Almost a year has passed since the first half of Channel 4’s Comedy Showcase and E4’s Comedy Lab completed their concurrent runs. And a lot has changed since then. Inexplicably, the only one 4 picked up out of the original six thus far was Anna & Katy, far and away the worst offering of the initial half-dozen. Chickens though will go to series, albeit for Sky instead. For the others, everything’s either gone quiet or has been confirmed dead (e.g. The Fun Police).
But back to the final six. Once the announcement came through that Comedy Lab was to be cancelled after 13 years (roughly round the same time that they launched the online-only Comedy Blaps, perhaps as an indication of where the training ground for new comedy talent will lie in future), the scheduling went a bit haywire. The final three Comedy Lab instalments were practically sneaked in under the radar later than they were originally due to be broadcast, and the last of the Comedy Showcase episodes has only just found its way to our screens as part of 4’s current Funny Fortnight. Were they worth the wait?
The Mr and Mrs Hotty Hott Hot Show
This is not comedy trio Pappy’s first foray into the Comedy Lab, having created a more conventional sketch offering in the previous series, but in the wake of Shooting Stars’ cancellation, it seems if Vic and Bob aren’t able to keep their surreal over-the-top games show on air (though they are back this week, again for Funny Fortnight, in a one-off special Lucky Sexy Winners), this rag-tag absurdist beauty pageant pastiche doesn’t stand much of a chance either. Through a series of rather pathetic fairground-style challenges, audience members are whittled down to see who will be crowned Mr or Mrs Hotty Hott Hot. There’s very little else to it, but the energy (and peculiar karaoke renditions of popular hits) from the Pappy’s gang just about keeps it going, but only just, with the live studio fun only vaguely translating through the TV screen. Popstar Jamelia once again proves to be an unsung comedy genius, but for all its naughtiness and tomfoolery, it’s decidedly ho-hum. 2/5
The Warm-Up Guy
Initially, alarm bells rang that this would be a rip-off of Ray Peacock’s wonderful short, a behind-the-scenes peek at the life of the warm-up act who gets the studio audience going before filming a TV recording. The Warm-Up Guy takes a different approach, following in the fine British comedy tradition of deluded failures. However, it’s always a tricky thing to focus on a deliberately unfunny comedian funny and an unlikeable character sympathetic, but Tom Davis as Ian Bodkin largely fails to achieve either. There’s a desperation to it all that rings true (his vlog attempts in particular), and his job search meetings have an unexpected heightened tension being that his coordinator is played by Kill List star Neil Mallarkey. But Bodkin is so annoying, you barely care where he ends up at all. 2/5
The final Comedy Lab episode (in history), and probably the most obvious pilot (being that it is largely character introduction and plot establishment), also just so happens to be one of the weakest. It’s another east meets west culture-clash comedy (i.e. a Goodness Gracious Me cast member has to appear, in this case Kulvinder Ghir), this time focusing on slacker Bobby’s attempt to put together an all-white team to play the traditional Indian wrestling sport of Kabaddi. Shazad Latif is an affable lead, and Tony Jayawardena as a legendary Kabaddi player hired to train them is entertaining, but there’s very little else to recommend about it. The superhero-style character profiles are naff, and the assembled oddballs and no-hopers (including a seemingly lost Josie Long) are as cookie-cutter as can be (Fatso, Hippy, Geek). The worst of the worst though is Vin (The Fun Police’s Jack Doolan), Bobby’s supposed best mate but for how and for why is baffling considering he is a horribly sweary oaf who uses his working class background and lack of education as an excuse for his hugely misguided racial slurs. Kabadasses tries to have it both ways to some extent, but why it’s okay to resurrect the spirit of Bernard Manning with “Ramadama-ding-dong” jokes here is beyond comprehension. Or perhaps its just “ironic” stereotyping a la Come Fly With Me. Kabadasses wants to be a British Dodgeball: An Underdog Story. In the end, it’s just balls. And ass. 1/5
The Angelos Neil Epithemiou Show
It’s interesting that the only Comedy Showcase or Comedy Lab pilot in the 2011-12 offerings to go to series before even being screened is a vehicle for a character first introduced to the masses through the aforementioned recently cancelled Shooting Stars. But in gifting Angelos Epithemou his own show (which has already completed its first run!), at least something survives. Naturally the show lives or dies on whether you find the character amusing or not, and I do, but whether he can hold a half-hour variety mix of chat, quiz, interviews, audience participation, sketches, and song-and-dance numbers is another issue. As a means of comparison, you could look at Da Ali G Show, and likewise with Borat and Bruno, so too does Dan Skinner play other characters, but whereas Ali G was already established as a ‘yoof’ reporter on The 11 O’Clock Show and therefore presenting in a studio was not such a stretch, Epithemiou is perhaps not quite as well-placed in a format such as this. Yet, the deliberately shambolic anything-goes nature of the show, and the addition of the wonderful Adeel Akhtar (from Four Lions) as his even more inept sidekick, it gets away with it. Though it says something that I actually didn’t bother with the series itself. 3/5
Milton Jones’s House of Rooms
Though Milton Jones is by no means a newcomer, this was my first introduction to his work, and a very fine one it was too. A pretty conventional setting and situation (a ‘house’, owned by his mother who lets out ‘rooms’ to tenants) is merely the framework for an introductory episode filled with some very funny jokes and a wonderful set of performances, particularly Jones and Colin Hoult as charismatic Australian charmer, new tenant and love rival Paul. What’s more, House of Rooms is really impressively shot, in a highly stylised, near-cinematic fashion not really seen in either director Ben Palmer or director of photography Ben Wheeler’s previous work (having last collaborated on The Inebetweeners). Sometimes the comedy feels more like stand-up one liners and plays on words forced into a sitcom framework, but they are often so good, it doesn’t matter. And there are enough reveals, sight gags, surreal asides, and slapstick for it to be the most enjoyable episode of the second six. Yet, the cruelty of tellyland strikes again as a series is not in the offing. 4/5
The Function Room
It’s taken many many months, but finally Daniel Maier’s pilot and the last of the Comedy Showcase run has aired. Boasting a cast featuring more familiar faces than any of the others (including Kevin Eldon, Reece Shearsmith, Daniel Rigby, Simon Day, James Fleet, Marek Larwood, Blake Harrison…), The Function Room will surely serve as an excellent step for any future British comedy Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style pub conversation starter. But as a piece of comedy, it’s somewhat wanting. The characters are flat and the situation (locals attending a police meet-and-greet in the titular Function Room) uninspiring, which would be fine if it were all just a cipher for decent jokes, but these are few in number. Instead, we have running gags that go nowhere, puerile double entendre, and faecal matter. It manages to tie itself together a little better in the second half, but it feels more like an overlong skit that’d fill some time on Comic Relief night than a prospective opener for a full-blown series. 2/5