Jim Bowen: You Can't Beat A Bit Of Bully
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
The legendary host of Bullseye and star of The Comedians in a show crammed with riotous tales of life behind the dardboard. Including 'Ask Jim', it'll be Super! Smashing! Great!
Though you might think of him as from another era, Jim Bowen is very much a product of today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. He’s only famous for hosting a cheesy, low-rent game show, and even then not brilliantly well, because it’s acquired cult status and a place on the satellite TV rota.
Of course, he started as a comedian on the working men’s club circuit – but whether he was any good or not has been forgotten; he’s the guy who to this day shares a stage with a cartoon bull.
He starts with a clip from his appearances in Phoenix Nights and in the Amarillo video alongside Mr Blobby (the real one, not a cruel nickname for the chubby, lowbrow Peter Kay), lest anyone, god forbid, think he’s not working these days.
And once on stage, things start pretty much as you’d expect: with a parade of gags you’ve heard before. Told well enough, but nothing exceptional. Anyone, you think, could do this – and given the material’s old and generic, would have equal right to.
But behind his Northern bluff, 67-year-old Bowen’s astute enough to have realised the comedy world has changed. He acknowledges his generation ‘just used to do gags’ while of today’s generation, he graciously concedes: ‘They are creative – we weren’t.’
He doesn’t sound bitter about it, either, genuinely impressed at the effort it takes to be a stand-up today. Though you do sense a bit of regret when he reminisces that mother-in-law gags and, possibly other non-PC jokes wouldn’t be acceptable now.
But once he’s found his comfort levels with that old stuff, he relaxes into more anecdotal style, and the show is all the more better for it. The first is a much-told tale about Tommy Cooper meeting the Queen after a Royal Variety Performance, but finally, after all this, Bowen gets round to talking about himself.
There are a couple of road tales from his life as a gigging comic, and then what everyone came to hear – anecdotes from Bullseye. ‘It was bloody crap,’ is his verdict, and the room seems to agree. But we still kind of loved it.
That same relationship between Bowen and audience rings true today. We know he’s not really up to all that much – but we suspect he’s well aware of that fact too – so bit of self-effacing charm and modest good manners, and we warm to the old bugger.
The yarns he spins from the Bullseye days are rich with that same knowledge that this was no work of art or intellectual endeavour. He takes the mickey out of the contestant’s slow-wittedness, the corny catchphrases or the fact that Bully’s star prize was always a damn speedboat; ideal for a Barnsley housing estate.
It’s all a bit of affectionate eye-rolling at the dross they produced, and it’s hard not to be won over by the tacky charm. There’s a nagging concern about the stereotypes he still trades on – his producer was gay, and this extravagantly camp and predatory, and there’s a long story about two Irish contestants who are as stupid as they are drunkards.
But overall, it’s surprisingly entertaining, and likely to stand him in good stead on the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit he mentions at one point. It might be a slightly odder choice for an Edinburgh Fringe show – but then when has the Fringe not embraced odd?Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Date of review: Aug 2007