The Week in Comedy: Jack Dee turns agony aunt

If you needed some friendly anonymous advice, who would you turn to? The kindly Denise Robertson on This Morning, perhaps, or the eminently sensible Virginia Ironside of this newspaper? Whatever happened, you probably wouldn’t confide in a comedian. And certainly not in Jack Dee, who has built a career on caustic asides to the audience and made four series of Lead Balloon, a sitcom about a stand-up who is miserably obsessed with his own problems.

And yet this week Dee embarked on a new career as an agony uncle. Or rather he has launched a new show, Jack Dee’s Help Desk, in which he encourages audiences to share their problems and then feigns concern from behind his black-rimmed glasses while making jokes at their expense. Audiences at the very first show, in the intimate basement of Soho Theatre in London this week, were handed a card and Biro on their way in and asked to write down an issue or dilemma that was troubling them. Dee then read them out and offered advice. Sympathy, unsurprisingly, did not come easily to him. “You’ve got gout?” he spluttered in response to the second question. “Pirates get gout. What the hell is the matter with you?”

Fortunately Dee also had a panel of co-counsellors to smooth things out. On the first night, these were Matt Forde, Shappi Khorsandi, Jon Richardson and Peter Tatchell. Seann Walsh, Lucy Porter, Greg James and Lembit Opik helped out on the second night. Between them, they offered a mixture of concern and comedy that was good fun to watch, in a Radio 4 sort of way. The week of live shows has surely been a trial run for a new television or radio format, and on the evidence of Tuesday night, it has the potential to work very well indeed.

The show had a freewheeling, collegiate feel, with the panellists riffing on themes as diverse as hefty veterinary bills, family reunions and holiday destinations and audience members describing their woes and pitching in with advice. It was not a one-way street: Forde shared that he had trouble getting up in the morning, while Khorsandi asked for dating advice. Meanwhile Dee chaired with a characteristic sneer to stop it becoming too touchy-feely.

Comedy has a rich lineage of amusing agony aunts - kindly looking souls who offer acid and barbs over tea and sympathy. Maureen Lipman played a particularly hapless one in the 1980s sitcom Agony but it was Dame Edna and, most gloriously, Mrs Merton who perfected the art of the wicked Samaritan. More recently, Sarah Millican’s Support Group on Radio 4 discussed fictitious problems with a real audience to often hilarious effect. At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Rachel Stubbings made other comedians’ problems the topic of her multimedia live show.

Comedy agony uncles have been thinner on the ground. Will Adamsdale won the Perrier Award with his spoof life coach Chris John Jackson. Graham Norton had an advice column in The Telegraph for a while. So Dee could be on to something with his new comic direction, and while he might not solve his audience’s problems, or even attempt to, at least he might send them away smiling.

Be a Panellist

Could you watch 100 hours of comedy in a fortnight? Do you have a relaxed attitude to audience participation, enjoy spending time in small, windowless rooms and have an encouraging laugh? If so, the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards need you. The competition is now open to join the judging panel for 2014 and help to choose who wins the biggest prize in comedy. Previous winners include Daniel Kitson, Steve Coogan, The League of Gentlemen and, last year, Bridget Christie.

Public judges should be comedy zealots who are prepared to watch up to 6 or 7 shows a day over two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, and then share their opinions with a panel made up of comedy critics, producers and commissioners. Accommodation, travel and all show tickets are provided. I was a judge last year and saw the very best, and the very worst, that comedy has to offer. For the fan, there is no better or more brutal way to immerse oneself in the scene - and if you pick out a Skinner or a Minchin, you can dine out on it for decades to come. 

More details here http://www.comedyawards.co.uk/panellist_comp.asp

What I Watched…

Bad Neighbours

Puerile and formulaic it might be but Seth Rogen’s new frathouse comedy starring Zac Efron has more than a couple of gasp-and-laugh-out-loud moments. Rose Byrne is excellent and there is a nice cameo from Lisa Kudrow, too.

Miller’s Mountain

Despite a fine turn from Sharon Rooney as a bolshie barmaid, this BBC Comedy Playhouse sitcom was largely witless, crude and noisy with canned laughter. Think Mrs Brown’s Boys in the Highlands. It’ll probably be a huge hit.

The Beygency

Andrew Garfield plays “the man who said the unsayable” – he doesn’t love Beyonce’s new single – in this neat Saturday Night Live skit. On the run from the vengeful and shadowy “Beygency”,  he turns to Kiefer Sutherland for help. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGxe83lXgJg

www.twitter.com/alicevjones

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015