The little man who turns triumph to adversity
Saturday 03 June 1995
The World of Lee Evans (C4) could belong to any era in the history of comedy between the present day and the moment homo homunculus first picked up a club and started bashing himself on the head to make the Neanderthal bullies in the playground laugh. When court jesters did this to tickle the ribs of royalty, it was already the oldest form of comedy in the book.
Evans's more recent ancestor is Norman Wisdom, who cornered the market in self-humiliation and personal disaster and confronted inevitable failure with a similar gibbon-like countenance. In contrast to Chaplin, whose rubbery physique he shares, the storyboards of his new set of mostly speechless playlets do not allow the hero to triumph. This little man is a stranger to victory. When he does the night shift behind the till at a petrol station, it can only go wrong: "It's your first night, Lee. Don't mess it up", are the parting words of his boss, and the neat first line of the series.
The munificence of Channel 4, lavishing six-parters on comedians who made their name on stage, has frequently taken both parties down a cul- de-sac. Not one of Jo Brand, Paul Merton or Sean Hughes could really cut the mustard in sketch format. It's not certain that long skits are the best vehicle for Evans's skills either, even though he writes the scripts himself. Stand-up is more freeform and doesn't worry about the visible joins between one gag and the next. The constrictions of narrative seem to hem him in, and the leap from joke to joke sometimes looks more laboured. But the bits between the leaps are priceless.
The generating gag of both of last night's pieces was to put Evans in an unfamiliar room and see how quickly he could trash it. First there was the petrol station, in which he couldn't work the intercom and had to communicate with his customer via mime. John Thompson, an unsung star of the Paul Calf video diaries, deftly played the feed, which can't be an easy job opposite Evans. The second sketch, in which Evans visited prospective parents-in-law who have just found out their daughter is pregnant, proved as much. The sight of Prunella Scales and Tony Selby making a hash of the type of acting at which Evans excels was a dire warning of the perils he faces when asking others to join in.
The rockumentary is a discredited form, but if anyone can rescue it it's Christy Moore (BBC2), who in Christy upended the cliche of the youngster who gets the rock'n'roll bug by explaining how he discovered the need for something "a bit more organic, a bit more macrobiotic".
This was a story with songs that are also stories, and it was told so well that you could almost forgive the editorial imput of whoever it was who decided to ape U2 and film some of the moodier Irish landscape shots in black-and-white. These clashed badly with the monochrome footage of Moore's traditional group Planxty performing in the early 1970s, when black-and-white television in Ireland wasn't a matter of choice. The other shame was that the film went out after most of the members of Christy's constituency would have gone to bed.
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