Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned

Sunday, May 28, 2000 by

“Two blokes, one sofa, no script” goes the tag line as David Baddiel and Frank Skinner improvise for 30 minutes (well, the ITV equivalent of 30 minutes) in a live programme in front of a studio audience. Is this a folly?

Certainly when John Sessions attempted something similar with John Sessions on the Spot (1989) it felt a bad idea, butUnplanned is far more (characteristically) laid back then the strutting, gurning Sessions.

“It’ll never work” goes the theme, but Baddiel and Skinner are hardly untested in this area as the often brilliant improvisational business from Skinner and dive-bombing torpor from Baddiel inFantasy Football proved. Tonight the whole shtick seems to be built around talking about the predicament our hosts find themselves in. “I thought it’d be funnier” muses Skinner about half-way in. This isn’t going to get them through a further 11 shows but for tonight it gives them enough to gently coast along. The problem with this sort of format is that Baddiel and Skinner have to pursue every comic possibility in the fear that another one may not present itself. Quality control, in this circumstance, is a luxury they cannot afford. There’s almost a sense of congratulation, of relief when Baddiel responds to Skinner’s “I thought you were a caesarian” with “no, I’m a Gemini.” Not a good joke, really, but a joke none the less. Later, Skinner makes a throwaway comment about seeing Hitchcock watching tennis at Wimbledon, and Baddiel contemplates following up on this; Hitchcock’s dead. Thankfully Skinner ploughs on yanking his cohort from a tepid comedy cul-de-sac.

Despite the unplanned ethos, there’s a couple of patently crafted comedy crutches here. Firstly an audience member is invited onto the stage to write down, on a large board, the subjects Baddiel and Skinner talk about (“FOOTBALL” has already been noted, self-consciously, as a subject the pair are not allowed to cover). Tonight’s volunteer is an IT consultant who breaks the most fundamental rule the public should bear in mind when appearing on TV: know your place. Unsurprisingly, there’s a sense of unease, bordering on disgust when she pipes up with a few ill-judged, uninvited witticisms. The second crutch arrives at the end of the show, as Baddiel takes to the piano and Skinner sings a standard picked at random by the audience. It’s pureFantasy Football and doubtlessly intended as the escape route at the end of the night.

Where are they going to go with this? Skinner patently shoulders most of the burden, he is by far the quicker of the two, with less propensity to snatch the below-average gag. Baddiel is more of a comic foil, but very likable (strangely in contrast to his persona when performing solo). Unlike the doomed Sessions, to whom we were almost compelled to feel indebted, Baddiel and Skinner make us feel as though we are their contemporaries. This isn’t a performance we’re watching, it’s a happening (albeit a low-key happening) that we’re part of. And so they’ve engendered our support, and over the next 11 shows we will pull with them. OK, a lot of the jokes are going to fail, some of the evenings are going to feel utterly pointless, but we’ll go through it all together.


Comments are closed.