Dear Show Me The Funny, (ITV1, Mondays @9pm)
First of all I’d like to say welcome, and thank you for trying to bring stand-up comedy back to the fore on mainstream British TV, the idea of it is very welcome and it’s so nice to see comedy presented in some way other than a panel show. So yes, thank you for trying. Sincerely. Now on to the multitude of reasons why you’ve already failed.
You know the bit in Strictly Come Dancing where the contestants go around Cheltenham on a scavenger hunt – desperately scrambling around trying to find a wooden leg, a ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat and a rape alarm – and the first team back with all the stuff gets to choose between the Bolero and the Lambada (yes, the Forbidden Dance!)?
Well surely you must be familiar with the show ‘A Place in the Sun’ where couples who are desperate to flee Britain seek property abroad hoping to get away from their mentally unstable exes and believing, wrongly, that being in a sunnier climate will somehow rescue them from the misery their sham of a marriage has become? Yes? Excellent. Well you know the bit right at the beginning where there’s three couples and only the pair who manages to give the best performance of Kylie and Jason hit ‘Especially For You’ gets the free trip to Greece where they almost certainly won’t buy any property?
I don’t know what to say. Oh yes, that’s right. You don’t know of these because they’re fictional. You see, for some reason the producers of these incredibly succesful formats have kept things simple. I know, buffoons eh? They’re under the impression that someone tuning into a show called ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is, primarly, interested in seeing what the celebrities are like at dancing, sure they throw a bit of a training montage in there, but the general theme remains on the dancing. Likewise ‘A Place in the Sun’ tends to focus on the properties, with only a small dose of the general dismay at the route of the fleeing couples flight of fancy – there’s quite literally no mention of any of their duetting prowess.
Why am I waffling on about all this you’re probably thinking, well it’s because you lack focus. If you were focused the point I was making would have been obvious about 150 words ago.
Yes, so I tuned in, excited to watch ten working comics fighting tooth and nail to deliver the best five minutes of new material they could muster for their specific audience. “That…” I thought to myself whilst making a pre-broadcast cup of tea (white, one sugar) “…is a strong format. This…” I continued to think, having accidentally poured water from the kettle straight into the sugar bowl because I was thinking too much about your show and, ironically enough, not focusing on the matter in hand “…should be good.” then I stopped thinking and cleared up.
You can, I’m sure, imagine my surprise when the first part came and went without any stand up whatsoever. Fair enough, or at least it would be if you’d spent any time at all introducing these ten comedians to me (for the sake of accuracy I’m going to presume that I’m the only person in Britain that watched the entire show, so ‘me’ = your audience), but you didn’t do that did you? No, you paired them up and sent them on a series of dull and meaningless fools errands around Liverpool. Don’t get me wrong, if there was a show called “Shitty City Centre Shit Search” I’d Sky+ the bastard faster than you can hilariously say “Are you called Michelle?”, I’m sure that show would be an unending rollercoaster of excitement, lurching from one dull hunt to the next and looping the loop of banality.
There isn’t a show called that. There isn’t a show like that – and do you now why? It’s because even for those doing these ‘tasks’ it’s an exercise in utter futility, a waste of time and energy almost beyond compare. The fact that this shit storm took up the whole first half of the show was, at best, bewildering and at worst a cry for help from the producer. The fact that it was so arse clenchingly bad that I kept jabbing myself with a compass just to make sure I could still feel something – anything – is unforgivable. “When are they going to show the stand up? For God’s sake when?” I found I had carved into my forearm, losing quite a lot of blood in the process.
Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long for the answer: Never.
