Thursday, 21 July 2011


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Unfortunately titled, considering the scarcity of laughs. Jason Manford presents The Apprentice-for-comedians, as 10 stand-ups compete for £100,000, a DVD deal, and a nationwide tour. Show Me The Funny's judges are comedian Alan Davies (a man whose stand-up comes a distant third to panel show appearances and acting these days), Kate Copstick (a respected comedy critic, whose nonetheless best-known as a panelist on '80s quiz Crosswits), and a weekly guest judge (this week, comedy dinosaur Jimmy Tarbuck). Are the warning lights flashing yet?

Every week the stand-ups travel to a different city, perform totally unnecessary tasks (on the streets of Liverpool some were asked to find passersby with names from a Beatles song), and soak up local knowledge to inspire a five-minute set of brand new jokes. Each comedian then performs to a local audience (comprised entirely of women this week), while assessed by the three judges, and the worst performer sent home.

The format's a key problem here. The street tasks didn't influence most people's comedy, beyond one person who unashamedly stole a joke a hairdresser told him about posh Scousers from the Wirral picking their noses with cutlery. It was instead just a way to kill time. After an unforgivable half-hour (including two ad breaks) we'd seen precious little comedy or jokes (there are disputed rumours that host Manford's jokes were cut for legal reasons). And when the stand-up finally arrived, the quality was understandably poor because it was new material hastily written in 24-hours. Few comedians work under those exacting conditions, particularly new ones hoping to make a splash. It can take years to hone some material down into a decent 5-10 minute set, so why not judge them on their existing material instead of forcing them to write five minutes of imprecise local gags?

It was also blatantly obvious who the worst stand-ups were out of the 10 (a half-Spanish man feebly peddling a "lothario" image, and a black man who unwisely persisted with an excruciating Scouse accent), so the judges weren't saying anything we didn't know already. You could say that Simon Cowell likewise states the blindingly obvious (bad singing is bad singing, right?), but there's more of a grey area with wannabe popstars. In comedy, you're either funny... or you're not. There's very little wriggle room. The judges comments weren't particularly constructive or helpful, anyway. ITV could have opened a phoneline for 15 minutes and ended with the same result.

Show Me The Funny's sole positive is how it acknowledges the lows that come from stand-up comedy. On TV, stand-up is understandably edited so performers always look successful at what they're doing, for fear of killing the mood, or just features performers who've reaches a standard where their material is generally more hit than miss. But this show gave a more honest view of the art from a lower rung, with most people suffering through stony silence or bemused tittering. It made you squirm in your seat at times, guffawing out of embarrassment as people's jokes hit the floor like dead fish.

But that doesn't forgive the fact that this was a stand-up comedy show that took half-an-hour to actually feature any stand-up, and then its comedy "highlights" were ironically the lowlights. Show Me The Funny feels like a show that's been thrown together by committee. People like X Factor, The Apprentice and stand-up comedy these days, so let's throw them in a blender and serve it up! Will audiences even embrace the winner of this show when they're announced in six weeks? Buying their DVD and booking tickets for a tour? I just can't see it. Tesco bargain bins and some gigs at Butlins is the most likely outcome.

Show Me The Funny / Mondays / ITV, 9pm