Tuesday, February 20

Not so happy and too many hours

Nick Yates gets an insider look at the weekend's latest late night TV

Like some kind of fame parasite, the Al Murray look-alike sat on the back row of the auditorium wearing the sort of contorted grin that suggested he’d just done a particularly satisfying poo.

His presence in the audience at the filming of an episode of Al Murray’s Happy Hour (Friday and Saturday nights, ITV1) raised several questions. Was this middle-aged baldie, dressed in an outfit carefully put together in homage to the comedian’s right-wing pub landlord persona, a regular in audiences for Al Murray’s shows? If so, what was in it for him?

Because sitting through nearly four hours of Happy Hour being filmed – as I did last Tuesday at ITV’s headquarters in Southwark, London – was certainly not an experience most sane people would want to repeat in a hurry.

I thought I’d give the whole live audience member thing a pop after being offered a freebie for the event. I was underwhelmed. The evening involved 20-minutes of stand up by Murray. This was presumably a kind of payment to the audience for turning up because it didn’t seem to be getting filmed. A good deal up to this point.

However, what happened for the rest of the evening was another comedian acted in the role of a porn film’s fluffer, keeping the audience entertained and up to the job between periods of filming. Sadly, all this comprised was a series of gay jokes. His wearying sign-off line was, as I remember, ‘bums in; chests out; girls, throw them over your shoulder; boys, tuck them into your socks’.

In a slick operation, the audience was herded into seating, urged to laugh like goons and clap uproariously even if the comedy wasn’t comic. The guests they had lined up were chat show icon Jerry Springer, page three beauty Linda Lusardi… and Len Goodman. Worst of all, we were forced to make like an appreciative concert audience to a miming Lemarr and backing band. There have been, and surely will be, better rosters of stars during this series of Happy Hour.

The episode was filmed in sections determined by where the ad-breaks will fall. The links, the quips that Murray as presenter uses to introduce the show and each guest, were repeated over and over until perfected – each time with us reminded ‘bums in, chests out’, you know the rest.

While I like Murray’s racist and misogynistic pub schtick as much as the next man, his interaction with the guests was constrained by a rigid script. The bits that were obviously improvisation hinted at the real reasons why he has won the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award.

But, hell, why I am telling you about it? Judge for yourself when Happy Hour is broadcast (Saturday, ITV, 9:50 pm and Friday, ITV, 11pm).

We were assured by the fluffer that footage of the audience would make up ‘80 per cent of the episode’. Look out for my forced laughs about 10 rows below a fat man dressed in a red blazer, white shirt and tie

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