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22nd July 2011 12:06:00
Posted by Dean Love

Episode 1

imageI have to admit, I don't like the X Factor. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that I hate how they spend so long giving you a singer's back-story, telling you all about them, showing interviews with them and so on, and then when it comes to their actual performance they only show about three 15-second clips of random parts of the song completely out of context.

Oh no wait, X Factor doesn't do that, because that would be fucking mental. Enter stage-left ITV's Show Me The Funny, a programme that does exactly that. From a one hour running time, exactly 8 minutes and 20 seconds is shown of the 50 minutes total the acts spent on stage. And that's generously including the bits where you can half hear them performing the background as it cuts to Jason Manford standing at the stage door and whispering some commentary on what's going on. Presumably the 100,000 prize meant the budget was too tight to stretch to a TV for him to watch it on.

It's fair to say that the first half of the show is an utter train-wreck. The ten acts get given a bunch of random tasks to do on the streets of Liverpool in pairs, with the intention of giving them something on which to base the five minutes of new material they have to write for the gig. It sounds painful enough when I describe it like that, but when you discover that some of the tasks are "set two people up on a blind date" and "help out for twenty minutes at a hairdressers" you start to lose the will to live. Even though this seems to take up a full half of the show, the reality is that even the producers realised the tasks themselves were a disaster, so most of it is just the comics arguing or bantering with each other while on the way to a task that we don't see.

There are then a few interesting moments as the acts discuss the writing process, as they get a full day to pull together their new five-minute set. After which the winners of the tasks are announced and they get to chose the running order of the night. Otherwise known as 'making sure you don't have to go on first'. The two girls win this week, and also opt to put Pat Monahan on last, in the knowledge that he's one of the most experienced comics in the contest and would be hard to follow. Which is nice of them.

That's another odd thing about the show: the experience gap between the acts is huge. Patrick Monahan has been gigging for well over ten years, Rudi Lickwood over twenty, while Ellie Taylor first started doing stand-up this year and has never, as the PR surrounding the show constantly tells us, been paid for a gig. And while a natural talent can get you quite far in stand-up, experience makes a huge, huge difference. The one small levelling factor is that all the acts have to write five minutes of entirely new material, and (supposedly) use only that, which means the more experienced acts can't rely on their masses of old material to help them out.
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So at the halfway point of the show we finally get to see the funny, all eight-and-a-half minutes of it anyway. Oddly enough, the acts that looked like they were being a bit dickish on the previous days tasks appear to do the worst on stage, while the ones that seemed to be lovely people stormed it. What a coincidence. But we can't really be sure as we see only a fraction of their performances. A couple of the acts have awful gigs, and I can vaguely understand that ITV don't want to give airtime to a stand-up act that is just bad. But it's only five minutes, and I think they underestimate the viewer's ability to deal with that. Especially as they can (and do) cut away to Manford or the other acts to get their reactions during the performance. Not to mention there's a certain schadenfreude in watching someone fail so publicly, and it's always nice to disabuse the McIntyre's Roadshow-watching audience of the notion that stand-up is necessarily perfect, hilarious and always features a crowd that laughs at everything. In reality it's difficult and requires a huge amount of effort and practice. The show seems to want to push this message through the interviews they air with the judges and acts, but stops short of showing us what happens when it goes wrong.

imageOf course, we don't get to see much more of the acts that do really well either, with newcomer Ellie Taylor getting the most airtime (a whole two minutes!) as she quite cleverly manages to use a lot of the Liverpool cliches and subvert them in to something more positive so as not to offend the crowd. It's quite impressive, and when the show is over the judges tell her how wonderful she is, while picking two other comics to give a sterner talking to. In the end, Ignacio Lopez gets sent home. I'm not sure if his Spanish lothario act is meant to be a character or not. If it was a character, then he didn't break character at any point throughout the show, even in the interviews, but then again that's not that far-fetched. Suffice it to say, it turns out that taking an act with a very specific character-based style and asking them to write new stuff targeted at a specific audience doesn't work that well.

Next week they're off to an army base. I agreed to cover all seven weeks of this show. God help us all. And when I say 'God', I mean Eddie Izzard / Bill Bailey / Stewart Lee *

*delete as a applicable.