“People don’t realise how heavily edited all those shows like Live at the Apollo are,” says Alan Davies, discussing stand-up on TV. “Those shows are wall-to-wall hits. There’s not a duff gag or a missed line because everything resembling an actual gig gets removed. It’s like watching a football match with every shot on target.”
Viewers tired of such editing-suite wizardry sanding the edges off supposedly ‘live’ TV comedy will be overjoyed to tune in to ITV1’s Show Me the Funny, a programme that revels in the awkwardness of comics, in the parlance of the trade, dying on their arses.
The show itself is essentially The Apprentice of stand-up. A group of ten comedians of varying experience visit ten different cities around the UK, performing tasks that are somehow meant to equip them with local knowledge to work into five-minute-long new live routines, which they then showcase in front of a live audience.
At the end of each show one contestant is voted off by the judging panel of Alan Davies, Kate Copstick (who’s clearly been studying tapes of Simon Cowell in action) and a different guest judge in each city, with the eventual winner getting a big-time gig at the Hammersmith Apollo and their own stocking-filler DVD released in the run-up to Christmas.
But what a bunch these contestants are. A 27-year-old model, a Latin lothario, a former Eddie Murphy impersonator… they’re all here and all boasting radically differing approaches to comedy. Though Davies didn’t seem to think that many of them had much long-term potential at the show’s press launch, opining that “these people won’t be famous” but “two or three might get a bit of work on telly afterwards.”
The format’s surprisingly effective, with the show building up its personalities for about half of each episode before throwing the comics to the lions, meaning that the viewer looks at their stand-up acts not as woeful pap from a bunch of attention-seekers, but as crafted routines by people they feel they’ve grown to know.
And inevitably once you start to care about these people, it’s excruciating watching some of them performing in clubs. If Curb Your Enthusiasm or Ricky Gervais’s comedy work makes you cover your mouth in sympathetic embarrassment, you’ll be biting on leather come the end of Show Me the Funny, so misguided, so offensive and so utterly terrible are some of these would-be funny folk.
“Every comedian I know is gagging to see it. There’s nothing comedians like more than other comedians struggling,” said Davies, outlining the show’s appeal. This is essentially a programme that does for comedy what The X Factor did for karaoke: provide a bunch of people, some nice, some nasty, and put them in the stocks for public praise or ridicule. Some might call it cruel but, as Take Me Out proved, cruelty sells.
So if you’re missing The Apprentice or enjoy laughing at (mostly) feeble stand-up and the people performing it, you’ll love this.