Friday, 19 September 2008

The Offending Article

Another Myspace blog I'm afriad...normal service resumed shortly.

Recently my colleague Sarah and I had an argument after seeing Canadian Stand Up Jason Rouse perform in Edinburgh. Rouse, it has to be said, is foul. Every aspect of his act is aggressive, he's scary looking, and you could argue that most of his jokes are brutally sexist. One woman in the crowd heckled with "do you have any jokes that don't hate women?", and I was glad someone had said it.

Thing is, despite all of that, I laughed a lot during his set. An awful lot, actually: shaky, uncontrollable, tears-in-my-eyes laughing. He has that polished earnestness that Canadian comics do so well (see also Glenn Wool, Craig Campbell, Phil Nichol, Stewart Francis, and Tony Law just for starters), and he's SO offensive, so ludicrously, filthily offensive, that for me the gags stop being wrong. You're not laughing at the expense of the subject of the joke, you're laughing at the sheer gall of the man for cracking gags that are so very very dark. Rouse recognises the taboos, knows where the line is, and leaps across it, and that's funny. Or at least it is to me. The laughter comes from someone daring to open their mouth and deliberately say something wrong. This is Carl Donnelly pulling the same trick at the Edinburgh Fringe, and illustrating it perfectly:

The most offensive joke Carl Donnelly ever told, SPANK! 6-08-08

That's funny, isn't it?

Isn't it?

Anyway, as I said way back in my opening sentence, Sarah and I had an argument… well, a disagreement really, after seeing one particular comic. Sarah, you see, was quite offended by his material about disabled people, feeling that some things are strictly off limits. I had no problem with jokes about the disabled, depending on the context. It's a thin line to cross, but if the purpose of the gag is to make us laugh out of shock at the sheer gall of the statement, rather than at the expense of the subject then it's sort of okay, isn't it? I had to stop myself though. Was that really how I felt? Or was I just justifying my own response? Maybe I just don't want to be a bad person who laughs at the disabled?

Where exactly is the line? Comedy is so massively, entirely subjective it's hard to pin point what is or isn't offensive. We all know homophobia, racism, sexism and… well, whatever the word is for being prejudice against the disabled is, are wrong. The fact is that the meaning behind a joke isn't necessarily clear. Is a stand up trying to provoke a reaction by being outrageous, or are they genuinely being ignorant or even abusive? And just because they don't "mean it", does that make the fact they said it any better? Take 'Borat' for example… is Sacha Baron Cohen holding a mirror that shows us the shortcomings of our own society and makes us question our values? Or is he just laughing at the expense of people not as clever as he is?

There are plenty of comedians who don't get the balance right. You can see blatantly misogynistic, racist, old fashioned comedians in any town in the world. It would be unfair to single any out (except Bernard Manning, but it's okay because he's already dead. The fat racist shit.) It's an attitude that was supposedly swept away in the early eighties with 'alternative comedy'. But Ben Elton alone couldn't save the world, and bad-tasting comedy is still very much alive and kicking.

Quite a few comics constantly parrot a Daily Mail friendly view that "Political Correctness has gone mad". For the most part they're wrong. Political Correctness is just a way of saying 'stop saying things that offend or upset people', and has been – by and large - a positive force in our culture. There's a strong argument that anything that is offensive to someone is probably a bad idea. But where's the fun in that? Where would we be without South Park or Brass Eye? Both shows made with not-inconsiderable genius that have relentlessly made light of serious issues. Take Timmy in South Park, or the infamous Brass Eye paedophile special that actually managed to make the outraged front page of the Daily Mail (a delicious irony considering the piece was an attack on media over-reaction in itself.) Both are hilarious, and have buried serious points in silly comedy by crossing the taste line and being deliberately provocative and offensive. Are these overly offensive?

Check out this clip from controversial (but wickedly funny) American stand up Scott Capurro:

The Madeline McCanCan

Capurro is so offensive it verges on the ridiculous. He calls vanished child Madeline McCann a "little bitch", makes a blatant racist slur and milks someone elses horrible situation for a cheap laugh. Guilty as charged yer honour. However… after watching that clip, would you think that Scott Capurro is racist? Not really. Would you think he'd be delighted by the abduction of children? Of course not. On some level, as a viewer, you know that these aren't sincere statements. Of course sincere or not, should they have been said?

Unfortunately, offensive is funny. It's not an ideal thing to admit to, but there's no getting around it… a good chunk of what we laugh at is at someone else's expense, and it's for each viewer to decided what is and isn't over the line. When someone offends you, it's okay to be outraged. When someone offends others, it's okay to be outraged on their behalf. But don't confuse the intent to shock with the intent for malice.

It's a very sharp line in the sand, and a dangerous one to walk. But without 'offensive' comedians pushing back the boundaries, and defining for us what is and isn't right, comedy would be that much less rich an art form.

Marc B

Monday, 8 September 2008

Trainee Stand Up

Note to That Joke Isn't Funny Regulars...I wrote this for the new Myspace Comedy UK site I'm currently working for, although I don't think they're going to use it. I figured I may as well sling it up here too. Normal service will resume shortly, now I have more time to actually watch television. The Myspace blog also has review of Fringe shows wot I wrote. If you're, you know, interested.

As a result, please excuse the foray into the self indulgent waters of first person. I hate breaking my own house style.

Marc B

I suppose it was inevitable. I've worked in Comedy getting on for two years, I've been obsessed with it ever since I can remember (I had the entire series of the Young Ones memorised by the time I was about nine), I've been quoting bits of other peoples stand up ever since I was old enough to know what it was. I've seen hundreds of comics and I go to gigs all the time. Basically I love stand up comedy, and I've been pretty passionate about it for a pretty long time.

I was going to have to go give it a go.

