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Eagle Boys Pizza. Footy. Four N Twenty pies. Grant Denyer. “Silly sausage.” Dogging ya mates. These words may not mean anything to you — unless you’re Australian, or you’re reading this after watching Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House Of Fun.
The new Netflix comedy series is the lovably dim, filthy baby of beloved Australian comedy trio Aunty Donna, produced in L.A. late last year with a team that included executive producer Ed Helms and guest stars like Paul F. Tompkins, Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman, and Weird Al Yankovic. The basic premise, for want of a better word, is that Mark (Mark Bonanno), Zach (Zachary Ruane) and Broden (Broden Kelly) live together in a house, and have adventures that include interviewing potential housemates, training for the ‘Lympics, getting the house ready for a visit from the Queen, and being sent on interdimensional spy missions.
Some of the sketches are adapted from their chaotic stage shows, like tone-setting opening number “Everything’s A Drum” and their surreal take on Family Feud (which in Australia is hosted by the aforementioned Denyer, a toothy, non-threatening television imp beloved by mums). There are also plenty of references for fans of their podcast and various YouTube series (the creaky door, the cowdoy, Lord Whoopie).
The absurdity of the comedy isn’t itself especially Australian — fans of Mr Show With Bob And David and Monty Python’s Flying Circus will be delighted with the nonsequiturs, non-existent fourth wall, and throwaway moments aggressively driven into the ground. The trio once described their live shows as “”, and they deliver a good chunk of their lines in the overenunciated cadence of a kindergarten teacher trying to explain a game. Think Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with a touch of Flight Of The Conchords, but with way more jokes about cum, an ever-growing pile of corpses in the trash outside, and one truly inspired, graphic stretch of mimed sex. The comic sensibility is deeply, deeply silly, and puerile in the joyous tradition of the seventh grade class clown. Butts and pooping your pants are funny, and they’re all the funnier here because the guys are Australian so they’re saying “bum” and “poo” instead.
That’s all to say that if you need to bathe in some comedy that doesn’t rely on tired Trump impressions or bleakly witty observations about how fucked 2020 has been, ADBOHOF is just the ticket. But it tickles me even more that fans of, say, Comedy Bang Bang might tune into this only to be confronted by wildly specific references to Australian culture that will fly majestically over the heads of American viewers like a bald eagle.
“It became a game for us, how many Australian references can we get into this show before the Netflix executives would tell us off,” Kelly told Mashable, in one of the few straight answers I could get out of the trio in a 40-minute Zoom call. “And they never did.”
“There are more esoteric Australian references in this than we have ever put in anything before,” says Bonanno. “There’s shit in there that doesn’t even resonate with me as an Australian.”
One of the least obscure icons to make a cameo is the humble meat pie, a year’s supply of which is part of a prize pack offered to the boys by Jerry Seinfeld (played by Deadpool‘s Karan Soni) for being the Funniest Ever. (It makes more sense in context, or perhaps less. It doesn’t matter, really.) Mouth-scalding ground beef and gravy filling in a flaky pastry casing, held in the hand and eaten at sports events or leaning over the gutter at the end of a night out, is as Australian as apple pie is American, but it’s unsurprisingly tough to find them in L.A.
“Our American art department had to get Four ‘N Twenty (brand) pies shipped over from Australia,” explains Kelly. “That’s why they look so manky, because they’ve been frozen and shipped, you know, by crate over the ocean, because we wrote a dumb little thing.”
When Americans pay attention to Australia — whether it’s half the country burning or just a local kid doing well in Hollywood — people get a bit overly excited. Seeing meat pies or commercial TV references in an internationally distributed and star-endorsed sketch comedy show is kind of the opposite of that feeling: Instead of the American gaze elevating a humble Aussie onto the world stage, Aunty Donna’s shoving references to the Hoodoo Gurus and now-defunct mobile phone emporium Crazy John’s into America’s face.
Australia’s cultural identity is often said to be shaped by two related forces of collective cynicism: cultural cringe, a conviction that we are inherently embarrassing, tacky, and inferior compared to the rest of the world, and tall poppy syndrome, the resentful urge to cut down successful Aussies. So it’s both heartwarming and deeply, specifically hilarious to see icons of Australian suburban mediocrity peppered through House Of Fun’s punchlines. Ruane’s unhinged, shrieking delivery of “THREE TOYOTA COROLLAS?!” makes the “Ellen” sketch funny on its own, but there’s a special extra layer for anyone who’s aware that every car given away on Australian TV between 1988 and 2002 seemed to be a Toyota Corolla.
Watching Aunty Donna and all I say is it’s about time a slick Netflix production made reference to Ringwood, VIC
— climate stripes (@burgotastic) November 11, 2020
“We used to go to Scotland (to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival) and we’d change our references,” says Kelly. “We had Scottish friends and we’d go through all the references and go, ‘What’s the equivalent of this?’ You know, Vegemite to Marmite, Grant Denyer to a pile of shit.” (This joke is rapidly walked back by all three, fearing the wrath of Denyer’s legions of fans.)
“After a few years, we realized that people like when they don’t understand things,” Kelly goes on. “Like, we’re the exotic thing from overseas — you can be talking about (morning TV host) Karl Stefanovic. And they’re like, ‘That’s so exotic and whimsical.’ When you reference Karl Stefanovic, it’s like sipping rum out of a pineapple or a coconut. That’s what it feels like.”
The appeal of Aunty Donna is universal, though. One of their best sketches, “Pud”, takes the familiar oh-go-on-then charade of the last course of Christmas dinner and turns it inside out, the camera pulling in uncomfortably close as the boys repeat variations on “cheeky pud”, voices deepening to unearthly timbres and eyes bulging. It’s the kind of sketch that immediately burrows into your lexicon and pops up whenever the situation calls for it — like, it turns out, on the set of Amazon’s The Boys. Series leads Jack Quaid and Anthony Starr each appear in a House Of Fun sketch; Quaid — a huge Aunty Donna stan — even recorded a theme song for Bonanno’s Twitch channel, and seems to be responsible for turning his co-stars onto the trio.
“We’ve been told by Homelander (Starr) and Jack Quaid — because that’s their names,” says Kelly, “that Karl Urban and Erin (Moriarty) and all the cast are always quoting one of our sketches, ‘Pud’, on set.”
“The image of everyone on the set of The Boys quoting ‘Pud’ was almost too much for me,” says Ruane. “That’s so silly. That’s a silly thing.”
Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House Of Fun is streaming now on Netflix.
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