Deadly Funny is the Melbourne International Comedy Festival's national comedy competition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers, and as a pathway for aspiring Indigenous comedians, it's hugely important. Though calling it "important" feels a little unfair – the great luxury that your typical white male comedian has is that their art doesn't carry the burden of "importance", as he isn't automatically expected to be a representative of his community.
But Deadly Funny is important, not just for the talented performers it unearths and assists in pursuit of their dream, but for the audiences who are provided a much-needed variety of perspectives on this country and its people. In an entertainment landscape where the portrayal of Indigenous people so often inclines to pity and misery, this is a brilliant entry point to those who haven't yet been exposed to the treasure trove of humour that the Indigenous community has developed over the last 50,000 years or so.
This special combines performances from the 2018 Deadly Funny finalists with interviews with the comics and their mentors, including Kevin Kropinyeri, who won the comp in 2008 and is now a comedy institution, and last year's winner Ghenoa Gela, who hosted the 2018 final.
The diversity of styles and approaches stands out, from the world-weary deadpan of 60-year-old June Mills to the infectious energy of sparky youngster Ky Ambrum, Leon Filewood's immaculate political attacks to Maggie Walsh's ballsy home-philosophy. Between sets there's a lot of earnest theorising about comedy's purpose and virtues: many references to the ability of the artform to heal and bring communities together; but as with any comedy, the laugh is the point, and of these there are plenty. As you might expect from a collection of relative newcomers to stand-up, it's rough around the edges and not every gag hits its mark, but the rawness of new talent emerging is also what gives it the excitement factor.
Black Comedy brings Indigenous humour to the masses in a different way. An Australian sketch comedy that's made it to a third season is a minor miracle in itself, but Black Comedy continues to bring genuinely original and funny ideas to screen. Like the Deadly Funny stars, the writers and cast of Black Comedy are out to change perceptions, but their mining of white Australia's stereotypical perceptions of the Indigenous community – as well as the odd dose of that community poking fun at itself – succeeds because, simply put, there's a stack of good gags to be had.
It's hit-and-miss as sketch shows tend to be, but many ill-fated local comedies with bigger-name personnel and more intensive hype would gaze jealously at Black Comedy's hit rate. Highlights of series three include ocean-avoiding lifesaver the Bondi Blackfella, commercials for the Boomerang Brothers' dodgy discount store, and the fly-on-the-wall cop show Blakforce.
Both Black Comedy and Deadly Funny are important – like Cleverman's kickass superhero sci-fi, they are departures from the cliches of Indigenous television that do the work of breaking down preconceptions and opening eyes.
When TV shows are important, it's easy for pretentious critics such as myself to gloss over what's actually in them. It'd be a great shame to gloss over any of these artists' work – there's gold here for those who seek it.
Deadly Funny is on NITV, Monday, 8.30pm; Black Comedy (new season) is on ABC, Wednesday, 9.30pm.