Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches

The most recent time I stretched the scope of this blog to discuss comedy it was to talk about last year’s Laughs in the Park. Amongst the various acts was Adam Riches, someone I had never heard of but who turned out to be the highlight of the day. I swore back then in July 2011 that “if Adam Riches does a gig near me, I’m there.” Adam Riches has since won the Edinburgh Comedy Award at last year’s fringe festival and currently has a month-long stay at the Soho Theatre. Naturally I went along to see if he was as good as I remembered.

Adam Riches is a unique act; he never introduces himself or appears on-stage out of character, instead introducing himself as a series of characters, each more eccentric than the last. To go into too much detail about the characters and sketches would be to ruin the show, and frankly the sketches spiral so far out of control that I’d struggle to fully describe them and you might think I was making bits up. I will say that at one point the entire audience was in danger of getting a tennis ball in the face.

What Adam Riches has become known for is instilling fear in his small, vulnerable audience of just 150 comedy fans. The fear comes from Riches reliance on audience participation, for each of his sketches to work Riches must pluck at least one audience member from the crowd and gradually push them further out of their comfort zone. It was amazing to watch as not one of the selected few managed to resist their call to the stage, perhaps it was because Riches never asks, but simply demands, to be joined on-stage or maybe because we all knew deep down that to say no would ruin the show for everyone else. Whether they were riding lizards on skateboard or giving Riches a drink “as starlings do”, the unlucky chosen audiences members threw themselves into their roles.

Despite the perpetual sense of fear instilled in me by the possibility of having to go on-stage, Adam Riches was overwhelmingly funny. I laughed so hard I made noises I had never heard before and at one point tried to catch my breath mid-laugh, inhaled far too hard and almost killed myself in the process by inhaling my entire face. Adam Riches was so funny it was bad for my health.

I can’t recommend Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches enough, though for safety would suggest you sit near the back and in the middle of a row. What you get for your money is an hour filled with bizarre, insane comedy which can only truly be enjoyed when experienced live in a small theatre.

Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches is at the Soho Theatre until 17th March.

This is Jinsy – Tonight

This is Jinsy

Setting the whole tone of the sitcom, the press pack for This is Jinsy came with a map of Jinsy island, a bar of “pea flavour” soap and a fake ginger beard stapled on to a photo of Harry Hill in drag. Sadly, the beard was too small for my flatmate, who has a real ginger beard, to wear during the watching.

The eight-part series broadly follows Arbiter Maven and his assistant Sporall, played by the writers, Chris Bran and Justin Chubb. According to the wishes of The Great He, they administer the island of Jinsy in a local council-like way, if the local council was involved in monitoring its residents, à la 1984, and punishing wrong-doers with electric shocks. With guest stars aplenty, the first episode centres around a wedding lottery conducted by an awesomely over the top David Tennant, and the second features the joy of Peter Serafinowicz, when The Great He apparently returns to extol the virtues of cupboards.

And that’s pretty much it for plot. They’re thin and predictable, mostly providing the continuity links between bizarre sketches and songs. Like sketch shows, some pieces work and some don’t but the balance tips in favour of being funny: it’s a warning about the dangers of photocopier owls that got our first out-loud laugh.

This is Jinsy‘s spiritual home is BBC3 and has been drawing comparisons with The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh but more than anything, I was reminded of Monty Python crossed with CBeebies classic, Balamory. In the hands of a less skilled team, it would be painful viewing (see Campus versus Green Wing) and occasionally it’s a bit self-consciously weird. As a whole though, it’s an enjoyably silly half hour with endearing characters and equally endearing low-budget special effects.

The first two episodes of This is Jinsy air tonight at 10:10pm on Sky Atlantic.

The Future of TV Comedy – Sky1

We conclude this brief peek at comedies on their way to UK television with Sky1, a channel not known for its original comedy. Sky1 has made a name for itself by importing the best US TV and making the odd mini-series or TV movie. Not long ago Sky pledged to invest 50% more in making original programming and this includes a lot of new comedies, none of them starring Will Mellor who until recently was in three BBC comedies simultaneously. A sign of how stagnant the Beeb’s comedy output has become.

