The genius evolution of Aunty Donna’s Ellen skit

If you haven’t yet watched Aunty Donnas Big Ol’ House of Fun, sit down with some morning brown, a slice of Christmas pud, and settle in for two hours of the wildest comedy you’ll see on Netflix.

Melbourne absurdist comedy troupe Aunty Donna’s debut Netflix series repurposes many of the surreal sketches from their popular live shows, along with plenty of new material.

Of the bearded trio’s zany antics, none compare to the belief-suspending magnitude of a skit based on famous television talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. 

Its premise is simple enough: Ellen calls a viewer to help them through a tough time. What follows, however, is an epic tale of blood diamonds, a journey through space and time, and Car City Ringwood.

Ellen’s origins

Although Aunty Donna has been around since 2012, it’s unclear exactly when Broden Kelly first committed a near-indistinguishable impression of Ellen.

One of the earliest recorded versions of the skit featured as part of community TV station Channel 31 Melbourne’s Australia Day special back in 2015, where Aunty Donna took over the nighttime slot alongside former member Joe Kosky, plus fellow comics Demi Lardner and Luis Brown.

Here, Kelly explains to viewers he will be playing his signature role of Ellen in a parody sketch — a staple context-setter Aunty Donna adopts in their live show formats.

The execution of the skit is a simple one: Kelly barrels the camera for much of the runtime, speaking as Ellen in a phone call with Jessica, a woman down on her luck, played off-screen by Zachary Ruane. Meanwhile, the other cast members awkwardly munch on their Australia Day lunch.

It’s fascinating seeing the early, almost blueprint-like, version of the Ellen skit. Kelly and Ruane occasionally flub their lines, but their relentless commitment to the bit and chaotic energy launch the utterly bonkers scenario into hilarity.

Fast-forward to Aunty Donna’s 2016 performance at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, and it seems the lads have perfected the performance.

Both Kelly and Ruane feed off the live audience’s energy, escalating the hysteria of each unlikely plot turn. Kelly, in particular, is stellar as Ellen, deliberately not attempting a voice other than his own, generating infectious comedy — especially when he leans hard into his deep timbre.

Everything about the Ellen skit here is more polished, without losing any of the unhinged charm of the act. Many of the references remain from the early 2015 version, including copious Nissan Pulsars, a trip to Noosa, and a returned father from the Iraq war of the mid-late 2000s.

In fact, the only major change is the pop culture icon riding on a Galápagos turtle — remember when Iggy Azalea and Redfoo were things people cared about?

TV’s Ellen, now on TV

Episode two of Aunty Donnas Big Ol’ House of Fun features the Ellen skit as part of a wider plot about searching for a billion-year-old pirate treasure.

In this variation, Ruane and Mark Bonnano see Ellen — once again played by Kelly, except this time on a faux stage and wearing a wig — on their TV when Ruane receives a call from the daytime television personality and exits off-screen while taking the call.

What’s brilliant about the Big Ol’ House of Fun rendition of the performance is that it doesn’t shake the best part: your imagination. This time around, Kelly doesn’t ask you to suspend belief by setting the scene. The scene happens whether you’re ready or not.

It would’ve been all too easy to vividly depict each bizarre happening on-screen, but Aunty Donna instead chooses to continue the focus on Kelly’s charismatic performance through the TV screen — occasionally cutting to shots of Bonanno as he progressively loses interest.

This theatre of the mind is what the bit hinges on. The otherwise pedestrian location of a daytime TV set is juxtaposed to perfection against the overwhelming absurdity of someone going from winning a prize, to shooting a man in cold blood and ascending to godhood.

Arguably the best part this time around is how ridiculously hard the skit leans into extremely oddball references, such as the aforementioned Car City Ringwood — a prominent used car dealership in suburban Melbourne — plus mentions of the late actor Paul Newman’s line of salad dressings and his role as Doc Hudson in the animated flick Cars.

Among the Netflix-isation, references such as Nissan Pulsars and Noosa are replaced by the more international audience-friendly Toyota Corolla and Thailand respectively. Also, Anthony Lehmann didn’t make the cut — sorry Lehmo.

Take solace in the fact these revisions barely dent the Australianisms present throughout.

In an interview with Mashable‘s Caitlin Welsh, the Aunty Donna crew revealed they attempted to fit in as many Aussie gags as possible, the bloody troopers they are.

“It became a game for us, how many Australian references can we get into this show before the Netflix executives would tell us off,” Kelly said. “And they never did.”

“There are more esoteric Australian references in this than we have ever put in anything before,” Bonanno added. “There’s shit in there that doesn’t even resonate with me as an Australian.”

Even with some Aussie references dropped for the latest Ellen depiction, Kelly and Ruane’s unapologetic natural accents reflect the silly way we speak among friends. It just sounds funnier because a bald, ginger-bearded man with such an accent is claiming to be Ellen.

The 2016 Enmore performance of the Ellen skit is particularly strong, as there’s a joy in seeing a live audience collectively losing their minds at the surreal shenanigans.

This being said, it translates spectacularly well to the Netflix format because it doesn’t mess with what made it outlandishly funny in the first place.

About Author

Chris is an award-nominated writer based in Adelaide who specialises in covering video games and technology. He loves Donkey Kong Country, sport, and cats. The Last Jedi is the best one, no questions asked.

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