Arts & Entertainment Paul O’Grady, best known for his drag queen comedic alter ego, Lily Savage, has strong views on benefit reform

Viewers complained the comedian's strong opinions were not challenged

York on Ads: At the end of the day, it's a middle-class mockery: No 44: News of the World

SPOOF, irony, the commercial with attitude rather than an old-fashioned Unique Selling Proposition is now becoming the norm. Things have come to a pretty pass when the News of the World decides to sell its football coverage with a flurry of nods and winks.

The Edinburgh Festival: Comedy: And all for the price of a Clydeside puppet show

THE Edinburgh Festival throws performers and audience together in a confined space in an atmosphere of barely suppressed hysteria. Interesting etiquette quandaries result, such as how to behave when the person who elbows you sharply to one side in their eagerness to get to the bar turns out to be someone you just paid six, seven or even eight pounds to make you laugh. Most people seem to handle this quite well, and if comedians are troubled by the knowledge that for the price of listening to them for an hour, their audience could have experienced not one but two troops of Clydeside puppeteers, they manage not to show it.

Death by hard-sell: Hype is killing off considered criticism

In the past 24 hours I have been told that there are five things I simply, simply must do. I must read Patricia Cornwell's Cruel and Unusual: it's the best thriller in years, darling. Everybody says so. I have to land tickets at the National for The Seagull, which is the very best mounting of The Seagull since . . . since the last very best mounting of The Seagull. It is also essential that I immediately rush to the cinema and expose myself to Love and Human Remains, if only to compare the play with the celluloid version and savour the non-PC sexual politics: so transgressive.

The Edinburgh Festival 1994: Frank's Fantasy Fringe

THREE years on from his 1991 Perrier Award, Frank Skinner has constructed a remarkable TV profile for himself. Terry Wogan's representative on Earth, Bob Monkhouse's sparring partner, naughty schoolboy in residence on the Match of the Day sofa, this man is the nearest New Laddism comes to an acceptable face, and living proof that natural wit does not have to be an obstacle to career advancement. With a Channel 4 sitcom in the bag and a 60-date tour in the offing this autumn, Skinner returns to the rough-and-tumble world of stand-up in the gratuitously intimate surroundings of the Cabaret Bar. But will he have any jokes left? Book yesterday to avoid disappointment. (Pleasance, 031-556 6550, Wed-20 Aug.)

TELEVISION / I have seen the past, and it winks and mugs

NOT BEING particularly fond of the sort of sweety you find in tartan tins adorned with slogans like 'It's braw tasty, ye ken]', I found The Tales of Para Handy (BBC 1) something of a burden on the spirit. But I had a bad conscience while watching it. How could one decently object, after all? No violence, no bad language, folksy comedy and some lovely set-dressing (one scene, in particular, looked as if it had been shot at an unusually prosperous transport museum); if my critical faculties were prepared to lie back and surrender to Love on a Branch Line, what grounds for an affronted resistance here?

Look Who's talking: So who am I? Nobody knows: The comedian Jack Docherty describes the perils of not making a name for yourself

I'M A BIG fan of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, I think they've done some of the most interesting stuff in comedy in the last few years. But I hate praising them in print, so I'll add that they are a couple of complete bastards in real life. I was script editor on their first series, which basically involved telling them not to get drunk and to face the cameras.

TELEVISION / Cruelty free television - a chemical solution

'THEY say laughter is the best medicine,' Frank Skinner said to the Gagtag (BBC 1) audience, 'but no, you had to choose Valium.' This made me laugh, like a number of the things he said in the programme, but the thought isn't a bad one, really. Watching new comedy programmes these days can be an agitating, stressful experience. If the BBC can offer its staff trauma-counselling after working on programmes with distressing content, then perhaps they might issue the odd tranquilliser along with their press releases. Last Saturday, Danny Baker was at pains to point out that no cruelty had been visited upon the contestants in Pets Win Prizes (BBC 1, yes, honest . . . No, it wasn't Carlton . . . I'm not making it up. Look, check the bloody Radio Times if you don't believe me). It is surely time that this tender principle was extended to audiences, even if it takes pharmaceuticals to do it.

