Paul Merton: The Series
My voyage of comedy discovery continues with Paul Merton’s Channel 4 show, Paul Merton: The Series (1991-1993) back in the day when he was young. These days, he does mostly travel documentaries and, of course, the excellent political satire panel show Have I Got News For You. But he’s someone with quick wits fashioned thanks to an obligatory background in stand-up comedy.
Paul had been on TV before with appearances in comedy improvisation show, Whose Line Is It Anyway. Actually, he had already started Have I Got News For You, but Paul Merton: The Series was his own sketch show, written with John Irwin. I say sketch show, it was more of a combination of sketches and stand-up. The stand-up is performed with him manning a tobacconist’s stand in a tube station and delivering his witty one-liners, intermittently interrupted by customers whom he interacts dryly with. The sketches have a dark surreal edge to them, ranging from the absurd to the frankly weird. Which is exactly how I like my sketches! <catchphrase alert> Innit marvellous!
The great thing about watching old comedy stuff is that you occasionally catch a face you recognise and it turns out to be a well-known comedian in his young years doing his apprenticeship. Paul Merton: The Series features people like Ben Miller of comedy duo Armstrong&Miller and Caroline Quentin. There is even a cameo by the magnificent Paul Whitehouse and also Hugh Bonneville (Twenty Twelve, Downton Abbey)!
I would heartily recommend catching this show on Channel 4oD (only for UK viewers!) if you like dark, surreal and mad humour with the typically deadpan comedy genius that is Paul Merton.
Here’s a taster video clip from the show: WW2 Prisoner camp sketch
Stephen Merchant: Hello Ladies
Being a massive fan of Gervais-Merchant (The Office and Extras are ground-breaking pieces of TV comedy, in my opinion), I was extremely excited when I heard Stephen Merchant was going to embark on a stand-up tour this year. At first, I was disappointed to discover that he was not going to grace with his presence the Grand Opera House in York which is part of the national stand-up comedy circuit. But then, as usually happens with successful tours, new venues and dates were added and York was finally going to welcome a comedy genius. Of course, I pounced like a hungry predator to get tickets.
I had some reservations prior to the show. It’s not easy to see someone you like out of their element, even though Merchant was a stand-up comedian before he met Gervais. He hadn’t done it for around a decade and I thought that if I hated the show, I would lose some of my appreciation for his fantastic work on TV. But those doubts were dissipated minutes into his show. Stand-up comedy is a different beast entirely. Nevertheless, Merchant looked absolutely effortless on stage. He immediately tackled the elephant (or giraffe or some other proverbially tall animal maybe…) in the room: his height. He talked about the few advantages and the many disadvantages, combining wit with physical comedy. He’s also a very talented actor after all, on top of being a writer and a director. The second half of the show dealt mainly about his attempts to find himself a wife. He used his geeky side to great comedic effect, particularly when recounting his pedantic letter to Blue Peter as a child. For someone who works with the ruthless Gervais, he seemed very charming and warm. No potentially offensive material, nothing dirty. Even when he does come close to it, he gets all shy.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show, so far so that it was possibly the best stand-up I have seen this year (my 12th since January) outside of Edinburgh! Stephen Merchant is an incredibly funny man and looks so slick on stage that it’s amazing he stayed away from it for so many years, albeit while churning out comedy gold on TV and in the world of podcasts. Check him out if you can!
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011: Day Six
Final day at the festival. To be fair, I was absolutely knackered and although I could have crammed in more shows today, I only went for the two I already tickets for.
Alun Cochrane: Moments Of Alun
I was back the The Stand to see a grumpy misanthropic comic moaning about everything in life. Cochrane talks about his life and stuff that annoys him. Pure and simple. It was a haphazard collection of hilarious anecdotes and funny routines. He tackles the usual topics of the middle-aged comedian: age, children, old parents, drinking, fat people,…etc. An hour well spent. Also, Tim Key was sat next to me for the whole show.
