it for 20 minutes in the car is amusing but if you listen to it for 8 hours a day you either become numb like everyone else who works there or very scared for humanity. There are MILLIONS of morons who can comfortably listen to 10 hours of the same 10 songs injected with cash register kaching sound effects. This never changing routine of On air personality makes some smutty joke, foil laughs disapprovingly, cash giveaway with some easy to win game where you get about as much money as what a mediocre second hand car costs, song by Pink, advertisements, repeat. On the plus side, when I recently watched “On the Edge of Tomorrow” I could completely identify with Tom Cruise.
When I left disillusioned, I started doing what all mal adjusts do. Went online.
Did you start out with the idea of being a political comedian or is that something that came about? Was it something borne out of the circumstances that have enveloped Australia?
No, originally I just wanted to be a comedian, though I was always interested in politics and then came the godsend – Tony Abbott. Like I said before, he’s our George W. Bush. If you’re a comedian in Australia and you’re not taking advantage of this I guarantee you’ll feel like those traders who are kicking themselves even today about “damn I should’ve invested in Microsoft in the 80’s!”
My wife says you are insanely prolific? How do you find the time and what do you look to for inspiration? What do you do when your not making videos?
Aw, well tell your wife I said thanks and that I had to look up what the word prolific means. I guess because I’ve been a get ready…it’s been absorbed into my everyday vocabulary like that episode of South Park where Cartman merges with a trapper keeper… prolific reader of self-help. Highly recommend, everyone does the same because it irons out a lot of challenges in life. One of them being time management. I’m really good at it now because I read 20 or so books with some American guy in a business suit smiling on the cover in front of a green screen computer with the title “claw the day back!” When I’m not making videos I’m hanging out with my stoner friends a lot now. Even though I don’t smoke it’s just nice being around people who when you say “7-Eleven?” They all nod and say “yeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” I love that moment.
Do you have a personal favorite video that you have made? Is there any video that you have made that you kind of regret or wish you had worked it differently?
Yeah, my favorite is Tony Abbott vs Climate Change. By a mile. I love parodying advertising and I really think that one meshed nicely.
Oh yeah, of course! Pretty much every video apart from that one I don’t like to some extent. I think that’s the way it should be. Don’t you think that was Soulja Boi’s downfall? Sure, he created the deepest song of all time – “Crank Dat” but he didn’t seem to want to aim any higher. He got too comfortable with that one artistic triumph. Stay hungry, friends.
A lot of people who watch your videos compare you to the Daily Show or the Colbert Report? Is that something you aspire to or do you feel that you would like to create something different for Australia? Do you have any comedic role models?
Well it’s an incredibly flattering comparison. I don’t think anyone would say they’re both not immensely talented comedians and possess very sharp minds, but I don’t’ aspire to be them. They definitely do more good than harm but at the end of the day, Colbert and Stewart are suits. Hahaha, I really do think they’ve, probably very intentionally, sanitised satire. Made it corporate friendly, never really biting the hand that feeds them. Sure, they’ll have superbly cutting and clever remarks about a single corrupt politician or a talking head journalist, and I really admire the craftsmanship in their take downs, but rarely have I ever seen either of them touch on deep-seated institutional problems. I’m not saying I’m better. I’m certainly not, and their execution is miles above mine. I hope, however, that I’m at least aiming at the disease rather than the symptoms, which they seem to be fixated on.
Their “rally to restore sanity campaign” was a perfect example. Claiming MSNBC and CNN are just as bad as FOX News. The Republicans as wrong and misguided as the Democrats, what pathetic crowd-pleasing hog wash. What a wasted opportunity where they said absolutely nothing glibly. They make painstaking efforts to appear centrist but if you look at their coverage they won’t say the bleeding obvious. I can only deduct that it’s because of advertising revenue.
