TELEVISION The Fast Show (BBC2) In short, less can mean more when it comes to comedy.
Saturday 17 February 1996
So there is something improbable about the sidekick getting his own series, which is what The Fast Show is, in all but name. Let us not forget that in the history of comedy the chapter entitled "The little guy from the double-act who went solo" is already littered with the corpses of Ernie Wise and Ronnie Corbett.
The start of the new series is much surer than the start of the old, in which there was an element of Ron Wood cutting an album without Keef to hold his hand. There is roughly a sketch a minute to The Fast Show, some of them tossed out with such abandon that the show looks like an ideas meeting in which wheat and chaff are unseparated. But where once you might have objected to sketches that missed the target, they're now almost a perverse badge of merit, an insurance that something funnier will be along in a minute, and maybe sooner.
Released from Enfield's orbit, Whitehouse and co-writer Charlie Higson enjoy an almost limitless creative space in which broad cartoon comedy rubs shoulders with jokes that only work by staying in the neighbourhood of reality. A fantastical offering from Channel 9, an Esperanto TV station somewhere hellish on the Med, preceded a stinging sketch in which a competitive father puts himself in to bat and mercilessly tonks his two young sons' bowling all over the park.
Some items can have taken no longer to write than to perform. If a sketch yields one punchline, no time is wasted mining for another. They even make a joke out of one scene's longueurs, when a clay-mation artist painstakingly explaining his methods excites a look of withering tedium from his interviewer. And yet The Fast Show is quite capable of matching animation, its polar opposite in production terms, in detail. The Return of the Unpronounceables got the period feel of gangsterdom just right, but wove in its own joke about the impenetrability of New York's Italo-Judaeo-Polish surnames. On current form, French and Saunders would have doubled the length of the sketch but halved its quota of laughs.
We might as well savour this brevity while it lasts, as the history of comedy also teaches that sketch technicians tire of doing things succinctly, and yearn to stretch themselves. What is often stretched is the viewers' patience. For the moment, Whitehouse's performances are a match for his writing, and his best are reserved for those when the script apportions him no words (his mute, gnarled yeoman) or makes them incomprehensible (his slurring QC). But it would have given the wrong impression to call it The Dumb Show.
Life & Style blogs
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
British jihadist calls for 'flag of Islam' over Downing Street and Buckingham Palace
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories
- 1 Howard Jacobson: Let's see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is
- 2 Gingers face extinction due to climate change, scientists warn
- 3 Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014: In defence of Mesut Ozil - the Arsenal midfielder works magic in the shadows
- 4 BBC’s new Game of Thrones slayer 'The Last Kingdom' relies on Saxon appeal, creators say
- 5 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP SD OTC Consultant | 12 Months | 500/...
£35000 - £40000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Business Syst...
£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Campaign Man...
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organ...