Julian's online portfolio can be found on: jnhfreelancearchive.blogspot.com
"Too Much Tango Makes Your Guffs Smell Like Oranges. Seriously I Just Did One."
This is the inspired strap-line for the latest Tango ad campaign. In the the past the soft drink has come up against criticism for its misguided ads but more for stunts or physical behaviour that advertising authorities didn't want kids to imitate. This time it is the words that make the concept whiff.
I saw this latest campaign on a bus shelter poster this week and it put me in mind of the kind of joke a poor stand up comedian might make. In the live club context it could be forgivable, it might even raise a, er, guffaw but it would be intended to be at the drink's expense. This clever-clever knowing approach designed to flog the drink has brought out the Mary Whitehouse inside of me bubbling to the surface. I can think of more harmful ads (i.e. almost every computer game ad you will ever see) but while I think that farts are better out than in, the concept of celebrating the act for monetary gain makes me recoil. I think it's because it feels like it's advertising for the 'WKD generation', WKD being the alcoholic drink whose ad campaign largely features a bunch of lad behaving like twits.
I presume Tango is now the starter drink for anti-social behaviour, giving the green (or indeed orange) light for a bunch of tosspots to sit around comparing farts, while buoyed up on fizzy drinks, before going out and getting tanked on WKD and progressing from repugnant smells to more elaborate antisocial behaviour that is inflicted on an unsuspecting public.
Assuming that the ad execs who dream this kind of crap up, and get overpaid for it, are not in fact the slobbering jerks that they are selling their product to, I dearly hope that they encounter their demographic at a crucially embarrassing moment. Maybe someone will fart in their 4x4? I'll drink to that.
I can't exactly take credit for influencing Ricky Gervais' thought process but I did enjoy the symmetry of these quotes...
"Like the few extra pounds that Gervais carries around his waistline, this padding of the material makes him look the part - the part being that of the man down the pub who tells great stories. Mark Lamarr once said that there is no one funnier than the man down the pub because he feels no pressure. Gervais is that relaxed performer, who knows that his material may not be the most sophisticated but enjoys it, and enjoys watching others enjoy it.
My review of Ricky Gervais' stand up show 'Politics' at Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, 13th April 2004
‘But the main reason I do stand-up is it’s the best chance across all mediums of being as funny as you are in a pub with your mates.’
Ricky Gervais to The Big Issue: Scotland as reported on Chortle.co.uk, June 2009
Unlike the flashmobbing moonwalkers at
This is not to say that Michael Jackson has not changed my life. In fact his untimely demise has caused me a dilemma I’ve not yet experienced before; whether or not to have a moratorium on my Facebook updates.
When the news first broke that
My impartiality on the subject led to my aforementioned quandary on Facebook. On the site one of my friends lambasted
Losing an icon, however flawed, is disorientating. Worse still I realise that we don’t have many more to lose of
If my argument rings true then it reinforces the idea that the end of the last century we saw the end of ideas, a notion that applied from musical styles to political thought, and then their subsequent re-mixing. ‘DJ culture’ as the Pet Shop Boys called it. In the process celebrity status has devalued, it became mass-produced, massaged, less special because it was not characterised by some kind of pioneering mania or spirit. More specifically we can’t see past the Eighties as the era of ‘the last of the pop icons’ now that we are immersed in throwaway celebrity culture.
Of course the premature death of Elvis, Lennon and Jackson adds a resonance to their passing. Mind you, I’m betting Madge rocks on into her nineties but when she goes she’ll still surely be feted as the ‘Queen of Pop’ assuming the rest of are there to do so. Let me put that into context and say that Elvis would be 74 were he still alive today. Now, having resurrected him, if then I lay him to rest again as a Septuagenarian we’d still have had wall-to-wall Elvis records on the radio after the event. Assuming he’d not frittered his legacy with too many comeback gigs and burger ads that is.
So what to put on that Facebook update? I could echo The Stranglers and ask ‘whatever happened to all the heroes?’ Certainly, I’m unsettled that icons of my generation are dying. I’m unsettled that we don’t have many more to go. Then there’s the big unsettling question of who is around in the meantime to make up the numbers?
No, really, I’m asking.
Is it even a fair question?
If I said that I set off for the ‘Here and Now’ 80s reunion gig at Wembley Arena with a certain amount of trepidation then I’m not saying anything surprising. Most of us would do the same. Besides I carry trepidation like most people carry a wallet or an iPod (I can often be seen outside of my house patting my pockets and mentally going ‘keys, wallet, phone, iPod, trepidation’). I’m a cautious soul.
