Paul Culliver doesn’t control the media yet, but he’s getting there.
An excellent high school student and (by his own admission) mediocre uni student, his career started while studying the unlikely degree of Commerce and Politics. “I used my commerce degree to distract my parents while I backdoored my way into the media industry,” he confides. The media industry started paying, and voila – now he’s doing comedy and working on turning his podcasting into a business.
He’s also working on Paul Culliver Controls the Media, a news comedy quiz show. Think Good News Week, but for the current era. And live. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, there’s obviously a great history of great comedy news shows out there,” Paul says, “but journalism has changed a lot in even the past five years, half of the articles out there are listicles or Cracked articles or snarkily written Buzzfeed pieces, so we wanted to do a show that reflects what 2015’s media landscape is like.”
This show is part of a kind of series, all produced by Peter Hayward. Its sister quiz shows, also in Melbourne, are Alan Smithee’s Screen Test and Tom McLean’s Geek Out. Controls the Media will be their news and current affairs counterpart.
Paul was the obvious choice for this show, in part to his background in comedy (he created comedy radio and then television show The Enquiry which ran on SYN and C31) and also thanks to his knowledge of politics and news. “I’ve been into news and current affairs since I was a teenager. I think I can credit the Chaser as one of the first in-points for me. Then I went to uni and actually studied politics, and so all of a sudden it became some upstart teenager knowing a little about what’s going on to having some grounding in it.”
“I remember in my first year, we had a politics tutorial. In the first class, the tutor asked us why we were studying politics. Everyone was like: to become an aide, to be an advisor, I want to write legislation, I want to actually go into Parliament. All these different things, and I was just like: I just wanna write jokes about it.”
There have been plenty of politicians to make fun of these past few years, or even months, and Paul loves it. “There’s that old saying that even when Howard or Bush were in, comedians would almost be sad to see some great conservative leader go because it was just so easy to make fun of them. So there’s that element of ‘if Tony Abbott leaves, what else do we have?’ But at the end of the day, anyone in power is worthy of ridicule. It’s almost selfish of comedians. We’d rather the idiot stays in power – and when I say idiot, it’s a universal term. Politicians can almost always be referred to as idiots. (That might be a dangerous thing to say.) Someone will always be in power that is messing up or deserving of jokes being made about them. Generally, we love to make fun of Tony Abbott, but also he’s hurting the country. It’s two sides of the coin there.”
There’s no getting around the fact that most of the comedy crowd in Melbourne (and let’s be honest, most of Melbourne) tends to lean left politically. Paul is aware of this: “I don’t just want to pander to a liberal audience,” he assures me, and he’s also not out to score easy political points or demonise the right. “By all means ridicule, but don’t hate the player, hate the game, if I’m allowed to use that phrase.”
Of course, it won’t just be politics – anything in the media landscape or in the news, including quirky stories and celebrity gossip, will be worthy. It’s important that the show is accessible: “the big jeopardy of writing a quiz game is that it can’t be too obscure or hard because it won’t be fun.” But he’s not too worried about losing the audience: “We hope our audience will be switched on and engaged with the news of the past few weeks. Melburnians are switched on, I think they’ll appreciate it.”
As a part of the Melbourne comedy scene, Paul is anticipating the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, just like us. We have a chat about that – he lists off some of the comedians he worked with on the Enquiry (including Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall), as well as his sister’s (Cathy Culliver) Sinful Stories, a storytelling show at the Portland Hotel, and Wander Woman, also at the Portland. But his best recommendation is this:
“If you’re going to be seeing someone you know like your Arj Barker or Stephen K Amos, then go, and then go see a show by someone you’ve never heard of, a wildcard entry. Their tickets will be half the cost, and you might find your next favourite comedian.”
Paul Culliver Controls the Media starts tonight, and will run once a month as long as no one stops him, and as long as news and politics doesn’t cease to exist. And it’s unlikely he will run out of content, because let’s face it, when it comes down to it, politics is ridiculous. “Australian politics is inherently funny. It’s a stupid, silly thing, that does affect the lives of 23 million Australians, but we can make fun of it, and that’s a good thing.”
Paul Culliver Controls the Media plays at the Butterfly Club 10.30 Saturday night. Tickets start from $12, and the first show will features guests Gerard McCulloch, Demi Lardner, Sonia Di Lorio and Courtney Carthy. Get tickets from the Butterfly Club’s website.