Television Graeme Blundell gets to grips with Luke Warm Sex
Comedian Luke McGregor is on a mission to help himself — and his viewers — become better lovers
‘My one regret in life is that I am not someone else,” Woody Allen once said. It could be a line from the very Allen-esque Luke McGregor, the young comic you may remember from Rob Sitch’s popular political satire Utopia. He was the dorky red-headed and freckled project supervisor called Hugh, sidekick to Celia Pacquola’s scene-stealing Nat. He now has his own show and very amusing it is too. It’s based, it seems, to some extent on his awardwinning stand-up routine My Soulmate is Out of My League, which won the best newcomer award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2013.
The series, as explained by its 34-year-old star (he begins the first episode with charming hesitancy), is a crash course in great sex. McGregor comically undertakes weekly challenges and gives us plenty of take-home tips from the sexperts, therapists, scientists, naturists, tantric practitioners and sexual empowerment coaches he encounters. But it’s not just about “doing it”. Luke Warm Sex explores sexual confidence and personal identity, the nature of pleasure, the problems of intimacy and creativity in performance. There’s a lot going on.
“The main reason I chose to do this series was because I wanted to get better at sex,” he says of the show, as its writer as well as creator. “I thought I was terrible at it, I really didn’t like talking about it, and the act itself always terrified me.” But, having finished working on this series, he says almost with bravado that sex is no longer something that makes him anxious. “I finally find sex fun. I can talk about it openly, and I don’t even feel embarrassed buying condoms any more (still do with toilet paper, though, for some reason).”
The message seems to be if someone as nervous and gormless as this young man can get better at sex, defined in the show as any activity undertaken for pleasure between two or more consenting adults, then everyone can. (School taught him sex was something that happened only between a man and a woman, and at some point involved a banana and a condom.)
The style of the show is what’s known as docu-comedy, a format the BBC calls “factual entertainment with purpose”, a charming example of how TV genres these days play with each other. The production comes from Northern Pictures, a company that is increasingly being feted for filmmaking as entertaining as it is enlightening, its cinematic and journalistic sensibilities on show in series such as Kakadu, Ice Wars and the recent Changing Minds.
Its latest venture is similar in some ways to Judith Lucy’s popular ABC shows, Judith Lucy is All Woman (described as being suitable for anyone who has “ever been a woman, been in one or come out of one”), and Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey (“Why are we here; is there a God; what happens when we die?” ).
Like Lucy’s comedies, McGregor’s series is imbued with the personal while documenting a wider catalogue of experiences; comics, after all, are fond of using their craft for social observation, forcing us to look differently at the world. And just as Lucy does, dropping lacerating selfdeprecating lines out of those red-painted lips in that sandpaper voice, McGregor tells us things about himself with seemingly little regard for his own dignity. Sometimes they seem too personally cruel — too honest — to be funny.
Luke Warm Sex is another clever example of the way reality TV is able to remake itself in the contemporary entertainment industry. What director Hayden Guppy, producer Anna Bateman (who was behind Judith Lucy is All Woman) and executive producer Karina Holden give us is a clever hybrid of nonfiction and entertainment elements in which “real” situations are created for the purpose of the show. This is a constructed format that still allows the people McGregor encounters to behave naturally for the cameras and the humour to emerge organically from the situation, even though they have obviously been briefed by producers.
It’s still a form of comedy, one that emerges from a confrontation with the “reality” of contrived situations and induced crises. The immersive documentary scenes are cutely juxtaposed with sketches, some involving puppets and some cool animation from Nick Simpson, which gives this series a novel look.
It’s related stylistically to what is sometimes called “the life intervention” format of some factual observational shows. These programs mobilise professional motivators and lifestyle experts to help us overcome obstacles in our personal, professional and domestic lives.
They use different forms of self-management techniques or life-changing interventions, or simply resolve specific problems, such as how to sell a house in a foreign country, how to lose weight by finding the most appropriate diet, or how to manage finances better. Think: Frantic Family Rescue, which explores the good, the bad and the ugly of modern child rearing, or Making Families Happy and the way it uses scientific methodology to confront failed parenting techniques, broken patterns of communication and the inevitable lost parental romance, both of which appeared recently on the ABC.
The aim is a serious one, too, the humour a way into discussion. “Sex is always on television, yet never really discussed,” says Holden. “When was the last time you saw erectile dysfunction or male sexual identity seriously tackled head on?”
She and her colleagues take us into what is a complex, social dilemma — as she says, every month the word “sex” is googled at least 24 million times, and for young people in particular there’s a whole new set of rules and a whole lot of misinformation. As Bateman says, “The aim of the series is to promote positive change in the way we think about sex, practise sex and, importantly, talk about sex.”
In creating this series, she was inspired by the persona McGregor presented on stage at his stand-up gigs: a young man in his early 30s who personifies the high anxieties and hang-ups many of us have about our sex lives, our bodies and desirability. “The only person who gets embarrassed around Luke is Luke himself, and by watching his awkwardness we appear to shed our own,” she says in her production notes. “That’s why he’s the perfect person to educate a wide audience on the subject you previously couldn’t have watched in the same room as your teenagers (and vice versa).”
The first episode is a disarming, idiosyncratic excursion into some painful truths for McGregor as he confronts his fear of being nude and his dislike of his own body, the mixture of comedy and pathos persuasive and affecting. With the help of sex therapist Cyndi Darnell, an embarrassing Q&A session with his mum and dad, relationship coach Jared Osborne and a bunch of middle-aged snooker-playing naturists, McGregor goes from someone who wears bathers in the sauna to someone who can play nude tennis with few inhibitions.
As a comic McGregor is nervous and anxious to please, and like most of the proverbial “little man” clowns, he is fated to serve as the butt for life’s ignominies. But no matter how he’s pummelled by the physical discomfort or embarrassment, his eagerness revives him. His saving grace is his gallant resolve to succeed and somehow bring sexual nirvana to all of us.
He’s the perpetual victim of unrequited love, the slightly pudgy, red-haired guy who doesn’t like himself; the tumbledown clown with the toothy smile and double chins women want to befriend rather than bed, his sexual pockets threadbare. The continual urgency on his part for fresh experience drives him, adding depth to his comic likability. There is something happily childlike about him, able to act out impulses an adult would suppress, and it makes him perfect for this role.
Wednesday at 9pm, ABC.
Luke McGregor puts himself in all sorts of embarrassing situations
for Luke Warm Sex