Ian Wolf

Gigglebox Weekly #13 – Show Me The Funny

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Gigglebox Weekly With Ian Wolf

This week I have decided to devote the entire column to just the one show: the new comedy reality programme Show Me the Funny, hosted by Jason Manford. My review can be summed up in a few short words, but I’m not allowed to use those sorts of words so I have to elaborate.

This was a show which I was never going to like for one simple reason – it is a reality TV show. I hate reality TV more than it is possible to imagine, and I think that is important to explain my hatred of it before I go on and review this programme.

While there are the usual reasons such as reality TV being dumbed down and often broadcasting to the lowest common denominator, there is also the bigger issue, which I accept, that due to reality TV, certain types of comedy show have had their airtime dramatically reduced.

Reality TV is much cheaper to make and much less of a risk to take both in terms of finance and of ratings. With a reality TV show you do not need to employ someone to write a script, you have to build less sets, you can generate cash from phone-lines if it is the sort of show which has public voting, you are almost guaranteed to get viewers due to the usual sob stories from the public or from celebrity glitz and glamour, and you will certainly get coverage of the show in the newspapers which will attract even more viewers and revenue.

However, with certain types of comedy, such as a sitcom, it is much more risky. It takes a long time to write and prepare and sitcom. Also, a sitcom might take a few episodes to settle in, while your average TV executive wants results here and now. They don’t want to wait and see if the show will be a success. If they think that a show is going to flop or has flopped, they will happily move it to a graveyard slot or axe the show altogether. A TV executive is more likely than not to commission a risk-free reality show than go for something more expensive, even if it is more high-brow. As a result, the most common types of comedy show that you see grow and become successful are ones which are less expensive to make, like panel shows and stand-up shows, such as Show Me the Funny.

Let’s start with the regular hosts and judges. I can fully understand why Jason Manford would host a show like this. He would be seen as a safe pair of hands, and after leaving 8 Out of 10 Cats and The One Show he needs something to do while he’s not touring.

Then there is Alan Davies. When I heard that Davies was doing this show my heart sank. This is the man who is the regular panellist on probably my favourite current comedy show on TV, QI, a show which prides itself on high-brow, educated entertainment, and he does what I think is the most base TV genre you could possibly do. Still, he does provide useful advice to the contenders.

Lastly, there is Kate Copstick. She says she is being “brutally honest”; I say she is being a spiteful woman who should just continue writing articles for The Scotsman. She may want to be portrayed as a Simon Cowell figure, but the best way I can think of responding to this association would be with this quote from Armando Iannucci Charm Offensive by Vaughn Savage about Cowell: “You might think you’re the celebrity we love to hate, but actually public reaction to you is mired in indifference.”

The other judge is always a guest. Last week it was Jimmy Tarbuck; next week it is Bob Mortimer. However, I think they’re missing something. While some of the guest judges are current stand-up performers, the only regular judges are a former stand-up (Davies mainly does acting, panel shows and podcasts about Arsenal) and a critic. I think that they should have got a current stand-up to perfect the mix.

Now let’s turn our attention to the actual episode that went out last Monday night. The premise is that the contenders have to play to a different special audience in each episode – in this week’s case an all-female audience mostly from Liverpool. Manford begins the show by telling us that the prize they are trying to win – £100,000, a nationwide tour and their own DVD in time for Christmas – is, “the biggest prize in stand-up comedy.” What? Bigger than the Perrier/Edinburgh Comedy Award? Bigger than a British Comedy Award? I seriously doubt the validity of that claim.

The ten contenders were split into five pairs and given a range of tasks to do to prepare for the gig. The problem was that these tasks seemed to have nothing to do with preparing for a comedy gig. Yes, obviously you want to take in some of the sights so you can prepare topical material on them that might use on the night, but I fail to see what trying to find ten women named after The Beatles son “Michelle”, or trying to prepare a blind date has to do with any of that.

But the main problem came when the programme actually showed the comedians perform. Now, I have to say that the main positive of this show, and there is one, is the contenders, because comedians are by far and a way better than the contestants you get on most reality TV shows; they’re at least willing to make fun of themselves.

These people are not like people who apply for The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, with some sob story about how they overcame their cancer and blindness while holding down three jobs and being pregnant despite being a 90-year-old man that lives in a cardboard box with a rabies-infected tiger. Nor are they like these cocky people from The Apprentice who think they are God’s gift to industry despite being unable to count to ten without using their fingers.

The problem with the contestants of this show is that what we want to see them do is perform, but some of the acts had pathetic amounts of air time. One, former Welsh undertaker Dan Mitchell, appear to have about five seconds devoted to his act. Compare that to the two worst acts on the night, Ignacio Lopez (the only half Spanish, half Welsh stand-up comedian in the world) and Prince Abdi (a man who has done the typical reality TV show thing of quitting their original job to become a “star”), who were shown seemingly in full. It probably wasn’t the full routine, it just felt like it.

Both of these contestants were given the terrible fate of dying on their arse both on stage and on TV. I was cringing when I saw them perform, I pitied them. However, what really annoys me is that I know that there will be some people out there watching Show Me the Funny purely to see some acts fail, wanting to take glee and schadenfreude in their suffering. Now, if you are that sort of person I wish to inform you here and now that you sicken me. If you’re the sort of person who watches comedy purely to see someone fail, you shouldn’t be allowed to watch it.

In the end it was Lopez who was voted off by the judges, however they said he should perfect his act more to become ‘successful’. Why? There’s no point. Everyone now knows him as the first person to have been kicked off Show Me the Funny. Whenever he appears on stage that will be the one thing everyone will know about him, and it’ll make his future comedy career incredibly difficult, if not impossible for him. What this show has done is totally destroy any future career in comedy for Lopez.

For me, this show just makes me despair. Do you really need a show like this? No we don’t. We all know that it’ll be the more experienced acts like Patrick Monahan and Tiffany Stevenson who are most likely to win, and no doubt they would have got the public attention they deserve anyway without the need to do a show like this. All this show is doing is ruining some promising young comedy careers. Show Me the Funny is absolutely pointless.