It’s a year since I started writing “View From The Funny Farm” for Colchester 101, here’s a selection (funnily enough the less column inches I get – the easier it is to read).
It’s a year since I started writing “View From The Funny Farm” for Colchester 101, here’s a selection (funnily enough the less column inches I get – the easier it is to read).
This week’s “Show Me the Funny” managed to improve the balance between “tasks” and performance, with more than half of the show focussing on the acts delivering their “newly written” material to the Scots Guards regiment (“one of the toughest in the British Army” as host Jason Manford intones ominously – they all say that) and the subsequent judges opinions.
The acts are driven to Catterick’s massive military base and delivered to the tender mercies of Sergeant Major Tam McEwan, a dour-faced ginger Scot who promises that “you will be integrated fully into C company” (at least I think that’s what he says). Cole’s already in Tam’s sights for his suspicious possession of a “man bag”, and the numerous to camera confessions by Cole that he used to be a “loose cannon” and has “pissed a lot of people off” don’t bode well.
The comics are split into teams of three (which seem to randomly change) to do two days of “gruelling” military activities, with the three impressing the Scots Guards most getting to pick that all important running order. There’s none comedy footage of them having to change into their uniforms (Sgt Mjr Tam: “No flappin about like a turd in the Thames”), the men having to shave (Dan Mitchell seems to get away with leaving a coy bumfluff gingery Hitler moustache in situ) and getting used to their barracks. Prince Abdi’s already majorly unhappy (“I just wanna go home”). Cole decides to plan an hilarious “wheeze”
Manford reveals a further twist to this supposed horror gig; that most of the audience will be from Glasgow, and that the UN listed Scotland as the most violent country in the EU. So, Cole’s fairly fortunate that his jolly jape of cutting the arse out of his combats only ends up with Sgt Major Tam summoning “That man wi his fucking arse hanging out” to his office for a dressing down over Cole’s deliberate and laugh-free “trooser” malfunction (“I thought it would cheer you up” “It’s not cheered me up… it’s pissed me off.” “er sorry”). Ellie reveals to the others that Cole asked if she had a spare thong he could wear (“I politely declined”), whilst Cole worries with crushing hindsight about getting the shit heckled out of him at the Thursday night gig.
Pat, Stuart and Rudi are put through a prolonged work out (sit-ups, press-ups, and in Pat’s case throwing up) in the gym. Rudi’s not doing bad for a 47 year old grand-dad (“I’ve got a verukah, I shouldn’t be doing this!”), although Tiffany notices that he’s mastered the technique of only actually doing any exercise when the drill sergeant’s looking in his direction. The edit crowbars in the fact that Rudi has been doing army gigs in war-torn areas for over four years, and shows him telling the camera that he will probably use that past experience. Lazy Rudi the edit tells us.
The gang get turns at driving a Warrior Armoured Fighting vehicle up slopes, which makes Prince Abdi nervous. “Cheer up” someone tells him when he manages the scary ascent. He looks infinitely sad.
Finally the three teams have to do a “log race”, which fortunately is not some toilet based tomfoolery, but involves them carrying a large log up a steep hill an arbitrary number of times. The blue team consists of Dan, Alfy and Pat, who reckons they don’t have a chance of winning (“We wouldn’t make the 2012 Olympics unless it was doughnut chasing”). Poor Dan’s struggling with uphill log carrying, falling at the very first. Dan’s a likeable charity worker who freely admits that he’s had “bad experiences working in front of squaddies. They just want to shout through the entire set”. But plucky limping Dan continues with the race (as do the rest of the team), despite being forced to do three laps in punishment for falling over or being Welsh. So the blue team finish last, but the winning red team manage to finish without any of the comics still standing (Rudi, Tiffany and Ellie having deserted in favour of a nice rest), and the second placed yellow team managed to lose an unmotivated Prince Abdi (“The military isn’t for me… I’ve done my time for today). Dan’s rewarded for his persistence by getting to ride back on the turret of the Warrior (“I might get a lollipop as well”) and confides that the experience should help him prepare his set during the following writing day as he now understands what soldiers go through. Cole plans to write a set about his prank (the one that pissed Sgt Mjr Tam off). Good luck with that then.
