Ian Wolf

Gigglebox Weekly #10

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Ian Wolf reviews Alexander Armstrong's Big Ask, Lead Balloon and Horrible Histories

This week Ian Wolf covers poo, more poo and Dave Lamb again.

Alexander Armstrong’s Big Ask


There are quite a few things to be said about this panel show pilot made for digital channel Dave. First of all, it’s better than Compete for the Meat.

Hosted by Alexander Armstrong, the main hook of this show is that the panellists – in this case Robert Webb, Katy Brand and Griff Rhys Jones – have to come up with the questions and they score points if their opponents fail to get them right. It has already been described as QI without the researchers.

There were some interesting things that popped up during the course of the show, such as the fact that in Victorian times green dye contained arsenic, so people were being slowly killed by their wallpaper. Not all the questions were based on far-flung info through, as one round consisted of trying to come up with funny questions to ask famous people. There was one example by Webb towards Louis Spence which I won’t repeat here, but I can tell you mentioned the f-word.

One aspect that grabbed my attention was Dave Lamb, who was in the show’s “Fact Bunker” checking out all the answers, and who only appeared on a television inside the studio. The thing is, I reviewed his radio show last week, in which he played an agoraphobic conspiracy theorist, and now he’s on a TV show with a studio audience, but not appearing in front of them in the flesh. Is this where he gets his ideas from?

In terms of intellectual comedy, I don’t think you can top QI, but Big Ask is a decent attempt and is no doubt much cheaper, which is important to a digital channel facing competition from bigger broadcasters. On this show they don’t need to spend money on researchers – instead they spend the money on electronic tablets for each of the panellists, because let’s be fair it is a bit of bore just using your mouth.

Having said that, I still think that it was an entertaining pilot and I hope a full series comes out of it.

Lead Balloon


I can remember the great Irish stand-up comic Dylan Moran once saying that whenever you are having a discussion with a German, all that you are thinking about when they talk is: “Yeah, yeah, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler…”

In the same way, I suspect that many people watch Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon while for most of the time they are thinking: “Yeah, yeah, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Curb, Curb, Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and perhaps throwing in the occasional, “Larry David” for a bit of variety.

I myself have never been the biggest Lead Balloon fan, but it was funny in parts. One subplot of the opening episode was of failed stand-up Rick Spleen (Dee) trying to write a book, a scenario which did make me chuckle when Dee asked if, “They sell books in Lidl?”

The actual main plot was Spleen preparing, or rather hijacking, a Sunday Times interview featuring his wife, and trying to make himself more interesting by getting a pet pig. The main scene near the end featured Spleen trying to get the pig out from underneath a table which was amusing… at first… and then the pig shat on him.

Now I don’t mind toilet humour, but I am of the view that excrement is much funnier when it is talked about rather than appearing on screen. The scene was too disgustingly graphic to be funny for me.

Horrible Histories


I have to admit this is the first time I have watched Horrible Histories, which is strange because I loved the books when I was a kid. Having watched the first episode in the new series it is clear that this is something I’ve grown out of, as sadly this show is not for me.

It is such a shame because it is clearly popular with both its target audience of children, with some adults, and with the people who decided to give it the British Comedy Award for “Best Sketch Comedy”. However, for me much of it was just annoying. For example, one episode featured a Roman general trying to kill 5,000 people in battle so that he could get a parade, but the enemy surrendered after 4,999 deaths, so the general kills a Roman bureaucrat to reach the total. That is all right as an idea for a sketch, but then the general did this annoying beat-boxing at the end to celebrate reaching 5,000.

It wasn’t the only thing annoying thing about the show. There was also a parody of the Adam and the Ants song “Stand and Deliver” telling the story of Dick Turpin, which just got on my nerves; all the way through the show little signs kept popping up saying things like, “This really happened!”, which wound me up; and there was a sketch about a French prankster – although to be fair the character was deliberately meant to be annoying.

Also, this show also had quite a lot of jokes involving and seeing faeces. To be fair however, at least the sketch was teaching children about gong farmers (people paid to remove human waste) and tanners (people who used poo to make leather), whereas in Lead Balloon it just came out in one sudden unpleasant burst.

I suppose the way to conclude this review is that if you like it, good for you, because there is more to come. There is already a spin-off called Gory Games which features Dave Lamb as a co-host – interesting to see that he is willing to entertain children face-to-face but not adults. I’m guessing children are much easier to please.

Horrible Histories is also being re-worked for a primetime audience, with Stephen Fry acting as a host. However, I don’t think even he is going to make me watch it. For me, this is a children’s sketch show that the children can keep for themselves.