Andrew Maxwell: The Lights Are On
Last show of my Fringe was that of an Irishman, Edinburgh Comedy award nominee, Andrew Maxwell (as seen on Mock The Week). I think he was the last comedian to leave the building at the festival. He was on quite late, on a Monday, when most other shows finished a day earlier. Maxwell does mostly politics and current affairs. Being an Irishman, he was able to let himself loose on the Scottish as well as the English. Being an Irishman also meant he could tackle religion with a degree of ease. He was another comedian who rewrote part of his show because of the riots in order to stay topical. The show was brilliant as he toyed a lot with the audience, by trying to insult everyone and then being very self-deprecating to win back all the affection of the public. He did end the show in a weird fashion though. Apparently, this was only for the last show, something he does every year. He brought another comedian on who downed a pint of beer through a horn, to prove it was hollow and clean. And then, he did a solemn send-off with everyone in the audience asked to stand up and salute! Very unconventional and I was a bit annoyed, but I could see the fun in it. It was also the last show, so what the hell!
I think I had an awesome time in Edinburgh for the festival. I saw 18 shows in all, almost all of them were worth it. The city itself loved welcoming everyone and it was all very well organised. The best show I saw is probably a tie between Rich Hall’s and Phill Jupitus’s, not a surprise really given both are experienced comedians who have been in the industry for years.
I hope to make it back to Edinburgh next year!
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011: Day Five
Penultimate day of the festival! I even missed a great match to be at a show. But ultimately, it was probably my best day at the Fringe!
Robin Ince & Michael Legge: Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire 2
Anger can make for great comedy. This was a mostly improvised show where Robin Ince and Michael Legge went through things that made them angry. There was a lot of audience participation. People were asked to come up with something that made them angry and Ince and Legge would argue about it, have a row and then let the audience decide whether it’s pointless anger or righteous ire. Utterly enjoyed the show. Both comedians are clearly very quick with their improvisations and also like to ask the audience to leave several times and insult the people on the first row!
Andy Zaltzman: Armchair Revolutionary
Because I am a huge fan of political satire, I thought it was okay to miss Man Utd thrashing Arsenal 8-2 and go and see Andy Zaltzman, satirist who even brings a certificate on stage to prove his satirical prowess! To be honest, I had never heard of Zaltzman before and after the show, I almost felt ashamed of it. His material was great and above all, very topical, which always helps with satire. He had to rewrite part of his show as the riots happened during the festival. There were hilarious intermittent radio broadcasts and laboured puns during the show which lightened the mood as political stuff can be heavy. Oh and he does the whole show with an arrow through his head…
Seann Walsh: Ying And Young
After two great shows at The Stand, I made my way to the very commercial Pleasance (according to Robin Ince and Michael Legge) to see another comedian off Mock The Week! It was more traditional stand-up once again, although not extremely original, but still funny because you identify with the observational comedy. Walsh basically talked about the ridiculous things that people do these days, including himself (“what’s that all about” stuff). He got the laughs though, so fair enough!
You know you are a veteran and a master-craftsman when you don’t feel the need to have a title for your show! Your name is enough to attract people. Rich Hall, the American comedy star, is one of those comedians. Like Phill Jupitus, he could do comedy in his sleep and still mesmerise the crowd. His main topics, as always, are the differences between the British and the Americans, politics and living in London and he likes terrorising audience members in the front rows. He even got this guy to do a few songs with him and read a letter from a kidnapper. Rich Hall reeks of experience as he is masterful at going through his routines. He will take it up a notch as he expertly navigates his way to the punchline and will no rest easy until he has you running out of breath as you laugh. All in all, fantastic end to the day!
So far, I have only two shows booked for the final day of the festival tomorrow: Alun Cochrane at The Stand and Andrew Maxwell at The Assembly. Might stick in 1-2 shows before Cochrane.