Today’s guest judge is lovely Bob Mortimer, the gig being in Catterick and him having written a show with the same name.
Dan, Pat and Alfy unsurprisingly are awarded the chance to choose the running order and somewhat cruelly put Prince Abdi on to open (Pat’s logic is that the audience might be nicer at that stage. This logic is insane). They choose Rudi for the “headline” spot which actually makes more sense, although they think they’ll be leaving him with the audience at their rowdiest.
Poor Abdi nervously shadow boxes in preparation for his spot of doom, which he chooses to start with an attempt at a Weedgie accent. Watching in the green room, Pat puts his head in his hands (presumably any viewers do too). Somehow he survives this section and gets the good-natured audience on side, only to regale them with a long shaggy dog story about a bloke coming to his hotel room and asking for “Maria”, insisting that it’s her house, and then inviting Prince Abdi out for a guitar serenaded drink. I’m furiously trying to work out the payoff for this story, I mean it must be worth it, right? Nope, there isn’t a punchline and Prince Abdi finishes his set, leaving a befuddled,but not yet violent audience in his wake. Maybe Pat had a point with the running order.
Ellie’s next and predictably is met by a barrage of wolf whistles, which she converts to applause by comparing officers in the army to Louis Walsh on the X Factor (“Very pleased to be there, but not exactly sure what’s going on”). Um ok.
Dan gets a big cheer from those assembled, and it’s obvious that Sgt Mjr Tam likes him. He delivers a confident and funny Rhod Gilbert-esque rant about his log carrying failure, and I especially love him for using the phrases “We were in the testostrazone” and “we flew like bullets… made of men”. The squaddies love him too, with one tough looking guy declaring that Dan is indeed “the man”, and he strides off stage looking about ten feet tall.
The crowd are getting restless and all we get to see of Alfy is him dealing with a heckle. Tiffany follows, nervous as she’s never done an all squaddie gig. She calms down the audience (“at ease soldiers.. don’t unload your clip early sunshine”) before hitting them with a good gag about the regiments Latin motto.
The mood’s getting uglier as Pat takes the stage, and he ends up expertly troubleshooting a veritable heckle-fest, much to Cole’s annoyance (“He’s winding them up!”). Stuart manages to get in a gag about the troops trying to impress their resident gay clerk when they realise they’re not on his shag-list (“Do you wanna see how many lunges I can do?” which gets a great response and Stuart comes off relieved.
It’s a good thing Cole isn’t wearing his non comedy combats, as he’s crapping himself when he starts his set amidst boos. One stealth heckle gets huge laughs and Cole turns snappily on the culprit moaning “Cheers! That fucking helps a treat!” (I don’t think that particularly helps either). He proceeds to rip the piss out of Sgt Mjr Tam and the Aussie Captain working at Catterick on a “cultural exchange” (“We get to learn how to wrestle crocodiles and punch women!” – gets good laughs), before broaching trooser-gate to the non-amusement of Sgt Mjr Tam. He ends with the flourish of throwing his cut out combat arse cheeks into the audience so that Sgt Mjr Tam and Aussie Captain can sniff them when they’re feeling lonely. The rest of the set could have been genius, but that came across as the gesture of an arrogant tit. “Awkward” concludes MC Manford. “Kill him” advises Sgt Mjr Tam worryingly. Cole meanwhile thinks he’s “pulled them round and had a decent show”. That’s probably what happened, but the ending of the set was still mental.
Rudi goes on last and shows his experience with his very good opening gag (“Where are all the officers? Down at the front? That must be the only time you see them on the front-line”) which brings the house down. He builds on this success with some mild-mannered (but presumably acceptable) racism (“Any brothers in the house? I can see your teeth, I know you’re there man!”) before resorting to some tried and tested old material about Jamaican airlines which all gets laughs, but Kate and Alan look troubled about it.
