Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Because I have the luxury of being able to post here, rather than in broken fragments on the comments, I'm replying to the Boothby question here.
My disbelief at the Boothby Graffoe programme is hard to voice - not because of some limit of English hyperbole or anything silly like that, but because of the vaccuum-like substance the programme appeared to be made of.
I found listening to it to be like having the air sucked out of me, slowly and surreptiously. Defying Nature's usual abhoration of vaccuums, it seemed to have the ability to spread them.
It wasn't that I thought the jokes were rubbish - it was that it seemed to be devoid of anything that you would mistake for a joke. His songs possessed no punchlines, but instead meandered their way into extended, horribly self-indulgent guitar interludes, that you could only hope against hope would culminate in some sort of fantastic 'ta-da' moment that justified their existence. But no, they inevitably tumbled into a repeat of the chorus, over and over to fade. I'm sure such things would probably be pleasantly placed in an afternoon background at Cropredy Folk Festival, but they have no place in a so-called comedy programme. Wallpaper is not an aural medium.
But they are only a small part of the effort, and perhaps one could argue that they are allowed to not be gag-fests, and instead an interlude betwixt the stand up and sketches. But that would require some sort of humour found in the stand up or sketches.
Every show of the recent series began with the laboured request for someone to holler if they were from Australia. Or America. Which would then be followed by some painfully lame, always cliched, fake-improvised banter. At astonishing length. And I've noticed on at least one occasion (although I can only say definitely that this was the case for a previous series) that the voice crying out in response is Steve Frost's. A man of that little vocal dexterity is perhaps not ideally chosen as an audience plant.
I think the sketches think that they are surreal. They aren't. They're about as surreal as someone shouting "FISH!" and then telling their friend stood next to them that they had said "FISH!", explaining that this was surreal of them. But I still hope that they are intended to be surreal, as the other options are too terrible to consider. "Lonely Buildings" was perhaps the very best example of this dross. It was a laboured joke that didn't work in the first episode - a small ad placed by a building, in some way punning on the nature of the building. That it appeared in the second episode demonstrated a lack of quality assessment in the writing. That it was in every episode of the series beggered all understanding.
The one redeeming feature the programme used to have was the spoof of Radio 4's Round Britain Quiz. It was an excellent observation of the seemingly mad tagents the questions required the contestants take, and even moreso, the apparently psychic ability of the contestants to make those tangents, with utter nonchalance. But this series saw even that broken. Steve Frost clearly only ever fluked success at these sketches previously, as it was quite clear that he didn't understand what it was that was being spoofed this year. His inability to not leap for the "rude" gag meant that Graffoe had to constantly undo the damage by a retracting comment, or the painful device of the pretend 'intellectual' laugh. The tension of this mangled improvisation is audible, and very uncomfortable.
Then everything else each episode: the abysmal post office joke - one so poor that the electrocuted studio audience couldn't even bring themselves to do more than a discomforted half-laugh. But not once! The same joke, the *exact same* joke, every week. No variation, no building. The same joke. Or the broken, open-ended stand up sections, each as if building up to the point of the routine, the part that would deliver based on all these feedlnes, and then just stopping. The air fallling out of your mouth, as you sat, aghast that it could really be that poor. And very irritating - the repeating of material previously broadcast in The Big Booth - lazy.
Again, a lot of my frustration is borne out of disappointment. Graffoe used to be a very good stand up. His routines based on a meandering tale that would carefully and deceptively spin on itself, until its tale met its mouth in delightful punchline. I remember being excited by his stuff. I think the collapse matched the cutting of his hair, in some sort of unfortunate Sampsonite parody. Associating himself with the bottomless pit of comedic uselessness that is Steve Frost seals the deal for me.
Following the current trend, I now half expect Graffoe to post an angry reply.