The Guardian • Issue #2051


Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe

  • by FJK
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2051
Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe

I want to like it. I like almost everything they do. I was really looking forward to it. I like a bit of it I’m glad they tried something different. But it’s not their best stuff. The last thing they did was an absolute classic. Try that one first.

This sounds like I’m talking about a band’s expectation-busting-but-troubled second album doesn’t it?  In fact, I’m talking about the Aunty Donna comedy group’s latest series Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe now on ABC free-to-air and iView.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Auntry Donna are a comedy trio from country Victoria who moved from live comedy through a series of YouTube videos, to their crowning glory so far, the 2021 Netflix series Aunty Donna’s Big Old House of Fun. Their humour has been described as surreal, and “post-modern” – meaning they make fun of the process of making a comedy show. They use a lot of music, and make very good use of CGI.

Anyone who has ever had a bad time with a Real Estate agent should search for “Aunty Donna Real Estate agent” on YouTube. I’m sure it’s a favourite with our comrades at RAHU (the Renters and Housing Union).

Big Old House of Fun, a six episode special in which the three Aunty Donna members have surreal and self-referential fun in a sharehouse, is the absolute classic. The trio also have the “locals made good” appeal, coming from rural Victoria to doing a show with Netflix, with guest stars such as The Office’s Ed Helms (playing neurotic producer “Egg Helms”) and Flight of the Conchords and Bob’s Burgers star Kristen Schaal (playing an annoying talking dishwasher). 

By the time Big Old House of Fun had been enjoyed even by out-of-it types like me, expectations were high. What would they do next? More of the same would have been fine, but admirably they’ve decided to stretch themselves.

So we find them in an 8 part ABC series set in a Melbourne coffee shop trying to be pretentious enough to stand out in a city full of pretentious coffee shops (and, lets’ be fair, very nice coffee). It’s a sit-com! No, it’s a surrealistic sketch show! It’s both! It’s neither!

Speaking as someone who lives here, I think both Melbourne and Melbourne coffee shops are funny enough, besides which it’s not like we’re awash with Melbourne cafe-themed comedy. Sydney hipsters have had their turn with the “Soul Mates” series from the Bondi Hipsters. Now it’s Melbourne’s turn. What could go wrong? Sadly the answer is “heaps.”

What has gone wrong, or at least fallen short, is that the self-referential humour is feeling pretty strained by now, and it isn’t helped by a succession of guest stars who combine chewing the scenery with looking awkward.

In fairness, as well as flat and not-their-best bits, there were moments that made me literally cry with laughter, and songs I’d cheerfully sing to everyone in my family if they weren’t so rude (the songs, not my family).

You also have to admire the work Aunty Donna have put in (ie, presumably, hanging around in Melbourne a lot) – there are a stream of spot-on gags about the wage theft, bullying, and manipulation that are the lot of a huge number of casualised hospitality workers.

Check it out if, like me, you’re an Aunty Donna addict. If you aren’t, go look at Big Old House of Fun. We’ll always have that.

Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe is now streaming on ABC iView.

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