3 out of 5
Created by: Aunty Donna (Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly, and Zachary Ruane)
covers season 1
Before Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun was released on Netflix, there was a trailer, and that trailer did something that it was probably supposed to do for those – such as myself – unenlightened on a certain point: what / who the heck is Aunty Donna? I don’t suffer from “FOMO” very much; there’s so much content out there that I can’t hold it against anyone for missing out on bits and pieces of it – or for not being interested in said content in the first place. But since I do spend the majority of my life online, the presentation of this trailer suggesting that Aunty Donna were a known quantity more made me curious as to that what / who the heck question.
And so online I went, and after laughing my ass off at an Aunty Donna – an Australian comedy troupe of Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly, and Zachary Ruane – video, proceeded to watch all of their videos. More on that momentarily.
I do think that Aunty Donna is a great sign for the direction in which comedy is going, at least as far as my funny-findin’ tastes are concerned. My historical take is that we were stuck in fairly similar modes of comedy for a long while, perhaps divvied up by location. The majority of Americans were used to the wit of US TV, and then those with the inclination and time perhaps heard of recommendations from elsewhere – most commonly, I’d say, following a Monty Python line to other UK offerings – and followed those threads to further discoveries, but at a point where we weren’t yet cutting cords and physical media was still a thing, you watched TV / movies and found some comedies to your taste. With more accessible internet, there was growing awareness of those other cultural offerings, and we started to see – again, from my US-bound perspective – general tastes splinter. This was the dawn of the Arrested Development / Office-type comedies. Internet and social media continued to help things evolve – to more acerbic shows like Always Sunny; even to self-aware major network shows like Brooklyn 99. On the fringes, you’ve always had weird stuff – non-humor – and slowly but surely, we’ve seen that start to infiltrate as well. Now, with web shows and streaming shows capable of being on almost equal footing with “regular” TV, guys like Tim Robinson can premiere non-humor fringe stuff like I Think You Should Leave, and Aunty Donna – wholly internet (and locally, in Australia) established can turn their shtick in to a series that gets some top billing. I love their style of over-the-top nonsense – backed up by savvy self-awareness – and I am salivating at the possibility of this being the start of more and more shows in this vein, and beyond. So that’s awesome.
But back to those videos I consumed. I enjoyed them, surely, but I found that I didn’t quite laugh my ass off as much as I did on the first one. Is it that I just so happened to stumble on to the funniest one first? Did I “get used” to the comedy and then it’s not as laugh-out-loud thereafter? I think both of those are possibly factors, but I also think this particular style is very hard to do at length, for reasons that go back across all those decades of comedy: telling rapid-fire jokes is funny; making it all tie together in some satisfying way is funnier. Finding points along that tied together continuum to surprise your listener – jokes coming from completely unexpected directions – is the genius.
The first episode of Big Ol’ House of Fun – which is basically a loose collection of sketches from our trio, plottily synced by having them all live in the same house, and starting on some type of episodic adventure – achieves this genius. The hunt for a new housemate just keeps piling on more and more genius, and pushes on any possible expectations of limitations for their style of humor. There’s a lot of yelling – an Aunty Donny mainstay – but it’s balanced out by great visual gags; great character acting; great nonsense. And I guess the other episodes theoretically follow this trend, but the “surprises” come less frequently, and the 4th wall has already been so severely shattered on that first outing that the only thing left to do, maybe, is shout louder. Are the other episodes funny? Absolutely. I was not bored watching all of those Aunty Donna videos, and I was not bored watching Big Ol’ House of Fun. But the best moments were when the non-formula formula would be thrown in disarray, pursuing things that were incredibly unfunny, for example, like just mispronouncing the word ‘clothes’ for minutes on end.
The shorter online video format gives the Donna crew a bit more flexibility with this, although I appreciate that they kept this Netflix season short – six 30-minute episodes – to mimic that to a degree. Nonetheless, it’s still a new format for them, and we’re still taking our first big steps into this (hopefully) new-ish age of humor, so finding a longer lasting version of that first-episode formula still eludes. But damn, I have confidence in it being found, and I have no problem watching more and more season of Aunty Donna to witness its discovery.