So it’s judging time and they all enjoyed Dan (although Bob bizarrely compares him to Peter Kay). Bob says Prince Abdi’s nerves made him feel nervous. “He made me angry and irritated” retorts Kate. Bob also thinks Ellie’s looks are a problem, and states that he preferred Tiffany’s set, with it’s nicely personalised motto joke, whilst he found Cole “arrogant”. Alan’s concerned about the connotations (which he dare not mention) of Rudi’s “I can see your teeth” line. “If you wanted to be nasty about Rudi, you’d say he was a great stag night comedian” Bob says nicely (That’s one for the poster, Rudi!).
The four people called to meet the judges are Cole, Rudi, Prince Abdi and Dan, and it’s no surprise that those who go in first for the sugar laden praise are Dan and Rudi. Dan’s still grinning happily at having had a good army gig (“I loved it. They were a great bunch of lads”), but Bob tempers his praise with advice to slow down and further develop good ideas (er Bob, it is a five minute set).
Alan congratulates Rudi for “storming it”, but chastises him for using tried and trusted gags from his previous life. Bob agrees “You shouldn’t be relying on your greatest hits”. Rudi’s taken aback at criticism (“I’m up against really talented kids”), but Kate’s having none of it and points out that with his experience he could do the time-slot standing on his head, “but you’re quite lazy, and smug”. “Smug??!!”, Rudi recoils in shock. “You coast on the audience going for you” Kate explains “and you should bloody well stop it”.
Cole and Prince Abdi are called for a bollocking and potential dismissal. Cole’s unrepentant about his performance and blames the rowdy audience for his initial nerves (Bob reckons Cole’s energy eventually kept the crowd at bay), but Alan’s still not sure about Cole’s “confrontational finish”.
Prince Abdi’s quizzed by Alan on where the story came from. Apparently it’s all true. “But nothing FUNNY happened” complains Alan. Prince Abdi admits that when it all happened he thought “THIS is gonna be gold”. See, he is funny! Kate’s still appalled at him even attempting another accent (“A bit of crap is still too much crap in 5 minutes”).
Cole thinks he can still win this competition despite Kate telling him “You have all the personal warmth of a Nile crocodile” (Very good parents Nile crocs). Even though Kate thinks Cole’s “a bit of an arse” she still votes for him to stay.
Poor Prince Abdi, everyone’s telling him he’s a nice, likeable guy, which means of course he’s doomed, and everyone votes for him to leave. I hope he gets his job back if he wants it, and keeps gigging.
Cole returns to the other comics at the barracks, having been told by Alan that he’s lucky.
Next week the comics perform to a bunch of schoolkids. Let’s hope Cole doesn’t cut the front out of his gym knickers. My tips to do well to an audience of kids are Pat, Stuart and Tiffany.
ITV have finally started showing selected sets from the comics taking part (noticeably not from the ones evicted so far, but I guess that would ruin the magic of the reality narrative). You can see them via http://www.itv.com/showmethefunny/shows/
Billed by ITV as “Survival of The Funniest”, the format promised taking 10 comedians out of their comfort zone and forcing them to write 5 minutes of brand new material to suit specific audiences, but the first episode of “Show Me The Funny” proved frustrating and at times confusing, until the excellent final 20 minutes.
After the usual babble about the fear factor and the potential massive rewards, we’re thrown straight into this week’s situation, which is performing a gig in my home city of Liverpool (a tough gig for many as Brendan Burns wonderfully attests). But, affable host Jason Manford points out, there’s a catch. This gig will be to an audience of (gasp!) all Scouse women! And they’re not all lezzas or something. I honestly can’t engage with the tension Manford tries to heap on this scenario, having had a lovely time at gigs with women audiences.
