Comic Relief: as much music as comedy
With the wealth of currently underused comic talent in the UK there seemed to be an imbalance of music to comedy in last night’s BBC Comic Relief evening.
Steering us through the three-hour first part of the BBC One show was Sir Lenny Henry who was the original creator of Comic Relief along with Richard Curtis (an incredible 36 years ago), Davina McCall, Alesha Dixon, David Tennant and Paddy McGuinness.
The evening opened with Dawn French appearing alongside real-life vicar Kate Bottley for a musical sketch in which the two women donned glittering vestments to enthusiastically lip-sync to Juice by Lizzo.
The talented, internet lockdown sensation The Marsh Family gave their comic pandemic version of Mike Batt’s, Bright Eyes and later they appeared on the BBC Two continuation singing their version of Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Canadian pop star Justin Bieber treated his “Beliebers” to an exclusive performance of his new single Hold On. Other musical performances came from Gabrielle and the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical (please may theatres open soon). We had The Proclaimers doing a rendition of Sunshine on Leith, against a montage film sequence of key workers, the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and a sea of waving lights with an emotional message of hope for the future.
Caroline Quentin and Jayde Adams shone brightly
The musical highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the performance of Jayde Adams, Alex Brooker, Andi Oshu, Caroline Quentin and Jennifer Saunders performing the classic Turandot aria Nessun Dorma live in the studio, having had a mere 24 hours mentoring and rehearsal with the ENO and Chorus. Charlotte Church, looking very glamorous, introduced them to the stage. All five performed extremely well but Caroline Quentin and Jayde Adams were outstanding.
The comedy was good spirited but patchy in content
One of the more amusing sketches was a spoof trailer for “2020 – the biggest blockbuster never made” – a disaster film about last year, populated by our lockdown superheroes. “Let’s hope there won’t be a sequel,” went the tagline. The all-star cast included Russell Brand as body coach Joe Wicks; Ainsley Harriott as free-child meals campaigner and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford; Anna Friel as the first woman to cut her own hair; Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley as mothers who’d been pushed to the limit with home-schooling, Sanjeev Bhaskar as the man Professor Chris Whitty irritatingly asks for the “next slide please”; Shaun Williamson as “Barry from EastEnders” appeared as the man who invented Zoom and the legendary Joan Collins uttered “I’m ready for my vaccine now, Mr DeMille.”
Jack Whitehall hosted a VIP videocall to thank everyone who’d made a donation. The A-List cast included Hugh Grant, Olivia Colman, Anya Taylor-Joy, James Corden, Idris Elba, Emma Thompson and Chris martin all logging on.
Mel Giedroyc, attired in lockdown jimjams, did a piece emulating Bridget Jones, featuring a string of celebrity cameos lip syncing to Celine Dion’s All By Myself.
During lockdown some comedians and actors created some excellent podcasts to entertain the nation and keep the home fires burning. One of the most successful has been the pairing of Michael Sheen and David Tennant along with their real life partners. Their Luvvies-in-Lockdown comedy podcasts were brilliant. The two actors, and great friends, reunited (virtually) for a special historical skit, set during the London Plague of 1592-3 in which 20,000 died. Tennant played William Shakespeare, Sheen was Christopher Marlowe. The two playwrights discussed whether the people preferred social realism or “escapism, maybe something with a donkey”. Lenny Henry zoomed into the call to remind them they were actors, not writers.
Stand-up comic and ‘punny-man’ Tim Vine dished out a string of quick-fire puns and visual gags from a Punch and Judy style kiosk to a small gathering of giggling RAF personnel at RAF Northolt
A piece involving Fleabag and Normal People was good. Filmed under strict Covid protocols in a London church, the seven-minute skit saw Andrew Scott’s priest from Fleabag receive two unexpected visitors in his confessional booth: Normal People’s young lovers Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones).
The script, written by, Connor McPherson, was first aired on Ireland’s ‘RTE Does Comic Relief’ last year and has been seen by 423k people on YouTube since it was aired.
The three hours more or less ended with the much vaunted sketch featuring Catherine Tate’s hilariously shocking Nan character and Daniel Craig as James Bond. Disappointingly the sketch was not as hilarious as anticipated nor as shocking. Instead of Nan’s normal acerbic comments culminating in uttering her inimitable punchline “what a f…ing liberty” it was given to Bond and even then it was bleeped. Shame, it was well after the watershed after all.
By 10pm, the donations had reached almost £46m
The show then switched to BBC Two for a Comic Relief-themed edition of live music stalwart Later With Jools Holland. Lenny Henry appeared again – to pick his favourite musical moments from Comic Relief including Tom Jones, Dizzee Rascal, Supergrass, the Spice Girls, George Clinton and Kate Bush.
There was also the first ever Prizeathon hosted by Amanda Holden and Jason Manford.
We live in strange times and, although the day was not quite up to the memory of previous years, the fact that technology allowed the event to take place at all is something for which to be grateful but the most important thing is the incredible response of the public in raising over £52,000,000 for good causes.