Let's get this out of the way now. I wasn't going into Stand Up expecting to be any good at it. I wasn't going on stage to succeed…I was doing it to see if I could pull it off at all. To not-fail, rather than actually succeed: these are two very different things. It was an experiment. I've had some loose material knocking around my head for a while now, and it had gotten to the point where I just had to know if it was any good. I'd reviewed and booked and worked with hundreds of comics. At the Edinburgh Fringe I was watching them all day, and maybe every fourth comic I saw made me think "with some work I reckon I could do that". Just (admittedly every other comic I saw made me go "Damn. I'm not clever enough.")It got to the point where I had to give it a go.

So I asked a comic-friend who put me in touch with someone, and bang…5 minutes at the Tron in Edinburgh on a Thursday night. Simple as that.

Oh. My.

At which point I realised I was actually going to have to write some material, get the stuff out of my head and on to a page. So I wrote it all out. I said it out loud. I crossed most of it out. I wrote it again. I said it out loud.

Bugger. There were no jokes in it.

What I'd written was a reasonably engaging comic story about looking slightly younger than I actually am, with a reasonably funny ending. I was sort-of happy with it, but there weren't enough gags layered through the whole thing, they were all stuck at the end. Watch any half way decent stand up and you know they win or lose an audience in the first 30 seconds of their set…my best bit wasn't until minute 5. So I did a little rewriting, and worked on performing it a little. It was…okay. Stand up convention dictates you should start by voicing whatever the audience is probably thinking when you hit the stage…it pre-empts heckles, and gets a cheap laugh at your own expense in the first 5 seconds. For example… "I know what you're thinking…Paedophile" (Daniel Kitson), "I know what your thinking…the body of Peter Crouch and the head of Postman Pat" (Tom Wrigglesworth), or "don't worry…I've never heard of you either" (Stewart Francis). I had one of those, but decided not to kick off with it, because I wasn't sure it was strong enough. I insterted it about a minute in. To be honest the opening gag was the thing that had me most worried. I'd got the rest of the act –such as it was- into a reasonable condition. Other things did occur to me, but I thought I'd best stick to what I'd got for now.

The night of the show approached, and still I wasn't quite there. I had the timing right, I took the night off, I made sure no-one knew what I was doing (if I was going to fail at this I was damned if anyone would ever know about it), but I still needed some tweaking. The day drew on, my stomach twisted itself into knots.

On the way to the venue I thought of an opening. It wasn't a great opening, but it was okay. I'll keep the details to myself in case it never works again.

I got to the show, met Sean the compere –nice bloke-, there were only 17 people there. Fine by me. Then two things happened that weren't supposed to. First of all I had to follow James Dowdeswell, whose been in Extras with Ricky Gervais and is a very funny man. Then there was Nick Doody who is an exceptional stand up, then right before me was Shazia Mirza whose been on Have I Got News For You and everything. Okay, this isn't going great. I'm not going to compare…I hastily re-wrote my opening to "hello, my names Marc, and yes I am the first act tonight whose not actually been on the telly".

The second thing that went wrong, and for my money the very last thing I expected, is an old friend from University walked in, and was delighted to see me. And even more delighted to know I was performing. Great.

But you know, I'm a pro (natch) so I ignored the distractions, and waited my turn. The nerves actually settled, and having someone to talk to sort of helped.

I did it.

I've left that sentence on its own, because it's a small achievement by itself. I did it. I did 5 minutes of stand up comedy. And you know what? It wasn't bad. Okay, it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination actually good…I doubt any of those 17 punters will remember me except for a faintly amusing sorbet between two proper acts. But I wasn't bad. I got laughs…small ones, but I expected that. It confirmed that my material didn't really have enough jokes in it…as I suspected it was a reasonably compelling comic story, but didn't provide enough laughs. I was surprised (okay, read disapointed) to find it was the cheaper gags that got the laughs, where as the funnier moments of my story warranted mere politeness and some giggles. But it proved that I could, just about, do it. Sort of. It was something worth perusing.

I'm not saying I'm looking at Stand Up as a career, or even thinking about doing it a lot. But that one gig went okay, if nothing else it proved to me I should do another one, and then another. Just to see. At the very least I can say I've had a go.

It'll be easy. I just need to write some jokes.

Marc is coming to a comedy club near you. Except he won't be telling anyone before hand, in case he's rubbish.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Still really love brown toast? Peep Show Series 5 Review

Series Five of Peep Show (Channel 4 legal edict dictates it should always be prefaced with the words “Award Winning Sitcom”, or at a push “acclaimed” but we heed not these petty rules) seems to have been over in the blink of an eye. One minute we were watching the opening episode in a critics screening hoping Bruce Dessau hadn’t paid any attention to our photo on the small chance he’d read this blog, trying to avoid making eye contact with him just in case, and concentrating on the screen in spite of the projector glare from Robert Webb’s bald patch; the next watching the credits role six weeks later on a flummoxed Mark in episode six, no wiser than he was back when the show launched in 2003. A good time, then, to reflect…

It’s always polite to start with the good stuff. Peep Show is still one of the most consistently painful and brilliant experiences in TV comedy today. Every episode has a guaranteed squirm factor, and several guaranteed laughs, and its testimony to its brilliance that six years on (although as David Mitchell has pointed out, that’s only one series on an American sitcom) we still care about Mark and Jez. Series Five has been funny, undeniably, undoubtably funny.

But there’s something wrong. Something we can’t quite put our finger on. For the first time since its inception, Peep Show wasn’t the classiest work on telly. Though there was still much to like, this series felt somehow incidental, unimportant, missable. Not bad by any means, not even off-the-boil in the way The Simpsons or Scrubs has gone. Just…ordinary.