Dressed in my Calvin Harris t-shirt (he was “acceptable in the Eighties” don’t ya know, a joke my muso neighbour got so quickly I almost changed) I set about going back in time. On my way I thought about all the bad discos that I had hovered on the edge of as a sulky and sometimes lacklustre teen. Oh god. What if I see someone from my hometown? Oh, it’s ok they will be fat, middle-aged, burdened by mortgages and kids…whereas I am single, thin(ner), untroubled by (and incapable of) responsibility and, er, had nothing better to do this Saturday…
On the tube I see the back of a copy of the Daily Telegraph of a few days ago it reads: “It took us while to realise that it’s not defeat to go back, it’s victory” above a picture of Spandau Ballet. I later find out they were Gary Kemp’s wise words but I feel that the phrase protests too much and perhaps it is too late to be living out electric dreams again. Then I think about last year when I was with a friend of mine in a department store and an Eighties compilation was playing but how all the shop assistants were sixteen. I was tempted to go up to the till and say ‘I was nearly your age when this [gesture towards the speakers from which Sly Fox’s Let’s Go All The Way is pumping out] was released.” I realise that the Eighties revival has now been going on as long as the war and terror and both have no end in sight. My throat dries and I think I could do with a Slush Puppie and a wristband to mop my fevered brow.
I meet my friend. He is younger than me, though not shop assistant young. Despite his relative youth he knows the Eighties better than I do. And like I say, I was there. Oh my friend is also gay and similar to me in so many ways that I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t just have done with it, build a closet and come out of it. I lot of people have wondered over the years and sniggered as they proffer: “Julian, can I ask a straight question?” Why is this relevant? Only because, like Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners, I have heard this routine repeatedly since about 1983. Anyway my friend, it transpires, knows all the words to Rick Astley’s hits although I know a darn sight more about Altered Images than he does for various reasons including ones that prove I am not gay, we’ll get to that.
So there we were, then and there waiting for Here and Now. Wembley Arena, where, as far as I can make out, none of the acts on tonight’s bill have played before. So, let the Eighties begin…again. Once more with Darjeeling.
We begin right the start of the decade as Hazel O’Connor is first up bridging that punk/new wave to pop gap for us. Having interviewed Hazel, Clare Grogan and Kim Wilde (separately and on the phone sadly) I know that she’s still got a huge appetite of performing and is good value. Her warmth is once again obvious to me tonight when she leaves the stage so that the spotlight is firmly on her saxophonist for the solo in ‘Will You?’ Even the robotic ‘Eighth Day’, also, from Breaking Glass, seems soften round the edges, maybe she was divested of the Tron-like get-up she sported in the movie. Speaking of get-ups Hazel I had no idea that you were in a porn movie in 1975. Such is the retrospective delight that is Wikipedia. The Eighties didn’t have all the tunes that’s for sure.
I have to be honest and say that I had considered taking a long loo break during Brother Beyond. However, my friend was a fan and it seemed rude. Readjusting my shoulder pads would have to wait. With former band members either too busy drumming for other people, being in PR or being a fine artist, it was only Nathan, boyband survivor and reality talent manager, who showed. He cracked a few jokes about having bras thrown at him and they were duly thrown – by the roadies at the side of the stage, nice one lads, you japesters you. The absence of the other three band members made the song ‘Be My Twin’ (my friend’s favourite) all the more resonant, seeming as it did for a plea for volunteers, progressing from duo to quartet with the aid of capable audience volunteers. Poor Nathan, they could at least have given him some dancing girls, maybe a loan of Kid Creole’s Coconuts. Despite this my friend was in his element while I was just relieved that Nathan no longer pronounces the word ‘try’ in their big hit ‘The Harder I Try’ as ‘twyee!’. It took twenty years but it was worth the wait.
If was my friends was a little over excited by Brother Beyond singular then I was equally so about Clare Grogan minus her Altered Images (the Here and Now house band were a constant for each act). Yes, enter the hot Scot purple-stockinged pixies princess of pop, arguably one of the sexiest women on the 1980s and still looking fine even as “the world’s most embarrassing mum” as she called herself tonight. The erratic dancing has endured too. It’s no wonder she fell off a lot of stages. “I don’t just get to dance badly at weddings, I do it in arenas now.” Grogan pranced through ‘I Could Be Happy’, ‘See Those Eyes’, ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ (choon) and ‘Happy Birthday’. No ‘Bring Me Closer’ but you can’t have it all, except in the Eighties when apparently you could.
