I just watched an episode of Stand Up For The Week. Clearly I have some sado-masochistic tendencies that I was never previously aware of.
When the first rumbles of gossip about this show started up, before it even had a name, I was quite excited for it. All I knew was that it would be another stand-up compilation show produced by the guys behind Live At The Apollo and the Comedy Roadshow, but less broad.
On those terms alone, this was a good idea. Then Channel 4 had to go and make a statement about it, essentially writing the name of the show on a broken wall in crap and blood and waiting for it to fester and mould. They said it would be a ‘late night, edgy and on the knuckle satirical take on the big stories and big themes of the week’ and that it would be ‘outrageously alternative’.
The death knell was sounded before the thing had even started. Yet another show about the week. Not mocking it this time, though. Standing up for it. Make your mind up, TV commissioners! Or at least find a happy medium, and let’s just Gently Chastise The Week Then Give It A Biscuit.
And what does ‘edgy’ mean? Nothing. Not in the television comedy scheme of things, it doesn’t. In this realm it means there will be swearing and jokes will be thinly veiled with irony while essentially belittling women/certain races/people with disabilities/the poor/famous people some people don’t like/Susan Boyle. That’s about it.
So, let’s look at the show itself. I’ll keep it brief. We start with some Stuff from Patrick Kielty. He’s an amiable host but offers nothing of note, a method that he has steadfastly stuck by for many years and has made a lot of money from so isn’t likely to change any time soon.
We move on to Jack Whitehall, so beloved of TV commissioners because he fits that edgy bill they’re looking for, with his face with an actual bone structure and his beard that has defined corners and his hair so spiky. He isn’t really edgy, he just has lots of edges. There is the difference between a comedy term that exists only in the abstract and the presence of many straight lines upon his person.
He then uses Kerry Katona as a punchline. Now, she isn’t the most pleasant of individuals and clearly this former popstar has done all she can to remain in the limelight, but it should go without saying that Katona is a flawed individual with a history of drug dependency and mental health issues who is pushed further into physical and mental disrepair by a media that continues to give her coverage and the continued reinforcement that she isn’t really worth much cop propagated by people like Whitehall using her as little more than a recognisable punchline.
It’s utter nonsense that shows a complete lack of craft, originality, and respect. It’s all well and good sticking it to the man with comedy – that’s what we jesters are here for – but Kerry Katona is not ‘the man.’ She never has been, and she never will be.
Next up is Kevin Bridges, a good young comic employed here as the ‘World Cup correspondent’. He does some jokes about the World Cup and how he’s Scottish and they weren’t there but England were and they were shit and blah blah blah. Job done.
Halfway through his set, a picture pops up on the screen behind him of Caster Semenya. Before Kevin can even say a word, the audience chuckle. You should know Caster Semenya as the brilliant South African athlete who burst onto the scene at the 2009 World Championships by obliterating her opposition over 800m.
Unfortunately, she was then thrust further into the limelight by an unprofessional and public airing of suspicions that gender tests may have been required to check that she was indeed a woman. Which she is. Her laundry, not even dirty,was aired for months; her privacy and the most basic of her human rights completely ignored while braying idiots made jokes about the whole unfortunate situation. Kevin Bridges didn’t even make a joke about this by the time the audience laughed. They’d seen enough already. What a classy bunch they are.
Oh, and did I mention that Caster Semenya has barely been mentioned in the media since last summer, after they had their fill of insensitive headlines and realized they couldn’t make money from the story? That satire really is on the knuckle, isn’t it? The knuckle is over a year old and has done nothing to deserve the mild smack it has been given, but it’s a knuckle nonetheless.
Andi Osho then came on and basically told the crowd about some funny Stuff on the internet. Andi is better than the material she’s given allows her to be, but no big deal. She deserves decent audiences on the circuit and if this helps, so be it.
Rich Hall came out and did some stuff. I was eating an ice lolly and stopped listening for a while, but can’t help but think that Rich Hall doesn’t need to be on this show. He sells out performances already, he doesn’t need to stoop to this level.
After a break, Patrick Kielty came back out and presented a segment where he belittled John McCririck for two minutes to his face. But I can think of a good number of young comics who would have taken that slot and done something interesting and exciting, made people think as well as laugh, without making anyone feel stupid and giving no more oxygen to the old-fashioned views of a misogynist.
At the end, Micky Flanagan came on and did a five-minute routine that culminated in a punchline about fingering that wasn’t to my taste, but he wasn’t there to be satirical, so he fulfilled his brief, as brief as that brief was. It would have been nice if he hadn’t done the same routine he’d done on national television in the past, but we can’t expect comedians to write five minutes of new jokes every time they’re given exposure to millions of people, can we?
Well, we probably can, actually. Because that’s what most comedians do on the live circuit. That’s one of the many wonderful aspects of comedy: coming up with new ideas and turning them into something great, and giving something to a crowd that they might not have seen before, whether just a new one liner or a whole new way of thinking. The transference of ideas as well as laughs is an amazing thing about this strange little artform, and while new ways of thinking aren’t called for on a stand-up show on a Friday night, it would be nice if we aimed just a tiny bit higher than this.
Stand Up For The Week could have been brilliant. It could have given stage time to some top-notch acts that truly deserve more exposure than they currently have. It could have set the stage for a truly alternative kind of stand-up on television, not just the sort of alternative TV commissioners have in mind. It is none of these things. It is little more than a waste of time.
And like the sado-masochist I am, I will probably be tuning in this week to get angry all over again.
- James W Smith will be performing in Smith & Smith: A Matter of Life, Death and Middle-Distance Running at The GRV at the Edinburgh Fringe