It’s been a tough year for stand-up comedians. Most, like much of the population have struggled to pay the bills so the BBC’s initiative Funny Festival Live is a much welcomed light in what has been a long and very dark tunnel.
It got off to a flying start on BBC 2 last night hosted by the excellent Jason Manford in top form. Although it was of course performed live it was actually filmed over 5 days at the Bedford in Balham, London, a regular comedy club venue. The BBC explained “The ‘audience’ was not really an audience. They were members of our crew who were not needed in their jobs at the time of recording. They were there simply to react to the comedians’ jokes, to allow the comedian to understand if their delivery was working. In most cases the people in vision were trainees.” Manford also set the scene in his opening routine
Between 600 and 800 people watched each show from home, and with special technology, the BBC audio team selected the clearest audience internet feeds. It was these people’s laughter that was then played onto the studio floor live as the comedians performed. It worked. It worked well.
There are 5 shows in the series and inevitably, or purposely, much of the material revolved around lockdown and the pandemic but it was no less funny for that. However if the remaining sets linger too long on lockdown(s) the material could become repetitive. There’s only so many times you can laugh or cheer ‘it’s good to be out’.
Last night’s first episode featured the ebullient Judi Love whose excellent set referenced her Jamaican upbringing as much as lockdown: Michael Stranney, a promising new Irish comedian who could benefit from making a little more eye contact with his audience, just saying: Toussaint Douglass, a likable rising star who really knows how to work his audience. Finally, and by no means least, the effervescent Jayde Adams who, by the sound of her experience with her partner’s gastric habits during lockdown, would have been better off exchanging her surgical mask for a gas mask.
The show was bright, breezy and a brilliant start to the series. Stand-up legends including Jo Brand, Sara Pascoe, Kiri Pritchard-McLean will introduce the best comedy talent, including Darren Harriott, Dane Baptiste, Joanne McNally, Chris McCausland, Rachel Fairburn, Zoey Lyons, Nabil Abdulrashid, Rosie Jones, Thanyia Moore and Catherine Bohart in the remaining 4 shows with episode two airing on Monday night at 10 pm.