Thursday, July 14, 2011


We don’t often get the chance to see people who’ve contributed to 404 Funny in one way or another on the telly, so forgive us for blowing our own trumpet for a second.

It may not be the most original title for a comedy talent search, but Show Me the Funny, which starts airing in the UK on ITV1 this coming Monday (July 18th), plans, as so many other talent searches that have gone before, to find a new star from the world of stand-up.

Initially, the show’s producer, Freddie Foss-Smith (with a name like that, he belongs in showbiz) was said to be seeking “unknown and relatively new comedians” that “might” have appeared at open mic nights. Some, he said, may not have performed a single gig. There was even a suggestion that sketch writers and performers would be considered. However, pre-show publicity now describes the ten selected stand-ups as “a mixture of unknowns and those who have experience on the circuit”. This is quite a liberal interpretation of the terms “unknown” and “experienced”, as several of them have already at some point of their careers made the step up from the live circuit to television.

Rudi Lickwood, for example, received his first TV exposure 20 years ago, as part of the excellent team on The Real McCoy. Patrick Monahan’s appeared on TV several times over the past decade, most recently presenting the Billboard Music Awards. Tiffany Stevenson too has made several TV appearances, first as an actress in The Office and Absolute Power, and then in ITV2’s Comedy Cuts. In addition, all three have been regular talking heads on the sort of TV shows that have titles like Most Annoying / Shocking / Embarrassing (delete as applicable) People / Pop Songs / Fellow Comedians (again, delete as applicable).

Less familiar to television audiences is Prince Abdi, who, despite much success in competitions on the live circuit, has only been seen in Laughter Shock, a one-off BBC Three show filmed at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe. Cole Parker also is described as having played “big clubs, both in the UK and abroad”, but has to date made a solitary TV appearance in The Friday Night Project on Channel Four.

Thankfully, there are some relative newbies as well: Dan Mitchell, a former undertaker who’s performed over 500 gigs, Ignacio Lopez, who’s been on the circuit for two years but has only been paid twice, and Ellie Taylor, a former model who, despite never having done a single paid gig, has given up her day job to focus on a comedy career – or as much of a career as one can get out of comedy. Rather her than me.

And then there are two performers who will already be known to 404 Funny subscribers:

First off is Stuart Goldsmith. Previously half of double act Kiosk of Champions (with Richard Sandling), he’s recently turned to stand-up after previous stints as an award-winning busker, a writer for several BBC Radio Comedy shows, and appearing in a small role in BBC Three’s Coming of Age. You can also hear him in the first two episodes of Pegabovine: House of Mirth right here on 404 Funny.

Then there’s Alfie Moore, the serving police sergeant who leads a double life as a comedian. Since first arriving on the scene with flashing blue lights and all in 2008, he’s become an in-demand after-dinner speaker and has performed some 250 gigs including two stints at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is where we first met him. You can hear extracts from his sets in programme 2 of Comedy 365 at Edinburgh 2008 and programme 2 of Comedy 365 at Edinburgh 2009 - again, both available on 404 Funny.

So quite a mixed bunch in terms of age, experience, style, and background. Sure, it would have been nice to see ten acts completely new to television, but perhaps there just weren’t enough decent ones out there who the producers felt had a reasonable chance of surviving the show’s run. Discuss.

Aside from the very generous prize of a UK tour, a DVD release in time for Christmas, and £100k (imagine how many nights you’d have to play Jongleurs to earn that sort of money), the show will give all ten contestants a great deal of peak-time exposure. But this is ITV1, remember – home to The X Fucktor, Britain’s Got a Tendency to Show Off at Parties, and Simon Cowell Chooses Which Act(s) to Sign By Hedging His Bets and Signing All of the Finalists Before the Series has Even Started. In other words, it’s likely that, by the time a winner has been selected, some of those who’ve fallen by the wayside may start regretting ever having sought out that exposure in the first place.

Sure, the ten contestants will face some interesting challenges during Show Me the Funny’s run: Will they manage to come up with five minutes of top-notch (alleged) fresh material every week? Will they cope with performing in front of unfamiliar types of audience or people for whom their style of material may not be particularly suitable? And how many of the acts will end up with their heads still attached to their necks after being taken apart by Kate Copstick, the 21st Century TV equivalent of New Faces’ Tony Hatch cross-bred with the Wicked Witch of the West.

It seems there’s a very fine line between achieving that potentially lucrative future career and suffering a humiliating and soul-destroying defeat from all these modern TV talent shows, and I fear Show Me the Funny isn’t going to be any different.

Renowned headliner, MC, and all-round punsmith Tony Cowards, posting on the British Comedy Forums, sums it up perfectly:

“A bad experience…could well put you off doing stand up for life, or at the very least set you back a bit. And don't forget that bad auditions make good TV.”

One person has already gone public with his / her experience of being in the studio audience for the recording of Monday’s show, describing the event as “boring”, the jokes largely “appalling” and “below the waistline”, and the whole thing rather spoilt by the host (the very talented but hitherto poorly utilized TV-wise Jason Manford) and the warm-up act, who is not named. That said, everyone’s opinion of the show and the acts will differ, particularly after the show’s had a few days in the editing and dubbing suites.

Purely from a personal standpoint, everyone at 404 Funny wishes Stuart and Alfie the best of luck. But whoever wins, we hope that he or she is worthy of the excellent prize and that the other nine acts come away from the project better (and funnier) for the experience. If they don’t, then Show Me the Funny will have done more harm than good, and that won’t be a positive thing for British comedy long-term.

In the meantime, don’t forget, folks: other comedians are available…

Richard Cray is currently on a mental sabbatical.

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