There’s been something of diminishing returns in Peep Show, basically since it went to a second series. The first round of episodes remains the shows peak, with Mark and Jez feeling like representatives for everything we don’t like about ourselves. Their internal monologue reflected our own: Petty struggles and little victories that we could all relate to (“Of course I'm the one whose laughing as I actually love brown toast”/ “Yeah, take that Big Suze. Your toilet seat regime is over”). From series two we seemed to move away from that, with scenarios becoming more farcical, more desperate, and our champs becoming less everyman and more pathetic. The cringey-can’t-believe-what-we’re-seeing-painful-funny version of the show probably peaked last year with dog eating and Jez pissing himself in church. It’s hard to believe Peep Show will quite reach those peaks again.

In a way, it was series four that really made this more recent offering suffer. The finale of the past series saw the wedding of Mark and Sophie: the end point of an arc that dominated that series (Mark doesn’t want to get married but can’t quite seem to call it off), and the culmination of Marks story for the entire four-series run. After that event was out of the way, there was always going to be an air of redundancy. It also seemed to lose track of it’s own rules: Mark is a tragic loser who hates himself and is ridiculously awkward with women…so how come he finds himself involved with a different one in each episode? It’s not that no women should fancy Mark, but they seem to be coming along with unnatural frequency.

Missing, was an arc that gently steered the stories. There were loose themes (Mark’s search for “The One”, Jez’s sudden cash crisis) but they never felt as compelling as the broader issues dealt with in the past. With the exception of the last episode, the show never really felt it was going anywhere. There could have been something to play on…wasn’t Mark’s Dad supposed to appear in this series?–the daunting figure who has been hinted at since series one? Possibly he was dropped for Jez’s Mum, which is a shame as Mark’s Dad is probably the most interesting story pay-off left in the show.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. We could squeak for weeks at the perfect casting of Isy Suttie as Dobby the office techy, and she did us proud. The dialogue was as sharp as ever, and those internal voiceovers are still brilliantly written. Johnson is still ace.

This series performed well in the ratings, and deservedly so- even off form Peep Show beats the pants of most of the Friday Night Fare, and a sixth outing is in the bag already. Let’s just hope for a little more substance to the shenanigans next time around. The end of the series (a baby!) suggests it will. We’re always ready to give Peeps Show another chance.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Delta flies under the radar

There was something quite likeable about the latest BBC3 Comedy pilot, Delta Forever, a tale of obsessive book fans connected by a website.

The script worked hard to squeeze quite a lot of ideas into a very short space. The writing team of Jon Hunter, Misha Manson Smith, Holly Walsh, Greg McHugh and Ben Bond managed to cover the weirdness of media-two-point-wotsit better than almost any other script yet to tackle the subject. Many have tried and failed to nail online culture in a TV format, to our mind at least this is the first time it’s been done successfully, certainly such an effective satire of the web-wide-world we live in, is quite rare just now. Delta Forever manages to cover obsessive fans, video bloggers, ebay opportunists and creepy ad-men trying to get their head around web culture.

It helps that the whole thing was supported by a bunch of perky performances, notably by comic Greg McHugh (whose brilliant Gary: Tank Commander character debuted over on More4 this week), whose bitter obsessive chews up the webcam, and is easily the stand-out turn of the piece. Also of note was rentabitch Antonia Campbell Hughes, and sketch stalwart Jonny Sweet (the remaining third of the House Of Windsor not currently moonlighting as an Imbetweener over on E4)

We’re pretty sure that, unlike the baffling headfuck of Phoo Action or the dark twists of Being Human, there’s not enough lurking beneath the surface here to warrant a full series. It wasn’t well promoted, and flew in rather under the radar, which is a shame: Delta Forever had a lot going for it as a self contained little teleplay with something to talk about, proving at least that someone at BBC3 has more than a surface understanding of the interweb.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Half Time Summery: Doctor Who Series Four

As we’ve reached half time on Series Four of Doctor Who, it seems a sensible point to stop and take stock. Especially as we have been rather lazy and haven’t been writing blog entries since the current run began. Not that we haven’t been following the series, obviously

First thing to note, is that the beginning of New Who Vol. 4 came off the back of two important developments:

1) That series three had been the strongest so far. In fact, we’re continually baffled that more people don’t seem to think this. Series three was INCREDIBLE. It started with the strongest season opener yet (‘Smith and Jones’), had Russell T Davies’ most startlingly imaginative writing since the re-boot (notably ‘Gridlock’), the best hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment yet (Derek Jacobi’s reawakening as The Master in ‘Utopia’), and of course it had ‘Blink’- the single best piece of television this country has produced in ten years. Okay, we acknowledge that there were weaker moments (the Dalek two-parter springs to mind) and a slightly below-par finale, but the good out-weighed the bad by a long way. And we’ve not even mentioned how perfect John Simm was. The bar was set pretty high.

2) That, against all odds, the second series of Torchwood –winding up just as the Doctor Who starter pistol went off- was really, really good. Characters who previously had all the pathos of burnt sticks were suddenly living, breathing people, who we cared about after all. The finale had some genuinely brilliant moments. The bar just went up a bit.

As a result, when ‘Partners in Crime’ made its early-tea-time debut it had a lot to live up to. More than it could justifiably deliver, really. And though the witty script was actually one of the more original RTD efforts yet delivered, the episode itself just didn’t pull its weight. Things were looking up with a trip to Pompei for episode 2, with career-best CGI (those Lava monsters probably cost the entire budget of series one), with some decent scares and a solid Doctor Who story. Between the two episodes we get the general feel for the series: quirky and silly on the one side, weepy and emotive on the other, with Catherine Tate’s Donna acting both as a comic foil and moral compass for David Tennant’s ever active Doctor. We’re suspecting the whimsy has peaked with the recent ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’, with a slide towards hankie-and-sofa-cushion territory to come as the series progresses.