If I were to take inspiration from any satirists it would be of the Bill Maher and George Carlin ilk. I think in Australia we have an incredible native flavour to our comedy. It’s as dry as the British and imaginative as the Japanese. It would be a travesty to surrender that incredible style we’ve created, and so far I don’t think any of our greatest satirists have. But I think we can borrow a little from the Americans, particularly their venom. I feel we never drive the nail in hard enough, mostly again, because of media ownership. In terms of role models, most of them aren’t satirists with the exception of the Simpsons. That’s basically my aim in life: to make even one 5 minute video half as good as any random 5 minutes plucked out of seasons 4 – 8.
Are you optimistic about the future of Australia? Do you think it will get its head on straight and you do you think you are actually playing a part in that?
Australia? No. The world, yes. I think Australians are incredible individuals. Light hearted, witty, fun loving, down to earth. Great company. However, all of these have a flip side negative aspect. We’re lazy. Suuuper lazy. Essentially, it’s like asking “do you think a nation of Homer Simpsons who while lovable, sleep on the job as nuclear safety technicians are going to be ok?” It’s not that we’re not NOT going to be ok but we really do have the potential in this country to be world leaders in agriculture, societal development, information age innovation and we sometimes are but more often than not we end up squandering precious opportunity.
Obviously, there’s thousands, probably millions of exceptions, but in general we are the Homer Simpsons, Barney Gumbles and Lenny and Carls of the world. Every side of politics now begrudgingly admits that Paul Keating was probably the best prime minister we ever had. Tony Abbott constantly quotes him with the softener “I don’t want to be quoting Paul Keating my entire life” and then goes on quoting him. You know why he was voted out? The electorate thought he was kind of mean. He didn’t like the cricket. That really sums us up as a nation. Reason for voting out the greatest, most capable public servant we’re likely to see in our lifetime – “he didn’t like cricket.”
Do you worry about preaching to the choir or are just happy to have an audience?
I like to think I am. Obviously nothing in the grand scheme of things but every drop raises the ocean, and I’ve helped raise it by a few drops. Every day I get emails saying “I voted liberal, never again” or “you almost got me caring about politics.” I love reading that. In some small way I fought voter apathy and as a result made democracy a tiny bit more functional. The US have definitely been pioneering on this matter with tons of their citizens starting Youtube channels and Facebook pages. While it’s still in its infancy, believe me I know from working in radio, traditional media is scared. If enough of us start publishing, News Corp will become nothing more than a modern day telegram.
Your last video, ‘Democracy Werkz‘, was a vicious smackdown of some of the minor parties in Australia. Have you actually gotten any feedback from a major political figure? Any tweets from the members of PUP? Would you say most of your feedback is positive or negative?
Yeah, actually that was the most I got angry tweets from. The campaign manager of one of them asked me to take it down. Falling short of threatening to sue because he knew he couldn’t. The liberal party, surprisingly, only ever got angry at a video I did on shark culling. Which was really odd seeing as everyone in Australia was angry with them for doing that anyway. I’ll always take pride in the fact that the WA state treasurer had a nervous breakdown a couple of weeks after I released that video and, in some small way, knowing from how much heat I got from the liberal party for doing that video…I helped break his mind. Overall though the vast majority is positive.
I noticed recently you started writing columns on SBS, which is a bit of a departure from Youtube. What else can we expect from you in the future? Will you stay in Australia or try to make it big on Broadway?
Hahaha, every time I think about Broadway it’s like my brain “Being John Malcovich’s” Bette Midler. So I kind of do, just to see if my suspicion that her house is like my grandma’s but with a butler who she only sort of likes is correct. I guess my only long term goal is to continue growing the channel and get back to stand up, which was a main reason for going online in the first place. It’s just way too hard getting an audience without it. Youtube is kind of the Pokemon rare candy cheat of the stand up world.
Do you ever consider actually throwing your hat in the ring and getting involved in the political process?
No way! I don’t deserve to be in politics! I’m too stupid and idealistic. I’m basically Ricky Muir with the ability to talk. I would one day like to be in a position where I could get much more able, congenial and pragmatic people elected because I really do agree with most of the great political thinkers of history. We shouldn’t have everyday chumps in power. They just make everyday decisions.