Jane Horrocks leads this new comedy set in a fictional supermarket Valco. With a genuinely funny trailer and a cast from Absolutely Fabulous, Being Human and Early Doors. This looks like the kind of working class comedy the BBC are supposed to be working on. It starts tonight at 9pm and we’ll certainly be taking a look. EDIT: We looked, it wasn’t very good.

The Café
Craig Cash, writer of The Royal Family and my favourite comedy to mention Early Doors, returns with a comedy written by and starring Ralf Little and Michelle Terry as Cash takes on directing duties. The show is set around a café (shocking) in Weston-Super-Mare and considering the creative talent involved will find humour in the everyday rather than broad slapstick comedy. Very excited about this one.

A high concept comedy, Spy follows a new recruit for MI5, Darren Boyd, as he is trained up by “The Examiner” played by Robert Lindsay. Could this just be a TV version of Johnny English, or is it something more? Does it need to be anything more? Darren Boyd is a reliable comedy performer and Lindsay should be fresh from his release from My Family hell. Hesitant intrigue with this one.

Mount Pleasant
Sally Lindsay of Corrie fame plays a thirty-something Mancunian whose life is presumably filled with humorous and relatable incidents. With Liza Tarbuck and Daniel Ryan amongst the ensemble cast my mind is drawn towards the hit-and-miss Linda Green. I like Lindsay so will at least give this show a chance, though it seems a little uninspired on the surface.

Coming from Baby Cow Productions, Starling is certainly amongst some of the best comedy in recent years, and I don’t mean Early Doors. With a fairly ordinary premise of a family adjusting to living with their Granddad, along with various wacky relations and ex-boyfriends thrown into the mix, Starlings must have something special yet to be revealed for Baby Cow to be involved. They did make The Parole Officer though…

With a script edited by living legend, Jennifer Saunders, and starring Sue Johnston, from superb Jam & Jerusalem, Tom Ellis, from underrated Miranda and Joanna Page of Gavin & Stacey and Superdrug ads, Gates already has me hooked. Set at the school gates during the dropping off and picking up of their children, this is set to be a character comedy exploring what happens when your children choose your friends.

Speaking of Gavin & Stacey, co-writer Ruth Jones writes and stars in Stella as… Stella, a mother in her forties living in the Welsh valleys. Ruth Jones in a Wales-based comedy? Yes please. Anyone worried that it was James Cordon doing all the work in Gavin & Stacey… well, you’re probably wrong.

This is Jinsy
Technically this is a Sky Atlantic show but we’re on a roll here. With cameos from Harry Hill, David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Simon Callow this quirky character based sketch show set in the fictional town of Jinsy will be hard to avoid when it comes to air. A pilot commissioned by the BBC but ultimately rejected, this show has been described as a “less malevolent League of Gentlemen“. Not for everyone then.

I swear we haven’t been paid by Sky1, it’s just that such a large roster of new shows from true British comedy pedigree is hard to come by on terrestrial TV. It’s been a good while since we had the joy, and sorrow, of Roger and Val Have Just Got In. Come on BBC, pull your fingers out as Sky1 is bringing their ‘A’ game.

The Future of TV Comedy – Channel 4

channel 4 comedy

Channel 4 could really do with some new original comedy. They’ve finished up The Inbetweeners and cancelled all the shows which managed to graduate from previous years’ Comedy Showcases. So this year Channel 4 are putting together 7 pilots for their showcase. A few will surely make it to series, but can any make it to a second year?

Following their success in The Inbetweeners, Simon Bird and Joe Thomas have written themselves a comedy. Set during the first World War this comedy focuses on three young men who refuse to go to war as they struggle to save face back at home. Certainly would be a unique comedy for the channel and with half the cast of The Inbetweeners could well be popular enough to make it to a full series.

The Angelos Neil Epithemiou Show
The Angelos Neil Epithemiou ShowDan Skinner brings his infamous character to a studio based entertainment show. It will apparently include audience participation, magic tricks and new characters. If this is anything like his set at Laughs in the Park I’d be amazed if this made it past the pilot.