There has been plenty to enjoy. Catherine Tate has been a pleasant surprise, though –Kylie aside- still the least effective of the New Who companions. When she TONES DOWN THE SHOUTING she proves a much more subtle and affecting actress than the evidence of ‘The Runaway Bride’ would have suggested, and she and Tennant play off each other well as a double act. Occasionally she grates, and sometimes feels a little surplus to requirements (‘The Doctors Daughter’ could have done fine without her). CGI has been pretty exemplary (the Vespiform morph in ‘The Unicorn…’ aside), and there have been a handful of really stand out moments: Martha’s clone in ‘The Sontaron Strategy’, Georgia Moffat’s energetic freshness in (‘…Daughter’), Captain Darling.

Despite this though, and despite a lack of genuinely poor pieces, the whole doesn’t feel like it hangs together. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but as yet series four of Doctor Who feels less than the sum of its parts. There’s still time, and certainly the series as a whole is probably neck-and-necking with series 2. We have great hopes for the next 6 episodes, and with RTD moving on after the next round of specials his self-penned final 4 episodes, featuring Rose, Daleks and something mysterious that blocks out the stars are oozing with potential.

We’re hard not to predict what’s going to happen, although it’s fairly safe to say that Donna’s journey to the end of the series probably won’t be an easy one. We’ll actually be rather surprised if she survives…not to mention a little disappointed. Not because we dislike Donna, but because the new series has not yet had the courage to murder it’s companions, always a good way of delivering a thrill in the original series. We don’t count Kylie, we didn’t have much really invested in her. The companion-fest in the season finale (Donna, Martha, Rose, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane and Ianto and Gwen from Torchwood allegedly) might prove a bit of an over load. It’ll be interesting to see how RTD handles Davros (almost certainly on his way back), and whether he resists the temptation to bring back The Master after that teaser with the ring at the close of S4 in some sort of Dalek/Master face-off.

What's To Come:

Thursday, 15 May 2008

He’s Not A Prince, He’s Not a King

Occasionally there’s a show that you thoroughly expect to dislike, and for reasons you don’t fully understand ends up owning a little corner of your soul. Such a one is The Inbetweeners, currently finding it’s feet on E4 of an evening. Maybe it’s because there are few other shows in 2008 that give you the opportunity to re-visit Sleeper lyrics in blog headlines, but we like to think it goes deeper than that.

Inbetweeners follows four teenage boys in the first year of sixth form, and probably works best if you’re the generation that actually understand the cultural gap between year 11, year 12 and year 13, because those differences are crucial here. Inbetweeners is possibly the only TV show ever written that really understands the burgeoning freedom and weird sense of impending adulthood pushing it’s way through the brains of 17 year old boys, trying their best to be at the same time grown ups who like cars and girls, and schoolboys who like football and their Mum.

Our main way in to the world of adolescent shame and fumbling geekorama is Simon Bird as Will, a bookish posho with a fit Mum who finds himself at a suburban comp, eventually gravitating to the similarly likeable, hopelessly geeky Joe Thomas as Simon. Comedy nerds will recognise the pair as two thirds of excellent House Of Windsor sketch show, and the infamous Cambridge Footlights (no less) from a few years back. Simon is also in this years Chortle Student Comic of the Year finals for something like the 20th time. The duo are paired up with comedy sidekicks and class prats Neil (over-tall, not too bright) played by Blake Harrison and Jay (Loud mouthed, impressionable, bit of a wanker) aka James Buckley. The quartet are so recognisable as the likeable-but-not-faniciable-uncool group everyone who was ever in sixth form either knew or actually were part of. We’re going to come clean and say that was us, which is probably why Inbetweeners Resonates so well for us.

Probably more significant is the shows relationship to Skins: eg, none at all. Both deal with a similar age range, both are E4 products, but their the similarity ends. While Skins is the fast paced, shagging-and-booze life we either wish we had or suspect our younger sisters have, Inbetweeners is the awkward, gangly truth, celebrating the brilliant mediocrity of being 17, of your first mate to learn to drive, your mates inexplicable other mates, and cool people who don't look at you twice.

Who knows what the fates hold for Inbetweeners. It's not edgy enough to gain much media profile, not culty enough to be an underground hit. But it is honest, watchable and absolutely genuine.

Okay it's not a work of art, or's nothing special, it's not too's just The Inbetweeners.

Horne and Corden are not Pegg and Frost

James Corden and Matthew Horne are everywhere. It wouldn’t have surprised us if one of them had won the London election. Honestly, give them a BAFTA and they think they’re the new Python.

Well…actually, maybe the new Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as the pair are to star in Brit Horror-com Lesbian Vampire Killers ("Two no-hopers. One cursed village. One hell of a night!"), which probably would never have got a greenlight if the Pegg/Frost/Wright Romzomcom modern-classic (we’ll stand by that ‘Modern Classic’ claim if anyone doubts us, in a fight if necessary) Shaun of the Dead hadn’t been a hit.

The comparison doesn’t stop with forays into British genre films though. Both duos have presented the NME awards (2005 for S&N, 2008 for J&M), both have backgrounds in Sketch shows (Big Train, Man/Woman, The –Non-Award Winning-Catherine Tate Show, the new Corden/Horne project) both have broken new ground in Sitcoms (Spaced and Gavin and Stacey…Modern Classics again), and of course there’s a fat one and a thin one. But we’re not that superficial.

As for the flick itself, we’re not sure how we feel about it just yet. The presence of Horne and Corden (“so hot right now”) is probably a good sign: the duo would presumably have their pick of projects just now, so the fact they’ve chosen this as their vehicle at least indicates a decent script.

Aside from that though, nothing about Lesbian Vampire Killers really inspires much confidence: it’s written by a couple of jobbing TV writers who cut their comedy teeth on clips shows and utter dross like Ball of Steel, producer Steve Clarke-Hall appears to have never worked on a decent film in his entire career (Dungeons and Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God, anyone?) and production company AV Pictures only notable release has been woeful Kelly Brooke vehicle School For Seduction.

