Australian television comedy has made a bold return to form in recent years after some time spent in the dark and it’s brought a bit of that darkness back with it.
Liz Doran, one of the writers behind Please Like Me, The Secret Life of Us and Molly, knows only too well that comedy is at its best when it casts light against life’s shadows. “Life isn’t always funny, and a lot of the time it’s not actually funny at all,” says the experienced scribe. Doran will seek to dissect that point – and how it relates to storytelling – when she hosts a session at the upcoming New Screen Makers Conference here in Adelaide on July 15. Entitled ‘Tragedy + Time = Comedy’, Doran’s talk will explore the intrinsic connection between comedy and drama.
Liz Dolan believes the combination of comedy and tragedy is “a reflection of the human spirit”
Thanks to the popularity of shows such as Please Like Me and cult-hit Louie, comedic and dramatic writing have become somewhat blurred in what Doran describes as a “contemporary move”. Relatable but unique characters (often played by comedians) tackle life day by day, taking the good with the bad and expose the absurdity inherent life’s trials. “This is one of the things we do really well in Please Like Me,” Doran says. Yet, Doran believes that balance is key to this tragi-comic art form. Without enough drama, comedy can be trite and without lightening the mood, drama can be morose and depressing. Referencing her work with Molly, the biopic covering Molly Meldrum’s rise to fame at Countdown in the early 70s, Doran says that the “rollicking ride” they presented wouldn’t have been the same without “light and shade.” “Without the comedy, Molly would have been a bit serious, and also just wouldn’t capture the feeling of the time.”
Liz Dolan will speak as part of the New Screen Makers Conference on July 15
Doran’s background is mostly in dramatic writing, which perfectly complements her role alongside comedians Josh Thomas and Thomas Ward in writing Please Like Me. “Being comedians, what they bring to that show is the knowledge of how a story is going to play to an audience. What I bring is that sort of a story structure.” Please Like Me fits well with this new breed of dramatic comedy. Season-long character arcs and the exploration of sometimes confronting contemporary issues add far more depth to the series than would be found in more traditional sitcoms. Thanks to its popularity, the Please Like Me team found a new production partner and syndication deal in the US TV network Pivot after its first season.
Please Like Me brings light to life’s tragedies.
Doran says she’s proud to be involved in “a little show that could” having started in humble beginnings on ABC2, and that the team still retains creative control over the show even with its US partner on board. “I think the difference is that by the time anyone paid us any attention, we’d already made a first season,” says Doran, noting that the style and tenor of the show was nailed down by that point. With the fourth season of Please Like Me currently in production, Doran is excited for what the future holds. She is currently working alongside another accomplished screenwriter, Tony McNamara, on a new Channel Nine comedy. Doran says the new show (Doctor Doctor) is “a real comedy drama” set to weave those same strands of light and shade together again. “It’s a truism that comedy equals tragedy plus time. It’s a reflection of the human spirit.” Tragedy + Time = Comedy with Liz Doran New Screen Makers Conference Mercury Cinema Friday, July 15, 11:15am-12:15pm mercurycinema.org.au