Show people: In your funnybone rather than your face: Punt and Dennis

HERE'S a pub-quiz trivia question for you: name the four members of The Mary Whitehouse Experience. 'Rob Newman and David Baddiel . . .' 'That's easy. And the other two were?' '. . . Oh, you know, one was shortish and the other was tallish, they used to do those sketches on Jasper Carrott. I can just picture their faces . . . It's on the tip of my tongue . . . OK, I give in, what were their names again?' Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis.

The irony of all this is that while the more famous N & B have gone off to spend more time with their novels and their Fantasy Football, P & D are about to have their own prime- time, pre-watershed programme, The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show. What's more, it's on BBC1 - something the mean and moody N & B have yet to manage.

Relaxing between rehearsals in a bar at Television Centre, Punt and Dennis are under no illusions. Blockbusting BBC1 is a daunting prospect after the art-house haven of BBC2. 'It's the thought of Marcus Plantin sitting in the ITV Network Centre saying, 'Oh no, Punt and Dennis are on at 8.30. I'd better put on an extra episode of Coronation Street.' It seems so unfair,' complains Punt. 'It's just us with a few old gags and exploding pigeons. So, please, Marcus, give us a chance.'

After nearly 10 years in the business, P & D deserve the chance. Their humour is sharp but not show-off. They may make jokes about Titus Andronicus and Chaucer, but they also like a good fart gag. Indeed, the day we met, they had been involved in an exchange with the BBC authorities over the use of that particular F- word - 'one of the funniest words in the English language,' according to Punt. Theirs is a playful, amiable sort of comedy, not so much in-your-face as in-your-funnybone. As Punt puts it: 'There's an over-emphasis on shouting your one-liners these days, but if your persona isn't likeable, then it doesn't matter how good a script you've got.'

Punt (the shorter one, a ringer for early Eric Idle) and Dennis (the taller one, the voice of John Cole on Spitting Image) met at Cambridge University. In 1985, they started working the London comedy circuit as a duo. 'Double acts are a great tradition,' says Dennis. 'There's a lot of self-sacrifice involved - you can't be two competing egos. You have to say, 'Oh well, I know you're going to get a laugh and it will benefit both of us'.' They couldn't do it if they weren't close friends.

Their writing skills were honed on such radio shows as Loose Ends, Hey Radio] and The Cabaret Upstairs, as well as Central Office of Information films about the dangers of falling into canals. The Big Break came quickly, when in 1985 Jasper Carrott saw their double act at the Comedy Store and invited them on to Carrott Confidential.

It was not until 1989, however, that Punt and Dennis began to build up an alternative audience with Radio 1's The Mary Whitehouse Experience. After four series on R1, TMWE went the way of all good radio comedy - to telly, where after a disastrous beginning (the first episode coincided with the start of the Gulf war), it achieved a respectable audience of 3 million. But at the end of the second BBC2 series, the Fab Four split into two Dynamic Duos. Despite rumours of 'comical differences', the break-up was amicable. 'It was obvious there were two styles,' says Dennis.' We did 45 shows on the radio and 13 on the telly. We just decided we didn't want to do any more together. We still get on fine. I see a fair amount of Dave. I go out for curries with him and watch Fantasy Football. That's a really good show, but it's a bit alarming for us because Dave smiles. We're not quite sure what happened.'

TMWE conferred cult status on its participants. With its sexy stars, snappy editing, risque language and youthful audience, the show has to bear some of the responsibility for one of the most over-used lines in journalism: 'Comedy is the new rock'n'roll.'

Punt, 31, and Dennis, 32, find that tag more of a hindrance than a help. 'If comedy's the new rock'n'roll, then we're the Hollies,' Dennis laughs. 'I mean, do you think Wendy Craig's the new rock'n'roll?' You won't catch this pair performing to 12,000 screaming teenagers at the Wembley Arena, as their former colleagues did last year. 'No one will do it again, because they couldn't afford the telescopes for the audience,' says Dennis.

'I hate the idea of comedy as fashion,' Punt adds, warming to the theme. 'The crucial difference is that comedy is not about novelty. Rock'n'roll has always been about the latest thing, while comedy's about familiarity. The most successful comedians are the ones the audiences know and trust. As they go on, comedians acquire a patina of familiarity - you could not attack Morecambe and Wise now, because they're so loved and revered.'

Ah, yes, the M & W factor. Every double act since the 1970s has laboured under the description of 'the new Morecambe and Wise'. 'I don't think anyone will ever be like them,' says Punt. 'You're not changing your name then?' asks Dennis. 'Yes, I am actually. And growing the hairs on my legs,' Punt replies, quick as a flash. Like all the best double acts, they set up each other's punchlines.

Although they are of the alternative generation, Punt and Dennis are steeped in the traditions of comedy. Which should mean they land safely after making the leap from BBC2. BBC1 badly needs a hit sketch-show. But if this pressure has communicated itself to Punt and Dennis, they're not showing it. Punt lobs up the feedline - 'We've always secretly wanted to be on BBC1' - and Dennis taps away the punchline: 'In a wildlife programme.'

'The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show': BBC1, Thurs, 8.30-9pm, for six weeks.

(Photograph omitted)

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future