AACTA’s decision this year to combine the best TV comedy and best light entertainment series into one category has drawn fire from some of the leading lights of the comedy business.

Actor/director Josh Lawson describes the move as “baffling and insulting for both categories” and complains there is only one category for acting- best performance in a TV comedy- compared with four for acting in TV dramas.

“What are we to take away from this – that comedy is somehow easier? That people who work on comedies don't work as hard? That actors who do comedy aren't as talented or as deserving of accolades,” asks Lawson, who stars in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (which opens in Australia on December 19) and in US thriller Crave (which launches in the US on Friday).

“What a slap in the face for all the hard working, incredibly talented Australians who work their arses off to make us laugh and help define our proud and unique sense of humour.”

Jungleboys’ Trent O’Donnell agrees. “It’s embarrassing the way comedy is treated in Australia,” says O’Donnell, the co-creator with Phil Lloyd of A Moody Christmas, The Moodys and the upcoming US remake of A  Moody Christmas.

There’s no argument for any of that from AFI/ AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella. He tells IF the decision to combine and reduce the number of awards was forced on the Academy by lack of funds.

“We did have standalone awards (for comedy and light entertainment) but we had to combine them against our best wishes in a rationalisation,” he says. “There has been some strong work in comedy this year. As an industry we have to find a way to support these categories.”

That will require a commercial sponsor to replace Samsung, a difficult prospect as Trewhella acknowledges in the current economic climate.

The nominees for best TV comedy or light entertainment series are The Agony of Life, Gruen Nation series 2, Please Like Me, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell and Upper Middle Bogan.

Nominated for best performance in a TV comedy are Lisa McCune for ABC1’s It’s a Date, Micallef, Robyn Nevin for Upper Middle Bogan and Josh Thomas for Please Like Me.

"To me it seems ludicrous that Gruen and Upper Middle Bogan are in the same category. I don't know how you could possibly determine a winner when they are such vastly different forms of entertainment," says O''Donnell. "You might as well have MasterChef and Gatsby in the same category. It's sad that comedy is brushed aside, particularly when AACTA recognition is something that could really encourage more comedy production."

Lawson isn’t speaking out of self-interest as he wasn’t eligible for any categories. “All I want is an entertainment industry that doesn’t treat comedy like the bastard cousin of drama,” says Lawson, who made his feature directing debut this year with the Australian black comedy The Little Death.

“The Golden Globes, the Emmys, the BAFTAs, all have separate comedy and light entertainment categories and all have gender distinctions in their comedy awards. Why not us?

"More and more Australian comedy talent will move overseas unless we create an industry where they feel appreciated. Australian TV comedy (is) too damn good not to be recognised fairly. We, the people, love you and appreciate you, even if the AACTAs don’t.”

There is one small consolation: The comedy and light entertainment awards will be presented at the ceremony on January 30 at the Star Event Centre, telecast on Network Ten, not at the lunch on January 28.

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