Topical panel show Mock the Week commenced its tenth series last night, studiously ignoring the most topical topic of them all: the disappearance of Russell Howard.
Howard’s absence follows the departure in 2009 of series regular Frankie Boyle. I’ve written before about how the show fell flat without Boyle’s lightning-fast, acerbic – and often, yes, downright offensive – humour.
A quick glance at Twitter last night – where #mocktheweek was trending for several hours – showed that a lot of people still felt that way.
Viclanger tweeted: “Thing about Mock the Week is it’s never been quite as funny since @frankieboyle stopped doing it!”, while simongreening added: “Felt like the beginning of the end when Frankie Boyle left, then Russell Howard went, now what are we left with?”
I think we’re left with a better show.
I can honestly say this is the first episode where I haven’t missed Frankie Boyle.
Things may well change as the run continues, but to me, last night felt like a different show – and not in a bad way. Without Boyle hogging the limelight and Howard’s tendency to interrupt others just to make a less funny crack of his own, Mock the Week was a much more welcoming place.
People didn’t feel the need to talk over or outdo their fellow comics, instead playing off each other to a greater degree, so the humour felt more organic. The banter was good-natured.
The usual rush to the microphone during “Scenes We’d Like to See” was almost entirely absent, with the comedians actually ceding the floor to one another. (In the past, this usually only happened when a female panellist took part – when it was all blokes together, nobody gave quarter!)
All of this meant that everyone brought something to the table, including agreeable craziness from Greg Davies, well-timed misanthropy from Andy Parsons and – though some of his earlier jokes didn’t work for me – a mean Michael McIntyre impersonation from Seann Walsh.
And surely there must be a case for adding Milton Jones to the line-up as a regular? He won the stand-up play-off hands down and, in the less cut-throat atmosphere of last night, contributed more in the group rounds than on his previous visits.
He’s the only guest who reliably has the other comics laughing during the stand-up round (when they’re not turning green with envy, that is), with Dara O Briain particularly vulnerable to his madcap flights of fancy and mastery of the one-liner.
His critics hold his status as a pun specialist against him, but I can’t remember a time – on Mock the Week or elsewhere – when he hasn’t made me laugh. And judging by the reaction he gets whenever he guests on the show, I’d say nobody in the live audience feels short-changed either.
Even over on Twitter, that most vicious of critical arenas, the consensus was that Milton was a hit. Seanwallace_x tweeted: “The dude wearing the flowery shirt on #mocktheweek is such a weirdo but he is hilarious!”, while jesswyatt asked: “Who doesn’t love Milton Jones? He’s like the forgetful grandpa I never had”.
Mock the Week seems to have evolved into a different, friendlier kind of show. But if it means I’m laughing as much as I was last night, that’s just fine by me.