Tuesday, 4 May 2010
WOTSONTELLY. MAKE 'EM LAUGH, BBC 4; BREMNER BIRD AND FORTUNE'S ELECTION WIND UP C4.
Lenny Bruce was a little before my time and I discovered him through LP recordings and transcripts of his gigs; he remains the funniest man I have ever heard, the most gracious and empathic, one of the connected ones, a warrior, as Joan Rivers described him in this interesting but superficial romp through US satire since the 'fifties.
An accidental martyr to his drug addiction and to his persecution by the US authorities, Bruce's last performances were convoluted rants against his legal tormentors, harrowing rather than entertaining but his body of work - Didn't Ya Ever Piss In The Sink, He Said Blah Blah?, Religions Inc. and the rest are comedic scripture. There is not much videotaped stuff and the 'seventies film Lenny, starring Dustin Hoffman is just a Dustin Hoffman film but there are a lot of gig recordings and books about Bruce on How To Talk Dirty And Influence People.
Mort Sahl and Bob Newhart, gentler although challenging voices figure, too, in what is, really a tepid review of the moral upheavals - racism, Vietnam, Chicago - chronicled and stage-lit by Bruce and his followers. Like the Rolling Stones ripping-off Ry Cooder, successive generations of UK and American comics have built careers on Bruce's improvisations and Make 'Em Laugh points to his influence, also, on his contemporaries, The Smothers Brothers and George Carlin, on his black successors, Richard Pryor and the ghastly, fabulously successful Chris Rock and his actually humourless automatism of shock, motormouthing offence without light, grievance without remedy. The programme didn't venture across the Atlantic but had it done so it would have found that many among our legions of stand-uppers have eulogised Bruce as the Guvnor, whilst simultaneously betraying his Outsider legacy for a gig with Tesco, or a column with skymadeupnewsandfilth; and in a company star-struck by David Mitchell and Steven Fry the rattle of Bruce's posthumous sniper fire is ever more muted.
Impressionist Mike Yarwood used to do, with a pipe, or a pair of specs or a scrunched-up face, everything which Rory Bremner now achieves with prosthetics, make up, costume, overdubbing, editing and a brigade of researchers, technicians and assistants, Yarwood used, also, to do it a good deal better. Bremner and his sidekicks, the Johns Fortune and Bird are doing a nightly show on Channel Four concentrating loosely on the election and consisting of Rory going out on the street after being comprehensively disguised as some arsehole politician - Hague or Snotty - and trying to take the piss from politician and voter alike and Bird and Fortune doing that dismal dinner-party schtick, wherein two comfortable middle class couples sit around a table, pissed, ranting at each other about the shit state of things. There are rants all over cyberspace sharper, funnier, more revealing and more timely than this awful drivel by the nation's favourite satirists. And there, isn't it, is the rub; comfy-cosy are Bremner and these two lazy, clapped-out chumps, in the media-political nexus; I don't know if these three give and receive political or journalistic awards, like Private Eye and the Guardian and the Glasgow Herald, don't know if they play football with the politicos or attend each other's dinner parties but I wouldn't be surprised and I do know that I saw Bird doing this same old shit nearly thirty years ago in Anyone For Dennis? at the Birmingham Hippodrome. NoBusinessLikeShowBusiness. At least Bruce Forsyth can sing and dance and play the fucking piano.
Bremner interviews the most vacuous of celebrities, gobby lawyer's moll, Kathy Lette, and the unspeakable Kelvin McKunt of skymadeupnewsandfilth, just for instance, and does his usual routine of Paxman, Huw Welshman, Snotty and a couple of indistinguishables, appropriately - presumably - Dave Cameron and Nick Suit and Haircut; the format and the content is so old and stale you can almost smell it this side of the screen, rank and cloying, like piss in an old people's home.
And this, as the world is barracked and harangued, fettered and coralled, lectured, abused and short-changed by pinstripe, banker mafiosi is our ration, white male millionaires, interviewing each other in deathly non-debate; white male hacks scribbling to order for their whoremasters and white male comics, like The Crazy Gang on valium, wanking away there, on telly, at their failed, limp, geriatric crotches, as funny as cancer.