ARTS / Show People: Nothing to declare but his geniality: Frank Skinner

FRANK SKINNER BA Hons, MA, WBA fan, Warwickshire CCC member, Sun reader and comedian, makes the short walk from Soho to his rented office in Mayfair, where he will spend all day writing material for a 57-date national tour. No one bats an eyelid as he passes, pink-faced after a day in the sun at Lord's. In T-shirt, trainers and backpack (containing the stand-up's standbys: script, cigarettes and a change of underwear), he could be any old out-of-towner.

Review: Is Terry Wogan doing the right thing?

THE MEN from the BBC are in the process of redecorating the weekend - putting up new paper here, freshening the paintwork there. Last week Terry Wogan took the wraps off a British version of Brazil's favourite television programme (isn't it meant to work the other way around?) and this week we were given first sight of Felicity Kendal's new comedy series, Honey for Tea, of Richard Griffiths in Pie in the Sky and of the DIY broadcasting of Video Nation. As a rival to the charms of Imogen Stubbs in Anna Lee (ITV) you might think that Richard Griffiths was lacking something physically (surrounding airspace, basically) but there is real mischief in the timing. Pie in the Sky nibbles into the first five minutes of the main ITV Sunday offering, thus increasing the chances that viewers will stick with the crowd-pleasing movie that Alan Yentob has decided to place against it.

Comment: Reality of the Fantasy fad

THERE must be some people in Britain who still do not know what Fantasy Football is. But their number grows smaller by the day.

When is a group not a group?: The seven comic talents behind Radio 4's 'On the Hour', 'Lionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World' and 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' are bringing their unique brand of deadpan humour to television. Theirs is the new face of British comedy, but don't even think about calling them a team . . .

HALF-PAST five on a Thursday afternoon and the phone rings, and it's Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci on the other end: the photographer's there with the cast of The Day Today, a new television programme scheduled for transmission on BBC2 next year, and they're all a bit upset because he wants to take a group picture. They don't see themselves as a group and they don't want to be labelled one - they just happen to be making a programme together and to have made a fair number of other programmes together - and anyway Doon's on holiday and it wouldn't be fair, so couldn't they just have one photo each? Twenty-five minutes of reasoning, cajoling and outright pleading later, and they're still not happy with the concept of being photographed together, still arguing, and Morris refuses point- blank to be shot with the others. So, just to get the record straight: Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber, Chris Morris and David Schneider are not a team. They are individuals, with their own projects, their own ambitions, their own hopes and dreams and fears. So is Doon, who was on holiday. And now, perhaps we can get on with it?

THEATRE / All the makings of a class act: While still struggling to make it as a stand-up, Frank Skinner was handed a copy of Comedians. It inspired him to run an evening class for aspiring comics. Here Skinner recalls the experience, his memory jogged by the revival of Trevor Griffiths' play at the Lyric, Hammersmith

WATCHING Jude Kelly's new production of Trevor Griffiths' Comedians, in which the comedian Eddie Waters runs an evening class for aspiring stand-ups, I began to realise how Claudius must have felt when the players started to re-enact his killing of Old Hamlet.

COMEDY / Dishing the dirt: Stand-up Frank Skinner is filthy and on television. How does he get away with it? Tristan Davies reports

Four years ago Frank Skinner was teaching a class of mechanics, salesmen, pensioners and dropouts how to be funny, and frankly he had a bit of a cheek. If you detected, as I did, covering it for the Independent, a slight note of desperation in his voice as he passed on the tricks of the trade - 'If you get on to the stage quickly enough,' he told his gaping students, 'you can pick up some of the previous act's applause' - then you might have put it down to Skinner's lack of credentials. A teacher by day at a West Midlands adult education centre (and an unqualified one at that), he'd had some experience of stealing applause by moonlighting on the London comedy circuit, but little in the way of earning it. As he waved a stick at his trainee comedians, you had the distinct impression of the blind leading the blind.
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