Well I told you it’d be a vintage year and well worth tuning in for, but I did not expect that. What a night! Let’s try to put some of the craziness in context. I’m not even sure where to begin.
So Eurovision 2018 gave us a huge variety of music with many genres represented. In my lifetime I never thought I’d see anyone stage dive at Eurovision! The way the initial jury voting went the field wide open with any of 6 or 7 songs that could have won. There was pop, metal, dance, ballads, opera and loads of different languages on show, mainly by people who all looked the same. So much for diversity, but baby steps. We also had four female presenters, none of them particularly gifted in comedy or the essential schmoozy green-room chat, but fully female-fronted is a big deal. This was especially obvious as creep after creep giving the jury votes commented on their appearance, hilariously the Portuguese man was the absolute worst. He made my ovaries cringe and shrivel up inside me. Ick.
A quick word about The Generation Game which started on BBC1 last weekend. I don’t think anyone even raised an eyebrow when Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were announced as presenters. They’re the perfect pair on paper. And perhaps this was the perfect week to start the series with the nation’s focus firmly on entertainment shows, as poor lonely Declan Donnelly went solo on Saturday Night Takeaway. The Generation Game is a stone-cold classic Saturday night entertainment fixture, so the big mystery was why did the Beeb broadcast this on a Sunday? Do they get confused too about what day of the week it is when there’s a bank holiday?
So on Sunday, not Saturday, Mel and Sue in oddly colour-coordinated outfits welcome viewers to a stadium-sized sequin-bejazzled set. The pair are instantly very comfortable together making desperately cheesy jokes, as you imagine they do off-screen too. You’d go on as a contestant just to be able to give Mel and Sue a hug, despite the embarrassing tasks they have in store for you. The pair ably control the chaos and mak the contestants laugh, wandering around during the tasks, partly encouraging them and partly putting them off exactly like their Bake Off heyday.
Even thinking about writing this review makes me uncomfortable so I’ll keep it short. It feels disloyal to dislike Action Team given how much I adore Murder in Successville, how Vicky McClure and Jim Howick both are well on their way to becoming national treasures, and how I absolutely fancy the pants off Tom Davis. But putting all this aside, I offer you this warning. Guys, it’s not good.
On paper it’s got bags of potential – who doesn’t love a silly spoof spy comedy? Austin Powers is a cultural touchstone (if people don’t curl their pinky fingers when they say one million dollars, are they even worth your time?) and more recently Kingsman and Spy with Melissa McCarthy have been doing big box office business. So why not transfer it to the small screen? James De Frond and Tom Davis are surely the right men for the job, given how masterfully they combined cop show, comedy, improv and celebrity quiz show in Murder in Successville? And they’ve only gone and got Vicky McClure from the all-conquering Line of Dutyto keep a straight face as the straight woman. ITV were extremely confident, given the huge advertising campaign pumped out last weekend with posters everywhere, adverts on all commercial breaks and Vicky and Tom’s arses adoringing sofas at The Last Leg, Sunday Brunch and probably more besides.
Comedy roast are not all that common in the UK, despite this being the home of the Archbishop of Banterbury, Bantom of the Opera and the Bantersaurus Rex (lads! lads! lads!). While we’re very much at home with taking the piss out of each other in the pub, the playground and all-office emails, this kind of vicious verbal sparring in front of an audience is a format that we’re just not used to in merry old England. We leave that to the Americans, and a proud history they have of it too. Instantly this new Comedy Central show is a bit out of step for the British audience looking for funnies, with a post-apocalyptic set, macho gunshot sound track, and the studio audience expected to shout and point as well as drink and laugh. It’s all a bit too much to believe we can multitask like this.
