The notion that television is the Holy Grail for young comedians remains as stubborn as a sundried skidmark. Luckily there are a few on the circuit who can shake off the shackles of that obsession for long enough to have a bit of fun with it
Up-and-coming Irish dynamos Lords of Strut [★★★★] gleefully lay into their own desperation to get on the box in one of the most energetic shows we’ve seen. Cian Kinsella and Cormac Mollally play numbskull brothers Seamus and Sean (not necessarily in that order) and flail about as they try to host a sugared-up late-night talk-show on a shoestring budget.
Their interviews don’t amount to much more than elaborate prop-work and bad puns (an actual rock stands in for Dwayne Johnson, duh), and they cover up the cracks with ludicrously kinetic dance routines and occasional bouts of violence. But they go at the task full-tilt and end up building a beautifully-surreal cartoon world. Occasional interruptions by a gold-wigged Michael Flatley and their fantastically lascivious mother are highlights amid the nonsense. Kinsella and Mollally have funny bones and hopefully they’ll get the gig on teen telly they deserve before breaking them all.
Telenovella [★★★★] is Emma Sidi’s sophomore effort, in which she plays four characters all connected by the one-eyed God. Impressively, Sidi starts her show in fruitily-fluent Spanish as Vanessa, a melodramatic soapstress trying to pinpoint who her husband Pablo has been shagging. This is virtuoso stuff which only requires the most basic of Spanish to appreciate.
It leads onto an even better confessional section with Vanessa on a sharing-caring talk show, where she explains more about the dark times we’ve just seen (when she was hooked on a cocktail of drugs including Vicks VapoRub). Her other characters are less strong in comparison, but there’s so much quick wit flying around it hardly matters that Sidi's vague thesis about television rotting brains doesn’t always hang together.
One person who should be kept off the air as long as humanly possible is Jonathan Pie [★★], a spoof news presenter with an attitude problem and a creel of left-wing commandments to get off his chest. No doubt Tom Walker, the man behind the mask, wants his irate alter-ego to be compared to the likes of Alan Partridge and Ron Burgundy, but Pie is a wafer-thin creation when set against them. He’s designed primarily to let Walker unloose his tedious tirades against the Tories.
It’s a bit too close to being at an actual rally, and he may attract the sort of people either looking to be converted to his proselytising or trapped in a massive confirmation bias, so it would probably have made more sense if Walker just dropped the act and played it straight. There are odd jokes peppering the demagoguery but most are first-draft efforts and out of date: mocking the elitism of the Bullingdon Club at this stage of the game would have been lazy even without Brexit. There’s a wraparound structure about Pie stepping in to cover a chunk of Children In Need but frankly it’s too hackneyed and mean-spirited to bother pulling apart.
We’ll give the benefit of the doubt to poor Stephen Carlin, who fights against a small army of mindless hecklers on the night we see his stand-up show TV Comeback Special [★★★]. He gets close to a story about nearly appearing on Newsnight, and what he manages to deliver (about Donald Trump, drugs and sex with a mad girlfriend) is the kind of solid material we'd expect from him, but on a raucous Friday evening this is pearls before swine.
Lords of Strut: Late Night TV Talk Show, Assembly Roxy (Downstairs), 3-28 Aug (not 15), 7pm, £6-9.50
Emma Sidi: Telenovela, Pleasance Courtyard (That), 3-28 Aug (not 17), 8.15pm, £6-9
Jonathan Pie: Live, Pleasance Courtyard (Two), 3-28 Aug (not 15) 8pm, £6-12
Stephen Carlin: TV Comeback Special, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters (Maggie's Chamber), 4-28 Aug (not 15), 8.15pm, Free