Review: Russell Howard's Good News, BBC3

russell howard

Russell Howard's Good News can hardly be called one of TV's best kept secrets. It has regularly topped the BBC3 ratings and is one of the most viewed programmes on iPlayer. It was voted BBC3's Best Ever Show by Digital Spy and Howard was voted the number one Weird Crush by Heat Magazine earlier this year. Not sure if that last one is a compliment or not.

Yet despite being on its eighth series the programme often gets overlooked when critics talk about topical comedy shows. It may not seem on the surface like Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, never mind Have I Got News For You? or 10 O'Clock Live, but what Good News has is a very particular demographic. You only need to look at the Twitter feed when this week's episode went out to spot that. The timeline was choc-full of comments of the nature of "How am I supposed to revise when Good News is on?" "Oh no, an exam tomorrow and Good News is on" and "Russell, Yay, Lol, Rofl, Swoon, etc".

In other words Good News has tapped into the teenage/youthy TV-viewing market with a vengeance that would almost, though not quite, make Harry Styles envious. I'm not in the target demographic, but I thought I'd better take a look at this phenomenon. I've dipped in and out in the past and have always been a fan of Russell Howard's stand-up shows, so I was interested to see how the show was doing.

The answer is, not too badly. It is probably performing a valuable service. One worries that youngsters are not engaging with current affairs but if they watch Good News they will at least get a hint of what is going on in the world alongside sheepshagging gags, videos of tiny monkeys being tickled and Jeremy Paxman saying "vagina". As one would expect from a topical show it covered the same subjects as 10 O'Clock Live. The Cleveland hostages, the Boston Marathon bombing and Nigel Farage were all tackled with an easily digestible mix of sincerity and puerile humour. Further light relief came from the merry Radio Stoke DJ. If viewers didn't know about these events before the show they sure did afterwards.

The emphasis here is on feelgood fun, of course, and Howard's particular angle is not the cynical, jagged joking of Charlie Brooker and co, it's infinitely more upbeat. And, in case I haven't already conveyed this, downright silly and juvenile, which is why it often gets compared to TV Burp. While there is a little too much reliance on references to Jeremy Kyle the current series also has some nice new running gags of its own. If in doubt they regularly fall back on a clip of an American woman saying "liquid ass" (it's a brand name of some fart spray. Keep up).

Howard delivers even the whiffiest of gags with an apologetic grin and impeccable comic timing, though I do wonder if some of the young women watching Good News watch it to drool over his buff biceps rather than get their fix of yesterday's debate in Parliament. Despite his weird crush status, Howard is clearly a veritable Mr Universe in a stand-up world which is populated by a mixture of troglodytes, Hobbit rejects and Trolls (the old type). 

It has been said that in America young people get their news fix from the Daily Show. There has been endless discussion in media circles for years over here trying to work out why UK television has not been able to make a programme in the same vein. It might just be the case that, while Good News hardly claims to have a particularly political agenda, Russell Howard has, almost by accident, come as close to that holy grail as anybody else. I think I might have a weird crush on it.

Russell Howard's Good News is on Thursdays and available on iPlayer.


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