On 18th May this year, the cream of the comedy crop – and Rich Hall – gathered at London’s O2 Arena to perform to an 11,000-strong crowd (only 25% of which wanted to be there, according to Jack Dee) in aid of their careers. Sorry! I of course mean in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The fourth annual Comedy Gala brought a mixture of good and bad sets from what appeared to be the biggest names on Off the Kerb’s client list.
Now I don’t want you to think that I didn’t enjoy Comedy Gala – contrary to the tone of my introduction, I did find plenty to be entertained by. However, as with any stand-up showcase, there were some weak sets, and it is my review of those which I’d like to get out of the way now.
Firstly, the show itself was a bit of a drag. A two hour-long broadcast would have been ample, and fewer ad breaks would have been greatly appreciated. I mean let’s face it: Channel 4 only injected so many commercials into the show because they knew that most of the people who would usually switch over to see what’s happening on Graham Norton’s sofa would probably not have touched the remote tonight, for fear of missing Alan Carr pairing up with the Go Compare man!
It wasn’t just the abundance of adverts which slightly spoiled my enjoyment of the Comedy Gala, however. Some acts just weren’t up to much tonight. Prior to watching the show, I had only ever heard Tom Stade’s name – I’d never seen him before (it turns out he looks a lot like Adam Hills) and had never watched a set from him (it turns out he can only dream of being as funny as Adam Hills). Someone whose work I am accustomed with is Paul Chowdhry and, while not his biggest fan, I did think that even he would have been wise enough to avoid churning out the tired old Embarrassing Bodies gag. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: ‘Well if they’re so embarrassed, why do they go on TV?’. And you chuckle – the first time. Don’t get me wrong, whenever I see ‘Brenda from Surrey’ expose her droopy, itchy breasts to a concerned-looking Doctor Christian over Skype on primetime Channel 4, I always think, ‘Just go and see a doctor, love – no one will ever know.’ But if I was a comedian, regardless of how many times I think this, I would have the sense not to share my thoughts with an audience because I know that if they’ve ever watched a stand-up comic before, they will more than likely have heard it! Paul Chowdhry, unfortunately, did not consider this.
Thankfully there were some great surprises on the night. Nina Conti’s act usually works best in a theatre, where she can get someone out of the audience, attach a mask to their face and use her brilliant ventriloquism to make them say awkward things. However, she proved tonight that she can be just as funny in a huge arena with Monk, her depressed monkey puppet (apologies if I’ve shattered the illusion).
I was also surprised that Seann Walsh and Warwick Davis both delivered very entertaining and funny sets, while the pre-recorded videos from stars who ‘sadly couldn’t be with us tonight’ weren’t as awkward and embarrassing as usual. Although it surely can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that most of those people had been guests on the most recent series of Chatty Man.
AND SOME MORE PRAISE
There were also big names who promised big things and went on to deliver exactly that. I became a fan of Lee Evans after I watched his set on Comedy Gala in 2011 and, while it was mainly material which I’ve heard before, his performance on tonight’s show was as brilliant as ever – he really stood out from the other performers.
The same can be said for Michael McIntyre and Alan Carr. Alan’s performance with Diversity, which opened the show, was excellent, and so was his obligatory invasion of the ads (even if I objected to the frequency of them).
I know that I began this review by slating the Comedy Gala but I honestly did enjoy most of it and, now that Have I Got News For You and Not Going Out have made way The Voice UK on BBC1, it gave a lot of comedy fans something to watch on Friday night. That’s not to mention the thousands of pounds it no doubt raised for Great Ormond Street, which I hope was the reason for most of the comics taking part. I hope.
What did you think of this year’s Comedy Gala? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer
You can also see a rundown of the best of the coming week’s TV on this blog, published on this blog every Saturday at midnight.