“I’m the same guy and my pants are still high” was the contribution of August Darnell aka Kid Creole to one-liner of the evening. Surely the zoot-suited Creole was the inspiration for Jim Carrey’s outfit in The Mask? One thing was for sure papa’s got a brand new bagful of a lovely bunch of new coconuts. Ah yes, at nearly 60, Creole brought us some classic 80s light entertainment, a bit sexy and a bit sexist maybe. That depends on how you look at it Creole as a ‘character’ rather than a frontman, I guess, but ultimately me likey. My friend? He no likey so much.
Kid Creole’s rousing finale to the first act was the first time that a majority of the audience were on their feet. Hitherto only pockets of gentle swaying had burst out, thought to be fair to the Wembley crowd had been on their feet for most of the gig, which is no mean feat at their age. The bobbing greying and balding heads were enhancing the already elaborate light show. While most men refrained from paying homage to the Eighties in their attire, some of the women were dressed as a tribute to Pineapple Studios, brightly coloured t-shirts, leggings, headbands etc. Admittedly some of them looked like they worked out with pineapple chunks these days, but still, it’s the thought that counts. Despite the fact that this was far from an unruly crowd security men could be seen wandering up and down the aisles. Were they Looking For Linda? That would have been a great joke if Hue and Cry had been on the bill. Anyway I digress.
Howard Jones kicked off the second act and duly kept up the tempo of the evening with his big sound and even bigger keyboard. It was at this point that I was Facebooked by an old schoolfriend. The friend in question was largely responsible for bringing pop music into my life and so there was a nice symmetry to him getting back in touch as I was listening to some of the songs that were around in our ‘yoof’. In my house Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez were about as contemporary as it got and I think they were partly responsible, along with Peanuts cartoons, for the introspective and world-weary human being that I am today. Ok I overstate the case and I have let Morrissey right of the hook (remember that Rubber Ring, Moz? In your face mate). But the general attitude of the Hall household could be summed up by this mythical, oh and fictional, exchange:
“Daddy, where do synths come from?”
“I don’t know son.”
It would have been worse if it wasn’t for my schoolfriend, I would have missed out on the girlie delights of The Primitives, Altered Images, The Darling Buds, Voice of the Beehive, Talulah Gosh…are ya crying yet Indie men of 35 plus, are ya? I wonder if this is where there gay thing started?
Anyway, sorry Howard where were we? Getting to know ya well, right. Yes, I like that one, I had to dig deep in my memory for one or two of his other songs and while he was never big in my hit parade Howard Jones was a class act tonight. Equally I had forgotten a lot of Kim Wilde’s hits including ‘Chequered Love’ and ‘Never Trust A Stranger’. Wilde too was big n’ ballsy in her performance tonight and with the help of her brother Ricki, her songwriter, and her niece, Scarlett she, like totally, rocked out. In fact you might say she knocked it out of the park that she had just landscaped….what with her being a bit of a gardener these days. Geddit? She still has a big voice does our l’il Kim. Did I not mention Kids In America? Yes, she did that one of course. For me that song is like a pre-anthem for those of us who imagined ourselves to be part of the John Hughes generation. I love the fact that she had never even been to the US when she was singing that but then not many of us listening to it had either.
So Rick Astley then, top of the bill thanks to the fact that original participant Boy George had that unfortunate incident abortively attempting to bleed a radiator. Something like that. As a fellow ginger I am loathed to criticise Rick too much, we have few role models. Besides we shared similar hairstyles. I once went to a fancy dress party as Morrissey (no, all was not forgiven, it was bittersweet irony) only for someone to say: “Nice Rick Astley costume, mate”. Talk about stereotyping. What can I say about Rick? The man has a great voice but his songs were – and still are – largely written by Stock Aitken and Waterman. Nuff said. Still, for the last song of the evening, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, he managed to get everyone dancing – or shifting uncomfortably in my case. Just like those school discos. What was more musical to the ears was hearing a man who was apparently once extremely shy enjoy an atmosphere where the pressure was off and where he could let the flavour of his Yorkshire wit just flood out at various points including at the very beginning of his set where he said: “Tonight Matthew, I am going to be Rick Astley.” Quite.
