Tonight marks the 200th episode of TV3’s flagship comedy show 7 Days. Calum Henderson was in the audience for the show’s marathon filming at the Auckland Town Hall on Wednesday night.
I always wanted to be part of a live studio audience. Specifically, I always wanted to be part of the ‘Tool Time’ studio audience on Home Improvement. But with that dream having been unattainable for a good 10 or 20 years, I have to take what I can get.
After 200 episodes probably any Aucklander who’s ever really wanted to be part of a live 7 Days studio audience already has been. The show has been filmed at a few locations since it began in August 2009. It’s currently based in the NZ LIVE Studios in Parnell, but for its 200th episode extravaganza the show’s furniture – desks, chairs, Jeremy Corbett – was uprooted and reassembled in the Auckland Town Hall.
For quite a fancy venue the Town Hall feels remarkably reminiscent of a school assembly – as people took their seats on the rows of loose chairs they all shuffled back a bit, eventually leaving one row towards the back with about 10cm of legroom. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” said the woman who got up to get a drink. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” said the same woman when she came back.
The crowd warmer for the event was comedian Jamie Bowen. About 15 years ago he hosted the ‘Alt.’ show on TV2’s overnight music programme M2, a show I would religiously set the VCR to record and from which I once won a Sparklehorse CD. Now, he’s an energetic and slightly aggressive comedian who told us all to turn our phones not just onto silent, but OFF. “Be present,” he shouted.
He explained how the filming worked and all that. He got us to pre-record some claps and laughs and cheers. He told some jokes – slightly bawdy but good-natured ones to get us in the mood. One was a lighthearted take on incest, another had vaguely bestial connotations. They were good jokes, they did the job.
The 200th episode brought out some of the show’s biggest stars – in addition to host Jeremy Corbett and team leaders Paul Ego and Dai Henwood, we had the likes of Urzila Carlson, Ben Hurley, Josh Thompson and Jeremy Elwood up on stage, seated behind a pair of cheap tinsel backdrops, getting stuck in to the hot topics from the show’s previous six-and-a-bit years of existence.
People often try to compare 7 Days – usually unfavourably – to British news panel shows like Have I Got News For You or Mock the Week. But what if the show it has the most in common with is actually Top Gear? Jeremy Corbett is sort of the Kiwi Clarkson, which makes Ego and Henwood James May and Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond respectively. All six seem to share the same undying and mildly tedious obsession with ‘Not Being PC’.
The first round harked back to the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, and jokes quickly turned to the timeless un-PC comedy trope ‘Wacko Jacko’. The show never shies away from this bleak but accessible brand of humour, which is undoubtedly a huge part of its appeal and success. It can’t all be jokes about Uber and kale and suburban Auckland gentrification.
On TV the Michael Jackson segment will last maybe a minute, and will probably be quite funny, in spite of it all. But in reality each short and snappy TV segment goes on for an absurdly long time. For a good ten, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes the panelists riffed relentlessly on the life of a man who died over six years ago. Throughout the night Josh Thompson would continue to labour the joke to the point that it sort of went full-circle and seemed sickly funny again.
I had always imagined a 7 Days filming would consist of the jokes we see on TV repeated ad nauseum until they got the right take. But while the gags were naturally repetitive, not one was actually repeated. The incredible volume of jokes – maybe 5 per cent of which will make the cut – was surprising and impressive. Similarly, the skill and energy of the panelists to continually get things right first time, or carry on regardless if they didn’t, seemed uncanny.
The filming lasted over four hours. It was a bit like going to a live cricket match after a lifetime of only ever watching the highlights. Moments of brilliance amidst long stretches of tedium. Inevitably, the mind wandered. I would tune out and think about something else for a while, or furtively check my phone to see if a rare cat had wandered into my yard on Japanese phone game Neko Atsume. Every time I tuned back in they would invariably still be talking about the same thing.
During a round where the panelists had to caption a series of photos of John Key, I began to contemplate the ancient philosophical question: who actually watches this shit? At 200 episodes old 7 Days is New Zealand’s longest-running TV comedy, and seems to maintain an enduring popularity among a class of people who are often given the faintly pejorative tag ‘Middle New Zealand’.
Like hipsters, or Twitterati, does anyone actually self-identify as a Middle New Zealander? All we really know for sure about this mysterious people is that they are white (European / New Zealander; probably not Pakeha) and they bloody love John Key. Looking around the room, it felt safe to assume that they were fairly represented, and they were all slapping their thighs to jokes about how shit John Key is. Could this be the conundrum at the heart of Middle New Zealand? That they will laugh at a joke about John Key’s ineptitude, then go and vote for him anyway?
In the second half of the show Jon Toogood came out to perform a couple of acoustic Shihad numbers with the words changed to be about a topical (to the last six years) event. He had re-written ‘Run’ to be about Osama Bin Laden and ‘Pacifier’ to be about the America’s Cup, and performing them from behind a goatee beard (and in front of a 30-piece choir) he looked and sounded remarkably like David Brent from The Office.
Probably the best performance of the evening – and one which will almost certainly not make it to television in any meaningful form – came from special guest and former 7 Days “semi-regular” Vaughan Smith, a radio broadcaster who defected from the Mediaworks stable to work for NZME’s ZM last year. He appeared as part of a debate segment arguing against the moot that ‘7 Days should keep going’.
Smith’s speech made frequent reference to the seemingly shambolic current state of programming at TV3. “TVNZ is the fridge,” he argued at one point, “TV3 is the pantry. Good stuff gets put in there but it doesn’t last as long. The Tupperware is faulty.” He made reference to the recent depletion of the channel’s news and current affairs, to Campbell Live, to 3D, to Mark Weldon. It was critical and funny and was met with a mixture of muted laughter and confused silence from the audience. Mark who?
He lost the debate by a landslide crowd decision to Chopper, the strange parody of a now-deceased Australian criminal, whose pro-7 Days argument boiled down to the simple thesis that “we all need a giggle.”
When the show goes to air tonight it will be barely recognisable from the live version. There will still be bad jokes and good jokes and maybe even a few naughty ‘un-PC’ jokes, but the four-hour marathon will have been skilfully condensed into a slick hour-long special. Just enough to guarantee us a giggle, just enough to keep us coming back for more.
7 Days‘ 200th episode screens on TV3 at 9:30pm tonight, Friday the 4th of December.
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