The Fun Police
The Fun PolicePlenty of comedy pedigree here with Vic Reeves and Rhys Darby leading the cast of this comedy about Brightsea Council’s Health and Safety department. If this can manage a similar tone and style to America’s Parks and Recreation Channel 4 could be onto a winner.

House Of Rooms
House Of RoomsMilton Jones is best-known as a brilliant stand-up comedian, but has a lesser-known history as the writer and star of BBC radio sitcoms since 1998: The Very World of Milton Jones – in which each episode began with Jones facing certain death before a guardian angel appeared to him to review the events that led to his predicament; The House of Milton Jones and Another Case of Milton Jones (currently airing on Radio 4). House of Rooms, where Jones lives with his mother in a large house filled with tenants, will be his first time starring in a television vehicle. Will he stick to his trademark one-liners that have gained him his TV following or employ the gag-driven surrealist nature of his radio shows? Or will he depart from this entirely and offer up a character-driven model? We’re intrigued.

Coma Girl
Coma GirlThe only female lead comedy in this batch sees three old school friends meet once a week at the bedside of their comatose friend. With comediennes from The IT Crowd, Lead Balloon and Him & Her there’s enough talent on-screen for this to be a success.

Felix And Murdo
Armstrong and Miller are back with a studio-based sitcom set in 1908. The duo drink, take drugs and compete in the Olympics, presumably with a painful laughter track. For some reason I just don’t see this working; comedy has moved on from Armstrong and Miller.

The Function Room
No cast announced yet for this comedy set in a pub’s function room. Each week a different group hires out the room and interacts with the regular characters. It sounds a bit like Party Down meets Early Doors, which would be amazing. Equally it could be terrible, we don’t know nearly enough to unfairly judge it yet.

It’s great that Channel 4 give so many shows a chance on-air, but they have so far failed to nurture any to multiple series. There are a couple out of this seven which could well set a new precedence.

The Future of TV Comedy – E4

You might remember back in May we looked at the future of US TV, running through the various shows coming to American screens this Autumn. This week we have a distant cousin of this series as we look at comedies heading to UK TV. In the next few days we’ll look at upcoming original UK comedy but today we’re looking at which of the US crop E4 have bought, and whether this matches our predictions.

The New Girl
The New Girl 2One of the most critically acclaimed new series coming to the US, this comedy about a newly single young woman moving in with three guys has one major draw: Zooey Deschanel. It looks like it could actually be funny and we’re grateful to have it on a channel we can actually watch. We predicted either Sky or E4 so this is a win for Mild Concern.

Apartment 23
Apartment 23James Van Der Beek (Dawson of Dawson’s Creek) plays himself in this comedy about bitchy New Yorkers allowing a new girl into their group. I’m sensing a pattern here. The trailer looks like it’s worth a try, and with it on E4, it will be nice and easy to sample. Another point for us as we said that the show was “E4 territory for sure”.

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon DynamiteNapoleon Dynamite is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea and an animated series adapted from it will no doubt garner a similar reaction. Can’t be any worse than E4’s sole existing animated offering, The Cleveland Show. We fell apart here having suggested that it would go out on MTV. Ugh! Gross! Freakin’ idiot! As Napoleon might say.

Allen Gregory
Allen GregoryAnother animated series as E4 tries to find its answer to Sky’s The Simpsons and BBC3’s Family Guy. Jonah Hill has created and starred in this series about a precocious seven-year-old. How long the joke will last of Gregory saying things inappropriate for his age, only time will tell. We found this series hard to place, proposing either Comedy Central or BBC3. Still two out of four ain’t bad.

Laughs in the Park 2011

On Sunday I ventured out of the safety of London to the wilderness of St Albans to attend the second annual Laughs in the Park. The event is touted as the Woodstock of comedy, and is headed in the right direction now that a second stage, BBC Comedy Presents, has been added to showcase new talent before the main show began. Sitting on the grass in the sun, sipping a cider and watching a range of comedic styles it was easy to imagine the event growing over the years, with stages dedicated to different comedy styles, maybe one with a dedicated open mic, and a huge camp site filled with comedy fans. With Izzard involved anything is possible.

