Joking apart

Mark Lamarr presents a serious side as the versatile host of a new big-issue series

BBC2 has commissioned a challenging new series tackling the big issues of the day - crime, drugs and class. And who's hosting it? Jeremy Paxman, perhaps? Or how about Andrew Neil? Er, no. Actually, it's presented by a comedian best known for scowling at Reeves and Mortimer on Shooting Stars, and making jokes about rock stars' hairdos on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. What will they think of next? Jim Davidson and Norman Pace on Question Time? No, that's been done already.

Mark Lamarr, the presenter of the aforementioned show, Mark Lamarr Leaving the 20th Century, does not find it hard to see why comedians appear to be taking over the schedules, hosting everything from talk shows to travelogues. For instance, the stand-up Mark Thomas has presented a show about the refugee crisis, while Rory Bremner contributed to election-night coverage.

"I don't want to sound arrogant, but comedy is the hardest job in showbiz," Lamarr claims. "If you can do comedy, you can do anything - because you can speak to an audience, build a relationship with them and get reactions from them."

Never short of an opinion or two, Lamarr goes on to assert that comedians are preferable to the new breed of glitzy but shallow all-round presenters. "Whether you like me or not, one skill I have is that I can do jokes. Everyone on TV should have some talent. Why employ someone just because they can read? Presenters are now all Sylvia Young School wannabes who can only do two things - face the camera and keep talking. TV is the most important medium of communication in the world, but we're slapped in the face with dimwits. What can we learn from Matthew Kelly?"

Nor does Lamarr believe that "serious" subjects should be off-limits for comics. "With this series, I didn't just want to ask, `where do coat- hangers come from?' Even though my first duty is to jokes, I haven't made light of the subjects."

In the first programme, Lamarr certainly lays into the subject of crime with earnest intent. He is particularly incensed by the glamorisation of criminals such as the Kray Twins. "Don't make them heroes. Fighting a system you believe to be unjust is heroic. Pouring lighter-fuel over a security guard's testicles is cowardly. They're not heroes, they're thieves and murderers, and, as such, I don't want to see them on calendars or T-shirts. I don't want to see Mad Frankie Fraser on Campari ads or chat shows with his tales of senseless violence."

Lamarr is a good choice for such a provocative show - after all, his whole comedy persona is based on provocation. And he is determined to remain part of TV's awkward squad. How could he keep sniping from the margins if he were mired in the mainstream?

"My biggest fear is becoming a celebrity," he says. "I can see it's lovely to have rose petals thrown at you in the street and to get money just for turning up at speedboat events, but it's not for me. The term `celebrity' implies someone who does nothing. When I'm gone, I'd hate people to think about me in the way I think about Gail Porter."

His ambivalence to celebrity may have stemmed from the period when he fronted The Word, the programme which, to many, epitomised all that was most self-indulgent about "yoof TV". Lamarr jokes that he has been glued to the re-runs of The Word currently being shown on Channel 4 every Friday. "I can't tear myself away," he laughs. "Sometimes I left The Word studio thinking `that was a good show'. But nine times out of 10, I'd hang my head in shame and wear a yashmak for a week."

Lamarr does not go out of his way to present a charming face to the world - but perhaps that's what makes him a suitable comedian to host an issue- based show. It works for him, and he seems unlikely to drop the strop.

"Bad comedy is `please like me and I'll be nice for 20 minutes'," he says. "People can hate me - I doubt I'd like myself if I was watching - but I still make them laugh. If I tried to persuade people to like me, then I'd be hosting Stars in Their Eyes."

`Mark Lamarr Leaving the 20th Century' starts on BBC2 tomorrow

James Rampton

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
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.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable