Tens of thousands of tickets (some at a hefty pounds 30-plus) flying through doors, extra dates being added like there's no tomorrow, encircling touts taking an over-eager interest in proceedings - it all sounds like the preamble to the latest Rolling Stones tour. In fact, it's the much-hyped build-up to a live double-act by two other mega-institutions: Shooting Stars (right) and The Fast Show, appearing together at the Labatt's Apollo (or the Hammersmith Odeon, as it is still known to fans of a certain vintage).
The interest is hardly surprising, however, given that the BBC2 shows have supplanted platform shoes as the trendiest things in Britain. Scarcely a day goes by without you hearing some anorak in the office parroting catch-phrases such as "I really wanna see those fingers" or "suit you, sir" (a fact neatly sent up by one of The Fast Show's own sketches). As we speak, student union bars across the land are being renamed after Rowley Birkin QC or The Dove from Above.
The appeal of both shows lies in their wonderful daftness. But they don't just phone this in; a lot of work goes into the performers seeming so spontaneously wacky.
Shooting Stars uses the vehicle of a panel-game (and its guests, it must be said) as a mere pretext for the sort of double- act capering from Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer that has led our more pretentious critics to dub them the "post-modern Morecambe and Wise". Reeves, whose real name is Jim Moir, says of his often argumentative screen partnership with former solicitor Mortimer: "People like to be voyeuristic and look at others bickering. That's part of any double act, from Laurel and Hardy onwards. We're inseparable but irritated by each other's presence."
The Fast Show also plays on well-established relationships in its quick- fire sketch-show format, and employs catchphrases to elicit a Pavlovian response from the audience. Paul Whitehouse, who created the show with Charlie Higson, explains their attraction: "When I was a kid, catchphrases gave you the opportunity to impersonate something that had been on telly the night before. Repetition makes me laugh. It's all in the expectation - `at last, there it is'. It's like a delayed sexual thing - `it's coming, it's coming, here it is'."
Our finest comedy poet, John Hegley, resumes his run at the Bloomsbury Theatre, WC1 (0171-388 8822) from Tue to Sat, in the company of the ever-loyal Nigel. In typically daffy form, the poet informs us that the semi-autobiographical show will feature projections of his drawings and that it "catalogues the early years with marbles, the wilderness years without and is a celebration of their return. Fun with language. Fun with felt-tips. Fun with Jiffy bags. Fun, fun, fun. And poetry."