Liam Williams
liam williamsWilliams was an odd choice to open up the BBC Comedy Presents Stage, with a deliberately awkward style that clashed with the vibrant atmosphere demanded by outdoor comedy. Everyone was a little too relaxed to get behind an equally relaxed performance. Not without his moments Williams may have been better received with a more thoroughly warmed up crowd.

Adam Riches
Easily the highlight of the smaller stage Riches bounded on with enough energy to engage the hot and apathetic crowd, without even making it on-stage for the majority of his act. Declaring himself to be Daniel Day-Lewis, Riches launched into a lesson on smacting (acting with a smoke machine) which left our little group in stitches. For once an act relying on audience participation didn’t ask anyone what their job was. If Adam Riches does a gig near me, I’m there.

Alex Horne
You may recognise him from We Need Answers on BBC Four… but probably not, it’s on BBC Four. Horne gave a deliberately lacklustre performance lacking more lustre than Williams. After the joy of Riches it was a little deflating, and as before comedy which might work in a club in the evening fell flat, out in the fields of St Albans. Nice to see a variety of comedy styles, though understandably there will be a few misses.

Kerry Godliman
Bringing a more upbeat and sunny vibe back to the stage Godliman was warmly received. Not necessarily ground-breaking in her comedy style but by this point we were grateful to have someone giving us actual jokes to laugh at. Her upbeat attitude and simple, funny style was perfect for a crowd lounging in the sun.

Angelos Epithemiou

Renton Skinner brings his character from Shooting Stars to the stage in a decidedly awkward routine. Most of the audience didn’t really know how to take his bumbling, possibly mentally challenged persona as he worked his way through a handful of jokes, a trick or two and showed us what was in his bag before stripping down to a lycra body suit. I’m a fan of his awkward comedy but it wasn’t hard to notice that not everyone stayed to see him through to the end.

Jarred Christmas
Holding the two hours on the BBC Comedy Presents Stage together was Christmas, a joyous Kiwi comedian with so much enthusiasm he could pick up the audience after the flattest of performances. I’ve only ever seen Christmas MC-ing event but would love to see him do a full set someday soon. I’ve never laughed so much at repeated references to brioche, perfect for a bunch of middle class people in a field drinking Pimms and cider.

Tommy Tiernan
A big name comic in his native Ireland, Tiernan is relatively unknown in England but that could be about to change. Tiernan was a revelation, a foul-mouthed, controversial and surprisingly energetic revelation. With graphic references to sex, Downs syndrome and religion Tiernan practically shouted his routine while pulling a bizarre array of shapes. Tiernan has the confidence of a seasoned performer but the unfamiliar edge of a new talent. He’s welcome back any time.

Eddie Izzard
Izzard was on top form performing a shortened version of his Stripped tour, the DVD of which I had mistakenly watched the night before. Having performed the same material at last years show it would have been nice to hear something new but with Izzard it doesn’t matter how often to hear his jokes they never fail to make my face ache from laughing too much. The sun having set and cold setting in, the crowd could not have been more delighted by Izzard’s set as we all laughed and cheered raucously, for the majority the familiarity of the material only helped the enjoyment though a few grumbles could be heard.

Ross Noble
MC-ing on the main stage it was a surprise that Noble didn’t get a full set of his own so thankfully he prolonged his interstitial sessions on-stage and a pre-show double act with Izzard was a personal highlight. Before seeing him live I was a Ross Noble sceptic but his energy and enthusiasm was irresistible. Hopefully if he returns in later years he’ll be allowed to perform a full set as Noble is a real talent.

Laughs in the Park 2011 was a great day out and I whole-heartedly recommend you all go next year. We got over 5 hours of comedy outdoors on a gorgeous day, all topped off with fireworks. Beautiful.

Footage from the weekend will be shown on the BBC at some point. How’s that for journalism?