Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Best of Comic Relief 2011

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Do you remember when Comic Relief's fundraising was mostly restricted to buying silly red noses, cheap T-shirts and a novelty pop song in the run-up to the live telethon? That still happens, but these days you can't escape Comic Relief for weeks, sometimes months, before the big day itself, and it's subsidized by loads of celebrity-led specials. This year we've had the return of Let's Dance For Comic Relief every Saturday (celebs reenacting famous dances for phone votes), the Red Nose Desert Trek five-day endurance (celebs walk across Kenya for cash), Chris Moyles' Longest Ever Radio Show (52 hours, raising £2.6m from listeners), 24 Hour Panel People (David Walliams enduring a day-long marathon of panel show guesting), a week-long Comic Relief Does Glee Club special for kid's TV, and probably a few more I've forgotten.

Whatever happened to the days when the emphasis was on normal people sitting in baths of beans, or kids getting sponsored to wear their clothes on back-to-front at school? Times change, I guess. Or, more accurately, the emphasis gets shifted away from this homegrown fundraising, which no longer interests people watching TV at home. Our fame-hungry culture now has famous faces everywhere in the run-up to Red Nose Day, doing exciting things while raising their profile, or appearing in TV formats the public have been programmed to respond to by habitually punching digits into their phones.

But it works. RND has become more sophisticated and clever in how it goes about raising money. The various celebrity specials boost the totals to unprecedented levels, even in years where the nation's under financial pressure. Amazingly, RND11 became the charity's most successful evening ever, raising a whopping £74.3m (smashing 2009's total of £60m), despite the UK's rise in unemployment, increased VAT, and high fuel prices. We're such a generous nation, it's actually rather moving. And, of course, Friday's total will probably rise by another £20m throughout the year, as people forget Comic Relief's activities aren't restricted to one Friday evening in March.

A huge pat on the back if you donated some money! If you didn't why not do so? It's never too late. It really does make a huge difference to people's lives in the UK and Africa.

Below are some embedded videos of the evening's funniest sketches and spoofs, if you missed them, or don't happen to live in the UK. I've ranked them in descending order of amusement, which you may or may not agree with:

1. Smithy Saves Red Nose Day

The undoubted highlight of the evening for me. I don't even watch Gavin & Stacy to care about James Corden's character "Smithy", but he's become something of a fixture with Comic/Sport Relief, roping in A-list celebrities to participate in an extended sketch. This latest effort for RND11 was very funny, with Smithy called in by Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis to chair a meeting that will decide which celeb should be sent to Africa for Comic Relief. The conceit of having numerous celebs appear around a small oval table was simple but hugely effective. I'm not going to spoil the many surprises by letting you know exactly who appeared, you'll just have to watch it yourself. Excellent work, all round.

2. Alan Partridge: Comic Relief

Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge has been appearing on Comic Relief for donkey's years, so it just wouldn't be the same without an appearance from the Norfolk DJ who can't stop putting his foot in his mouth. This RND11 special continued in the same vein as his recent Mid Morning Matters webseries, featuring an explosive reaction to a nun. Funny stuff, worth watching just so you can contextualize Alan's phrase "you've got flecks on your wimple."

3. 'Doctor Who': "Space & Time"

I've already blogged about this year's charity special, so won't repeat myself here. Suffice to say, it was a very good "timey wimey" sketch with a double helping of Amy Pond. Great stuff!

4. Ant n' Dec's Big Red Nose Challenge

Popular presenters Ant n' Dec made a rare appearance outside of ITV, spending a day hijacking various TV and radio shows. A surprisingly funny effort from the Geordie duo, with a brilliant ending.

5. Peter Kay & Susan Boyle: "I Knew Him So Well"

Ever since his "(Is This The Way) To Amarillo" song became a surprise smash-hit, comedian Peter Kay has been the crowned king of the charity record. He reprised his transexual Geraldine McQueen character to duet with Britain's Got Talent phenomenon Susan Boyle on '80s classic "I Knew Him So Well." An amusing, accurate pastiche, and a decent cover of the song, but still the least hilarious offering Kay's given us.

6. Uptown, Downstairs Abbey

A timely spoof of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs from Jennifer Saunders, Harry Enfield, Joanna Lumley, Sex & The City's Kim Catrall, Simon Callow, and an assortment of other famous faces. Fairly predictable with some weak jokes, but there were some well-observed moments (like how the music on Downton Abbey often intrudes on scenes.)

7. Fake That

Another very well-produced sketch, with Take That auditioning their own tribute act. Fake That were comprised of Alan Carr (Gary), James Corden (Mark), Catherine Tate (Jason), David Walliams (Howard) and John Bishop (Robbie.) In some ways it felt like a way to promote Take That's latest single, sure, but it was entertaining enough that I didn't care too much.

8. The Inbetweeners: Rude Place Name Challenge

The cast of E4's hit comedy The Inbetweeners were challenged to visit 50 places with the rudest names in Britian, in 50 hours. A smutty bit of harmless fun, on paper, but something of a bore in practice. It wouldn't surprise me if this was supposed to be a fullblown TV special, but then the makers realized the footage they were getting back over 50 hours was so unfunny it became filler for the live show. The hope was probably to see some of that Inbetweeners chemistry, for real, but it amounted to four young men driving around in a car stinking of farts.

9. Harry Hill's Autumnwatch

The big-collared comedian brings his madcap comedy to RND11, with a spoof of nature series Autumnwatch where the wildlife is comprised of kitsch/cheesy celebrities like Ronnie Corbett, Bernie Clifton and Lembit Opek. Pretty bland, uninspired japery from Harry Hill, aired early so the kids can have a giggle.

Did you find any of that funny? If so, please donate some money.