I wouldn't have wanted to be Christian O'Connell at two minutes to 10 last Monday night, waiting to go on stage for an unscripted live radio show. It must have been like one of those dreams where you find yourself about to give a piano recital then realise you can't play the piano.
Man on Wireless, transmitted from London's Soho Theatre, was an experiment (the title plays on the film Man on Wire, about a tightrope-walker): an hour of radio with no script, no sidekick, no music, no ads and no news. I say "unscripted", but it wasn't entirely spontaneous: the word "rehearsal" slipped out at one point, and O'Connell also mentioned he'd been talking before the show to one of the audience volunteers. But it was still an achievement to keep the thing afloat without longueurs.
It was going to stand or fall on the quality of said volunteers, who came up to win tickets to various shows and festivals, and O'Connell mostly struck lucky. Mostly. Jason, the subject of a "Hollywood-style" interview, had met his fiancée through tweeting about O'Connell's regular show, and the host offered to marry them in Las Vegas – you can qualify as a minister online in a few minutes, apparently – before the unfortunate discovery that Jason wasn't one for interview small talk.
But by and large it worked, with ad breaks being supplied by audience members coming up to plug their own company (including a banker who wouldn't name his employers for fear of getting the sack). There was one trick missed: Mary, the "producer" brought up from the audience to time-keep and google stuff, could have been given the additional duty of monitoring tweets and email from listeners. But it was a lot of fun. When he came on. O'Connell wondered whether the whole thing wasn't "an idea that should have stayed one of those ideas". Absolutely not: he should do it again.
Ian Messiter once had one of those ideas, and that didn't stop there either. Forty-five years later, Just a Minute is taking its singular mix of the clever and the silly to India for two shows. The location, the Mumbai Comedy Store, changed the whole feel of the programme. Over here, it tends to take place in halls, where the laughter echoes; in the Comedy Store, the audience sounded like it was almost on top of the performers (Paul Merton and Marcus Brigstocke plus domestic talent Anuvab Pal and Cyrus Broacha), in what felt like a bearpit.
The Indians, in a sense, are ahead of us. Just a Minute took off there when it was on the World Service, and it's played by young Indian professionals at "JaM sessions". This gave Pal and Broacha a leg-up as far as the rules were concerned, though neither could quite get the hang of the "repetition" bit.
The subjects were well chosen – they included "cultural exchanges" and "colonial India" – which elicited the following from Pal: "General Malcolm Muggeridge of the 1st Jaipur Infantry liked to wear his breeches and go for deep swims." There followed a long, smutty riff from the assembled cast about what "deep swims" might be a euphemism for – suggesting that the cultural divide between ourselves and our former subjects isn't very wide at all.