Punt & Dennis: They Should Get Out More

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s surprising to think just how long Punt and Dennis have been going: almost 30 years since meeting at the Cambridge Footlights, they are now part of the comedic wallpaper.

That longevity, including 13 years of the Now Show, have given them an audience that seems to match the Radio 4 demographic, at least judging by this audience in Epsom They tend to be older Middle Englanders apparently in search of light, topical comedy that’s slightly mischievous but not too provocative.

Our duo serve up exactly that, with the biggest laughs reserved for those more palatable parochial concerns of Daily Mail readers: expensive, inefficient trains; labyrinthine one-way systems; extortionate hospital car-park charges; impenetrable public-service non-jobs such as ‘cluster development officer’. With this crowd, it’s no surprise that gags about the late Princess Margaret’s drinking go down much better than a reference to Will.i.am.

Their well-established dynamic is somewhat against type. Usually Punt, the scruffier and more reluctant-looking one, presents facts and opinions about modern Britain, while Dennis, who at least appears more respectable, is his human PowerPoint; illustrating the points with his jokey asides. He’s the one with the catchphrases and the mildly subversive streak, joking around in the background like a mischievous panto baddie.

He is a great clown, with strong physical skills and an unquenchably playful stance, whether pretending to be drunk, a headless ghost, a Morris dancer or – inevitably – a velociraptor. Sometimes Punt has to waffle on a bit to allow his partner the space to arse about; although sometimes his exposition is long-winded simply through wooliness.

Although a double act, the pitch of the night is rather monotone, a sort of ineffective grumble, with a script that offers little bite or insight. It can often feel as if it’s been cobbled together between all the work Dennis does on Outnumbered, Mock The Week, Fast & Loose – not to mention the Now Show.

Yet despite this, they can muster up some very nice moments. The device of asking the audience spoof survey questions is fruitful, while their section on outrageously moronic holiday complaints is great, if reminiscent of the dubious insurance claim forms that Jasper Carrott used to read out in the Seventies. And let’s not forget it was Jasper Carrott who gave them their first break.

As a nod to variety, they offer a few sketches of varying quality. more in the second half than the first. The drunken wine buff is an old standard, but Dennis’s brilliant acting makes good lines sparkle like a Bolly, while a couple of toadying ‘royal watchers’ commentating on Prince William’s wedding yields some nice lines.

However a song about cowboy builders that ends the first half is limp, full of clichés, lazy writing and flat singing. It’s the sort of half-cocked that gives musical comedy a bad name and, like bad construction itself, is jerry-built and incongruous with its surroundings.

It’s hard to see how this could have survived any sort of editing process, making it symptomatic of a show in which the writing needs to be tighter, the dead wood set adrift, and the stand-out lines allowed to, well stand out.

This is exacerbated by their experience as performers. Their relaxed demeanour means they can appear happy with material they shouldn’t be. Cheesy jokes are fine – they know how to sell them with the sort of tongue-in-cheek verve that dates back to the music hall – it’s the mediocre ones you have to watch-.

Punt and Dennis are probably no one’s No 1 comedians, not even in their clearly defined demographic. But they are competent, and their brand of pseudo-satire, though clawless, is often expertly realised. If anything was a solid, middle-of-the-road, unambitiously three-star show, it is this.

Review date: 20 Jan 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Epsom Playhouse

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