Comedy Community: An Ecology of Comedy on Community Media in Australia

Type: Research project

Status: As a pilot project and mission statement, I am producing an oral history of Channel 31 as part of an RMIT × ACMI X Residency in 2024–25.

Australia has traditionally been home to one of the most vibrant and multicultural community media ecosystems in the world, both on television (RMITV, C31, Channel 44) and on radio (2FBI, 3RRR, 4ZZZ, RTRFM, SYN FM, etc.). This has had a particularly notable and significant impact in the field of comedy. Unbeholden to the commercial imperatives that drive programming at major broadcasting networks, community media is a haven for diverse, culturally specific, experimental, boundary-pushing, political, and stylistically innovative comedy.

Community media is also an incubator and training ground for comedic talent, offering a high-quality and professional but accessible education in media production, a platform for the performance and development of comedy material, and pathways into roles at mainstream or commercial media networks. Many of our most nationally and internationally influential, popular, and beloved comedians got their start or an early career boost in community media. To name just a tiny few, these include Rove McManus, Hamish & Andy, Nina Oyama, Djovan Caro, Susie Youssef, Aunty Donna, Demi Lardner, Michael Hing, and Dilruk Jayasinha.

Despite our historically strong community media sector, and the central role comedy plays in the formation of our cultural identity, Australia’s community media organisations have long been under threat of decline or closure due to financial strain and the ongoing precarity of community broadcasting licenses. If this occurs, there is a risk that historically significant works of comedy media will be lost forever (or already are), as community media organisations generally lack the resources to adequately preserve their own history. This project aims to highlight, celebrate, and preserve as many of these vital artefacts as possible for current and future generations.