An open letter about comedy and Radio 1
Andrew Mickel20 February 2012
Dear Those People Thinking About Putting Some Comedy On Radio 1,
We’ve been thinking rather a lot about that report a couple of months ago that said you might start airing some new comedy for the first time since 1846. This is partly because BBC Three’s efforts at renewing its comedy have so far been rather underwhelming, and someone at the Beeb should be doing some youth comedy in the post-Switch era. (Russell Kane is a great comedian, but he is not the FUTURE YOUTHFUL FACE of comedy.) It’s also partly because it’s February and we don’t have much else to think about.
ANYWAY, this must feel like a bit of a brave new world after this much time, but with the right format (ie, edit the zinging tits off it and make sure it’s available on podcast when it’s inevitably scheduled at 2am on a Wednesday night), there are many a potential winner on offer.
New panel shows have broadly stagnated into two very by-the-numbers formats: Radio 4’s middle class lurlz, or Dave-style abrasive filler. But guess what? We saw a truly, truly tremendous game show last night on PUNS, called Punt. It was a one-off at the Vault Festival so you missed it, sorry about that, but it made WORD PLAY funny, thanks to its pacing, utter lack of Brandreth-esque pomposity, and willingness to remix Twitter-esque audience features without sounding like your dad using the word ‘LOL’ in a text. Plus, it was very young: Thom Tuck and Humphrey Ker were the elderly comedy statesmen, and added together they are still younger than Chris Moyles (probably). On paper, it was the most Radio 4 thing alive, but it had so much energy, excitement and quotable LOLZ that it could actually fit very well for Radio 1. Why bother reinventing the comedy wheel? The wheel is there. It just needs tarting up with tinsel and Christmas lights, and with a ban of anyone over 35 ever appearing on it. Seriously, this one is easy: just commission this.
ALTERNATIVELY, we might have banged on 86 times about the dearth of decent satire in Britain – well, pretty much everywhere apart from sometimes in Australia, REALLY – but guess what? We’re going to bang on about it again. Please make some new satire. Now there’s a fundamental problem, in that we can’t think of any young comedians to competently get stuck in on this. Josie Long is the closest there is to a comedy rep for the angry youth and even before she joined the station, she was a tad too ‘6 Music’. Um…Joe Lycett, maybe, if you wanted to keep it light-hearted and just do a sort of Dirty Digest for the radio? Consider this idea a work in progress but we have mentioned it because like panel shows, it’s easy to write off satire as being suffocatingly smug and middle class, just because that’s what we’ve all got used to. It doesn’t have to be, it’s just going to take a bit of reinvention (aforementioned tinsel innit).
Actually whichever of those last two you do, Matt Edmondson is very funny and already on your DJ roster to make sure the new show isn’t too horrifyingly new for the audience. Did you see the F Factor online in 2010? Zip, zing, etc. Perfect.
Also on the satire one, NO PUBLIC INTERACTION please. It’s arguable whether we needed one Newsjack, let alone two.
We brought up the flourishing of musical comedy in that thing we wrote about what’s going wrong with Buzzcocks, but why not beat TV to the punch and do something about it? Scott Mills very occasionally dips his toes in the musical comedy waters, which is great, but there’s so much more you could do. If there’s one thing musical comedy could use, it’s some sharp editing to keep things moving when it gets flabby (as it often seems to do), and Radio 1 are rather good at that. Throw in some nifty stings and aggressive sifting of content and there’s more than enough talent to do something.
You might think the ideas so far are a bit ‘6 Music’, which won't fit with your current focus on getting a younger audience. There’s a strong temptation to put Daniel Sloss and Matt Richardson on air for the sole reason that they are too young to hire a rental car on the continent. They are fine young comedians, but if you put talented new, um, talent on air too soon, it can go horribly wrong. (We were going to put a YouTube clip of Jack Whitehall and Holly Walsh on the woeful TNT here to illustrate our point but it was so awful we can’t even find one.) No-one will be offended if you put a 30-year-old on air, really.
We can’t write this article without mentioning former Radio 1 comedies Blue Jam and Fist of Fun. Now, we can’t think of any outright comic geniuses-in-waiting who could do full-blown series, but what both shows did well was cobble together lots of fractured bits and pieces for late-night radio. So why not raid the character and sketch comedy cupboard? There’s Kieran and the Joes and Idiots of Ants. There’s Cariad Lloyd. Late Night Gimp Fight and Pappy’s could bring the filth. If you have to play the youth card hard, there’s always Sheeps. Maybe even do a showcase (of the zippy sort, not the laconic, idling-on-a-microphone-stand BBC Three showcase sort) and throw in some of the aforementioned musical stars – it’s been so long since you’ve done something that it might help spread the burden of being the first new comedy on the station a bit.
On a loosely related note, young Stewart Lee: totally would.
ANYWAY, Dear Person We’re Writing This Letter To, it’s a fairly safe bet that Radio 1 and comedy are so unlinked in people’s minds that not a single person mentioned here would have even considered it a possibility. But that can be a good thing. You’ve got a blank canvas and the market pretty much to yourself.
(Just for the love of all things good on the radio, please don’t do what we think you’re going to do: retooling the review show to be fronted with Greg James and some Young Comedian panelists and think you’ve done your job.)
Kind regards and inappropriate hugs, Such Small Portions
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