And of course films that start from a title and work backwards –even if that title is done with tongue firmly in cheek, are seldom worth the admission price.

Still, who are we to judge, it’s not out yet and it might end up a masterpiece. Time will tell.


For the lapse in writing. Normal service will now be resumed...afterall, we know how many of you are disapointed at That Joke being off-air!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Honey Monster Rips Off Boosh scandal

While adverts ripping off proper telly (not that adverts aren't proper telly mind) is nothing especially new (we're sure red cars and blue cars had races before Milky Way told them they could) it's rarely this blatent. Good lord, will you take a look at this...

Delicious puffs of wheat in little honey jackets they may be, but that's no excuse for plagiarism. Unless you're Noel Gallagher.

We're trying to work out if the Boosh can actually ride this one to court, after all it's pretty blatant and you never saw this before Mssrs Fielding and Barrett turned up. Although should they take it that far they may find themselves dragging their comedy pot past The Goodies, who'll be seeking Legal Advice while brandishing a black kettle.

Let's enjoy some proper Crimpage

Thursday, 13 March 2008

My over-extended Family

Hidden at the bottom of Chortle today –and as far as we can make out unreported elsewhere on the web- is the announcement of a 9th series of My Family. Ninth? That’s…that’s….loads. That’s over taking Fools and Horses in standard episodes.

My Family baffles us. Is there anyone alive who actually rings it in the Radio Times, takes the phone off the hook, makes a nice cup of tea and settles down to half-hour of Harper family fun? Does anyone have My Family DVD marathons? It’s difficult to imagine, but somehow it’s been hogging the prime-time-limelight for the best part of a decade.

Thing is, when My Family first cropped up it wasn’t all that bad. It’s always nice to see Wolfy Smith back on the box, pre-BT Kris Marshall was a welcome addition to telly-land – we remember him getting laughs just for walking on screen in Love Actually- and the more Daniela Denby-Ashe the better as far as we’re concerned. It was a bit silly, had a classic farce-sitcom format that had been absent for a while, was reasonably well written and wiled away a half hour fairly amicably.

Eight years on and the scripts have got so hackneyed the principles are actually refusing to shoot them. This is Zoe Wanamaker talking to the Telegraph in March, 2007:

“What attracted me to the first scripts was that they had a slightly quirky, American Jewish quality to them. That's my humour. Critics absolutely hated it. The public liked it. But it's turned into a machine. Robert and I even refused at one point to do one, it was so bad. That caused a lot of problems, but we just felt it was not good enough. We had practically a football team of scriptwriters working on the last series”

But still they soldiered on, not-laughing all the way to the bank. And someone must have watched it, because here we are with a ninth successive outing. What else is there for the Harper family to do? They pole-vaulted the shark several years ago, none of the cast are really bothered anymore (Robert Lynsey and Zoe Wanamaker are established thesps, while your phone bill keeps Kris Marshall in moose for his lovely floppy fringe. Gabriel Thompson just sits there, glumly waiting for Daniel Radcliffe to be killed in a fire), it’s a flogged-out cash cow, cowering in the farmers yard waiting for the tragic inevitability/blessed relief found inside a metaphorical dog food tin.

iPlayer hacked, world fails to stop turning

In a move that will surprise absolutely no-one (except maybe Bruce Dessau, whose still getting his head round internet video) some clever sod has hacked the iPlayer (apparently in 12 minutes.) This will probably disappoint, or perhaps even surprise some of the TV top brass still hoping that telly won’t “do a music industy” and accidently bung out all their product for free. It really shouldn’t shock them though…Aunty Beeb herself has responded with

“This is not unusual or surprising,”

a quote which we think works best in delivered in a slightly weary and non-plussed tone.

It does beg the question: if something is utterly inevitable is it still news?

Of course the debate about whether this stuff should be freely downloadable and absent of DRM is another kettle of ethically-sourced cod all together. For the record we think the answer is…er…'sometimes'. Unless it’s something we want and can’t afford just now, in which case the answer is ‘always’.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Brilliant black comics? The BBC Needs YOU!

The BBC head of Comedy Commissioning, Lucy Lumsden, has spoken in The Stage of her frustration at how “white and male led” most of the pitches she receives are, and her desire to encourage more diversity in submissions. Here’s what she had to say on the matter.

‘The majority of all our ideas are male-led, single camera shows and they are usually white male-led. It is still a very white male industry and white males tend to write about their own lives.

‘Just as it is difficult for women to break through into comedy because they feel it is not their domain, I am sure it is incredibly difficult for black and Asian writers.

‘But if you have a show that speaks to them, suddenly that changes that. They then feel it is a show they can contribute to and not that they are working within this white male world.”

She cited the upcoming hip-hop sitcom Trexx and Flipside as redressing the balance a little.

In this she echoes recent comments made by Lenny Henry –whose married to the Vicar of Dibley and is most memorable recently for his starring role in Extras- complaining of mainstream broadcastings failure to integrate black people into their programming.

Do they have a point? Lumsden is certainly in a position to know. The question is more “why?” It’s not like there’s a shortage of talented black or Asian comic minds: The live circuit is thrumming with them. Reginald D Hunter sold out his entire Edinburgh run last year and gets a decent share of TV work, yet somehow he still feels like a loan voice as a black stand up in the UK. It doesn’t seem to be the case in America- where black-led sitcoms and sketch shows are ratings staples and black stand-ups are hugely popular, most of which achieve equal popularity over here: Chris Rock probably sold more tickets, faster than any other touring comic in the UK in 2007. So why are our own talents finding it so hard to get a commission? If the head of Comedy Commissioning at the BBC is actively looking for this stuff and it’s not appearing then something, surely, is blocking the way?

