Is this the best they can do? Is this the funniest man woman combo available? Do I get any of that free wine?
Yes, yes and no were the answers to these questions; questions I asked after sitting in a foldy plastic chair for an hour and a half at the Riverside Studios on Tuesday night.
I went along to the filming of ‘TNT’ – a new late-night topical entertainment show – because it was free and because I also thought it might be funny. Mainly though because it was free.
Unfortunately it wasn’t funny, which isn’t to say that the show itself will be a miserable failure – although I’d give it a fighting chance – but that the professional working studio environment isn’t conducive to comedy enjoyment and what’s more, it’s completely incongruous with the off-the-cuff impulsive content the show attempts. You hear a good joke and laugh, but then they stop to move a camera, ask the audience to clap, or cheer, or whoop for 20 seconds. In these gaps they sometimes call on a side act to keep the crowd ‘warmed up’. They suddenly summon him from the shadows, “can you give us two minutes?”; he gets up in front of everyone, builds no rapport whatsoever, tells half of a bad joke and then gets asked to leave the stage immediately. I could almost see his bruised ego limp off behind him, out of the lights and into the dim half light at the side of the stage, where he stood solemnly contemplating his failed career next to an indifferent 30 something wearing ripped jeans and headphones. It was unbearable. I couldn’t laugh – I was probably closer to crying.
After some time, maybe 30 mins, I was thoroughly bored – I thought beforehand that I may be bored, so I was ok with it – but I could also sense a tension building in the audience – people who perhaps weren’t as comfortable with the boredom as I was. I suspected that the root of the problem derived from the fact that we were all denied alcohol before entry – apparently during the last show too many people got up to go to the toilet. But I began to consider that something more sinister had taken place; heckling, an impromptu attack? As I mulled these things a woman behind me let out a loud piercing squawk of laughter at something that wasn’t funny – a single sharp burst from the vocal chords, like a pressure valve overloading, or an aneurism exploding in her brain. The presenters, Jack Whitehall and Holly Walsh, seemed to sense our unease and became edgy. They fluffed their lines . . . a lot, which exacerbated the problem, as all the witty remarks were rendered tired and obvious, so that when the punch-line was finally delivered, the audience, rather than rippling with applause and laughter, simply released a gentle unified sigh. Young Walsh and Whitehall tried to make amends for the growing ennui among the crowd by embroiling one another in random banter between takes, but most of what they said was just expletive riddled toilet humour that made them look immature. Jack’s behaviour in particular became increasingly bizarre, gallivanting about the place like a recalcitrant ADHD school boy doing a bad Russell Brand impression in a middle class gurgle.
Needless to say I was as pleased as the presenters, floor staff, disenchanted audience and the possibly suicidal stand up comic were, when it was finally drawn to a close. In future I’ll stick to watching TV at home, where I can sit in my pants, change channel if I get bored and drink as much as I want without someone telling me to clap, cheer, or whoop for 20 seconds.