So with slick ‘Rickrolling’ Rick Astley done that was that, pop-pickers, and in the silence the question “Is the Eighties acceptable in the Noughties?” begged. The answer is yes, for now. Don’t expect me back in ten years though. But tonight it was fun and not painful at all. Actually it was a bit painful for my friend who, on seeing former Capital Radio DJ, Pat Sharp leaving the venue, and having seen him on Sky earlier talking about the gig, exclaimed: “oooh I saw you on TV today!” Pat, if you are reading this, he’s very sorry and, he assures me (no doubt like the revival instincts of some Eighties acts once they have done gigs like this) that it won’t happen again.
Is Punchdrunk’s Tunnel 228 a great example of the Emperor’s new clothes, or in this case, new bunker?
The latest venture from the much vaunted theatre group has set the chattering classes teeth to overdrive and the residual pile of enamel chippings seems to have obscured the fact that the ‘show’ is, well, a bit dull frankly. I’ve read a number of reviews across a range of esteemed publications and noted that that the sell-out Tunnel 228 has proved to be the tunnel of love as far as the critics are concerned.
However, it’s one thing to disagree with their opinion (people have disagreed with mine as a comedy reviewer, though they have strangely disappeared since), it’s quite another to disagree with the classification of the show as a whole.
Why oh why (and starting a sentence like that means you know that this event was never going to be up my street) is Tunnel 228 not being reviewed by art critics? It’s a conceptual piece housing religious and nihilistic imagery in a post-industrial context with an edgy soundscape…you see, that sentence already belongs in a gallery dunnit? I’ve added the ‘dunnit’ cos I am clearly gonna get labelled a fick fillistine for this, innit. Ah well, phuck it.
What classifies this as an installation rather than a piece of theatre (and most critics seemed willing to concede this is so) was there was no real narrative, it’s a snapshot of oppression with Fritz Lang as the art director for the shoot. Moreover many of the ‘human roles’ are in fact played by wax models. This brings a whole new category to the acting world i.e. “I thought you were waxy darling!” one notch up from wooden meaning you were perfectly adequate for the scene but you didn’t really have to do much did you?
When Guardian Michael Billington generously gave Punchdrunk’s previous venture The Masque of The Red Death four out of five stars he added:
“I would enter only two caveats. The evening's appeal is almost entirely sensory: it leaves the heart and mind untouched. And, whereas the joy of most theatre is that one participates in a collective experience, here the stress is on individually determined journeys.”
That is, it has to be said a pretty big bleedin’ caveat but it nicely encapsulates my overall criticism of Tunnel 228.
At this point I should mention that Time Out gave Tunnel 228, five out of a possible six stars. Again, I am not going to quibble with the reviewer’s personal opinion but what I will say is: why (oh why) do they have to meddle with the star ratings and go one better? Is the last star like a bonus ball where the reviewer stars it out of five and then rolls a dice to see if it gets an extra one? Is the extra star a kind of artistic London Weighting allowance? Methinks we should be told.
Anyway, I digress down a different tunnel. My visit to Tunnel 228 happened nearly two weeks ago. I went with an actor friend of mine who had managed to bag some free tickets. In respect of value for money then, things began well. Add to that the free face mask (I duly cancelled my order for a swine flu mask), albeit one hard to breathe through (maybe a kind of heady nausea was part of the plan) and the expensive looking programme-cum-brochure given away free at the end and I was quids in. But, as Mr Billington alludes to, I was feeling a bit light in the head and heart department - and it wasn’t just the mask talking.
In this ‘bring-your-own-narrative’ artsy party you can make your way through a paper forest and go ‘neath a sky of light seemingly generated by a crucified Jesus (though you’d think he had enough on his plate) and gawk at a number of disquieting images; a coffin with baby birds peeking out of it, a (real) man stuck treading a kind of water mill contraption, another man (wax) face down in a pool of water (not connected to the water mill, there’s no whodunit here, just some ‘whydunnit’), another man goes up and down on some straight track while another scales a wall. Upstairs a wax actor is having a difficult first date with a raven, with cutlery supplied by Salvador Dali & Co. What can it all mean? Someone must have given a monkey’s, as one of the exhibits is a chimpanzee.
