John Oliver & Andy Zaltzman: Erm, It's About T

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

There's a lot to admire in the comedy Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver peddle. Considering politics in terms of huge global issues, rather than simple Bush-bashing, they skilfully condense big ideas into silly jokes or slapstick sketches.

At their inspired best, their writing verges on the magnificent; with perfect, pointed gags that penetrate all the liberal blether to hit right to the heart.

Yet somehow I didn't enjoy this show as much as I wanted to, with the density of ideas and occasional verbosity diluting the undeniably fine material on offer.

The idea of this unwieldy-titled show is that Zaltzman and Oliver have been appointed to the role of saviours of the world, following from such previous incumbents as Jesus and Richard Branson. In 60 minutes ­ there's nothing like a deadline to motivate action ­ they come up with imaginative solutions to every conceivable problem from transport to democracy. Their answers might be unconventional, but they state their case convincingly.

They work well together, which should be no surprise given their solo work covers similar themes with similar sensitivities. Daniel Kitson is drafted in to help with some additional roles, including the voices of God, as if to fit his ego, and a Europhile croissant taking part in a Trisha-style showdown with Oliver's barking mad British Empire.

The duo's forte is analogy, drawing audacious comparisons between the global and the everyday. Zaltzman's description of American reaction to September 11 as if it were a wasp's sting, for instance, is as funny as it is terrifyingly accurate.

In other gags, the audience has to join some of the dots themselves, adding an extra satisfaction to the jokes. There are a smattering of comedy in-jokes for the cognoscenti, too, not to mention a few for the football fans to add to the richness of the material.

In a swelling sea of topical comics, these two stand out for their intelligence and their lofty ambitions. In short, they are Britain's best hopes for the future of satire, their complex ideas becoming increasingly accessible year after year.

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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