Why didn't Show Me The Funny show us the funny?

John Fleming is exasperated by ITV's new show

Last week, I wrote a Correspondence piece rather piously advising comedians how to get to grips with structuring their hour-long Edinburgh Fringe shows.

It basically said they should follow the rule of The Elevator Pitch and constantly make sure everything within the show was relevant to a core 10 or 12 word description of what the show was about.

Obviously, the producers of last night’s new ITV1 series Show Me The Funny did not read nor take the advice of this wise and admirably-written piece.

Their main problem, though, appears to be that they did not take the advice of their own title: Show Me The Funny

If you broadcast a show about football matches, I think my best advice is that viewers should be able to see people playing football. The producers of Show Me The Funny fail to grasp this simple concept.

In Show Me The Funny, we had a show about comedians in which the producers appeared to be trying increasingly desperate ways to avoid showing the comedians actually performing comedy.

The show was overproduced. Lots of travelogue stuff. Lots of background, most of it irrelevant. Lots of snippets of other shows’ formats. It took 13 minutes before any comic actually stood up and did any comedy. And that lasted something like 30 seconds.

I imagine Herbert’s Hair Salon and ‘Liverpool’s highest bar’ were very appreciative for being given network television exposure but what has a comic helping out in a hair salon for a few seconds of screen time got to do with a comedy talent show? It was a mindless cobbling-on of other reality TV formats. It was a sign of a production with no confidence in its own format.

I am sure the producers justified the waffle and overwhelming visual, verbal and conceptual padding to themselves and to their ITV commissioning editor as ‘adding production value to the concept’ but the effect was they lost all sight of what their selling point was.

All the producers had do what it says on their own label – Show Me The Funny. KIS KIS – Keep it simple; keep it simple.

It does not matter how much it costs, how long it takes or how glossy it looks – if a two-minute item destroys the pace of a one-hour show, cut it. In this case, the first 30-minutes destroyed the one-hour show.

The two female comedians had to arrange a Blind Date between two strangers in the street for a three-minute section of the show. Why? Two of the men were sent off to find Liverpool landmarks for two minutes. Why? Another two men had to find women called Michelle in the street. At this point I thought I was watching a bad showreel for several even worse would-be TV reality formats.

Hellfire! Just Show Me The Funny!

Show Me The Funny gave glimpses of about 15 other show formats, none of them relevant to the title of the actual show and none of them gelling into a single whole.

I lost all interest in trite and cliché analysis of why Liverpudlians are inherently funny when I was about 13. This show managed to dumb down to lower-than-an-11-year-old level. It tried to be all things to all viewers and ended up being nothing to anyone.

After 23 minutes, there was some brief chat about how to write comedy material, but it lasted about 30 or 40 seconds.

Twenty-seven minutes into the hour-long show, the first real stand-up performance started. And then they cut away from the routines, trying and failing to build-up the tension.

In the first 30 minutes, viewers must have been falling asleep, switching off or jumping out of windows like tsunamis of lemmings.

There is no shortage of good stand-ups out there. There does, however, seem to be a shortage of talent behind the camera.

I had wondered why there was no producer’s name credited in Radio Times Now I know. It was (probably) not because no one wanted to take the blame but because, in the actual end credits of the show, there were producers credited all over the place. There were more producer credits in there than at the end of a $100 million Hollywood blockbuster. And, having read those end credits carefully, I still do not know who actually produced the show.

It was a classic case of too many cooks – a show created by a committee of the uncommitted.

The real problem is TV producers wanting to have total control over exactly what happens, rather than sitting back with a good concept you believe in and, if necessary, tweaking the resultant drama. If it becomes a car crash disaster, that is not a problem. A car crash is just as entertaining as a tight race. But don’t try to over-control.

Just as important as the production is the pre-production. The concept, the format, the careful choice of the participants. If you have the right people, sit back and trust the talent.

Show Me the Funny looked like a show where everyone behind the camera was covering their own asses and where so many production elements and so many producers were involved that, ultimately, it would be impossible to blame any one person if – as happened – it went arse-over-tit.

When they actually got down to the nitty-gritty and viewers half-saw comedians performing comedy then being criticised by audience members and by three well-chosen judges – critic Kate Copstick, comedian/actor Alan Davies and, in this first episode, comic Jimmy Tarbuck, the programme was at least watchable, if still a mess.

As she is a judge on the Malcolm Hardee Awards, which I organise, it is a relief to be able to say Kate Copstick was well cast well as the bastard daughter of Simon Cowell and Cruella de Vil.

But the three judges were as savagely cut about in the editing as the acts.

The one thing you don’t do with five-minute comedy spots – like magic – is cut away. You show the funny.

These are professional comedians. Comedy = timing. Leave the timing to the comic. Don’t cut. Don’t just show 30 seconds or 70 seconds of the act, which is what happened. Comedy is about build-up and timing.

I have wondered for ages why no-one has tried to do an X-Factor for comedy. Great idea. Good young-ish audience profile. I am still wondering because this is not that show.

Great prize – £100,000 in cash, a UK tour and a DVD out before Christmas. Pity about the format (if you can even call this dog’s dinner that).

Show Me The Funny. They should have read their own title and made THAT show not this shapeless showreel for the massed ranks of indecisive producers. They do not seem to even know if it is a talent show or a reality show. It ends up being neither.

Too many behind-the-camera cooks. No broth.

  • John Fleming writes a daily blog here

Published: 19 Jul 2011

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