Meanwhile, ‘theatre-goers’ queue for a peek through the small windows of the ‘ladies toilet’ to catch a scene that could be titled ‘Friday night at Brown’s gone wrong’, although when I saw it the man gyrates drunkenly and the woman is the one who has passed out. I think it was meant to be a night club but had the feel of a strip club private room, either way seedy was the name of the game. As with any nightclub and ladies toilet the queue is long for this exhibit. Sometimes one of the ‘actors’ has to say ‘move on please.’ It’s simple, direct…it’s, erm, instructions, not acting then, but it’s the closest to dialogue that you will get in this nocturnal theme park.
Recounting this now I am losing the will to live ever so slightly yet the will to swear seems strong. I shall resist judgements like “oh for fuck’s sake” and my favourite as-used-by Eddie Murphy critique, used when he comes face-to-face with installation art: “get the fuck out of here”. I’ve not plumbed the depths of cussing and I will take to the high moral ground as willingly as I took to the exit and the outside world after this show. As my actor friend said, the most striking bit about the evening was the graffiti saturated underpass you come out into.
It’s never a great idea to quote the Nazis, but that oft wrongly attributed line about hearing the word culture and reaching for your gun, well, over-hyped art always puts me in mind of that catchy little adage, especially if you accompany it musically with Moby’s ‘That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.’ Useful if this were to ever be podcasted.
Of course the nasty little undercurrent of that remark was that people were going to have to die. Look, I’ll sign up for withdrawal of grants but I’ll go no further than that. In fact just to show I have a) a soul and b) something approaching a social conscience let me say this: Tunnel 228 is pretty roomy so why not uses it as some classic ‘underneath the arches’ converted flats for the homeless?
My struggle to get to grips with conceptual art in the past has taken a ceasefire because often it has a real sense of humour about it, doctored tube maps, unmade beds, though the attention and funds it attracts seem to go beyond funny.
But better that us critics, whenever we hear the world culture we reach for our pen and only metaphorically call in the Fahrenheit 451 firemen.
As a comedy critic, the hullabaloo about events and happenings such as this does make me think that comedy should not suffer the ignominy of being considered as a low art form as it can have more direct engagement with the theatre-goer, more of a thought-provoking effect and elicit more of a collective response than I saw from this underground project.
Michael Billington’s fellow Guardian critic, Lyn Gardner wrote, in her review of Tunnel 228, that “we are living in an extraordinary era in British theatre. The stage, the gallery, the dance floor and even social gaming are all edging closer to each other, creating meeting points where sparks fly.”
She’s not wrong.
I for one can’t wait for Guitar Heroes-live at Wembley.
May is proving to be a busy month in terms of milestones in comedy.
Today is the official 30th anniversary of The Comedy Store, with the birthday show and party held last night, and next Monday sees the 20th anniversary of The Fortnight Club, renowned as the place where comedians go to try out new material.
The Fortnight Club was started in the spring of 1989 by Alan Davies and Jenny Lecoat at the old Meccano club in Islington as a non profit making co-op. The modest entry fee is still put towards a group dinner for the comedians at the end of the show which takes place at the Pizza Express across the road from The Camden Head, where the show is now held.
Apart from Davies and Lecoat, the early members of The Fortnight Club included Harry Hill, Mark Billingham, Bill Bailey, Keith Dover, Simon Clayton and Brenda Gilhooly and comics who have held the mantle of organiser (working with Maddy Carbery a BBC staffer with a love of comedy) have included Andy Parsons, Lee Hurst and Alistair Barrie. Regulars now include Milton Jones, who tried out most of his Radio 4 series at the club, Andre Vincent, Tony Law and Dan Antopolski, meanwhile Eddie Izzard, Simon Amstell, Stephen Merchant and Lenny Henry have tried out material there before going out on tour.
With an average of ten acts doing about seven minutes each, the night's purpose is to keep material match fit and dust free in an environment where experimentation is encouraged.
The compere is Logan Murray in the guise of his character Ronnie Rigsby, a 70 year old comic who is terminally celebrating "58 years in showbusiness" and who does the same routines each week, routines that the audience and the comics lurking at the back will join in with. Rigsby tells the audience that "statistically speaking some of it will be shit" and by and large the health warning prepares the assembled for what is to come, be it inspired or otherwise. This isn't always good enough as was the case for the punter who asked for his £4 entry fee to be refunded when he complained that most of the acts hadn't bothered to learn their jokes off by heart and were reading them off bits of paper.
