TELEVISION : Anyone for Pennis? (BBC2) The man who takes the rise out of celebrity smugness. By Jasper Rees

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The Independent Culture
A typical stunt by Dennis Pennis found the flame-rinsed, heavily bespectacled reporter accosting Melvyn Bragg on the doorstep of a reception. Dennis, a freak with a mike who might as well have the words "you are being set up for comic purposes" stencilled across his forehead, asked Bragg why he doesn't blow his nose before going on air. As this is the oldest living joke in British broadcasting, Bragg was quite entitled to his harrumphing "Is that supposed to be funny?" But the worst gag in Anyone for Pennis? was balanced out by the best, in which Dennis, fitted with a radar that will take him to the nearest publicity-seeking celebrity, walked straight past Bragg.

This was practically the only sight gag in the entire half-hour. Dennis has probably the highest punchliner-for-sentence ratio in the business, and also the greatest tendency to rudeness: part Woody Allen, part Keith (who told him to "fuck off"). Quite a few of the jokes sank; a lot more were kept afloat by the raw verve with which Dennis surfed his script. Only when he fired gags at comedians equipped to fend him off did his lines seem corny, and even then it was worth watching Dennis sip his own medicine.

Almost all encounters were designed to prick the bubble of smugness that surrounds most famous people, to feed them the oxygen of publicity and watch them gag on the lacing of arsenic. And through sheer cheek it worked, even if some, like Naomi Campbell, were barred from him by a partition of paparazzi. Dennis asked Edwina Currie to sign a book for him, and then presented her with Ian Botham's autobiography. To Desmond Lynam, "Do you watch pornography?... How do they do that?" Ulrika Johnson was asked to audition for Gladiators two pals of his called Stain and Scrotum.

If Ulrika was game - "I am interested," she said, closing her car door, "particularly in Scrotum" - more fun was had watching cornered celebs freeze in the frame. John Cole stared in speechless amazement; Hugh Grant grinned grimly as Dennis told him his acting looked like "someone threw a chair in the room". Paul Daniels ducked wittily out of shot. Madonna curtailed her press conference when Dennis suggested a coffee table volume depicting her inner organs. Michael Heseltine rushed to his car as Dennis said the party "is getting more women into labour than Tony Blair can ever dream of".

A lot of jokes didn't require the celebs' reaction, merely their presence. Dennis's line about having to call an ambulance because his wife was three months pregnant would have been moderately funny in a stand-up routine, but was hilarious given that his audience was Virginia Bottomley. Likewise Donald Trump: "Are you aware of a programme called Trumpton?... You got a lot more dough than Windy Miller." Pointless, and yet priceless. Celebrities going out after dark are advised to carry a bargepole.

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