The first half hour splits the acts into pairs and sets them various tasks so they can get to know the city and it’s womenfolk and perhaps generate some material. Sadly this means we don’t properly meet each act, as they’re interacting with their task partner. The tasks aren’t particularly engaging or illuminating. The blokes are forced to either work in Herbert’s hair salon (a Liverpool institution apparently) or find women called Michelle (a contrived exercise in honour of The Beatles’ most contrived song) and the girls, nicely paired together (presumably the producers think that their period jokes will synchronise) to set up a blind date (the participants of which we neither get to meet or care about). The winners of the task will get to decide the running order, which Manford reminds us regularly is often the “make or break” factor to how well a set can go.
“The world has been laughing at Scousers for generations” states Manford. Not laughing “with” of course. That could never happen. We meet the judges; flopsy haired ex tramp botherer Alan Davies, the formidable comedy reviewer Kate Copstick (“Most people think I’m a bitch.. I’d like to think I’m being honest”). Tarby’s roped in for extra chummy Scouse ho-ho-ing as this week’s guest judge.
We first meet the show’s “oldest acts”, Rudi Lickwood and Alfie Moore. Rudi started out as an Eddy Murphy impersonator, but wants to break away from all that, although Alfie cajoles him into doing a trademark “Hurrrr hurrrr” Murphy laugh. Alfie is a part-time comedian, his day job being a sergeant with Humberside police force (“If you say it in a deep enough voice it sounds like Homicide”). They work a shift at the hair salon, under the guidance of Herbert, who comes across like Bucks Fizz’s scouse granddad, but has a quick banter with his customers. Rudi’s keen to know if there’s any local rivalries (er, Manchester) and asks if people from the Wirral are “posh”. Herbert gives him a run down of the subtle differences between the posh parts of the Wirral and Birkenhead. “People from the Wirral pick their noses using a knife and fork”. “And do people from Birkenhead just use a spoon?” asks Rudi. “No, they just pick their noses” laughs Herbert, rinsing his hapless customers locks. (They actually use rusty machetes).
Tiffany Stephenson, an up and coming circuit regular, is paired with relative newcomer to comedy and ex-model Ellie Taylor, and the voice-over points out that “Men outnumber women by ten to one in the comedy industry” (this show isn’t taking leaps and bounds to challenge that then). Ellie asks Billy the Taxi driver whether he has any tips on what to joke about in Liverpool. Billy’s annoyed by “young lads walkin round with their ‘ands down their trackie bottoms, playing with their brains”. Ellie’s hoping that her experience as an Essex woman and butt of similar jokes to Scouse women can help her write material (“I’m sure I can er link something about it”).
Next part-time comic Dan Mitchell and professional Stuart Goldsmith (an ex street performer) have to find “Michelles”. We don’t see much, but Dan comes across as self deprecating and likeable and Stuart is a natural at communicating with crowds (of course). Circuit headliner and regular MC and warm-up (plus all round lovely chap) Pat Monahan is teamed up with Cole Parker on the same task elsewhere. Pat, as I suspected, rushes around delightedly greeting people and doling out hugs (he just does this all the time, it’s not an affectation). It seems to wind Cole up (according to the edit) and he tries to present himself as a more intellectual (and parental) counterpoint to Monahan’s “excited toddler”. “He hasn’t got on my tits yet, surprisingly” Cole observes after 5 minutes. A couple of minutes later Cole storms off in a faux disgusted sulk at Monahan’s upbeat friendliness.
Finally we meet Prince Abdi (who’s quit his job as a primary school teacher to do this show) and Ignacio Lopez, a half Welsh half Spanish waiter who thinks he’s Don Juan deMarco. “I get the laughs and afterwards I get the women too” boasts Ignacio. Even if it’s a joke it makes him come across as an enormous bell end. Prince Abdi likes to tell everybody he’s from London and how brilliant that is. That’s going to go down well in Liverpool. He even manages to ruffle Herbert the hairdresser by insisting that “London has the best customer service in the world”. A mortified Herbert predicts a rude awakening for Prince Abdi, who will be playing his first ever gig in Liverpool.