There’s a horrible sense that should the really talented stuff not get to the top then the Beeb will carry on commissioning any old shit just because it ticks the box. Which is the only possible reason for the continued appearance of Little Miss Jocelyn on the books.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Listen very carefully, ve shall say zis...etc etc

There’s been an odd about-turn on ‘Allo ‘Allo…we don’t remember it being dreadfully funny on broadcast, but watching repeats over the last 5 years has forced a complete rethink: ‘Allo ‘Allo is brilliant; and now the Germans can enjoy it too…Widely reported yesterday was the acquisition of the classic sitcom by German TV station ProSiebenSat1, along with wide-ranging speculation that the German’s would (a) probably not get it, or (b) be mortally offended.

We can’t account for (a), it’ll depend entirely on how successfully the re-dubbed show will work in German, especially considering ‘Allo ‘Allo worked best when it boiled down to word-play and accent/language gags.

As for (b), we don’t recall ‘Allo ‘Allo being specifically offensive to the Germans…the German army are painted as inept buffoons who just want an easy life. As indeed are the occupied French, and the British. The majority of the German characters are actually quite likeable, Herr Flick and General Von Klinkerhoffen aside, but they themselves are very broad steretypes no different to the French Onion sellers and the cloak-and-dagger Resistance.

Still, it's difficult for us in the UK to fully appreciate the perception of the war in Germany. Seeing the Nazis as figures of fun is ingrained into our cultural memory, dating back to the war itself when Hitler and Goering would appear in the Beano as inept slapstick thickos. In Germany, where perception of the War is still wrapped in a sense of shared shame about the holocaust, programme makers have always tread carefully. "Heil Hitler"'s are still very rare on German TV, only time will tell if they still offend people when abbreviated to "kler!".

Still, it’s a nice excuse to post our all time favourite ‘All ‘Allo moment. Okay, our favourite ‘Allo ‘Allo moment not involving Vicky Michelle’s specialist film career. Ahem…


While doing our daily media reckie we spotted this picture on the Sun's website (while reading an article about Simon Pegg if you must know). How brilliant is this? We always knew the Brasseye Peado-special was a work of genius that transcends mere comedy, but it's always nice to see that seven years on Chris Morris' masterpiece is still every bit as relevant.

Why not enjoy it again.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Bruce Almighty!

The thing about being a poncey media snob, as we at Thatjoke very definitely are (and proud of it too) is that you can’t stop yourself occasionally coming across as a bit of a wanky smugster. Fortunately we’ll never look quite as smug as this:

Yep, check that face out. Doesn’t it make your fists clench and your eyes feel slightly itchy? Meet Bruce Dessau, king of the Non-story and current comedy Critic-in-chief for the Evening Standard. He’s also worked for the Times and the Guardian (who persuaded him to pose for a less smackworthy banner-pic) and written a series of uninspired-looking comedy biographies.

Bruce is the master of writing lots while saying little; his blogs at the Standard’s website are lessons in stating the bleeding obvious at pointless length. Currently we’re reading his stuff whenever we want to feel annoyed that someone is being paid substantially more than us for such relentless space-wasting.


Full Blog: Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Boohoo?

What Bruce actually means: “a new BBC4 drama series thinks all comedians are depressed mentalists, but these comics wot-I’ve-met prove otherwise”. Or to be even more succinct: “Are comedians depressed mentalists? Not all of them but some are”.

We say: Surely the BBC4 series isn’t making a sweeping generalisation, but making special cases out of these key examples (Frankie Howard, Tony Hancock, Hughie Green, the cast of Steptoe –surprisingly not Spike Milligan too) and talking about the relationship between knowledge of human understanding and self-awareness? It’s not about comedians being naturally morose, but about morose people who happen to also be comedians and thus make for a richer and more interesting drama.

But that’s a little too dark and complicated an idea and doesn’t give Bruce the chance to do some thinly veiled name dropping and make blindingly obvious points.

Full Blog: Two's Company

What Bruce actually means: “some people who work together also work separately, and double acts usually break up eventually”

What we say: Well done Brucie! Hold the front page and get the South Bank Show on the line…there’s a big scoop in this one.

Full Blog: iPlayer Changed My Life

What Bruce actually means:isn’t the BBC iPlayer a brilliant idea, it’s changed everything over night and now I don’t need a video

What we say: Jesus H Corbett Desso, we’re not sure what pulse your fingers on exactly, but it clearly died years ago. Leaving aside the fact the iPlayer launched about 3 months ago, it was hardly that big a revolution even then. Unofficially VOD has been around for years. Within hours of it going out, every episode of –say- That Mitchell and Webb Look, was available to download on torrents the world over and stream all over the place, and that’s been the case for at least 5 years. We’ll admit Veoh, Youtube and Daily Motion aren’t as crisp and efficient as the iPlayer itself, and were certainly a long way from official (Illegal downloading is wrong kids, and it funds terrorism, peadophilia and mass genocide.) It was difficult to get hold of, say, the One Show or an episode of Doctors, but the real Watercooler TV moments you’re talking about? They’ve been easy to get for donkeys yonks. We like the iPlayer as much as the next media-savvy web snob, but life changing? Welcome to the internet BD.

We could go on all day.

Oh go on, one more.

Full Blog: Is Doctor Who Becoming Who is The Celebrity Guest This week?

What Bruce actually means:Doctor who likes employing comedians, and I don’t know why

What we say: You could also say "Why is Doctor Who obsessed with Luvvie middle aged thesps (Dereck Jacobi, Simon Callow, Penelope Wilton)", or "why is Doctor Who obsessed with pretty, young actresses (Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, Carey Mulligan, Eve Myles)". They're just people who can bring different aspects to a performance. Jessica Hynes played it completely straight, Mark Gatiss is a brilliant writer for whom Doctor Who is a dream come true, Steve Pemperton excels at grotesques. These people were brought in because they’re specific abilities related well to specific roles.

