Crushing put-downs and tangential cruelties

What do Victoria Wood and Dame Edna Everage have in common? Well, they're both funny, and they're both better on video because you can fast-forward through the songs. But that apart, I suspect you would be pressed to construct a very sturdy compar ison, even when common sense is sleeping it off somewhere, exhausted by too many jingling, bauble-decked, tinsel-swagged inanities. (Christmas I like, really, but Christmas on television can be a fierce affliction to the spirit.)

Actually, there is another connection between the two: neither Dame Edna's Hollywood (ITV) nor Victoria Wood: Live in Your Home (BBC 1) made much concession to seasonal trimmings. Victoria Wood was backed by something that looked as if it had been borrowed from an upmarket advertising agency, all brushed steel and earth tones, while Dame Edna was in her Beverly Hills home, a hacienda-style torture chamber for the egos of the rich and famous.

This remains true - despite the fact that everyone is now in on the gag - because you still can't be sure when she'll veer off on some tangential cruelty. The shows themselves are getting more formal in their methods, from those mischievous name-badges to the guests' complicity with the pantomime of stardom. But every now and then it is still possible to see a little flare of uncertainty on a guest's face, an H M Bateman response to the fact that someone has had the audacity to say something during a talk-show. You could see Sean Young didn't quite know what to do when she was stopped in the middle of an unusually dull anecdote, that staple of the guest couch. "What trivial things we remember," interrupted Dame Edna, in those f amiliar tones of crushing wonder.

Barry Manilow later had to cope with his hostess's maternal feelings towards him, which involved the desire to pick him up by his little ankles and dust his bottom with talcum powder ("to me, it's a wholesome fantasy, Barry").

She seems more liable to rope the guests into scripted exchanges than she used to be, though this may be a curiously double-edged tribute to the sort of shows she pastiches. It doesn't matter, anyway, as long as the jokes are good ones: "Bing Crosby could play my husband," she said while discussing a musical autobiography with Barry Manilow. "But he's not alive," said Barry tentatively. "Neither is my husband," replied Edna.

Victoria Wood offers a different sort of explicitness, one that won't have any truck with innuendo or delirious euphemism. While Dame Edna steps carefully round her husband's "first urological explosion", Wood just gets straight down to explaining how a haemorrhoid had popped out during her last labour ("I phoned me mum. Knit two hats").

For Dame Edna, the particularities of the world, devices and trade names, tremble with sexual potential (Sean Young was described as waiting outside, "finger toying with my entry button"), but for Wood they're just a way of nailing her comedy right down to the real world (she described Norma Major as "the sort of woman who has a separate J-cloth for each tap"). Her scorn is reserved for those who imagine they are detached from such details: "Never mind the balance of trade figures," she said

, describing the appearance of male MPs, "some Head and Shoulders wouldn't go amiss."

This is a rather heartening comedy, one of general enlistment, even at points when exclusions might be easier. Half the audience wouldn't know what it's like to have a midwife hold a mirror so that you can see your baby's head beginning to appear. But wewere instantly included by Wood's analogy - that pointless barber's ritual of showing you the back of your head when it's too late for your comments to matter.

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us