The comedians get a writing day (“24hrs to come up with 5min of material for tomorrow’s gig”), which really shouldn’t be too hard as long as they put the hours in. Stuart, bless him, just tests out his gags on the street, which should give him an edge. Ignacio sits around smugly, declaring that in a room full of women “I will play to my strengths, which is looking good” (they might take pity on him I guess).
At the venue, a converted chapel, Ellie and Tiffany work out the running order on the blackboard putting Ellie third in the first section and Tiffany fourth (on right after the interval – personally I’d have wimped out and gone 5th after the crowd had hopefully gotten warmed up again, but what do I know?).
Cole gets the shift of death and opens, starting by playing his single dad card (and getting some sympathetic “ahhs”), and hitting them with a good, but potentially harsh gag about sticking around to care for his child as his dad pointed out “You never know when you might need a kidney”. He seems strangely uncomfortable for a confident pro act, but I guess the pressure of getting things right for the show has affected him. Dan Mitchell’s next, and sadly we don’t get to see much of his set, but I enjoy the shambling and slightly bemused schtick (“Have we got any women in tonight?”) and the crowd seem to as well. Ellie’s now crapping herself in the dressing room, and to be honest I’m not proud of myself for predicting that the room will go cold on her for her looks. To her credit she doesn’t screw it by mentioning her modelling and does a well thought out set that gets the Scouse ladies on side. The other comics watch on the green room monitor. “She’s putting experienced comics to shame here! This is brilliant!” enthuses Pat. Cole doesn’t look quite so happy. Ellie even gets a belly laugh from Tarby with her adaptation of Billy the Taxi Driver’s comment “All the fellers here have one cold hand… that’s why you see them walking around with one cold hand down their trousers.” It’s not comedy genius but it gets a terrific response. Well done that girl, it’s true that sometimes fear is the spur. “They like women” Tiffany breathes a sigh of relief, before performing a solid and well received set. Funny that.
Ignacio’s clearly soiling his shorts, but he tries to ooze confidence to camera before he goes on (“This room is purpose built for me”). Oh dear. Meanwhile Stuart’s ripping it up with his well delivered sharp gags (I like the bit about waking up after a night out in Liverpool with 5 new best mates, a godchild and a promise to “have anyone killed up to the value of £60”) and Tarby’s wringing out his seat.
Ignacio blows it from the start by losing the courage of his convictions in the lothario character and fluffing lines (“Some of you I haven’t slept with er”). Worse he apologises to the audience and mildly acknowledges things are going badly. If things are going badly you either change what you’re doing and get on with it or you very clearly acknowledge that you’re fucking up – you don’t mumble “Ahh – I’ll go on”. Next he disastrously attempts a Scouse accent and enacts an exchange where the punchline is him asking a Scouse man if he has “a face like Wayne Rooney as some ironic comment on inbreeding”. Oh dear, there’s open confusion from the younger audience members and silent closed eyes prayers of delivery from the older Scouse matriarchs. I really feel for poor pale, perspiring, stuttering Ignacio, there’s nothing like a gig going poorly to get you panicking and wittering lots of random and crucially unfunny non sequitors. He’s got a decent idea of a character there (and it being a character act didn’t help on this occasion), but he utterly lost it, and should have prepared better.
So next is Prince Abdi. Following a comedy death shouldn’t be too hard, given he’s been watching on the monitor and knows that bad scouse accents don’t go down very well here. Right?…. Abdi man, what the fuck are you doing?! He starts by actually announcing in a poor Scouse accent that he will do this gig in a poor Scouse accent. If Ignacio had a car crash, Prince Abdi’s more of a Kamikaze pilot as he goes down in hideous silent flames. It’s so hard to watch, especially as a comedy promoter. Two deaths in a row nearly reduces me to tears. Poor old Prince returns to a silent dressing room. “Normally people say well done” he says glumly (rather than doing the decent thing and hiding in a corner). Tiffany and Ellie do the nice thing and say well done. Everyone else looks at something interesting on the ceiling.
