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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea