Friday, 24 March 2017

75 Pints, 1 Song, No Laughter: People Who Died On Their Arse For Comic Relief

HAPPY RED NOSE DAY! Whatever your opinion on the charity, the programme or its inspiration to make members of the public to do tedious things invariably involving beans for cash, it does a lot of good work both abroad and at home. And occasionally something funny happens!!! Maybe it was Victor Meldrew in the bath, French and Saunders being rude, Catherine Tate saying "bothered" to someone you wouldn't normally expect or Mr Bean falling down a well that made you giggle like a goon when you were younger. But what about the times where the audience don't - or won't - join in with the chuckles? Maybe they fail to get it or they're tired but occasionally the laughs don't come for some acts on stage and live television actually feels live for once.

Ably assisted by Mr Tim Worthington from the always excellent Newsround blog, here are a few acts who suffered that fate on the big night...

Adam And Joe

In a bit of a limbo since their self titled Channel 4 programme ended and awaiting the broadcast of their "Go Tokyo" series by BBC Three that May, Adam and Joe were still an exceptionally cult act for anyone not in the habit of watching late night sketch shows on C4 (their last series had aired on E4 before it was watched by anyone and given a horrible Wednesday night 11pm timeslot after being a staple of Friday nights when people might actually stay up to watch telly.) When I saw them listed as presenters for this, I hoped it would be a triumph but you know the premise of this article already, right? Already given the poison chalice of having to host the very last segment of Comic Relief 2003, the programme overran as ever meaning the 12:30pm slot given for "Comic Relief's Classic Comedy Masterclass" (a cheap clip section featuring old comedy bits) ended up closer to 2am and a very tired studio audience were in no mood for two people they'd never heard of in silly outfits and looking more like kids TV presenters. Add that to the fact that neither Buxton or Cornish had done much work in front of a live audience and it lead to a rather downbeat ending to the night's proceedings. The same would happen to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in 2007 who ended up starting past 3am but smartly were pre-taped as if they were good or something.

Eddie Izzard

Believe it or not, there was a time when Eddie Izzard was known as the comedian who 'didn't do TV'. At his own insistence. His initial rise was entirely down to the popularity of his live act, and although I'd seen this written about in glowing terms, the only time that I'd really actually encountered it was through his really rather good appearance on Radio 5's Club Class. Then in 1993, as part of Comic Relief's pleasingly ad-hoc and ramshackle-looking revival of Saturday Live, he finally made his first major television appearance to some considerable fanfare. Which may have sounded exciting, but the performance itself most certainly was not. Looking and sounding uncomfortable, he hesitantly made his way through a string of arcane and audience-baffling jokes to very few laughs at all. So exactly like the 'new' acts on the original Saturday Live, then.

- Tim Worthington

Father Ted and Dougal

Sadly the full segment - listed in the Radio Times as "Father Ted and His Faithful Friends" - isnt online but I remember the sense of utter bafflement from the studio as Lenny Henry hands over the next half an hour apparently to two random Irish priests in spangly golden jackets arriving on the back of a (lovely) horse. Of course, to faithful Channel 4 viewers this is Fathers Ted and Dougal, fourteen episodes and a Christmas special into their run but not quite a nationally known series from years of repeats. As Ted says "I thought that hosting Comic Relief was mainly reserved for famous comedians rather than two completely unknown priests from the west of Ireland.” The material, all written by series creators Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, is generally of a very high quality with a particularly memorable section featuring Dougal copying Vic and Bob's big saucepan fights but with a real pan, breaking Ted's nose. See it for yourself on the fairly recent Ted boxset. Who will they have next as a Comic Relief presenter? Father Noel Furlong????

That Blankety Blank sketch

A contribution from Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper, creators of the wonderful but hugely obscure BBC2 fake science comedy "Look Around You" purporting to be an unaired archive episode of "Blankety Blank" which went out around 1am in 2003 and I first saw without sound waiting for a takeaway. I recognised pretty much everyone involved and chuckled to myself as I saw Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Sarah Alexander and Martin Freeman frustrating Serafinowicz' usually calm and controlled Wogan, even if I couldn't work out who everyone was meant to be. (Freddie Starr, an embarrassing and frankly shameful "ha ha a bit like a Wookie" Willy Rushton, Su Pollard, Ruth Madoc, Liza Goddard and Johnny Rotten - which sadly breaks the 'reality' of the sketch for less clued up folks - retrospectively it turned out) Everything goes wrong with Pollard stealing all the "Hi De Hi" thunder from Madoc, Starr being an attention-seeking git, a Greenham Common protester and finally a gun toting contestant (played by Kevin Eldon) losing the plot leading to a celebrity massacre. The audience applauds but laughter is thin on the ground as both the premise and the jokes fly over many collective heads. They should chill out and get some yellow reggae on.

Paul Daniels

One of the first big catastrophes of the TV shows came from Red Nose Day 1989 where a milk jug trick went horribly wrong on live TV for Paul Daniels who only slightly lost his cool. Its place in Comic Relief history was cemented by cutaways to a weeping Griff Rhys Jones and Lenny Henry in their seats convulsing at how rubbish the segment was, the latter later saying that if people pledged more money, they'd show how the trick actually ended. The clip would also crop up on the next few telethons too as incentive for people phoning in.

The League of Gentlemen

Trailed excitedly all night with clips from their popular BBC2 sitcom, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton turned up after midnight in 2001 to do a sketch from their live show starting its run at Drury Lane the following week. Unfortunately for Royston Vasey fans though it featured none of the popular TV characters. Instead, a very slow "Scott of the Antarctic" piece was performed which devolves into argument about wanking and features a rare F word for the time. Reaction picks up as the piece gets ruder but its fair to say that Alan Q Publicnormal in his seat at TV Centre was not especially impressed. Wait until they see series three...

