Comedy: The gags that bind

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Two men in suits stand on stage and present "Gilbert and Wise", Module 7 of an Open University Combined Degree in Comedy and Modern Art. It involves them singing "Bring Me Sunshine" in an especially pretentious modern-arty kind of way. They go on to perform as "Pam Ayres-aquai", "the finest in West Country soul and poetry", and "Kula Shakin' Stevens", "neo-Hispanic Welsh psychedelia".

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Hitchcock's Half Hour. This up-and-coming duo offer an inventive new brand of physical musical comedy - a quirky, cartoonish cross between Lee Evans and Bill Bailey. Having recently won the 1998 Hackney Empire New Act of the Year award, Neil Cole and Tom Hillenbrand are already gathering quite a following.

As the above examples - and indeed their name - suggest, they major on incongruous combinations. "In any lesson on literature, the lecturer will tell you that drama comes from tension," says Cole, an actor who once performed as a Victorian scientist in the Lumiere Brothers exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. "It's that idea of splicing together two things that shouldn't be spliced together. The humour comes from juxtaposing two disparate things and seeing the mess that ensues. There is a rich seam of bizarre punning - like our animated rapper, Snoop Droopy Droop."

Sending up everything from the Prodigy to old-style, sexist stand-ups, Hitchcock's Half Hour are steeped in popular culture. "There isn't a lot else that binds people together in the 1990s," Cole reckons. "Unless you're a misanthropic academic, popular culture is the only thing that everyone has in common. It's like our use of pop music. In the best sense, it's a lowest common denominator. It's our equivalent of observational humour, because the audience goes, `I know that song'. It pushes buttons."

Booked into the Pleasance for this summer's Edinburgh Festival, Hitchcock's Half-Hour are already being circled by hungry TV producers. Expect to see them soon on a screen near you.

`Hitchcock's Half Hour' are appearing with Jimeoin, Paul Tonkinson, Arj Barker, and Andrew Maxwell on a bill compered by John Lenahan at the Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, E8 (0181-985 2424) tonight

EXTRA

Armando Iannucci's credits read like the greatest hits of 1990s television comedy: The Day Today, Knowing Me, Knowing You... With Alan Partridge, I'm Alan Partridge, The Friday Night Armistice. What is less well-known is that Iannucci is also an accomplished stand- up. In his new live show, "Out of His Box", he promises readings from his book, and a Q & A session. If the mood takes him, he threatens that he may even follow you into the loo to quiz you. He plays Maidstone Hazlitt Theatre (01622 758611) tonight, and Hemel Hempstead Old Town Hall (01442 228091) 15, 16 May.

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