TV

There's something of a glut in the attack comedian field at the moment - a fact recognised in Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round on Friday (BBC2), which included a sequence in which he was relaunched with a new pyramidal head ("increased room for bad language"). Unfortunately his unveiling at the aggressive bald-headed comedian's trade fair wasn't a huge success - with the "15 per cent cockier Lee Hurst retaining its stranglehold on the market".

There is competition from more hirsute sectors of the trade, too - though Ben Elton's brand-leading form of exasperated rant is starting to look decidedly shopworn these days and Victor Lewis-Smith's TV Offal (Channel 4) ("where foul language is a substitute for humour") is clearly a niche product, intended only for those with a taste for under-the-counter material. This includes me, on occasions - his "Honest Obituary" spot on Andrew Lloyd Webber took comic loathing well beyond the point at which lawyers begin to scent a profit and there was a fine archive sequence in which the disguised Lewis-Smith was seen disrupting a provincial daytime chat show with a shaving foam in the underpants gag. But it's one of those programmes that you occasionally wish you were watching on your own so that you didn't feel quite so uncomfortable about your enjoyment, a solitary vice for those who need the relief of an unreined blast of spleen. A really atrocious day at the office and several cans of lager would be the perfect priming.

Alexei Sayle answers some of those needs - he began this week's programme with a flamethrower monologue about golf which gave no quarter to the game's addicts, but there's something more amenable and silly about him which softens the effect. That monologue paused, for example, to speculate about whether there would one day be a golfing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters - and you saw a brisk sequence in which a gang of cool black dudes were doing exhibition tricks with golf balls.

Last Friday's programme also contained a contemptuous joke about some comic predecessors. "Of course a big influence on me was the Goons," said Sayle earnestly. "It was when I first heard them that I realised comedy didn't have to be funny - it could be more like jazz... a load of wank!" Last clause apart, this was a bit close to the truth - because the show isn't seamlessly funny and yet it is seamlessly fascinating. This is partly because it is the most visually inventive comedy show currently on screen. It is through-composed, so that some jokes trail, like a musical theme, from one section to the next and that continuity is reflected in the fluidity of styles within the programme, which moves from surreal inventions (a gag about successors to the popular spud gun, which included the Broccoli rifle and the Sprout Grenade) to something much more pointed - the suggestion that Orange marches could be made less inflammatory by making the participants dress up as Diddymen must have been filmed months ago but it reached the screen with impeccable timing. I share his feelings about jazz - but this is a brilliant solo of some kind.

Channel Four's quiz night had some very entertaining archive material, but not quite enough to prevent a sense of deja vu by the end of the evening. Both Bob Monkhouse and Peter Kay had resort to the competitor who answered Bob Holness's "what O is a generic word for any living animal or plant" with the word "orgasms" and both included the camera-dazzled woman who suggested that Handel's Water Music had been written by Chopin (only Kay let you see what happened next - when the question was disbelievingly handed over to her opponent he came up with "Beethoven"). I'm not sure I believe Bob Monkhouse's story that one of his competitors answered a request for the name of "a dangerous race" by darkly muttering "the Arabs" but if you could get past a presentation style so synthetic it gives off static sparks he had some illuminating things to say about the craft of the questionmaster. It was also fascinating to see the episode of Twenty One which had been at the heart of the great American quiz scandal of the Fifties. What a format - even when you knew it was as dodgy as a Carlton documentary, it was still exciting.

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