I love stand-up comedy, on tv and especially live (shout out to the excellent Fat Penguin club nights in Birmingham – if you’re in the Midlands check them out), but I turned this on and watched it through my fingers. I didn’t was this format to fail, but it was bound to be a disaster, right? As The Guardian said “Roast battles and insult comedy? No thanks, we’re British”. But despite the silly gunshot noises and the heavy reliance on Paper Planes by MIA, the battles themselves were not as aggressive as I’d thought. If anything the style is collaborative; usually solo comics acting as a team, building on each other’s jokes, laughing at themselves and visibly enjoying the experience. I was all set to hate it but the four comedians in the first episode did such a good job they quickly won me over.
I’m Dying Up Here was on my to-watch list for a long time before I took the plunge. I’m sorry I hesitated, because it’s exceptional television. It’s American comedy-drama television series created by David Flebotte and set firmly in 1970s Hollywood. It was made for Showtime in the US and picked up in the UK on Sky Atlantic (exactly where you’d expect quality imports to pitch up). It has comedy pedigree in its backbone as it’s based on a book by William Knoedelseder detailing the excesses of soon-to-be household names such as Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman on Sunset Strip in the 70s. It’s also executive produced by Jim Carrey, and at the time of writing, the less said about him the better.
While based in reality, this is a fictionalised account of the premier Los Angeles comedy club, and the denizens who inhabit it, honing their craft to make it to the big time. That way real-life anecdotes can be revised, tweaked and magnified, much like the way a stand-up takes real life and makes it funny, constantly revising their act.
The comedy club is Goldie’s, owned and run by businesswoman and matriarch Goldie Herschlag (played by Melissa Leo, and loosely based on Mitzi Shore the founder of The Comedy Store). She has very little tenderness in her heart and is all about business. She cares for her comics in a way, but is very strict with them, and this tactic has proved extremely successful. What she says goes (even insisting one comic change his name after daring to play in another LA club). Goldie’s is only place where the talent scouts come from Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’, the big coast-to-coast American talk show. That slim chance at stardom is what keeps her comics loyal.
The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and suddenly there’s a bunch of new comedy series on tv. Here’s your guide to great things returning this week, and one show that we can really do without…
Yonderland (Sky 1) Sunday 16th October 6pm
Written by and starring the cast of Horrible Histories, this show now returning for Series 3 is unrestrained by facts or learning and transplanted to a fantasy land on Sky1. Nice and normal Brummie housewife Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas) is the saviour of this strange and silly land. She tries to impose some order on the chaos (fighting inept demons, going on mystical quests, dealing with the totally insane ruling council) while keeping her unbelievable double life secret from her husband Pete (Dan Renton-Skinner – brilliant in everything). If you’ve not seen the first two series, treat yourself because they’re all on Sky Catch Up right now. It’s the kind of show you need to watch recorded as Series 1 especially would make you laugh so loud and hard that you’d miss the next punchline and have to rewind it.
As part of BBC sitcom season, last weekend the BBC’s flagship science show Horizon covered the topic of laughter and comedy with familiar telly star and hard-working stand-up comic Jimmy Carr in the host’s chair.
It began as an awkward panel show with documentary sections and a little stand-up twirl on a tiny mini-stage that Jimmy seems to favour on tv. It was a consciously crappy set littered with generic science props, like they’d rifled through the dumpster from 1990’s-era Room 101. Jimmy should have been good at working in a strange hybrid situation (8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is usually spot on) but this wasn’t good, despite his best attempts… so more like 10 o’Clock Live then.The studio audience were nervous, and nervously laughed at how nervous they were.
Once the science started it was pretty interesting, if no less awkward. Sticking three Professors on a little sofa is not going to make the evening any less ungainly. Fortunately Jimmy asked incisive questions of the academics and showed his own comedy intelligence. No surprise here as he has co-written quite a scholarly work on the subject of comedy with Lucy Greeves called The Naked Jape – I got a second-hand copy off the internet last year and was thoroughly entertained and learned a lot. If you can get hold of a copy I heartily recommend it, whether you’re a stand-up comedian or just a lover of comedy.