While watching the first series of Heavy Entertainment, it became immediately evident that comedian Nick Helm has been given a platform in which he has free reign to create whatever he wishes. This means that he can incorporate all of his skills into one half hour. In this sense, this new stand up/sketch-style show has enabled Helm to prove himself to any sceptic that he is incredibly multi-talented, with an obvious aptitude for not only comedy, but music, drama and poetry also.
Each episode sees Nick presents a show based loosely around a topic, such as Romance, War and Dreams. He does this with the help of his band, which is made up of Ben Ellis, Ross Power, Jamie Smith and dead-pan comedian David Trent, who is keen to share his hopes and fears with the audience, which has hilarious consequences. His ambitions contrast starkly with the bitter sweet comments of Helm in an interview-style segment, when asked what he dreamt about as a kid. Helm simply replies: “I just dreamt of being happier”. This comment is emblematic of the general semantics of the programme; behind the obvious comedy elements, there is an undeniable darkness present, which makes the whole affair all the more interesting.
On the surface, Nick Helm’s Heavy Entertainment may look like a bit of an angry, multi-modal shambles. Look closer, however, and you will notice so much more. Each and every element is highly crafted, which is made more obvious as the series progresses and certain aspects of the performance are repeated, and Helm successfully incorporates music, poetry and even dance into the whole proceedings, giving the show a cabaret feel. There are sarcastic rants, intelligent jokes and some honestly fantastic songs, as well as multiple tender and emotional moments.
Nick Helm is at the top of his game, presenting a comedy that is both thoughtful and riotously funny. This is true heavy entertainment.
Uncle, starring Nick Helm, is back and stronger than ever, with a new set of relationship, career and general life problems awaiting the uncle in question, Andy.
Admittedly, Uncle is not what it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it is anything less than the comedy it began its life as. Errol (Elliot Spencer-Gillott) has grown up considerably and is now thirteen, so less of the adorably nerdy kid he used to be and more of an awkward and self-conscious teen. Though this has been used by others to criticise, I don’t think the fact that Errol is older lessens the comedic value of the programme, but rather, it moves the sitcom onwards to a new place. In this way, series two of Uncle has shown us that here we have a naturally evolving comedy that doesn’t feel manufactured or forced.
Nick Helm and Esther Smith (Cuckoo)make a wonderful pairing and I’d love to see them create something else together, perhaps a pilot of their iPlayer comedy short, Elephant. In addition, Daisy Haggard plays Errol’s well-meaning but hopelessly self-centred mother which enables an interesting brother-sister dynamic between herself and Andy as well as her slightly dysfunctional mother-son relationship with Errol.
Photo: BBC/Chris Brock
The denouement of each episode is usually accompanied by an emotional, and often very funny, ballad which allows Helm himself to bring, in his words, “a little bit of creative input” to the proceedings. These songs are admirable in their own right and showcase this comedian’s undeniable musical talent, providing an interesting interlude from the full narrative.
Uncle is an endearing sitcom with likeable characters and a hugely talented cast. It’s a slow-burner, which only increases its impact, making it one of the most enjoyable sitcoms I’ve seen for a while. Before watching the final episode of this series, I would have told you that I couldn’t see much scope for development within a third series, but I have been well and truly swayed. There is still so much space for plot and character relationship growth, and I am excited for the potential of Uncle‘s return. But regardless of whether a third series is made, I rest assured that the stars of this programme will shine through in any further projects they undertake. In particular, I look forward to seeing what future productions Elliot Spencer-Gillott gets involved in as he has shown himself to be a great and exuberant young comedic actor.
Every year, countless celebrities dedicate time and effort into creating original and funny material in aid of Comic Relief, and this year was no different. There has been an array of exciting new programmes over the past few weeks and I’ve picked a few of my favourites to share.
Let’s Play Darts For Comic Relief was a new and innovative way that celebrities were able to get involved within a refreshing and entertainment format. From Roisin Conaty’s shock double-20 which saw her through the preliminary round, to Bob Mortimer’s “we hate laminate” carpet chant, this competition was full of laughter. Lee Mack was eventually crowned the winner after a tense final against his good friend Tim Vine.
