Sean Lock was a master of his craft – TV won’t be the same without him

Laura Denby pays tribute to the comedy great.

Sean Lock

By: Laura Denby

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Comedian Sean Lock died this week, leading to an outpouring of tributes across the entertainment industry. Best known for his work as a TV show panelist in recent years, Sean’s death has been described as “an enormous loss to comedy”, and we only have to look back on his work to see why.

His stand-up routines were fast-paced and inquisitive about the ever-changing world, and Sean was just the right side of edgy with outrageous remarks that never held an ounce of malice. His mischievous nature transferred from page to screen in his self-penned sitcom 15 Storeys High.

“What’s the matter?” a potential tenant asked Sean’s alter ego, Vince after he called out to someone on the street below. “Someone on rollerblades. I just try and distract them, see if they fall over.”

With his sharp wit, Sean could hold an audience’s attention with ease, whether performing on a stage or in the studio filming hit shows like Would I Lie To You and Channel 4’s 8 Out of 10 Cats, alongside spin-off show 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

His appearances on the latter were what Sean was most beloved for over the last decade, shaking up the structure of the panel show with his endless energy. Something he excelled at was veering delightfully off-topic, taking everyone willingly along with him.

A simple question from host Jimmy Carr over Sean’s choice of mascot for the weekly Countdown game could descend into chaos. Whether he was coming up with new inventions, giving out presents or creating a cocktail containing tea, whelks, undiluted orange squash and gin, Sean was never short of ideas.

Sean turned improvisation into an art form. In one instalment he was asked what he did all day, replying immediately, “I sit in a tree and spit at pigeons.”

Sean Lock
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But he was always ready to seamlessly redirect proceedings back to where they started. A classic example was when the comic handed Rachel Riley a card claiming to have a nine letter word primed to match the letters on the Countdown board.

She found herself opening a less than complimentary Christmas card addressed to his neighbours. Sean declared that they must have received his winning word instead. Straightforward yet daft moments such as this often stole the show.

The star also knew exactly when to end an anecdote or observation, letting jokes sink in with time to recover – something that was necessary when he would frequently leave people crying with laughter.

His creativity shone through in a variety of ways, with parody stories like The Tiger Who Came For A Pint paving the way for further satirical tales. Also unforgettable were his self-help books, which were more of a hilarious hindrance.   

There were times when Sean could win over the crowd by facial expression alone, as evidenced during one of the most popular segments on Cats Does Countdown: Carrot In A Box.

The nonsensical bluffing game featured Sean in competition with fellow comedian and team captain Jon Richardson, involving two boxes and – you’ve guessed it – one carrot.

Locating a vegetable may have been a pointless aim, but the gag needed no extra filler, finding humour through the contrast of Sean’s cheeky demeanour and Jon’s mock disdain. It’s the most shared clip online since news broke of Sean’s passing; a vibrant reminder of just how uncomplicated and far-reaching his comedy could be.

Yet, while his material was full of cheer, Sean’s deadpan delivery produced iconic moments as he played up to a grumpy persona. “It wears off,” he once announced to Claudia Winkleman, in reference to her excitement over choosing vowels and consonants.

His style was so wonderfully absurd that uncontrollable giggles became a regular occurrence for guest stars; as no one could ever predict what Sean would say or do next.

Still, they knew that whatever it was they were about to be thoroughly entertained. This was also the case for viewers, and as a fan myself I could always rely on the comedy legend to make me laugh out loud.

Sean’s death leaves a huge hole in the genre. Television will not be the same without his unique brand of silliness, his lighthearted perspective and his expert comic timing.

We’ll remember the performer as a master of his craft; and honour him by revisiting his finest moments in all their glory.

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Channel 4 will air a tribute to Sean Lock tonight, showing his comedy special Keep It Light at 10pm, followed by a classic episode of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown at 11pm. If you’re looking for more to watch, visit our TV Guide.