Okay, Peter Kay was just trading on a famous name and the juries out on Catherine Tate –although she was an actress before her sketch show took off, and a pretty good one at that, but it hardly proves the show is “obsessed”

We’re aware this all may seem rather petty. It’s just…if you’re going to pay a journalist to write meaningless space fillers that say nothing of any importance, we’ll do it for you at half the price.

Friday, 29 February 2008

You can't dangle the bogus carrot of Spaced in front of our face whilst riding some other donkey

Post writers strike the dreaded US remake of Spaced (“McSpaced!!” screamed the fans) is grinding into action. Obviously Spaced fans are going mental about it, meanwhile we here at That Joke have decided to reserve opinion.

Okay, okay, it’s probably going to be awful. We KNOW that, we really really do. Spaced is one of the sacred gems of UK comedy. But okay, look, it’s being made now. There’s nothing any of us can do about it. We accept that Pegg/Write/Hynes aren’t involved, we accept it’s being made by McG, someone who should be banned from making television for the good of humanity, we even accept that there has only ever been one decent US remake of a UK show (no prizes for guessing which one. No, not Men Behaving Badly. Okay...okay, we’ll give you Sanford and Son as well. There are two decent remakes).

But ya know, it’s being made now and that’s an end to it. If they get a team of decent geeky pop-literate writers in, if it’s cast right, crucially if it’s not filmed live, and if it isn't called 'Spaced' it could…just about be okay. It'll just be a bit of a rip off.

It won’t be Spaced. It can't be. But it might be something we can still like just the same. There’s no point in complaining until it’s out.

Then all hell can let loose, obviously.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

PS Spaced is a gift that keeps on giving as you navigate through the tail end of your the NME Awards Big Gig last night all I could think was "they're all so thin"...

Being Andrew Collins

As much as I try my best to maintain a distinct editorial tone to this blog (wry satire and news comment reported in the 3rd person if you must know), occasionally a more personal approach is needed, so join me as we swim into the shallow and self-indulgent waters of the first person Blog.

People have always asked me what I want to do with my life. As a child you get it a lot, then there’s careers councillors and teachers at college, and as an adult you tend to get it in job interviews, in a round-about kind of way. As a child my answer evolved from inventor to writer pretty quickly. At college it solidified into journalist, and then further into music/film/TV magazine journalist with a sideline in fiction. Then I started getting interested in radio, and then in comedy, and then I started writing comedy myself.

Which is a lot to get over in a job interview, so I started using the writer/broadcaster/editor/author Andrew Collins as a short-hand career ambition. “what I really want” I have always joked “is to be on the list of people the BBC call when they do I LOVE 2004”, or “The Top 100 Comedy Moments 1995-2005” or indeed “The Top Alternative Tunes 1985-Present”. An interesting person whose opinions are valued.

Last year Andrew Collins helpfully released a career biography (the excellent ‘That’s Me In The Corner’), allowing me to realise how far behind schedule I am. It also confirmed, even more than I actually realised, just how much Andrew had done that I’ve always wanted to achieve.

Depressingly my career thus far has been a sort of ITV3 version of his.


Marc Burrows/ Andrew Collins career Contrast.

Andrew: Music journalist for NME, Select, Q, The Word, many more.
Marc: Music journalist for Playmusic (who went under owing me £400), Label magazine, various online

Andrew: Features Editor of NME and Select, Features Editor and Editor of Q, Editor of Empire, Film Editor for Radio Times
Marc: Arts Editor, Deputy Editor and Editor Label Magazine (Editor was a full time job, 20 page weekly magazine for a year running a team of students, elected position natually), content manager/copywriter (

Andrew: Has interviewed everyone from unknown indie bands to movie legends

Marc: Has interviewed thousands of unknown indie bands, plus the very occasional important person

Andrew: Comedy/Sketch Radio (Radio 5/1), Music Radio (6Music), Speech radio (Radio 4), Panel show (Radio 4), Podcast
Marc: Music Radio (LCR –student radio/ Roskilde Festival Radio), Speech Radio (Resonance FM), Podcast (coming)

Andrew: Written three memoirs
Marc: Er…Kept an extensive diary when I was in Hospital?

Andrew: Writes a Blog
Marc: Writes a blog. YES! Take that Collins.

Andrew: TV presenting, talking head

Marc: Producer, writer and presenter of upcoming

Andrew: Sony award winner (for Collins and Maconie’s Hit Parade)
Marc: National Student Radio Association Award winner (Bronze Award, Best Entertainment Show)

Andrew: Partnered with Stuart Maconie, Richard Herring more recently.
Marc: Partnered incurably with Patrick Charlton

I’m not going to go into scriptwriting work, as Andrew was older than me when he did a lot of that so I don’t have to feel too bad.

So what’s the point of all this? Andrew’s recent book was about trying to fathom who he is and what he does. I’m trying to define who I am and what I want to do, and more or less they’re the same thing. I’d like to point out I’m not idolising Andrew Collins here, although I am a fan of his work. Nor do I resent him for his success, as it’s pretty well-earned. There's also things I've achieved that he hasn't. He just happens to have carved out, almost by coincidence, pretty much the exact career I’ve always wanted.

Maybe there’s something in the psyche of music-geek, TV obsessed Doctor Who fans from the East Midlands.

There’s still time to catch him anyway.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Kimmel Vs Silverman: It's War

When Sarah Silverman stitched up her boyfriend, US chat show host Jimmy Kimmel, by writing a song....well, just click on the video below, okay?

Is this a fully planned double-benefiting media campaign? Is it smug American celebs washing their dirties in public? Or, as we really hope it is, two equally devious comedians enjoying getting one over on their beloved? It doesn't really below and enjoy.

