Opinion: Comic Disbelief – Was This Year's Red Nose Day Show A Disaster?

I was unable to watch most of Comic Relief last night due to a family bereavement. What I did see though only added to my grief. I don’t know if this was officially the worst Comic Relief night in recent memory but according to this article here which has some similar criticisms, the £71 million raised is the lowest total on the night in a decade.

I’m sure it all sounded good on paper, but when I turned on Graham Norton was busy cramming more and more guests onto his supersized sofa. Now if there’s one theory I have about celebrities it is that they don’t like to be ignored. And when you’ve got that many stars in front of you it is hard to keep everyone happy. When they camera pulled back you could see disinterested, even bored expressions. And I’m not talking about the audience.

Norton is a highly skilled interviewer but this was a genuine challenge for him. Toothy comic Rob Beckett apologised that he was pissed but he was the epitome of sobriety compared to some of those present. The impish Irish host did his best but it was hard work. At one point he was handed a red nose but he seemed lukewarm about wearing it for very long.

The trouble was that the interviews were so brief and chaotic you could not work out if they were supposed to be funny or not. As I walked in Micky Flanagan was asked how much he had raised by selling pizzas. I expected a total in the thousands surely. It sounded like he said £375 and he wasn't joking. Still, at least he had a figure. Hugh Dennis, among others, had no idea was his exploits had raised and had to be pointed at the autocue. Rupert Everett made a joke about Alan Sugar looking like Sid James. I'm not sure if that many people in the audience knew who Sid James was. 

The other main problem – apart from the lack of humour – was the sound mix. The event was coming from Building Six at the 02 Arena and the balance seemed all wrong. I’m not very good on the technical side but there were times when you could hear the audience chatting more than you could hear them laughing. Or maybe they weren't laughing. The atmosphere seemed flat and utterly unsuited to comedy.

But worse was to come. After Graham Norton knocked off for a well-deserved rest, Russell Brand presented a late-night comedy show. In less than an hour all the good work done by Live at the Apollo in terms of putting stand-up on television unravelled. This was a horrible throwback to old stand-up shows such as Paramount City that tried to conjure up the magic of an intimate club but instead conjured up the mood of a morgue.

Jayde Adams, for example, did her Megabus routine which I’ve seen her do in clubs and steal the show. Here it was painful to watch. This is a story rather than a riff full of punchlines and as the audience seemed to be losing attention Adams seemed to be speeding up to get to the pay-off as quickly as possible. But even her normally showstopping finish when she reveals a magnificent operatic voice didn’t do much to salvage things. When I’ve seen this live it is brilliant, here it was so good maybe some people at home thought she was miming to a backing track. Anyway, I hope for Jayde’s sake she stayed off Twitter afterwards.

Next up was Spencer Jones, who also caused a bit of a flurry on social media as he wandered around the stage in white tights thrusting his groin out. What was interesting here was the disconnect between Edinburgh Fringe favourites and a mainstream BBC audience. What the former crowd adores the latter abhores. I love Spencer so it made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, as if I don’t have anything in common with people. It was as if you’ve discovered that more than half the country’s voters want us out of Europe. What’s that? They did. 

I’ve seen this clash of cultures before. But this Comic Relief car crash was on a different scale. Lou Sanders followed, and while her friend Aisling Bea, who was in the studio, said that she was “smashing it” on Instagram that’s not how it came across to me watching at home. If Building Six was splitting its sides we couldn’t hear it.

Nish Kumar probably fared a little better with some satirical snippets. He only just made it to the show via motorbike taxi after his gig at the Soho Theatre, so during Russell Brand's build-up he was represented by a cardboard cut-out. It’s just possible that all the acts tonight wished that their place onstage had been taken by a cardboard cut-out.  

Oh, just finally there was one other thing that I saw that I didn’t like. I know that companies usually get a namecheck when they’ve done some fundraising, but Tim Key’s Forrest Gump sketch about Ryman was basically a nice little extended advert for the shop. At the end of it Key was joined by Theo Paphitis from Dragon’s Den. A playful cameo? There was a joke that Key asked Paphitis what he was doing and he said something like “I live here”. Maybe viewers are unaware but according to Wikipedia Paphitis is the owner of Ryman.

Serious questions need to be asked about this year's show. I don't want to play into the hands of the Beeb-bashing, humour-free zone that is the Daily Mail, but on this occasion they may be right to be critical. It is great that it raised £71 million. But I wonder if a better show would have raised more. Support Comic Relief? For the above reasons I'm worried that there will be a quite a few people saying “I’m out”.  

 

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