Television review

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The Independent Culture
Whose joke is this?: "My wife smokes before, during and after sex. Frequently the same cigarette I'm afraid to say." Woody Allen, perhaps, in a mood of rueful self-deprecation? Or what about this advice on how to give up smoking in bed: "Buy a waterbed. Fill it with petrol... This works!" Eddie Izzard maybe or Paul Merton, one of the young surrealists, anyway. And which existing stand-up might deliver a routine about novelty condoms, physically hinting at their usefulness for shadow-play ("oh look... a bunny rabbit") and ending with a confession about trying out the flavoured variety - "Before I knew it the box was empty - they were so moreish!" Jo Brand, surely, given the hallmarks of comic gluttony and gender deflation. So what have I been watching, then - a benefit night for Aids research or some late-night alternative cabaret?

If so, the organisers are unusually catholic in their tastes, and reckless about the traditional sensitivities of such audiences - "I love the women's movement", one joke goes, "especially when I'm walking behind it" - a gag that has the heavy scent of brown ale and cigarette smoke. Bishops, in life as in chess, "go both ways", runs another line - which is not homophobic exactly but close enough to give a timid comic pause for thought. Of course, if you haven't already been alerted by this ponderously extended preamble, all the jokes come not just from one show but also from one person - Bob Monkhouse On the Spot (BBC1), in which the tuxedoed old smoothy improvises a routine around suggestions from the studio audience.

His restoration to favour has been very rapid, from the epitome of despised showbiz brilliantine - slick and dated - to respected craftsman of comedy, a sort of Living Treasure of the Corny Gag. A storming performance on Have I Got News for You put the seal on his rehabilitation and this is the result - a mainstream showcase for his encyclopaedic comic memory.

This Saturday the well-publicised theft of his joke-books didn't appear to have put a crimp in the well-pressed manner, his ability to deliver a joke for any occasion. But the liberation of his post-watershed slot does have a slightly odd, stroboscopic effect. He flickers between comic styles - at one moment the Bob of old, unctuous and practised, at the next clearly borrowing from the exasperated observational comedy of younger acts - "I mean, excuse me, what is the point of that?" he says, introducing some Eltonesque schtick.

What you're seeing, I suppose, is an alternation between the private- function material he's always had up his sleeve and the spotless, starchy stuff he felt able to display on television. Whatever, the result is often very funny.

As is The Saturday Night Armistice, even if Armando Iannucci's topical show offers an entirely different kind of comedy. Some of it could be described as satirical - there was a pointed skit last week in which the team formed a Rapid Reaction Firefighting Force, six firemen who stood motionless while a minor on-set fire turned into a major blaze. Most of it isn't quite as directed as that though, more impertinent than moralising, and none the worse for it. Last night they suggested that the Labour party was changing its strategy for appealing to young voters - forming Labour 18-30, an organisation to be advertised with large billboards of Harriet Harman and the slogan "There's plenty more where she came from".

There was also a very funny ambush in which a boozy group of fans in Jack Straw T-shirts doorstepped the object of their adulation. They had already testified to his sense of style ("He's the sort of bloke who'd get out of the bath to have a piss," said one in slurred awe) and he proved it, greeting his raucous fan club in the only dignified way available - with a bit of a giggle.

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