Friday, July 15, 2011

Faux everyman Dave Hughes vs Tony Abbott on the 7PM Project

I hardly ever watch the 7PM Project but managed to catch it a couple of days back when Tony Abbott was on. I was keen to do so because I'd read that comedian Dave "Hughesy" Hughes has been paying out on him frequently of late.

It's strange that Hughes is often seen as a "satirical" and "political" comic. From what I've seen his schtick is not remotely edgy. His Abbott jokes, though funny, are pretty benign. They mainly seem designed to make the politician out to look like a bit of a dork. The subtext is: Nah, don't vote for him. Bloke's not cool.

Compare Hughes to someone like Jon Stewart, who is also a leftie. I find Stewart annoyingly smug and arrogant. However there's no denying that he's highly knowledgeable, has balls of steel, and is an extremely polished performer with a razor sharp wit.

The "Hughesy" persona is interesting. Of course every standup presents a heightened version of himself that is inauthentic to a certain degree. Hughes himself is no different.

He is often described as a classic Aussie larrikin, the kind of bloke you'd imagine having a laugh and a beer with. Yet in reality he hasn't had a drink since he was 22. He's obviously clever and witty and that is not out of keeping with his working class persona. Yet his often blokey, anti-authoritarian demeanour seems at odds with the fact that he was at least comparatively studious as a kid and was actually dux of his school. He's obviously conscious of this because he's been at pains to talk that achievement down:

"I was the dux of a very bad year. I swear to God, I was. I was dux of the school, and if I wanted to do chiropractory, I wouldn't have been able to. I didn't get a very good score, but we had a shocker year that year."

And this dissonance came through in another way in the form of a little offhand remark in the actual show. Quite a way into the Abbott episode (just after the 9 minute mark) Hughes remarked that it seemed odd that working men liked the Opposition Leader, saying something like: "I mean, you're a highly intelligent man ... You were a Rhodes Scholar." Hughes is a comedian, of course. But he was clearly not joking here.

The attitude underlying this remark was elitist. He seemed to be implying that the workers were a bit thick. Abbott himself quickly picked up on this, countering with the observation that they were actually pretty smart.

Hughes also presents himself as a bit of a slacker, and if I recall correctly he ribbed Abbott about his fitness obsession. (The panel certainly had fun with footage of Abbott cycling and wearing his infamous budgie smugglers, which is something they've been doing often lately, apparently.) Yet if the Liberal Leader's retort was accurate Hughes is almost as much of a fitness fanatic as Abbott himself. At the risk of sounding like a glib media shrink here, it seems that "Hughesy's" antipathy towards Abott has as much to do with alpha male competitiveness as it does with politics.

The comedian's mild but clear disdain for Abbott, along with the painfully right-on posturing of his co-hosts, is also typical of Australian TV celebrities generally. They really do think they're special and superior to the rest of us. They feel it is their duty to guide the brainless proles towards correct thought and action. Of course, this always involves voting for Labor or The Greens. Such pomposity is always ridiculous, but it seems particularly so when you've built your career on being the Aussie "everyman" who is disdainful of authority. And that's something "Hughesy" has clearly done.


  1. Dave seems to have something in common with Bruce Springsteen. Projecting street smarts while kind of embarrassed by a relatively stable and comfortable upbringing.

  2. Definitely. Something similar could be said about Joolya, too. She talks about being the shy girl at Unley High as if that was a double disadvantage. But I doubt very much she was as shy as she says. And Unley is quite a comfy middle-class suburb, apparently.

  3. Jooolya, yes, the perfect example!