Double exposure

Jeremy Hardy and Jack Dee, both successful solo comics, have decided that two heads are better than one and joined forces. James Rampton reports
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The Independent Online
Just as every new all-rounder in the England cricket team is saddled with the title of "the new Ian Botham", so every new comedy double act is dubbed "the new Morecambe and Wise". Jack Dee and Jeremy Hardy are obviously not that - they have successful solo stand-up careers, for a start - but they do have that spark necessary for a winning double act. In their new series of six spoof documentaries, Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives, Dee - the smart, scowling dominator - plays upon the inadequacies of Hardy - the scruffy, wide-eyed victim. Their clothes on the day of our interview seemed to bear this out: Dee looks masterful in a white linen jacket, perhaps remaindered from a Merchant Ivory film, while Hardy seems almost apologetic in a studenty zip-up top sporting an Anti-Nazi League badge.

Seamus Cassidy, the Channel 4 head of comedy who commissioned the series, assesses their professional relationship. "Long-term, they're not looking to be Morecambe and Wise, or Vic and Bob, or French and Saunders, but this gives them an opportunity to do something different. They're two straight men who are both funny. They're very different as comedians, but when you examine it closely, they're both quite dry and ironic in how they express things. Jack has taken the beetling of the brows and the moroseness to new depths, and we've not seen that play off someone else before. Jeremy, on the other hand, has a naive stupidity. He's more the ingenu. He's the one who's happier with the world. He's unburdened by thought."

Dee may be more used to interacting with penguins on his John Smith ads, and Hardy to joshing with his fellow-panellists on R4's News Quiz, but they work well as a pair (viewers may remember Police Four, their arresting Crimewatch send-up last year). Relaxing over coffee and croissants upstairs in the Groucho Club, Dee and Hardy contemplate life as the Laurel and Hardy of the 1990s. "I don't fancy the thought of being Grumpy and Wimpy, or Bully and Victim, a hilarious end-of-the-pier double act forever," Hardy sighs. "I expect that'll happen eventually," Dee chips in. "You know the sort of thing - 'Can I do my song now?'"

"For a long time, I've lamented the lack of collaboration between comedians," Dee continues. "As soon as you've got 20 minutes' material, you're launched on this intensive solo career. But working together is healthier. You can push each other much further. The demand for stand-up on television is insatiable, but I fancied a change. This gives vent to a lot of ideas you can't put across in stand-up."

They are anxious, however, not to become too "in" as a duo. According to Dee, "The danger is that we might become self-indulgent and not care about the viewers..." "Which seems to work for others," Hardy finishes the sentence, like a double-act partner should.

"Because we share each other's comic shorthand," Dee carries on regardless, "we risk leaving the audience behind. You always have to think, 'is this only funny because we know what makes each other laugh?' That's something you have to watch out for. As a punter, I get irritated if I'm expected to follow suit and find something funny just because the performers do. Some comedians take a lot for granted."

Some comedians also feed on other parts of the TV schedules for laughs. Dee and Hardy are wary of joining the cannibalistic ranks of The Day Today, Alan Partridge, Mrs Merton and French and Saunders. "There are enough TV spoofs already," Hardy reckons. "I wouldn't want to add to them. Replicating something that exists has been done so often already."

Despite the fact that the programmes utilise the form of Modern Times- type fly-on-the-wall documentaries, Cassidy is not convinced that Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives are straight spoofs. "They're not parodies, or variety, or sketch shows, or sitcoms," he maintains. "They're quite distinctive programmes. I wouldn't want to pigeonhole them. Jack and Jeremy have been magpies, pulling things from all over the place. They chose a documentary style to give themselves various personae. The premise is that Jack and Jeremy have other lives beyond being top TV comedians. Because they're renaissance men of comedy, they have to occupy their overactive brains with other professions. So they run a restaurant, or become aristocratic detectives."

Dave Morley, the producer of Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives, is equally loath to define the programmes as spoofs. "They're more character-based films. If anything, they're inspired by the Comic Strip films."

If this goes well, they will do another series. Morley reveals that they're already discussing new characters. Cassidy is certainly keen. "It's good to have people who are not tied down to doing the same old thing. If Jack was doing his fourth or fifth series of stand-up, I'd be starting to think, 'well, he's the best stand-up in the country, but is that challenging?' He could have coasted along with the ads and the second series of Jack Dee's Saturday Night on ITV, but I like the fact that he's willing to put his neck on the line and try something different."

Dee and Hardy, both 34, are part of the growing wave of comedians engulfing the TV schedules, but they're not too bothered about it. "It's dangerous to analyse it too much," Dee opines. "The reasons for the popularity of comedy are very simple. Comedians are much more likely to be entertaining than a cast-member from Emmerdale Farm or some washed-up DJ."

Ever the alert foil, Hardy takes up the theme. "I don't understand this fascination for comedy per se. I can't imagine why you'd want to buy a magazine all about it. There again, people do buy magazines about pigeon- fancying and drag-racing. But I don't want to go to seminars about the future of comedy." Hardy pauses before adding with a sly grin: "All any comedian wants is to accrue vast sums of money for himself." Boom, boom.

'Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives' begins on Channel 4 at 10.30pm tonight