Photo: BBC/Pete Dadds
Like most people, I adore The Great British Bake Off, so was delighted to hear the charity version was to return this year. Featuring the cream of the celebrity crop including Joanna Lumley, David Mitchell, Jennifer Saunders, Jameela Jamil and Jonathan Ross, there was some average baking and some very big blunders (but that’s what we all wanted, right?).
The pinnacle of the charity entertainment for most comedy lovers would have to be Mark Watson’s 27 hour live comedy show. Watching the whole affair felt very much like a dream to me, with its countless celebrity contributors, world record attempts and crazy challenges. Tuning in every couple of hours really highlighted the vast array of people and activities the organisers incorporated into the show and it was clear to see how exhausted those who had stayed awake for the entire time. From a game of ‘Animal Verbs’ with Stuart Goldsmith to a competition with a chant off “OFF WITH THE CARDBOARD HOY HOY” which involved the likes of Horrible Histories writer Greg Jenner and Tracy-Ann Oberman, using only their mouths to pick up a cardboard box. The extravaganza also starred some of my favourite people in comedy including Tim Minchin and Sarah Millican which made for incredibly funny viewing, as well as contributing to the impressive grand total raised.
Photo: Comic Relief/Tom Dymond
But lest us forget the biggest event of them all, Friday 13th March’s live Comic Relief show. Highlights of the evening for me would have to be the debut performance of No Direction, a One Direction tribute band made up of Vic Reeves, Johnny Vegas, Nick Helm, Jack Dee and Patrick Kielty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jack Dee enjoy himself so much. David Walliams appeared in a hilarious new Little Britain sketch featuring Stephen Hawking and Catherine Tate as well as Richard Ayoade popping up to interview Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley and Rowan Atkinson brought us a brand new Mr Bean sketch.
If you watched the BBC iPlayer shorts from June 2014, you’ll have seen for yourself how these miniature comedy installations really do open up a new style of viewing. Last year’s six hilarious bitesize programmes allowed us to sample a whole range of funny creations from the likes of Matt Berry, Reece Shearsmith, Micky Flanagan and Meera Syal, and it’s no surprise that the news of a brand new set this month was more than welcome.
Rom Com is the increasingly popular Romesh Ranganathan’s Valentine’s-related short, starring Aisling Bea. Together they make up the world’s seemingly most awkward first date ever. The episode follows Romesh as he is rigorously prepared for his evening with this quite mysterious young woman by his very own verbally abusive relationship guru, who also happens to be a figment of his own imagination. Rom Com is a dark and oppressive comedy, and is made bitterly funny thanks to both of its stars.
Katy Wix’s Dear Jean Pierre is a silly story of a quaint French romance, as it reaches its emotional final moments. In this remarkable tale, Wix relives the moments where the relationship began to decline, and brings her wonderfully childish humour along for the ride. With her trademark hopeful and innocent nature, and a knack for surprising us with various twists and turns along the way, Dear Jean Pierre is a complete comedy delight.
Matt Berry’s Wild Love is certainly wild, shockingly funny and crude. In the sequel to last year’s Lone Wolf, Berry narrates the mating antics of various creatures ranging from golden frogs to “colonial hopping dogs”. This undiscovered world is absolutely crazy, and even our beloved narrator himself seems to get carried away by the absurdity of it all, which makes for hilarious listening. Writer, Bob Mortimer, and Berry have come together yet again, to create something fantastic, and it’s not too difficult to visualise this becoming a series one day. Watch out David Attenborough!
Bill Bailey brings his brilliant song-writing skills to present a parody of the romantic-rock music industry by remaking one of his own songs, Love Song. It is bleak, harshly funny and typical of Bailey’s hilarious comedy. It also really made me want to watch his ’96 live show Cosmic Jam again as this man’s material is absolutely timeless. Music Lovers is Sara Pascoe’s surreal comedy short about a Norwegian band, Monozygotic, who are promoting their new album, but it turns out there is much more going on behind the scenes that are revealed throughout. I loved this because it’s completely different from anything I’ve seen Sara do before (and because I got to hear Elis James’ Norwegian accent.
