On Politics and Stuff by Mark Humphries and Evan Williams

Reviewed by Gerard Healy

A quick, smash and grab look at Australian politics by Mark Humphries and Evan Williams. It’s a small, joke-packed volume you can easily read in a few hours, leaving you with a few good chuckles but unlikely to have made a very lasting impression. In food terms, it’s a light entrée before the main course.

Of the two writers, most readers will be more familiar with Mark Humphries, due to his on-screen presence as ABC TV’s 7:30 Report satirist and his earlier work at SBS. As the closing act on Thursday night’s 7:30 program, Humphries and his co-writer Williams poke fun at Canberra’s stuff ups, missteps and bungles. They can be very sharp and insightful, exposing the hypocrisy and double-standards of politicians and the media, but occasionally they fail to launch.

An example of this sharpness was the observation that questions fired at Julia Gillard when she was PM about her clothing choices, butt size and spouse’s occupation, are never asked of male PMs (50). They also asked the interesting rhetorical question of why we were so unused to and uncomfortable about having a female PM, when we’d had a female head-of-state for 60 years. As for a failure to launch, I thought they went on too long about Tony Abbott eating an onion. A few digs are funny, but not repeatedly.

Something else that gets the repeated treatment is the on-going gag about Murrays Coaches; as a way to get to Canberra and when it’s time to, “spend more time with the family,” as the political retirement refrain goes.

The duo had some effective devices for grabbing our attention, one of which was to see Question Time in Parliament House through the eyes of a Year 3 student (17). We know it’s a farce but having it put in a child-like way, reinforced the point. I also liked the spoof names of Australian electorates ( Division of Nissan-Pajero / Flinders / Fingers / et al). A cunning mix of the real and the made-up (28). Then there were the sly digs at our recent PMs and their supposed governing advice in an imaginary ‘On Politics’ series (88). Thus we had Paul Keating’s ‘On Hawke’ (crossed out and replaced with On Me) and John Howard’s ‘On a Morning’s Walk, Will be Back in Ten Minutes’.

Interestingly, their only dig at PM Scott Morrison was in this On Politics section, with his supposed title ‘On QF3 to Honolulu’ (88). A reference, no doubt, to his absence on holidays in Hawaii while the bushfires raged around Australia. I thought it was passing strange that they would sidestep the rich pickings available to them by not taking on the current resident of 5 Adelaide Ave, Deakin*.

Which brings us to the question of bias. Are these two progressives too tough on the Conservative side of politics and baby-soft to the Labor side? Well, it depends on your viewpoint of course, but I thought they threw around enough mud to cover themselves here.

Speaking of throwing mud brings us to their section on Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech about the muckraker. The former President argued that the credit should go to the person “whose face is marred in dust and sweat and blood…who is actually in the arena “ rather than to the critic (93). It seemed our two writers rather sheepishly agreed with this analysis, after bending their backs disparaging pollies left, right and centre.

Another target in this slim volume is the Conservative Commentator. This individual, they write, “firmly believes anyone who cheats taxpayers is scum. (Their employer excluded, of course.)” (84). The ABC is another pet hate of these worthies, Humphries and Evans write, except during bushfires. Quite amusing.

Unfortunately, some of their barbs about our current crop of politicians sting. One criticism is that too many are the product of very narrow career paths as political staffers. Their joke about Kevin Rudd not growing up on a dairy farm but in a filing cabinet in a minister’s office, speaks to a worrying trend. They lament the rise of the ambitious number crunchers over the well qualified and more broadly experienced candidates. Then there’s their dig at the number of “weirdos” in the Senate and their calculation that if the ratio gets too high, the Government will call a double dissolution election to flush them out (23).

*the address of The Lodge in Canberra. Some of their best work was done in the footnotes I thought, so don’t skip them.

Recommendation: A good snappy read with plenty of jokes to share with your soy-latte sipping inner-city trendies. Like all good comedy, it occasionally  makes you stop and think.

Mark Humphries is the winner of Celebrity Mastermind and his writing has appeared in The Guardian and The Sun-Herald. His TV work includes hosting Channel 10’s Pointless program and guest hosting ‘Talking Pictures’ on ABC’s Insiders program.

Evan Williams co-wrote satirical sketches for SBS’s The Feed and ABC’s The Roast with Mark. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian and The Monthly.

On Politics and Stuff


by Mark Humphries and Evan Williams

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733646560

104 pp;   $16.99 (PB)     $6.99 (e-book)

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