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November 28, 2004

Review: Jeremy Hardy at the Arts Centre

Jeremy Hardy is an interesting comedian. Charismatic, but not as effortlessly as Eddie Izzard, likeable, but not in that puppy-dog Alan Davies style, a little bit surreal and rambling, but not as deliberately, exaggeratedly so as Bill Bailey. And he hasn't tried to parlay his routines into a TV career (though he's regularly to be heard on Radio 4 and writes for the Guardian). His USP is his mixing of well-informed, intelligent social and political commentary into his routines.

On human trafficking:-

It's our fault. We make it so hard for people to enter the country that they will do anything, even risking their lives with human traffickers. People who are desperate to get to a different place will enter into any sort of arrangement with greedy, ruthless profiteers; just look at the railways. Modern trains can tilt, not built for speed but rather to do wheelies to jump over sections of track maintained by Jarvis, a company that doesn't understand that "papering over the cracks" is just an expression.

The laugh that came when he hit the word "railways" was as much for the cleverness of the segue to a new topic as for the implicit insult. And come to think of it, another distinguishing feature of the performance is that he's one of a small number of comedians who mixes real malice and contempt, largely for politicians, into his material. Lots of comedians throw out casual insults or one-liners about politicians, but you don't often get this sense of real contempt and anger behind the lines.

But he's also good on the more personal, domestic stuff. On aging, for example:-

People in their late forties always tell me that it's a great decade, that I'll love it, that it'll be so much fun. Oh yeah? How come you look like sh*t then? Wouldn't you rather have the face you used to have, you know, the one where all the veins were on the inside, rather than the weird Pompidou-Centre-style thing you've got going on now?

I love the casual assumption that his audience is one which knows the Pompidou Centre well enough to appreciate the gag; sadly, it's becoming unusual to see a comedian whose references extend beyond the shallowest waters of pop culture. If you like opinions and ideas in with your comedy, this was the ideal show for you; it'll be interesting to see how Mark Thomas compares in a few days time.

June 10, 2004

Best sitcom ever?

The recent passing of Friends didn't excite much comment around here, and that's clearly a good thing. But what's the best sitcom ever? Clearly there's going to be some age-related issues here; if you're old enough to remember the prime-time eras of MASH, or Bilko or even I Love Lucy then you might reasonably be tempted by any of those. And if you're Anglophile, you might contemplate Dad's Army or Fawlty Towers. But for me, alas, the contenders are all American. In my "nearly made it" spots:-

  • Seinfeld. A work of genius which managed to stay consistently brilliant for nine seasons, something no other sitcom has achieved, and then had the smarts to stop before it went down-hill. No hugging, no learning, characters who were selfish, self-absorbed and obsessed – and hilarious because of it.
  • Frasier. Misses the number one spot because it has been so patchy over its lifespan. If it had stopped around series 5, it would have been the wittiest, most sophisticated comedy ever. But it ploughed on, lost its sparkle and reduced its characters to cariacatures of themselves. Shame.

So my winner would be my dark horse candidate: Scrubs. In a way, that's unfair to longer-running shows, because it's only had three seasons, so it could easily go horribly wrong in years to come. But for those three seasons, it's had the best characters, the funniest lines, the most whimiscal diversions into surreal fantasy, and of course The Todd. If you've never seen it I recomment giving it a try; Season 3 will probably be starting in C4 some time in the next few months.

Any gems I've forgotten?

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