The clubs plan for their 20th is to get together as many of the Fortnight gang and reprise 20 year old material and so far confirmed acts include:
Milton Jones, Bennett Arron, Alistair Barrie, Ali Cook, Simon Clayton, Ivor Dembina, Andy Kind, Robin Ince, Tony Law, Mary Bourke and many more tbc
2 Camden Walk
London, N1 8DY
Times: 9pm (doors 8.30pm)
Price: £4, £2.50 concs
Travel: Angel tube
I've been musing on last night's Chelsea game and as much as it is certain that Didier Drogba faces censure, and that this will have to be seen to be done, I can't help feeling sorry for a sanguine but seriously miffed Gus Hiddink. The decisions of referee Tom Ovrebo (an anagram of 'boot mover' by the way though I'm pretty sure his name is 'mud' in West London) and his linesmen (assuming they were involved, as football isn't like rugby where dialogue between officials is encouraged) were really poor. This goes for both the penalty decisions and the sending off. I think I would have ranted at him if he'd been refereeing my 5-a-side league, let alone a Champions League game.
Of course Didier Drogba's impassioned public outburst raises all sort so of questions about discipline and displays of anger generally. I wonder if 'doing a Dider' (or 'Doing a Drogba' maybe) will now pass into common parlance for displays of anger? I'm thinking variations may include: 'I'm going to get Didier on your ass', 'Don't mess with me I'm Didier about this!' etc etc.
Whatever the linguistic ramifications I hope that Drogba gets a chance to show remorse but his punishment is mitigated in acknowledgement of the poor standard of the officials last night. Ovrebo should be disciplined too, losing his Champions League standing perhaps. Of course, it goes without saying that the death threats against Ovrebo (sadly inevitable based on previous instances) are beneath contempt and I am sure Drogba would be the first to say they were a disgrace too. Sport should epitomise fair play but it can never ever be a matter of life or death.
It might be tempting to suggest that an angry society, epitomised by Drogba's outburst, creates the kind of thugs that make death threats. It's too easy to join those dots and ignore the fact that Drogba's passion for the game got the better of him, a surprise to those who say that big pay packets make for muted appetites (mind you they do all still get paid too much - sorry lads). Yes, discipline Drogba but the football authorities might also like to pay attention to how often we end up talking about refereeing decisions deciding/ruining a game and that can't be good for anyone involved in the sport.
A quick post to flag up one of the best forthcoming gigs. It's at the atmospheric Union Chapel in Islington on Saturday 2nd May and features the superb cult favourite, Daniel Kitson and if.comedy nomintaed double act Kurt Braunholer and Kristen Schaal (of Flight of the Conchords). The fabulous Jon Richardson will headline, completing one of the strongest bills for this already excellent monthly night.
For more details go to www.liveatthechapel.co.uk
After reading the headline of the following press release, received today, I thought at first that The Stand, Scotland's most influential comedy club (with outlets in Edinbugh and Glasgow), had belatedly banned hunting with hounds through its premises or perhaps had suffered from rowdy punters with links to PETA. But no, it seems that a comedy club has done the unthinkable, bucking the much lampooned Jongleurs business plan completely, and banned stag and hen parties...
COMEDY CLUB BANS ANIMAL GROUPS
Scotland’s longest running comedy clubs have banned hen and stag parties. The Stand Comedy Club, which operates two seven night a week venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow, says it will no longer accept bookings from groups planning pre-nuptial excess.
The clubs’ director Tommy Sheppard explains:
“The Stand is aimed at couples and groups of friends who appreciate comedy. We book quality comedians and we work hard to create an environment where they can be their best. We need audiences who want to listen to performers who have spent years perfecting their script. If people just want to go out and get hammered they should go elsewhere.
“The problem with hen and stag nights is that they are a party within a party, they rarely fuse together with others to become part of the audience, and as often as not are a big annoyance to other customers. We are in danger of losing regulars who will get fed up at the antics of drunken groups who may often be making their first and only visit to the club. The Stand has a reputation as one of the best comedy clubs in the world – and we’re not prepared to jeopardise it.
“Occasionally we have had a stag or hen party which was extremely well behaved - usually an older group - but this has very much been the exception. Usually they are a nightmare. We’ve tried to accommodate them and manage the situation, with deposits required and signed undertakings about behaviour, but it’s just too much hard work.
