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