John Conway Tonight: The weirdest (and funniest) new show on TV

You might’ve accidentally come across it like I did, angrily flicking away from Kerri-Anne Kennerley’s tedious Logies acceptance speech with a moment of “Why are you watching this?” self-realisation, only to be struck by the beautiful sight of a gangly man-child in a David Letterman suit, flinging cue cards at a bunch of tipsy 20-somethings and loudly yelling “Whaddya reckon?”

John Conway Tonight, ABC2’s new late night show might be the weirdest thing on local TV, but it’s wonderful.

From the obligatory opening shots of “downtown Darlinghurst”, what with its Chrysler Buildings and Manhattan skylines, to a Conan-esque opening dance number that’s already fuelled its own online tributes, the show is an off-kilter love letter to late night TV, shot through with the kind of live mayhem n television hasn’t seen since, I dunno, Recovery?

The show’s premiere episode a couple of Sundays ago already saw the crew setting themselves up as the ABC’s new guard, taking ballsy potshots at Q&A’s Tony Jones and the “dying medium” itself (“Everyone’s watching TV! Glad I got my own TV show just when TV was taking off…” Conway mockingly told viewers in his opening monologue, before thanking ABC2 for putting him on because it’s a good place to hide while he’s in Witness Protection. “If you don’t wanna be seen, ABC2 is where it’s at,” he offered.).

How does an insane show like JTC – with its community TV budget and censor-sweating theatrics, its unique brand of anti-comedy, all sinking punchlines and hammy one-liners – even get on national, free-to-air TV?

“I know how, a lot of persistence,” says Conway, the man behind the show’s (tiny) wooden desk.

“It’s taken me seven years to get this on the air, and about a year-and-a-half of seriously trying, just picking up believers along the way.”

“Believers”, a word Conway returns to often, is accurate – the show’s instantly picked up a devoted cult since its debut, not to mention the fans who fuelled its move from online curiosity to national TV show.

The comedian had been touring the concept as a one-man show at comedy festivals for almost a decade, before pitching the idea to ABC’s former Head of Entertainment (and regular Andrew Denton collaborator) Jon Casimir.

Casimir, an early “believer”, told Conway a spot on ABC’s iView “wasn’t impossible”, advising him to go off, “make some noise”, and find himself a legit production company.

And so he did, hooking up with GNWTV, the team behind Good News Week, building a fanbase with Facebook live-streams out of Surry Hills’ Lounge Cafe, and bringing in a new crew of rotating cast members, including sardonic sidekick Aaron Chen and outspoken ‘manager’ (and fish ‘n’ chip industry reject) Robert Tarocash.

“ABC2 have been brilliant, taking a punt on something so stupid and live, where no one has even been on TV before,” says Conway. “I hadn’t been on TV before. I was on Stateline in WA back in 2008, but that’s all.”

The comedian paints a believable enough picture of the show’s inner workings, with segments like ‘Whaddya Reckon?’ – a cut-n-paste job using the ubiquitous late night cue card in service of goofy puns – starting simply enough.

“Sam just held up a picture to me and said, ‘Whaddya reckon?’ and that was it. That’s it,” he laughs.

“We’re not like sitting around and f—ing remodelling the Tesla engine. It’s basically us messing around in a room.

“We used to have an ‘office’ in the Lord Gladstone Hotel in Chippendale, and it used to be just five of us dancing around and coming up with ideas,” he recalls.

“I actually have a writers’ room now, an office at Fox Studios! It’s a dream, and I can’t really believe it’s happening to be honest.” So… John @ConwayTonight? Whaddya reckon?#JohnConwayTonightpic.twitter苏州夜网/7UAjcOxbJz??? ABC iview (@abciview) April 24, 2017

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