Wednesday, July 19

Stand-up and be counted

David Davies laments the lack of stand up on TV

In the early 1970s there was a show on ITV called The Comedians. It was a lesson in simplicity: comics, from clubs, telling jokes to an audience, their acts edited and jumbled into half an hour of quickfire fun. Sometimes over 50 jokes made it into one show. It birthed regional comedy legends, including Frank Carson, Bernard Manning, Tom O'Connor, Mike Reid and the immortal Jim Bowen. Later revivals found the talent of Stan Boardman and Roy Walker.

As well as spawning Bullseye, Catchphrase and the no-superlative-for-it genius of Crosswits, The Comedians showed TV how to do stand-up. The message was clear - keep it simple and it will work. So what happened?

Jack Dee, a man so bilious he leaves a slimy trail wherever he walks, was given his own show a few years back. Don't remember it? It was called Jack Dee's Happy Hour (they were burning the candle at both ends coming up with that corker) and it featured Jack interacting with people in a variety of increasingly boring situations. The show was a total waste of his talent, verging on criminally offensive. Some respite came from the short moments he had to scythe down whatever had bugged him during that particular week.

More successful was Jack Dee Live At The Apollo. This was, as the better title suggested, Jack Dee, Live At The Apollo. Introducing a different comedian every week, it was a feast of stand-up craftsmanship. Some were misses, others were big hits, as anyone who saw Omid Djalili's routine will attest to. Then there was Jack, taking centre stage for one show and reminding us of how sharp he can be.

It's a crime that's been committed for years. Billy Connolly was strait-jacketed by his world tours, the glimpses of perhaps the greatest stand-up comedian of his generation all too brief between the Scot expounding on the virtues of aboriginal tapestry weaving. Lee Evans has been shoe horned into one horrific sitcom, with the best of his work relegated to the Paramount Comedy Channel - the one broadcasting outlet that understands stand-up and knows how to present it.

There's more. Friday Night with Jonathan Ross is a good show because it's with Jonathan Ross. His skits between guests are often hilarious, worth staying with the show for even when his line-up includes legendary raconteurs like Nigel Harmon. The Friday Night Project is worthless on a Friday night because everyone who would want to watch a show like that is busy out in clubs getting off their face. Turn it into a Thursday pre-jolly comic showcase with new comedians getting a chance to make us laugh.

These are only the comedians who are currently on TV. The aforementioned Omid Djalili would surely create the kind of satire even Jon Stewart would bow to, whilst Sean Lock has proven on several different quiz shows that he is currently the funniest man outside of the mainstream. He deserves something better than TV Heaven, Telly Hell. Then there's Jo Brand, worthy of so much more than an unfunny advert clip show, and Victoria Wood, who would surely do a few hours of stand-up for the right price. The talent is there in abundance.

There is one man who has had it right all along. Jasper Carrott's last series was stand-up of the very highest calibre, laugh out loud, bladder-bursting stuff. The set up was a couple of cameras pointed at a balding Brummie in front of the blandest of stages. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.

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