Sarah's video:

And Jimmy's reply:

A New Roll Of Moving Wallpaper

We're actually quite glad that Moving Wallpaper, ITV's break-the-fourth-wall-it's-post-modern-aint-it-aren't-we-clever sitcom, has got a second series. It's nice to see the Other Side showing some commitment to a comedy show instead of canning it if it underperforms by the teeniest amount.

MW hasn't been the all-conquering success some on Planet Grade probably expected, but then nor has it been the laughable disaster many a self-satisfied tossblog (guilty as charged) half expected either. We were just getting to like the characters (well...except James Lance, but then he's always a smug shit. It's what he's good at) and it would be a shame to lose those aquaintences had ITV done a Partridge on it.

The fate of the less-popular Echo Beach (less popular basically because it's shit) apparently hangs in the balance. Which begs the question: does MW need EB? Have the characters been developed enough for the show to stand alone? Will ITV admit that Echo Beach was really only there in the first place as a showcase for clever site-gags based on incidental arguments in it's sibling-show?

Herring Watch

The rise of Richard Herring to legitimiser of all things funny continues this weekend in The Guardian... again.  The Guide have clearly dubbed Herring the Yardstick by which all (by definition) lesser comedy is measured.  This week he's casting his benevolent comedic gaze onto Pappy's Fun Club, who walk away with his blessing.

Pappy's are, of course, funnier than almost anything else in the history of the universe and fill us with so much childlike joy it's a wonder we don't shrink by a foot and a half and start playing at M.A.S.K again. 

We will continue to update you on the TV Star turned man-who-was-once-on-Telly turned Alt.Comedy Treasure in the ongoing story of The Rise and Fall and Rise of Richard Herring 

Friday, 22 February 2008

Burrows' Bigger Bang

American sit-coms can be a bit smug, even the very good ones. It’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t like Friends, but it’s also difficult to deny its smugatude.

There’s not been a really good mainstream US sitcom since the F Word. Two and Half Men has its fans, but it’s not really all that. There’s been plenty of glossily produced comic-dramas (Everyone Hates Chris, My Name is Earl) and of course awkward alternative comedy hits (The Office, Curb, Arrested Development), but nothing really in the trad-sitcom-dodgy-set-live-studio-audience sense.

The worst offender has been James Burrows’ (he of Cheers/Will and Grace Fame) The Class, which is a rubbish concept (4th Grade Class reunited as adults with added wierdos and snogging), badly performed and lacking in any sense of cleverness, sweetness and bite that this type of sit-com needs.

But don’t write Burrows off just yet, because last night we saw The Big Bang Theory, which has an ace concept (two geeks live opposite hot girl) and all the sweetness and bite you could want.

It’s not perfect, or particularly true to life (just because they like Star Trek and Comic Books, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically physics genius’s…we can attest to that from experience), but is fun and sweet and has that sense of slight anarchy and farce that made Will and Grace so nice.

Big Bang Theory is currently airing on E4.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

A Letter To Lily Allen

Dear Lily Allen

We gave Lily Allen and Friends an extra week to settle in before writing this, it seemed the decent thing to do.

It’s not working is it Lil? I mean bless you, you’re great, You really are. You’re fresh, and funny, and spunky, when you’re off the cuff you’re a treat to watch, and it genuinely is great to have you on the telly. I am genuinely fond of you. But the show…the show. It’s just no there, it doesn’t work.

If you hadn’t done this format, then obviously someone else would, and I can see why it was an easy pitch, what with all your myspace chums and entertaining blogs and all. Problem is BBC3 seem to think they can graft the internet to the side of the telly and get something wonderful and new with the best of both worlds. Like apple trees. And maybe you can…the ideal t’internet-telly format is definitely out there, skulking in the bushes waiting to be discovered. The beeb are getting there: the iPlayer maybe the best decision the BBC have made in a decade.

But BBC3’s awkward frankensteining of web two-point-whatever and anything they happen to have on their schedule just feels so false and so forced.

Your chat show guests are great and you’re doing a good job. Last week David Mitchell looked slightly bemused, a tiny bit embaressed, but seemed to be enjoying himself. Cuba Gooding Jnr obviously didn’t care where he was…up to the point you stopped the euphemisms and just talked about his cock. That was a great moment Lily, well done.

This week though, you seemed a bit hesitant and a bit unsure of yourself. Is this because of the bad reviews? Or have you maybe seen the show back yourself and realised that basing the show on web content wasn’t that great an idea in hindsight?

Here’s where you’ve got it wrong.

- The internet, especially social networking, web two-point-infinite gubbins is all about interactivity, about people taking ownership of their media and everyone’s lives being synced together. The audience need to feel part of the show.

- But your show seems to think a Social Networking/web experience can be applied to TV by showing VT’s of whatever ‘hilarious’ Mpegs have been emailed to your researcher by their Mum. Getting your audience to submit wacky facts about themselves isn't it either. You're missing the point. And didn't Graham Norton already do all of that five years ago?

Giving the kids the vote for the bands they want to see is a great idea, though hardly the most original. Replace online voting with SMS messaging and you’ve got CD:UK. It's not really enough.

Anyway, I hope this makes sense to you. Please carry on having fun, maybe try and influence some tweaks to the format. But don’t be too upset if it gets taken off. You’re doing your best and it’s not your fault.


Marc B

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.

Good News/Bad News in Movie world.

Good News!
The director of Airplane! and The Naked Gun is making a satirical update of 'A Christmas Carol' with Kelsey Grammer.

Bad News!
The director of Scary Movie 3 and 4 is making a satirical update of 'A Christmas Carol' with Kelsey Grammer.

Hang on, hasn't their already been a satirical update of 'A Christmas Carol' that "lampoons contemporary American culture, particularly Hollywood"? And wasn't it really, really good?


Watch this space