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Brisbane Times
Joke awaits new punchline

Joke awaits new punchline

Sat August 18, 2012 5:45pm

Tony Abbott would thrash around for a winning cause if he didn't have Julia Gillard on the other side of the stage.

What is Punch without Judy? The famously violent puppet show marked the 350th anniversary of its first British performance this year. It certainly wouldn't have lasted without Judy. The unending quarrel and the liberal use of thrashings is the whole point. Without Judy, Punch is a stick with nothing to slap.

''One secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance,'' Charles Dickens explained in 1849, ''is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstance that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about, without any pain or suffering.''

Whoever heard of a Punch show? It's always a Punch and Judy show. They argue over who's holding the baby; they quickly come to blows; mayhem ensues; sausages are involved. There is no plot. It's a series of violent episodes.

A reporter for the British newspaper The Independent spotted the children's author Michael Rosen at a performance in May. He explained that the show, now enjoying a resurgence, is popular because it deals in real-life adult themes:

''It deals in its own fun way with all the stuff we get up to: scary stuff, funny stuff and sexy stuff. It's live and participatory and you can get people to join in. I always love the sausages routine.''

The Judy character wasn't always Judy. She was originally Joan. Or, as played today in Australian politics, she's Julia. And she is indispensable to the Tony and Julia show.

Tony Abbott has made the demonisation of Julia Gillard the mainstay of his political performance. The unending quarrel and liberal use of rhetorical violence is the whole point.

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