Radio 2 Comedy Spectacular For Children In Need

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

At the last minute, Radio 2’s annual Children In Need comedy gala moved from the 1,100-seat Shepherds Bush Empire to the 300-seat Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House – and still there were empty seats.

Quite why Londoners stayed away is a riddle, especially as the show prominently featured the Horne Section, who are currently enjoying a successful Saturday-night residency in the West End. Their handler, Alex Horne, hosted, while the expert band, led by preternaturally talented pianist Joe Stilgoe, improvised jingles and provided backing tracks for the comedians – either prepared or ad libbed – plus the odd ‘badoom-tish’ rim shot. It all gave proceedings a more relaxed, jazzier vibe than most comedy night, and befitted Radio 2’s musical remit.

After the ice-breaking game of audience Battleships which opens every Horne Section gig came Jason Cook, who asked the band to provide a funky beat behind his storytelling, largely about defusing a late-night fight using only the power of Geordie. The music forces the stand-up into a different rhythm, which didn’t entirely suit this tale, but it washes over amiably.

Radio 2’s New Comedy Award winner Angela Barnes had a slightly wobbly start, as her gags about a friend’s static-caravan holiday home failed to land. However, she had more success when she talked about her own misfortune such as suffering from glue ear – an affliction that usually affects children, so is treated in paediatric units. As she wryly noted, this could make her one of the few Children In Need performers who could directly benefit fro the fundraiser.

Comedy rapper Doc Brown made full use of the band, as you might hope, accompanying his tongue-in-cheek rhyme in which he ascribes every misfortune that befalls him to racism. Better still was the self-defence rap Kick Him In The Balls, since its advice was delivered with such phoney machismo. Brown didn’t think it would make it past the BBC censors, but hopefully it will. With the right video, this has ‘viral hit’ written all over it.

Finally in the first half, Nick Helm, doing a rare swear-free set – though the brooding aggression and self-loathing was all still present and correct. This wreck of a man started with a dark, nightmarish tale with no apparent humour, until a great left-field payoff that, frankly, deserved more from the crowd. Then on through some audience intimidation, his four actual jokes, and his growled-out musical number I Fancy The Hell Out Of You - with impressive improvised backing from the Horne Section – in which he sounds like Chas N Dave after nine pints of Special Brew. Great stuff.

After the break, Gareth Richards was hit by technical problems, as his Eighties musical instrument, the Omnichord, failed to fire up. But the delay as BBC techies scrambled for an extension cord proved an unlikely godsend, as it allowed Richards to fire out some exquisitely eccentric one-liners before, problem solved, his affectionately silly song about his mate Dave and his resemblance to a fridge.

Miles Jupp has been away from stand-up being an actor for the past couple of month, so by his own admission is a little rusty. After a few self-deprecatory jibes about his poshness, he did seem to struggle to find his pace, although quips about Boris Johnson and a Scouse version of Monopoly invoked some sublime comic language. He hit his stride properly with his well-honed sarcasm-soaked routine on his bete noire of train travel. Just pity the poor editor who has to exorcise all the swearing before this makes it to air.

Two Episodes of Mash already have their own Radio 2 series, and the resolutely downbeat pair of Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan gave us half a dozen of their greatest hits here. They happily make light of their own failings – that sketches peter out with proper endings and sometimes go on too long, both of which are true. But there’s usually a strong gag at their heart, even if a couple of these seemed too visual for radio.

Joe Lycett won the audience’s affections with his charming yet childish camp, discussing his love of farts and and the gay dating iPhone app Grindr, which allows users to find like-minded souls nearby. However, relating his interactions, first with a Grindr user, and then with a viewer who sent hate mail following his appearance on TV, had diminishing returns.

Finally, a rare live appearance from Peter Serafinowicz, with a list of one-liners – or extracts from his deservedly popular Twitter feed, if you prefer – with the Horne Section rim-shotting every punchline. The quality was wildly inconsistent, but, my, the best gags were truly exceptional examples of tricksy wordplay.

You can hear for yourself, when the Radio 2 Comedy Spectacular goes out at 10pm on Saturday.

Review date: 15 Nov 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: BBC Radio Theatre

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