All entries for Wednesday 03 August 2011

August 03, 2011

Show Me The Funny review

I wrote about episode one over here, and now in the spirit of Edinburgh, a preview of my second piece on the show. The real article will go up on the same site I just linked to on Monday, where it will cost twice as much. If it gets enough hits, you’ll be able to see the article on tour in the Autumn, either as an extended version or with a support act.


I should admit that the reason I’m reviewing two episodes at once of ITV’s X-Factor-for-stand-up-comics show, is that I spent most of last week half delirious in bed with man-flu, barely able to string together a coherent thought, let alone a coherent sentence. Of course, that was less painful than having to sit through an episode of Show Me The Funny. Boom. Nailed it. Except… well after the atrocious first show I was all set to give the next few episodes a good slagging off, but ended up quite enjoying them.

Yes, episodes two and three of Show Me The Funny were interesting and entertaining. You’ll note I picked two very specific adjectives there. Interesting and entertaining. I didn’t, for example, use the word ‘funny’. Because they’re really, really not.

But we’ll get to that – like the show itself, I’m contractually obliged to spend the first half of this review on the tasks that the teams have to perform. While in the first episode they were doing completely random stuff around Liverpool, these two are more focused. Their audiences are an armed forces regiment, and 12-14 year-old school kids. The tasks are doing a bunch of ‘army stuff’ and creating and teaching a school lesson. The army stuff is basically making them suffer through physical exhaustion for our amusement. Which is fun enough, and it’s nice that the most unfit team eventually win, with everyone else having given up. The school lessons are less entertaining but interesting in a ‘fish-out-of-water’ sort of way.

And then to the stand-up. I criticised the show hugely in the first episode for not showing more of the actual routines. In that episode they were performing to a bunch of Liverpool women, who may be a bit scary, but are essentially regular people, just like the rest of us. We, the viewing public, should have found those routines funny.

But when you’re performing to a bunch of soldiers that have been drinking since 6pm… well you need a different approach. Because what is funny to a bunch of aggressive people on their eighth pint isn’t going to be funny to your average sober guy watching it on TV on a Monday night. That goes even more-so for the school-kids. The point of the show is for the comics to read the room and the crowd and write material that will suit that gig. And that generally won’t line up with the desires of the audience at home. So I get why we’re not being shown more of the sets. Because even in short clips, nine comics performing filthy jokes to a room of pissed-up people isn’t funny. You have to be there. And drunk.

So ironically we have a show called Show Me The Funny that isn’t funny. Not because the comics are rubbish, but because the format is genuinely not designed to be. But it’s interesting in that it demonstrates the process, it shows how material is developed, how different sort of rooms react to different things and so on. Seeing the army gig get increasingly raucous and scary as the night went on was genuinely interesting. As a documentary on the process of comedy, it’s quite good. It’d probably be even better if ITV acknowledged that’s what it is and edited it around that concept.

So what happens? Some people do well, others do badly, Rudi is more scared of school-kids than the army, and Prince Abdi and Cole Parker get sent home for not being very funny. And I get quite annoyed because a second person gets sent home for “not showing us who you are” when the entire concept of the show is to adapt and write new material to cater to a specific environment. I’m fairly sure all the comics have a good solid opening routine that sets up who they are and where they’re coming from, but they’re not allowed to use it.

Kate Copstick is also happy to describe Cole Parker as “shit” based on only having seen him do three five-minute bits of new material. Which gets me thinking that the whole concept of the show is backwards: they should have given the acts a normal gig, doing their best five minute routine at a comedy club, in week 1, then progressed to the more out-there gigs where they do new stuff. It’s a hugely unbalanced contest, because some comics can just write more quickly than others. Some are really good at riffing with a room and some aren’t. But equally, the slower writers often produce better material, and the ones that can’t riff can craft and refine exquisitely scripted routines over time. Which is fine, because it’s just a reality show and it’s never going to be balanced. But to describe someone as a “shit” comic in front of a huge TV audience when you haven’t even see their actual act is grossly unfair. I’d say it’s a horrible reputation for him to be straddled with, but frankly I think I’m the only person still watching this and I’d probably still book him.

Meanwhile, Rudi Lickwood is still somehow in the competition, despite being told-off in week 2 for doing old material when he’s meant to be doing new stuff, and then bottling it in week 3 and leaving the stage after only doing three of his five minutes. He’s another great comic that’s just entirely unsuited to this competition, but at least the others are trying.

Next week they’re doing a medical conference. This makes me happy, as it’s the first time they’re playing to a, shall we say, ‘sophisticated’ audience. Hopefully it’ll finally be a chance for the talented gag-writers to shine. Maybe there will even be some actual jokes.

August 2011

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