"Opening the doors on a Saturday night to see a squad of guys in dresses resembling a very bad student rag event, or a gaggle of young women clothed in flashing horms and deelyboppers and precious little else, would often make the hearts of staff and performers sink. Now such sights will be a thing of the past.
And the club has taken the extrenmely unusual commercial step of actually recommeding its competitor to potential customers. Box office staff will now advise those wishing to make a booking for a hen or stag event to try Jongleurs instead. Sheppard says “We’re not making any comment about Jongleurs, it’s simply that they are better able to deal with groups of this nature than we are, and I guess their other customers aren’t going to mind the disruption as much as ours do”
The club is confident the move will be good for business in the longer term. Sheppard again: “I accept we may lose some trade in the short term, but as word gets round that you can have a great night out here without having to put up with nonsense from gangs of drunks, I’m confident more and more people will choose to come here.”
Last week the cult comedy hit Peep Show was commissioned for a seventh series, yet three years ago there were rumours circulating that the show would not get a fourth. A reversal of fortune or vindication of Channel 4’s then dismissal of reports of the shows’ death as greatly exaggerated, if not fabricated? Most likely the latter case, but by the admission of Channel 4’s head of entertainment and comedy, Andrew Newman, the show is not exactly a cash cow: “In terms of being a ratings blockbuster it’s not particularly successful, with 1.5m viewers or so. It certainly doesn’t make money for Channel 4. However, we’re not a private company, at least not at the moment, and we think it is a great thing to have a show that for the majority of those who watch is one of their favourites. The depth of feeling for it is immense and it is great that the British broadcasting system allows for a show adored by 1.5m people as well as shows that get 3m, 4m, 5m viewers but for which the viewers don’t have the same level of feeling towards.”
The secret of the devotion to this cult hit, a triumph of artistic pursuit over commercial imperative, is as layered as the love for it. Peep Show is a project that sees the writing and duo of Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong and the comedy acting duo of David Mitchell and Robert Webb (likeable performers playing initially unlikeable characters) at the top of their game, a show that casts a shadow over their other projects but then it arguably towers above most comedy shows of the last decade except perhaps for The Office. But, as is customary in awards ceremonies, you have to look to whole team honouring deft production values and excellent cameos. Peep Show without the ‘headshot’ camera angles? Without Super Hans, Big Suze or Johnson? Unthinkable.
Of course the award for best supporting character in Peep Show has to go to inner monologue. The extra dimension of the show allowing the viewers to hear what the character is really thinking provides another layer of contrast from which more jokes can inevitably flow and makes up the show’s admirably high gag-per-minute-rate. Of stand up they say he/she is saying what we are all thinking. Of Peep Show they are thinking what we are all thinking but often saying something completely different. Unleashing a stream of consciousness allows for some sublime lines and another level for the language of desperation; for example when, series five, Mark (David Mitchell) observes Australian good-time girl Saz (Natasha Beaumont) at the bar after an unsuccessful speed dating event, where he has received no matches, he internally observes: “"maybe the data wasn't collated correctly, maybe she's my hanging chad."
While no one would elect to be Mark or Jeremy they have proved easier to watch even than the popular-but-nauseating David Brent or Alan Partridge and while we may not empathise with their sitcom plight (to have a need for each other against their better judgement, Steptoe and Son without the age gap perhaps?) we can eventually sympathise with them in the face of what Dick Fiddy, television historian, describes as the “anarchy” of the characters around them, for example the erratic Super Hans and the eccentric Big Suze:
Happily while some episodes may fare better than others the standards from one series to the next have remained high and, in the popular phraseology used to discuss the credibility of TV shows, Peep Show has not yet jumped the shark or nuked the fridge. In fact, so much the opposite that Sophie Winkleman (Big Suze) marrying Freddie Windsor later this year is not the only way Peep Show will be associated with the notion of royalty. As Thompson remarks Bain and Armstrong have “remained true to their original version of the programme” and this has reaped just reward.
The unusually early announcement that there will be a series seven before series six goes into production should only help the series according to Andrew Newman: “we wanted to plan it so that we get them when we want them and when the audience want them, a commitment that allows for a free and creative environment for writing and ambitious storylines.”
Dick Fiddy concurs and adds: “In recent times usually what happens is that one of the team decides they have had enough and they want to move on. Spaced and The Office could have gone on longer, the US Office is a testimony to that. With Peep Show, as long as the writers and performers are happy to continue then there is more to be had from the format. Look at Last of the Summer Wine, that’s on season 32...”