Yes, technically you showed a bit of each of them: An intro from the opening act that clearly was not ‘all new material’; nearly a minute from the pretty woman; the opening line from police officer Alfie (who I’ve seen, and I know is funny) and a few lines here and there from others – some clearly written for this audience, others clearly not – and then a long and painful stint from the Fred and Rose West of comedy (i.e. they spotted comedy on the street, took it home, made it watch whilst they performed unspeakable sex acts on one another, killed it, buried it in the garden, and somehow got away without capture for years) Prince ‘being London-centric is funny, apparently’ Abdi and Ignacio ‘couldn’t gauge the mood at an autopsy’ Lopez. I’d like to say that these two were comfortably the worst, but I don’t know because:
a) I didn’t see enough of the others to make any kind of judgement
b) I actually heard more from Jason ‘can’t believe he used his own twitter account’ Manford, and
c) I’m not prepared to take Alan Davies word for it when it comes to stand-up
So before I knew it the stand-up had come and gone, two we didn’t really see got praised, two we didn’t really see got chastised and marginally the lesser of two evils got given a belt, a stool and was sent back to his cell to ‘have a think’.
That was it. I looked everywhere, fully expecting there to be something more, and found nothing. A whole TV hour about stand-up comedy, featuring 10 of the best ‘undiscovered’ comics in the country and it featured about five minutes of people standing up and telling ‘jokes’. Look in the mirror and tell me that you’re proud of that. Seriously.
ITV have given you a big pot of cash and (I think it’s fair to presume) a pretty blank canvas and said “Go forth, brave Chief Big Talk, and bring me some comedy!” and this stinking, confused pile is what you manage? Pardon my French, but how fucking pathetic is that? You had not only an amazing opportunity, but a responsibility here and you blew them both. Here are your faults and their solutions. It’s nothing insightful, it’s all obvious, and how you managed to miss them is a mystery to me.
Fault – The Tasks – nobody cares. They’re pointless. People did not tune in to this show to see a shitty watered down version of the worst episode of The Apprentice.
Solution – Just let them draw straws to see who goes where. Or take it in turns. Nobody cares. Immediately I’ve freed up about 25 minutes that you could spend letting us get to know the people or, I don’t know, making us laugh.
Fault – The ‘Specific’ Audience – this one’s two fold, because firstly we don’t actually get to learn enough about why the comics are going to find it difficult (we get snippets, but that’s not enough) and secondly because it would seem that some of the comics can just choose to ignore the “Write a new 5 minute set” and just regurgitate old stuff.
Solution – Spend some of that extra time with a bit of a tutorial on why audiences are difficult to write for, how routines get written and worked on and so forth. On the second point, any comic who doesn’t show sufficient focus to new material should get a yellow card – three yellows and you leave the process (I went to the Graham Poll school of refereeing)
Fault – The Performances – surely the main point of the show? No, clearly just a minor inconvenience to you, showing – on average – about 20 seconds of each routine.
Solution – Lose all the superfluous crap that litters your show like dog shit pn a football pitch and show more of the routines. Show at least one in it’s entirety and actual highlights (at least a full minute) from each of the others. It’s why we tune in. It’s what we’re interested in. It’s what will have people at home picking their favourites and caring in the slightest about tuning in again. Mores the point it’s what the show is about. Stand up. Comedy. People telling jokes. Jesus, this is simple stuff.
Fault – Jason Manford – normally this would be followed by some snidey comments about how he annoys me, which he does, but there is no question that on this subject he knows his onions, and his insights on the process were not only interesting and informative but also very welcome. So why have you made nothing of them? Why is he lurking by the stage door like a middle aged Take That fan hoping to stroke Gary’s crotch as he hurries passed?
Solution – It’s a simple thing that you might have heard of, it’s called structure. Throw a VT or two into the show where Jason and/or Alan and possibly even old Chopsticks tells us a few of the tricks of the trades or some of their anecdotes from their many years as professional comedians. That’d be brilliant.
So it’s either do some of that, or change the name of your show to “(We’re Not Going To) Show You The Funny, Here’s Some Pointless Crap Instead”
I deserve better, stand-up deserves better and the nine remaining giant balled bastards who put the very centre of their being on the line every time they get up on that stage? Well they deserve a hell of a lot better than you’re giving them.
Seriously, get your act together.
PS – I had a Ploughman’s lunch the other day. He wasn’t very happy. (Tommy Cooper)