'Your heart goes out to the Australian Tourist Board': critical uncertainty and the management of censure in Chris Lilley's TV comedies
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Chris Lilley’s domestic reputation as a writer and creator of nationally award-winning material has largely not suffered, in contrast to other shows featuring provocative themes. What is distinctive about Lilley’s work that allows him to forestall accusations of ‘racism’ that other shows would face? In order to address these questions, this article investigates key components of Lilley’s comedies in three major contexts. First, I consider the work in the framework of post-2000 Australia. How might the depicted themes of aspiration and disenfranchisement dispose at least ‘middle’ Australian viewers to find favour with Lilley? Second, I look at the material in the context of ‘cringe’ comedy. A key theme that emerges throughout critical appraisals is the uncertainty about the ethical value of the humour. How do Lilley’s shows create a sense of critical ambiguity that plays out in Lilley’s favour? Finally, I examine the framing of Lilley’s non-white characters, contrasting critical responses to them with the reception of another well-known performance of blackface on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. How might the more contained criticism of performance and scripting flaws (that Lilley’s work received) displace more serious charges?