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.
Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit is a happy little comedy panel show/ game show hybrid which was originally created by comedians Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, and then transferred to television on Dave at the end of last year. The genial and very recognisable Dara Ó Briain is in the host’s chair, with Steve as Sam acting as team captains, and video game journalist Ellie Gibson as the resident expert. The show invites celebs to join the teams each week to play a series of video games against each other. These days I think the kids just call them ‘games’.
I warmed up to this little Bejeweled Blitz gem last year and was happy to see it’s been recommissioned for a second and third series. More proof that with the internet fueling the mobile revolution and people in all age brackets spending more time in front of screens that gaming is no longer niche. However Go 8 Bit knows its audience and is fondly retro and a warm nostalgic hug. The panelists are asked to come on and nominate their favorite games to play. They range from the ancient arcade classics to the modern commute time-killers, and from the massive studio franchise to the tiny indie developers. The games are adapted cleverly to make them TV friendly. Studio audience participation is encouraged where the audience bet on which team will win each game and that affects the overall points total.
So this is it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Amazon picked up the wayward Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond and threw a considerable sum of money at The Grand Tour aka Top Gear on the road. Episode one starts with Jeremy leaving the BBC and rainy grey old England behind in a made-up back story to romanticise the end of the old show. No he wasn’t sacked!, they’re desperate to remind us, it was just his contract wasn’t renewed! Haha! Because Jeremy Clarkson hit someone who worked for him. He got wound up for an incredibly pathetic reason and took it out on an underling. Haha! Because bullying in the workplace is fine. Hahaha he’s such a lad! Top bantz.
Anyway, with the past glossed over, his co-presenters appearing from nowhere and an insipid version of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ playing in the background we arrive in the Californian high desert at Burning Man Festival. They then spend a few minutes making the whole festival look and sound utterly boring. It seems to be chock full of podgy pasty white people, who no doubt leave a violent shade of lobster red. On stage we can swiftly tell that these guys are many things, but they are not rock stars or even stand-up comics. They’re at great pains to introduce each other as motoring journalists. So why do they have to do it so awkwardly on a big stage?
Well this looks daft. I rolled my eyes at the advert, but then I wondered, is it too silly, or just silly enough?
As long as a show is well-written, the acting isn’t too hammy and there’s some spectacular effects we’ll sit through a lot of stuff that sounds like absolute guff written down. For examples please see fantasy/ fairy tale horror Grimm(now inexplicably in its fifth season), fantasy/ fairy tale mash-up Once Upon a Time (totally ridiculous premise, carried off with some significant flair), ’90s cultural touchstone Buffy (Teenage Mutant Vampire Hunter) etc etc.