Punt & Dennis: Stuff and Nonsense
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2007
When setting out on a British tour, what better subject to tackle than Britishness? Government ministers, religious leaders, educationalists - all of them have earnestly pondered what it means to be British. Now it’s the turn of stand-up comedians. What are our national obsessions? Who are our heroes? How can we be so nostalgic when we don't know any history? And why are we so good at getting drunk?
In their new show, Punt and Dennis set out to vaguely skirt round many of these questions. Along with many others, including the future of the BBC, whether alternative therapy ever works, whether schoolkids have any fun any more, and whether any of the towns visited on the tour don't have a Tesco.
Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis are usually described as satirists, although they’re hardly the sort likely to bring down the establishment. After all, they pretty much ARE the establishment: middle-class Cambridge graduates with long-running BBC radio shows to their names. Smashing the system is somehow inconsistent with a starring role in My Hero.
Theirs is, instead, a rather cosy type of topical comedy – a fact which they explicitly acknowledge in their live show, a couple of times at least. Their audience know exactly where they stand with the sort of familiar format and gently mocking attitude that wouldn’t be out of place anywhere in the last half-century of comedy.
But over the years, they’ve become very good at what they do. Slightly formulaic, they may be, but they’re slick, fast-moving and more than capable of absolutely nailing a gag. It’s the sort of reliable professionalism that makes The Now Show such a sprightly romp through the week’s headlines, and what has allowed it to endure all these years.
Stretched from a half-hour broadcast to a two-hour live show, which is effectively what the Stuff And Nonsense tour is, some cracks begin to show. The show flags rather too often and there’s not enough variety in tone, despite their best efforts to inject a song or sketch here and there.
Despite their initial claims to be doing what they daren’t on the radio, they play things completely safe. Second World War references, countless predictable reworkings of the ‘why did the chicken cross the road’ gag and sound effects that could have come straight from the Light Service in the Fifties show their inherent conservatism. But then, their audience are hardly seeking thrilling, edgy comedy either, as proved when a throwaway gag about rural folk being sheep shaggers earns a round of applause.
But these – and a tired newsreader parody best not mentioned at all – are the low points. Overall the show is much more enjoyable than this; thanks to a nifty turn of phrase, a generous smattering of smart, funny lines that would be the envy of gag-writers anywhere and, most importantly, Punt and Dennis’ strengths as performers.
As is almost mandatory in double acts, they comprise the straight one and the idiot. Based on their physicality you would have Hugh down as the high-status one. He’s a more imposing figure, perfectly turned out and emanating an aura of authority, compared to the scruffier, more shambolic Steve.
But they play against type. Punt has an excitable passion to inform, so becomes like an Open University lecturer breathlessly explaining his vision of Britain and what’s wrong with it; while Dennis hovers impatiently, waiting to subvert the train of thought. And he can be a surprisingly adept physical comic, prowling the stage like a velociraptor, miming Winter Olympians or aping a bird in the throes of bird flu to divert attention from the theory in hand.
He uses these silly impressions rather a lot, usually to create a running joke, but occasionally overusing them to the point of irritation. The main purpose, though, is to create a sense of fun in the show; a sense that isn’t otherwise here in the same abundance as you would witness at a Now Show recording.
But not everyone lives near enough to those always oversubscribed London tapings, and for those fans, Stuff And Nonsense is a decent replacement, even if the flashes of real wit and silliness are diluted by a workmanlike approach to their craft.
Reviewed bySteve Bennett
High Wycombe, April 2007
Louise - 09/11/2007
Went to see the show at the Bromsgrove Artrix last night and found it brilliant. Hugh's velociraptor was hilarious as always, which was brilliantly maintained throughout the show and still remained as funny as the previous time. I would definitely recommend to anyone who has or hasn't seen this double act before and I would love to see them again very soon!
Scott Allin - 23/05/2007
Saw them last night at the Millfield Theatre in Edmonton and was very impressed. I was surprised by the relative lack of topical material but pleased at the more general but no less intelligent humour. Sometimes they strayed onto the path marked "predictability" but they are such well-honed and likeable stage presences that you quickly forgave them for it. Steve Punt very much does the donkey work and allows Hugh Dennis to grab the limelight for most of the show. Punt puts you in mind of a teacher in control of a particularly rowdy pupil as he attempts to undermine Dennis's blatant showboating, and tries to drag the show back to the script. I know it's all staged but it's done very well and despite being the de facto straight man in the act Punt still manages to grab some big laughs with his contributions. Dennis is an inspired physical comic and his "mimes" are the most consistent source of laughs throughout the show, which is surprising for such a pair of talented verbal comedians.rnAs mentioned by a previous poster, the climax of the show wherein Hugh Dennis pretends to be drunk and delivers his thoughts on Britain as an island nation, aided and abetted only by a large map prop and a pointer is hilariously funny and left many audience members in tears and short of breath. Go and see without hesitation, just don't expect a lot of satire.
Paul Samber - 13/05/2007
Saw them for the second time in Maidenhead last night. They thanked us all for missing the Eurovision and kept us laughing all night with their hilarious preamble about Britishness. Top night.
C Alliss - 06/05/2007
I am a huge fan of these two and have been for years, so was a bit worried that they would fall into the trap of many other comedians and go for the obvious in favour of the well thought out. Of course, I shouldn't have doubted them (even after so many years out of touring). They were that special kind of comedy that has you laughing all the way through, but without being ashamed of yourself for doing so, and rather proud of yourself that you worked the joke out. Like the Now Show, their attention to detail and unerring professionalism, for me, puts them above others in everything they do. Yes, they aren't shocking, radical or angry. But I don't want that. I want to laugh and feel comfortable doing so. Punt and Dennis achieve this every time.
Mark Morton - 30/04/2007
Very funny. Hugh's drunk-man-with-a-map had me crying with laughter. They make such a great team, both playing off each other's strengths. I shall make sure I go and see them again.
Graham Clowes - 04/04/2007
Not really a huge fan of this duo but went along to the show in Cheltenham and was hugely surprised. Topical, surreal (see Hugh's swan and velociraptor mimes), witty and consistantly funny throughout. I had a really good evening and would recommend the show to anyone. I would certainly be keen to go to future Punt and Dennis shows following this.