Norman Lovett

Comic Asides, BBC2's unusually successful series of prospective comedy pilots from 1989, included I, Lovett, a charmingly offbeat bit of nonsense written by and starring Norman Lovett as an eccentric inventor who lived with a Geoffrey Hughes-voiced talking dog named Dirk. The pilot caused a great deal of excitement, partly on the back of Lovett's Red Dwarf association but mainly because it was refreshingly different and ridiculous for ridiculousness' sake; however it would take four years for a full series to appear, which never quite managed to recapture that initial promise. With the series due to arrive just over a week later, Norman and his canine puppet friend were ushered on to 1993 Comic Relief to do a spot of pre-launch promotion in the unenviable middle-of-proceedings slot. Quiet whimsy from two unfamiliar characters was not really what the hysteric-prone studio audience were looking for, and the to say the least 'muted' reception does leave you wondering if any of them were actually inspired to tune in.

- Tim Worthington

Mitchell and Webb

For fans of the double act, seeing them performing their big hit sketches - Numberwang and Ted and Peter, the snooker commentators - was a big treat. Sadly, this was 2007 and with just one series of "That Mitchell and Webb Look" aired at the time, very few people knowing "Peep Show" and Mitchell not yet having appeared on every panel show ever made, the predictable mutter of "who are they and what is going on?" rose from the crowd. The former convoluted game show spoof was boosted by appearances by mathematical marvels Carol Vorderman and Johnny Ball but later in the night, a rendition of their live tour closer featuring Ted and Peter singing the "secret Snooker lyrics" to "Lady In Red" - now "Table Of Reds" - seemed to baffle the audience into near silence. Chris De Burgh and Hazel Irvine dressed as a snooker table coming on helped matters little. The pair returned the following show in 2009 with a slightly higher profile and a bunch of sketches with fellow sketch stars Armstrong and Miller who Mitchell & Webb were head writers for in the nineties. Although none of that came close to the impact of this in 2011...

Vic and Bob

The ultimate example of the sort of comedy act that delight some and leave others not just cold but positively chattering the teeth in the Arctic tundra. There's no disguising what a brilliant and as Jonathan Ross says in this first clip "once in a lifetime" duo Vic and Bob were when they first arrived on TV with "Vic Reeves' Big Night Out" in May 1990. They could also be two of the laziest "that'll do" buggers to ever appear on live television. Sometimes it works, other times...

Come the following year and despite the Radio Times promising that "Vic Reeves stages a Red Nose Novelty Island", Reeves and Mortimer actually did a piece all about getting rid of their unwanted red noses. Despite being stashed long after midnight and featuring all their big catchphrases, Lenny points out after how some of the audience may not have quite gone for it...

Although that's nothing to "75 pints, 1 song", a 1995 sketch that should have been hilarious with Vic and Bob, now BBC signings although still fairly cult (the breakthrough Shooting Stars wouldn't be until later that year), getting increasingly drunk whilst trying to sing Nilsson's "Without You". Despite them being trick pints with much less in each glass, the two quickly lose what they're meant to be doing (blamed on screen by a few snifters taken due to the show again running late) and basically just shout while Mel Smith looks suitably unimpressed.

This year they're back live after a pause to do The Stotts interviewing a guest live, which has the potential to be brilliant, especially on the back of their recent great anniversary tour. Lets hope they stick to halves...

So here's wishing all of tonight's performers the best of luck. Even Miranda Hart, Noel Fielding and Romesh Ranganathan who are very very funny indeed. *looks into distance* Thanks to Tim for his much appreciated help and go look at his brilliant blog. And give to Comic Relief or any charity you think deserves your money today. As Wednesday's horrible scenes showed, we are a nation of passionate brilliant people and we have a real power to make things better.

Enjoy your comedies and remember, it could always be worse...


  1. I was by the side of the stage when vic & bob attempted to drink 75 pints. they honestly thought they could do it, maybe they could if they hadn't been so delayed and gone on so late. it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Bob actually threw up at one point.

    1. Cor, that's fascinating. I can imagine its a pretty thankless task getting up in front of a mainstream audience when you're a fairly cult property. Fair play to them this year for scheduling Partridge, R&M and Toast before 9pm though, even if the sound in the O2 buggered up most of the latter two sketches. The empty response some of the acts got, both last night and in the last few years, shows that the BBC really need to schedule much more comedy in prime time so that by next Comic Relief, people might actually of heard of some of them. Thank you for commenting.

  2. While it might not quite fit the remit of the piece, Jasper Carrott's turn in the marvellously shambolic 1988 Red Nose Day is worth recalling. While a big draw at the time, the audience mood plummeted on Jasp's announcement he was coming on tonight to read out motor insurance claim forms. Following more than a little goading from Len and Griff, Carrott managed to turn around those expectations and get a pretty warm reaction by the end, mainly because it was a solid bit, despite being the kind of list that would routinely get passed around office photocopiers in the pre-email age. That said, the 1988 vintage 'Relief was probably the high watermark for the entire thing, what with 73 Of A Kind, Blackadder:The Cavalier Years, The New Statesman et al.

    1. Yeah, it was definitely his staple go to party piece. It appears in part on his very first album from 1974. He performed at 1981's The Secret Policeman's Other Ball too as its on the sell-through LP.