Rudi’s up next and his experience shows. He gets big laughs by shamelessly nicking Herbert’s nose picking line (but come on stereotypers, stealing from a Scouser is funny right?). Alfie’s also reliably confident and gets a big laugh from Tarby for his “I come from Scunthorpe… that’s my best joke” gag.
Finally, Tiffany and Ellie have cruelly put Pat Monahan last, surely in an attempt to tempt him to over-run, but whilst he nobly sticks to his 5 minutes, it’s going to be tough for such a naturally bouncy and interactive performer to stick to material rather than lapsing into ad-libbing (which he’s capable of doing brilliantly). He duly nicks a woman’s sunglasses and after some fooling around goes to return them too energetically and drops them. It’s hilarious, like he’s turning into an Irish Iranian Geordie Tommy Cooper.
Next we go to the judges analysis, which could become the meat and bones of this show, especially if Kate Copstick continues to punch at this weight. She declares Ignacio and Prince Abdi “disastrous” (Tarby tries to be nice and suggests that Ignacio merely picked the wrong set). Everyone agrees that Cole seemed nervous and they’re impressed with Stuart and Ellie. They choose four acts to bring in to face the judges praise or wrath. I like this bit, it’s mean, as even the acts picked for praise worry that they may get the boot and any acts not picked are foolishly relieved, thinking they’ve gotten away with it. They choose Ellie, Prince Abdi, Stuart and Ignacio, and the other acts are told they’re safe and get to swan off to their hotel.
The judges room is at the top of a steep spiral staircase and Ellie and Stuart are called in first whilst the others sweat outside. Kate honestly tells Ellie “I hated you when you came on” because she was tall and good looking and did the girly “hair tucky thing”. In Copstick world there is no excuse for hair fiddling in women (I do it on the stage all the time – ooops) and all feminine hair must be back combed into Dame Edna Everage submission. “And then” continues Kate, “you were fantastic”. Get that on all your publicity now Ellie! Tarby commends Ellie’s “tremendous personality” but he’s clearly most taken with Stuart’s “smashing” delivery.
Next Prince Abdi and Ignacio get called in. Kate’s scathing in her disapproval of both (“You knew what the gig was…you clearly thought you could do it… maybe you need to practice some more”. Alan’s gently befuddled by both of them doing the dodgy accent (“Some people in comedy just need to work harder”). Kate declares Ignacio’s set “a low speed car crash” (another poster quote surely?) and they unanimously agree to send the unfortunate Welsh Spaniard packing (Alan: “You have to sort out who you are”. Prince Abdi gets a reprieve as Kate thinks that even though he had the more painful comedy death, he’s more capable of growing and Tarby wants to see him again.
Ignacio leaves, a broken man, but proves that he has a definite funny bone when Prince Abdi hugs him and asks if he’s OK at the top of the stairs. “I’ll feel better when I’ve kicked you down the stairs” grimaces Ignacio. I hope he continues to perform, as there’s potential there, and hopefully the experience will ultimately inspire him to develop the character and the set.
Prince Abdi however gets to greet the others at the hotel. “You were lucky son” chirrups Alfie. That’s what I love about the comedy world. The support.
I’ll be tuning in next week, and praying that the faffing around with the tasks is at least edited so it feels like part of the same programme. People watching “Show Me The Funny” shouldn’t misinterpret the title – you can get easy and regular laughs by watching a polished stand-up telly show or DVD. The second half of this “fish out of water” show (despite the obvious reality show “narrative”editing) goes some way to demonstrating the blood, sweat, tears, many failures and small victories that go into the honed and polished acts you can tune to on TV or at live gigs all over the country (including those of many of the participants).