Elephant, starring Nick Helm and Esther Smith, is the sweetest little comedy I’ve seen in a long time. It follows a very clumsy yet likeable pair of young almost-lovebirds as they embark on the world’s cheapest almost-date ever. The visuals of this one are absolutely beautiful, with bright natural lighting and smiles all round and the over all effect is a slow-burning, lovely episode that really warms the heart. The Lady and the Fly from Modern Toss is very different from the rest of the episodes due to its animated format. A fly has fallen in love with a human woman and her apparent rejection has made him feel like ending it all and becoming a “self-netter” by flinging himself into a spider’s web, ready to be eaten. Modern Toss have created something that is cleverer than most observational comedy, as the ideas are implied through the fly’s narrative, rather than in explicit statements.
These iPlayer shorts are such a great new development in online viewing and I look forward to a third batch at some point in the future.
Watch all of the fantastic comedy shorts on BBC iPlayer
2014 has been a fantastic year for British Comedy, and The British Comedy Awards exists to showcase a large proportion of that to the public.
Last year’s post about the British Comedy Awards ceremony was largely negative, as a result of the production rather than the comedy being nominated and awarded. The show was aired live, which meant that mistakes could not be hidden and the timing issues were obvious, with some speeches having to be cut short which seemed outrageous. This year, however, the programme aired on Channel 4 on December 17th, rather than live, on December 16th, which meant the whole affair appeared far more professional and respectable, if a little fake, to the television audience.
It was a delight to see the wonderful Harry Enfield receive three awards (individually forBest TV Comedy Actor and teamed with Paul Whitehouse (Harry & Paul) for Best Sketch Show and Best Comedy Moment). Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) also won Best TV Comedy Actress, which I think is incredibly well-deserved and so endearing to see how shocked she was to be recognised. Matt Berry was nominated for a whopping six awards, though he lost to Nick Helm for Best Comedy Breakthrough Artist, which is just as it should be seeing as Berry has been a television comic for over a decade. I’m a big fan of Berry’s Toast of London; it was great to see such a strange style of sitcom win an award for once.
The person I was most pleased to see win an award was certainly Aisling Bea, who won Best Female TV Comic. Seeing this absolute ray of sunshine crawl onto stage in her dress and heels and inadvertently turn herself into a “hospital DJ,” made me laugh so much and just proved that Aisling is a funny woman through and through. I am unbelievably pleased for her and can’t wait to see what this award does for her career in the coming year. Another beautiful moment was hearing an emotional speech from Brendan O’Carroll (Mrs Brown’s Boys), who was rightly awarded with the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award.
It’s easy to be cynical whilst watching such a grandiose display of wealth and status, and there were times throughout the production where I did feel like the spirit of British Comedy was being exploited, but, unlike Stewart Lee, I chose to ignore that this year. From the position of a viewer rather than a performer, I can see that The British Comedy Awards gives comics a platform to boost their careers or give them recognition for their lifetime achievements, and that can only be a good thing in my opinion, however unfair you believe the results to be. Out of the nominees for King or Queen of Comedy, however, Greg Davies will always win in the end.
I think my favourite part of the whole affair was hearing Tulisa say “I’m a big comedy fan.” Yes, that part made me laugh the most.
Ricky Gervais has completely shaken up our perceptions of what he is capable of with his latest series After Life, showing how this comic can do heart-breaking as well as hilarious.
Set in the height of a beautiful English summer, After Life follows Tony, a middle-aged man who becomes suicidal after the death of his wife leaves him without purpose and without joy. He works as a features editor for a free local newspaper, cares for his dog Brandy, and visits his senile father (David Bradley) each day. In the fog of his depression, Tony decides to abandon all rules of politeness when it concerns people whom he deems undeserving. He chooses say what he wants, to whoever he wants because he no longer cares about the consequences.
After Life, at its core, is about the loneliness of losing that one person that makes the rest of the world fade into insignificance. It’s the kind of loss that forces you to look out into the world and take accountability for your place within all of that. The death of his wife Lisa completely shakes Tony’s world because he no longer has the excuse of locking the front door and turning the TV on, safe in the comfort that it’s those two against the world. In a strange way, the death of Lisa has forced him to acknowledge that he too is a participant in the world. And it’s this realism that makes After Life so terrifying. Gervais is not presenting us with anything particularly out of the ordinary; this is a real, genuine tragedy that many of us will endure at some point in our lifetimes.
Viewers will no doubt have an inkling as to where the narrative will end up, and After Life is almost the modern day A Christmas Carol that the trailer suggests it might be. Some of the dialogue is clunky in places, particularly Tony’s self-righteous, morbid verbal attacks, which are more frequent during the first episode as the programme begins to establish itself.
