The Big Breakfast

Friday, October 8, 1999 by

“Natural raconteurs” are invariably old and disappointing. No one is quite as sustainably off-the-cuff funny as perhaps you feel you have the right to expect, and certainly the description of The Big Breakfast‘s Johnny Vaughan as a “razor-sharp wit” (as mentioned in a recent addition of The Big Issue) would seem to condemn that commentator to a life of unruly facial hair.

Checking in with The Big Breakfast this week felt rather like re-acquainting one’s self with an old running joke. Somehow, you cannot see how people can still find it diverting. It’s like gaining membership to a private clique which you never wished to become privy to.

The “Zoo TV” format has changed little from the days of Chris Evans (over seven years ago), and it is obvious that the whole programme now revolves around the personality of Johnny Vaughan much like it revolved around Evans in the Evans-Roslin days. Much is made of his ease with the camera and ability to exude effortless spontaneity. Yet in truth Johnny can only improvise around a limited set of riffs: The daily paper review provides cheap fodder for a string of recycled joke types (“good on you fella”, “that bloke’s a nutter”, and “it’s a funny old world”), and the spoof quizzes inflicted upon guests rely on the exact same game show pastiches that have fallen out of favour even with the most standard Russ Abbott type sketch shows. Vaughan consistently chatters away ensuring that whenever he is failing to be amusing he at least continually reaffirming his matey credentials (“Actually, a while ago I invaded the pitch when Chelsea beat Wolverhampton Wanderers.”) It seems that a constant reaffirmation of a shared value system with the audience will suffice instead of any real content. The format of the show, although consciously anarchic and energetic, does not disguise the fact that it is tired and pitifully under nourished.

Yet there is much self congratulation at The Big Breakfast. One can imagine the production meetings, where much riotous fun ensues, whilst one of the team receives hearty praise for pointing out that Johnny’s spoof of a game show host would be even more amusing if he were to wear a shiny jacket (“‘Cos they do that don’t they – game show hosts?”) Vaughan may beThe Big Breakfast‘s comedy genius; however, every sixth form college in the land contains a “life and soul of the party”, and the funniest person in school does not by default make them funny. The supporting cast exist very obviously to produce the telegraphed feed lines and – more often – to provide Vaughan with a very vocal, appreciative audience. In truth the makers ofThe Big Breakfast appear to set out only to amuse themselves (which as an example of Channel 4′s commitment to minority programming is wholly admirable), and in that they have successfully targeted their market with real precision.


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