In 2003, Wootton went solo to star in My New Best Friend, a hidden camera series where he pretended to be a contestant's nightmarish new friend – introduced to family and friends over an embarrassing weekend. The show won "Best New Comedy" at the British Comedy Awards.
Wootton's next venture was High Spirits With Shirley Ghostman, a spoof of psychic mediums like Derek Acorah. This BBC Three series proved very popular – but a second season was shelved after Shirley's controversial appearance on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross – where he sparked a record number of complaints for a slew of risqué jokes.
Someone at BBC Three obviously likes Mark Wootton enough to give him a second chance, and the result is sketch show Marc Wootton Exposed. It gives Wootton the perfect excuse to disappear into characters, enhanced this time with prosthetics.
Less "sketchy" than most shows, Exposed played more like a series of monologues and vignettes, without any support from fellow performers. This was very much a one-man show, with characters who shared one common trait: delusion.
Paul Pearson was a sad loner who believes he's slowly transforming into a vampire and keeps a video diary from inside his bed-sit. Initially this seemed like a very weak idea, but there was something quite beguiling about Pearson's Beckham-style voice, and the recurrences of the sketch continued the vampire idea well. I'm not sure this could be stretched out into future episodes successfully, though...
Candy is a brash, obese American comedienne who's unable to actually make a properly-constructed gag, but instead thinks providing a set-up and screeching "come on!" will suffice. A good performance from Wootton, although the one-note jokes weren't particularly funny (even if that was the point), and she could prove intensely irritating.
Ian Jackson is a toothy schoolboy whose innocent stories hint at a sinister reality, as we slowly begin to realize the child is quite possibly a deranged psycho. This was easily the best character, with the 8-year-old's not-so-innocent stories quite fun and frightening in equal measure.
Rufus is a posh, ginger, country gentleman who has been enslaved by rap culture after accidentally listening to Tim Westwood on Radio 1. He now spends his days making up raps about upper-class things. Quite an obvious idea, but there were some good moments and I particularly liked the pimped-out horse.
Noodle is a controversial artist who has zero talent, but plenty of attitude and an obsession with "retro". I liked his Mick Jagger-style voice, but everything else was a little bit tedious and poking fun at these rebellious artists is nothing new.
Doris is an elderly lady who monologues about her life, which clearly involved decades of abuse at the hands of her late-husband Desmond, although she's quite oblivious that her mistreatment isn't the norm. Not immediately funny, but the writing was stronger for Doris than the other characters, and it was nicely performed by Wootton in a sort of Alan Bennett-style.
Pip is an Emo musician who sings pretentious songs about stupid topics on his piano. This could have really flopped, but it was actually pretty good, primarily because it didn't outstay its welcome and the character hit the right note of irritation.
Stu is the Australian children's TV presenter of War On Kids, where he tries to discipline kids using torture tactics his own parents used on him. The zaniest idea and quite in-your-face, with the simple idea working mainly because Stu himself was an engaging presence.
Altogether, while rarely laugh-out-loud stuff -- because Wootton is more interested in making you uncomfortable and pity his characters – this was a decent opener. I always think the first episodes of most sketch shows get by purely because everything is fresh -- so I'm worried that most of these characters will become irritating very quickly (if not already).
Marc Wootton Exposed did show a bit of flair and wit in its writing at times (courtesy of a script by Wootton and Liam Woodman), and Wootton himself is clearly a gifted comedic actor in the Matt Lucas mould.
But, whereas Lucas and David Walliams' Little Britain uses its cheeky silliness to ingratiate subversive elements on people, Wootton's show is relentlessly dark, weird, and a bit uncomfortable. It's difficult to imagine him ever crossing over to the mainstream, but Marc Wootton Exposed should appeal to a niche market of teens and young adults.
I predict Wootton will need more characters and imagination to keep things interesting and fresh, though -- as a few of the characters (Paul, Candy and Noodle) were already testing my patience after just one episode! But, as first episodes go, this was good enough to make me tune in for episode 2...
13 January 2008
BBC Three, 9.30 pm