Comic Relief review: Funny for money – or was it?

No collection of comedians could make us laugh non-stop for nearly seven hours of fundraising, but some moments stood out for the right reasons

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The Independent Culture

Obviously no moment in Comic Relief history can come close to Vic and Bob trying to down 75 pints of ale while singing Nilsson's "Without You" in 1995, but Friday night's telethon certainly had its moments, notably Ricky Gervais bringing David Brent back to UK screens. So what were the key moments of this record-breaking Red Nose Day 2013?

Equality Street

Gervais has brought Slough's most famous former paper salesman back to life briefly for the US iteration of The Office, but this was the first extended look at what Brent has been up to since the original show. Despite the Hollywood tan, Gervais still fits Brent like cheap polyester suit, smirking and pointing like he's never been away. In the film Brent is managing a rapper played by Doc Brown and insists on singing the verses on "Equality Street", a "political reggae song" he's written. "It's perfect 'cause it's mega racial, but anti-racist. This could be like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. But it's better 'cause you can see what you're doing."

Dame Edna – MasterJudge

Could Dame Edna be the judge to make MasterChef fun again? Her criticism of Jack Whitehall and Micky Flanagan's cooking was A A Gill-sharp. On Flanagan's steamed John Dory with red wine: "I don't think this justifies the death of a fish." Meanwhile, her take on Whitehall's bread and butter pudding: "I think I'm bleeding internally." Ouch.

Peter Kay goes couch surfing

The joke was wearing thin by the end, but Peter Kay's subversion of the Comic/Sports Relief celebrity challenge had its moments. Rather than swim the Channel like David Walliams, or run marathons like Eddie Izzard, Kay did what he does best – "sit on his arse" – and was filmed trawling the country being pulled along while sat on a giant red sofa. There were some funny touches – such as a watching child telling the camera, "This has inspired me to stay at home watching television" and a few not-so-sharp ones: ie, Kay's "wife" turning up in a niqab, which is funny because, er ...


It wasn't until 90 minutes in that an actual country was mentioned in the context of the work done by Comic Relief. The earlier films featuring members of One Direction and others were almost satirically vague about which undifferentiated blob of Earth they were on – "I'm in Africa, walking through a giant rubbish tip in the middle of a slum." Later, the boyband The Wanted visited a school and used the same shorthand, talking of wanting to help "people less fortunate in Africa". It's not fair to blame boybanders, but the idea of vaguely "helping Africa" doesn't really help the argument for this kind of aid. The attitude was neatly mocked by Jack Whitehall during the late-night Fresh Meat segment when he told a room of students: "Thanks to you guys, Africa is fixed."

Lovely Rob Brydon

It's difficult not to be moved by Comic Relief's regular films in which Brenda Blethyn, Bill Nighy, David Tennant and others went to places such as Homer Bay in western Kenya and witnessed intense suffering. But Brydon's upset at witnessing the plight of a young malaria sufferer called Isaac was a genuine tear-jerker.

Yes, these films all follow the same tropes, but watching Brydon having to turn away to stop himself from crying as nurses struggled to insert a drip into the child's head was as raw a moment as the entire evening provided.

Smithy gets it right (a little bit)

James Corden – as Gavin & Stacey's Smithy – made a bombastic monologue about the vagaries of charity appeals. Tongue-in-cheek though it was, it did provide two of the best mini-summaries of these telly marathons: "You know what happens when you have a seven-hour shift, you get Patrick Kielty doing 'Gangnam Style' with Anne Robinson in the graveyard shift"; and "It's not 25 years of making people laugh; you could actually put all the funny bits in one hour".

Rowan Atkinson – Archbishop of Canterbury

This being a Richard Curtis production, it would be unfathomable for Rowan Atkinson to appear as anything but a bumbling vicar. Hence a few clumsy minutes as the "new Archbishop of Canterbury". Sadly it was a generic archbishop rather than a take on Justin Welby, who's not yet well enough known to be spoofed. Perhaps next time we could have Welby playing Mr Bean instead.

Frank Lampard, comfortable in his own skin

As part of a skit in which an STI-ridden David Walliams visits old lovers including Kate Moss and Ronnie Corbett, Frank Lampard did a rare thing for a footballer – joked about his sexuality. "You know that weekend we went camping?" Walliams asked, "and then we got in our sleeping bags and started wrestling. It wasn't just wrestling, was it Frank?" "No," replied a straight-faced Lampard. We're a long way from a top footballer coming out, but it's a start.