Stand Up With Alan Davies

Monday, June 19, 2000 by

Alan Davies, we are told, is the epitome of the “modern man”, and one of the most eligible men in the country. He’s certainly popular within the BBC, anyway, with Jonathan Creek an established success, a new sitcom starting next week, and this new series which follows him around on tour and lets him discuss the nature of stand up comedy. However, he also appears to be a miserable old git.

It seems that Alan, like the rest of us, is slightly unsure about what this series is actually supposed to be – is it a series about the theory of comedy? Or is it an out and out comedy show? Well, Alan seemed not to be very enthusiastic to discuss what inspired him to write a routine about Tina Turner, nor is he very good company on the road – instead saving all his personality for his live shows.

We followed Alan around the country with his (by now ex) girlfriend, a load of technicians, and a man called Ian Stone, his support act. It must have been thought that the adventures of two comedians on the road would make for entertaining and interesting viewing – it doesn’t. Davies is bored with the whole thing, and Stone isn’t funny at all. Exactly why Davies bought him along seems puzzling – perhaps to make him look funnier. Stone laughs at everything Alan says, anyway, even if it’s an exceedingly boring conversation on the lack of decent magazines in the van, or the lack of quality vegetarian food in hotels. When he’s not laughing at Alan, he’s laughing at himself – we see him on stage a few times, and in each case, the only audible laughter is being generated by Stone. But what do you expect when, after coming on stage in Cardiff, he starts with “Good evening. Nice to hear the announcements in Welsh, hee hee hee. But then, if you can’t understand the announcements, you’ll have trouble with the stand up, hee hee hee.”

Things liven up a bit when Alan gets on stage, although starting a show in Birmingham with the lines “Always nice to be in a filthy dirty city” is perhaps not the best way to endear yourselves to an audience. At one point we see him listening to a tape of one of his own live shows, telling us that he’s to do some of the material on stage that night – which seems alarmingly cynical given that that gig has been shown on television and released on video and tape since then, and people are paying to see it. But most of the stand up is funny, although whether it’s worth going to see him is questionable. This is especially true when Ardal O’Hanlon says, in conversation with Davies, that he wouldn’t do clichéd old material about eating kebabs coming back from the pub, when Alan does just that.

The other interviews are carried out with Eddie Izzard, Jasper Carrott and Dave Allen, three of the all time masters of stand up – Ken Dodd and Bob Monkhouse are promised later in the series. For such an A list, though, the conversations are very dull. Alan discusses with Eddie the death of their mothers at an early age, and they begin to wonder whether this may have an effect. Then Alan asks Jasper if he lost a parent at an early age – no. Then he asks Dave if he did – yes, but it had no effect. This is about as involved the discussion gets. It’s reminiscent of Jack Dee’s recent Full Mountie series, when he interviewed comedians about the Montreal Comedy Festival, and stand up in general, to often hilarious effect. But here it isn’t very interesting, as Alan isn’t a very engaging host, and the stories often boring.

The best bits come from two extracts from the guest’s careers. We got to see Eddie Izzard performing in 1989, where he had the same sort of stream-of-consciousness material, but delivered with a really posh voice, adding a sort of whimsical edge to the routine, and sounding really rather irritating. We also got to see a sequence from Jasper’s first television series in 1978, with an afroed Carrott performing the Hangman song (“Hangman, slacken your noose, hangman, slacken your noose, I can’t breathe!”) – which is particularly funny given that he’d just been talking about his new Izzard-inspired “harder” style, and he performed the exact same song in his 1999 television series.

There are two more episodes of this series to come, and the big question has to be, exactly what are they going to talk about in those? Haven’t we seen enough of Alan’s crew setting up his stage gear and Ian laughing at nothing in particular? We know that comedy’s a hard job, Alan, so can you not keep illustrating it?


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