The words spoken do, however, consistently feel as though they are aiming at truth. Gervais’ personal passions are at the forefront of this series, more so than ever before. His love of animals and contempt of religion are prominent themes. In the moments where the writer’s personal views are most prominent (such as when Tony informs Sandy that ‘humanity is a plague’), criticisers of Gervais’ stand-up will no doubt have a field day. Yes, some of Tony’s arguments seem to be lifted straight from Gervais’ past stand up shows and old XFM Radio podcasts, but why not? They remain relevant because Gervais remains passionate about the ideas, and articulates them so persuasively.
The cast is made up of many of Gervais’ regulars, and is saturated with an abundance of strong female talent, from Mandeep Dhillon, to Roisin Conaty, to Diane Morgan. Whilst most characters arguably exist as pawns for After Life to drive its message home, they are still relatively complex and each have their unexpected quirks. Penelope Wilton in particular delivers a brilliant and emotive performance as Anne, a widowed senior who exudes the compassion that Tony doesn’t know he needs. Another character refreshingly overt in her moral judgements is Tony’s father’s nurse (Ashley Jensen), who, like Anne, doesn’t take any of Tony’s shit.
These outspoken characters are pivotal for Tony’s own journey, as they highlight how Tony’s grief is making him selfish and leaving him failing to remember (or care) that every person is hurting in some way, to some extent. At the end of the day, Tony isn’t really a Scrooge. In fact, as the series progresses it becomes increasingly clear that there’s a bit of Tony in all of us. He has a hatred of idiocy and a contempt of pointless conversation, but he is also kind, quick-witted and down to earth.
Gervais perfectly captures the rage that can come with feeling depressed. He subtly and intricately depicts how everything can feel like an offence, everyone else is an obstacle that reminds us of our own pain, and yet what hurts more is turning the mirror and reflecting on one’s own actions. But as the series develops, the genuine, pure humanity in each character is allowed to shine through. After Life shows human nature in its best light. The vast majority of people are kind and generous people who suffer and live.
After Life is a stunning and heartbreakingly poignant depiction of love, loss and the human condition. And with the soundtrack being enough to induce tears alone (including the master, Nick Cave, as well as Mogwai and Daughter), it is an undeniably moving dramatic feat. The overwhelming message is that good people (and dogs) really can remind you that you are good too. And what could be more beautiful, or important, than that?
Harriet Kemsley is a delightful stand up comedian with an undeniably sinister edge. With her endearing, almost-childlike delivery of material that expertly blends the silly with cutting, bitter and sarcastic elements, Harriet is rapidly crafting a distinctive comedy persona. She has recently been supporting the likes of Katherine Ryan and Stewart Francis on their UK tours as well as appearing on The One Show Edinburgh Showcase in August.
To learn more about Harriet, I asked her these seven questions…
1) Are you at all similar to your parents?
I have inherited the best of both worlds. I got my Mum’s overwhelming anxieties and my Dad’s massive head.
2) Do you write your material down?
Yes. Because otherwise I would forget. I have to write everything in my life down or I won’t remember. I write very basic things I have to do on my hand and then I wake up with them smeared to my forehead and I go about my day.
3) What did you most enjoy about university?
I really really enjoyed the last day. I found Uni unnecessarily stressful, but I did enjoy having my rent paid for by my student loan.
4) What kind of people do you like making friends with?
I particularly like fun people. They are my absolute favourite. Big idiots that can laugh at themselves. If I was to go on friend Tinder I would swipe right for big fun honest idiots.
5) Do you pay much attention to detail?
Awlays. I am completely paranoid about everything so I have to read an email about 3000 times before I send it just to check I haven’t subconsciously written something like YOU’REABIGIDIOT in the middle. It’s the same with everything. It took me ages to wrap presents last Christmas as I became paranoid I was going to wrap dirty knickers up with them.
6) Which comedians inspire you most?
I am in love with Amy Schumer and Maria Bamford and Sarah Silverman and Katherine Ryan. They are all just perfect and I want to marry them.
7) Do you know what you want?
I think so. I really like doing comedy and I really want to get great at it. I would really like a proper home as I live in squalor with disgusting boys and one day I would really like to wake up to the sound of birds singing and not someone masturbating in the shower. And I would also like a little dog.