The Australian Prank Show That Dared To Go After A U.S. President

How an Aussie comedy show pulled off some of the best political stunts of the mid-aughts.
The Australian Prank Show That Dared To Go After A U.S. President

The word “prank” has been completely devalued by the swaths of obnoxious Youtube channels that mistook pranks for mindless public nuisances or random acts of assault. If we had to identify a Golden Era of pranks, it would have to be the mid-aughts, a period blessed with the acts like Sacha Baron Cohen and “Jackass'' that encompassed the full spectrum of prank potential from political to puerile.

Somehow landing on both sides of the spectrum was The Chaser’s War on Everything, a satirical comedy series created by the iconoclastic and provocative Australian comedy group called “The Chaser”. The show ran for just three seasons from 2006-2009, but they took The Land Down Under by storm and scandal before turning their show loose on the international stage, running with the tagline, "Do you know what it takes to be controversial in Australia?"

The Chaser’s War on Everything pulled off some of the greatest, most irreverent, most controversial pranks of all time, with the crown jewel being the time they crashed a visit from George W Bush with an Osama Bin Laden lookalike. 

The Chaser began in 1999 as a satirical newspaper started by a couple bored Aussies at the University of Sydney in what was called “an attempt not to grow up” by founding member Charles Firth.

From the beginning, the group was mired in controversy. They drew considerable ire when they published Australian prime minister John Howard’s home phone number and asked readers to call him to discuss his decision to enter the Iraq War. The Chaser skewed political in a 1960’s anarchist way as they attacked their least favorite public servants above and below the belt.

According to The Chaser, the phone number was sent to them via an anonymous text message, and the decision was made to publish it only when Howard refused to respond to anti-war protests attended by as many as half a million angry Aussies. The prank made a previously niche humor publication by a group of college students the lead story on all of Australia’s major news broadcasts with the reaction split between amazement and outrage. 

The Chaser / Julian Morrow

In case you haven't spent much time in the commonwealth or seen Hot Fuzz, this is a very rude picture

While the group made a couple televised specials focusing on the Australian elections in 2001 and 2004, their first foray into full-length weekly television broadcasts was their aptly named seminal work, The Chaser’s War On Everything.

The show was structured as a cross between a sketch program in the style of The Chappelle Show and a traditional news talk show. Regular segments featured man-on-the-street style polls and one dedicated bit called “Firth in the USA” which showed Charles Firth in America keeping his finger on the pulse of “The Greatest Country In The World”, a phrase which has a mocking tone when it comes out of the mouth of a bunch of antagonistic Aussies during the height of the Iraq War.

The Chaser’s War On Everything first aired in 2005 when the contrarian comedians started the program on a relatively tame note – the inaugural episode heavily focused on the (then) recent passing of Australian media magnate and serial tax evader Kerry Packer. The very first segment featured the hosts, Chris Taylor and Craig Reucassel, carrying around donation buckets in a mall Salvation Army style to sarcastically fundraise the “Kerry Packer Memorial Fund.” When told by mall-goers that Kerry Packer had enough money to cover his own memorial, they replied, “Yeah, but it’s all in the Bahamas.”

Another topical 2000’s tidbit from the pilot – the very first fake headline in the news ticker at the bottom of the broadcast reads “Dick Cheney apologizes for shooting non-Iraqi.”

This was the tone that The Chaser wanted to set for their program. The group wanted to be the tycoons of too-soon at the cutting edge of poor taste. They relentlessly hounded hypocrites and tore down icons, living or dead, and their post-mortem attacks on Kerry Packer would hardly be the only time they ever besmirched the deceased – they attracted significant controversy when they aired “The Eulogy Song”, a cheeky tune about the canonization of flawed figures after their passing.

These kinds of segments garnered ire and awe across The Land Down Under while traditional news sources on TV, radio, and in print were constantly aghast at the audacity of their stunts, especially those directed at the media themselves. But as the controversy surrounding The Chasers grew, so did their following. The show moved from a late-night slot on Fridays into prime time on Wednesdays, drawing in 1.5 million weekly viewers.

Their magnum opus – also their most controversial and borderline criminal prank – was their crashing of the 2007 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, or APEC for short. Australia invited leaders from across the globe to Sydney in order to discuss the political future of the region, and no leader was more notorious in 2007 than the late-term George W. Bush. With no end in sight for the War on Terror, his arrival was met with thousands of disgruntled protesters.

Huge portions of the city were locked down for security purposes, disrupting everyday life in Sydney for a full week straight. However, none of the arrangements made by the Protective Security Coordination Centre prepared them for The Chaser.

The Chaser infiltrated multiple levels of the event’s security with just a black SUV, a tiny Canadian flag, and a couple guys with ear pieces. They got all the way to the hotel where George W. Bush was staying before letting the true guest of honor out to stretch his legs.

They snuck an Osama Bin Laden lookalike within shoe-throwing distance of George W. Bush. 

In the aftermath of the APEC stunt, eleven members of The Chaser’s production team were arrested and charged, and international outrage rained down on a group much more accustomed to domestic disapproval. The chargers were eventually dropped, but the international impact of the prank was big enough to launch broadcasts of the show in Finland, Israel, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, and Poland. America wouldn’t get the broadcast rights until we got rid of Bush, and The Chaser’s War On Everything began its syndication in “The Greatest Country In The World” on G4 in January, 2009.

While The Chaser’s War On Everything ran for just three seasons, The Chaser themselves have stayed in the public eye through various TV specials, radio programs, online publications, and social media pranks. When Facebook shadowbanned every Australian news outlet during their feud with the Australian government, The Chaser changed its verified Twitter handle to show as “Mark Zuckerberg”, tweeted at Facebook to demand reinstatement, and upon regaining their Facebook account, used their newfound Facebook freedom to publish a 600 point list of every verified instance of corruption by the sitting Australian government.

Someone tell “The Impractical Jokers” to step up their game.

Top Image: The Chaser / Julian Morrow

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