Posts Tagged ‘comedy panel show’


Over the past few years The Big Fat Quiz has become customary holiday fare round my place, mainly because I force my loved ones to watch it with me. In fact, it’s very much like a family gathering if your relatives include an angry uncle who habitually rants about the state of the world and a constantly snacking, eccentric brother who wears flamboyant capes to Christmas dinner.

Certain aspects of this broadcast have become traditions in and of themselves.  For example, what could be cozier than Charles Dance seated next to a blazing fire reading from a reality star’s tell-all biography? Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow is always a festive addition when he delivers song lyrics as a news story and then dances like no one is watching…but we all are. And it isn’t The Big Fat Quiz until those adorable Mitchell Brook Primary School Players reenact an event of note from the year gone by.

This, of course, is coordinated by a man with all the dominance of an overwhelmed substitute teacher with a really implausible laugh.


But in the end it’s the the celebrity competitors who determine how entertaining a given quiz will turn out to be. Let’s look at how well our trio of teams performed.

The Tinsel Sisters (David Mitchell and Roisin Conaty)


Famed curmudgeon David Mitchell is the winning-est panelist in the history of the BFQ. He has made twelve appearances and won eight times (whereas chat show host Jonathan Ross needed sixteen tries to achieve the same number of victories). This year David was paired with a newcomer to the year-end quiz, creator and star of the very excellent sitcom GameFace, Roisin Conaty. In terms of an end result, this team worked well seeing as (SPOILERS!) they won the trophy with a total of 35 points. However, it was Mr. Mitchell who stood out in the comedy department with his diatribe about the substandard quality of a sign that was displayed behind Prime Minister Theresa May , a lesson about the specific vitamin deficiencies responsible for rickets and scurvy and finally, his insistence upon the importance of proper chronology and punctuation. It’s not that Ms. Conaty isn’t funny; their interactions just weren’t very dynamic.

Team Pain (Big Narstie and Katherine Ryan)

Now this was a more interesting pairing. If you aren’t familiar with either of these entertainers, Ms. Ryan is a Canadian comedian based in the UK and Mr. Narstie is an English grime MC? Yeah, I’m not sure what that is, but he turned out to be quite impish and entertaining. He had a problem with names, identifying most of the panelists by their CVs. Mitchell was continually referred to as Peep Show guy, Richard Ayoade as IT guy and rather insulting to Noel Fielding was that Narstie clocked him as Nigel Planer who played Neil the hippie from The Young Ones. Just a clarification to Mr. Fielding, Nigel’s age is 64, not 90 as you asserted. To Jimmy Carr’s chagrin, Mr. Narstie repeatedly made a heart shape with his hands and insisted on calling it the “Mo Farah sign” after the gesture made by the British distance runner to celebrate a win. The thing that worked well with this team was that Katherine acted as something of a cultural interpreter without being condescending. She was also very familiar with viral trends and other pop culture references which significantly contributed to their more than respectable second place finish of 33 points.

Cakes in the Maze (Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding)

This twosome are the most experienced of the BFQ teams on the program.  With twenty-four appearances between them, they have won twice as a team and three more quiz titles separately. Admittedly their win/loss ratio isn’t as impressive as David Mitchell’s,  but it’s not as if they aren’t as smart or culturally aware. David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade were students at Cambridge University together; Noel Fielding has a background in art, a wildly creative mind and a mildly concerning obsession with satsumas. These two are obviously invited to this gig to be, as Jimmy Carr has described them, toddlers at a wedding. Don’t let their contrasting sense of fashion – Gandalf and the Professor – fool you. These two are in cahoots to undermine authority and infuse the proceedings with a bit of whimsy. Whether it’s Noel luring us into a surreal world of sharks with no knees or Richard making an appeal for their responses based on sub-text , several facts are clear. Jimmy Carr loses control of the quiz from time to time and this duo are major instigators of all that lovely chaos. It matters not a jot that Cakes in the Maze came in third place with 19 points. The Big Fat Quiz is at it’s best when Ayoade and Fielding are on the same team.





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According to the internet, this week marked National Relaxation Day (Aug 15) and National Tell A Joke Day (Aug 16). The juxtaposition of these days is rather fitting since I find a laugh is what’s needed when I want to relax. Whether I’m immersed in the intensity of gritty British TV dramas or just trying to survive the pressure of being a library worker in the midst of solar eclipse glasses mania, in my experience making the conscious decision to laugh is always the right one. And my genre of choice in these situations is usually a comedy panel show.

This week I happened upon series four a show called Taskmaster so I thought it the perfect time to share my feelings about this entertaining and stress-busting program with you. Heaven knows we’ve all got anxieties now more than ever.

Greg Davies, extremely tall stand-up comedian and star of Man Down, Cuckoo and The Inbetweeners, performs the titular role of the Taskmaster. His purpose is to issue simple, if not a bit bizarre, tasks to five comedians who are asked to complete them in the most efficient and out-of-the-box manner possible. His assistant (and also creator of the show) Alex Horne umpires the challenges and plays the part of Davies’ willing minion for laughs. At the end of each task, Davies ranks the performances of the competitors according to his whims and his penchant for mockery and assigns points accordingly.

Joining Greg and Alex on the show this season were Outnumbered dad Hugh Dennis; former GBBO presenter Mel Giedroyc; Mighty Boosh troupester and new GBBO presenter Noel Fielding and two young comedians previously unknown to me Lolly Adefope and Joe Lycett.

What kind of assignments must the comedians complete? Well, each episode starts with the Prize Task, in which Davies sets a theme and each contestant donates a prize to offer up. The motifs have included most unusual autograph on the most unusual vegetable, the most surprising picture of themselves and in this clip their best membership/subscription. At the end of episode, all the prizes are awarded to the comedian who earned the most points in that week’s show.

Other nefarious tasks set over the course of the eight week run of Taskmaster involved:

Identifying the objects in a sleeping bag without taking the objects out of the bag.

Hugh Dennis sleeping bag

Hugh Dennis feeling up a sleeping bag


Destroy a cake. Most beautiful destruction wins.

Destroy cake

Mel Giedroyc decides how to best obliterate a cake


And my favorite task of the series – as a team, get a wheelie bin across an obstacle course, while one person is in the bin, the rest of team move the bin blindfolded, and everyone cannot speak English.

Wheelie bin race

Lolly Adefope, Noel Fielding and Joe Lycett prepare for the foreign language wheelie bin navigation task

At the end of the final episode, the comedians’ points are totaled and the one who has accumulated the most over the course of the series wins this:

Greg's head

Gold Noggin

Indeed I think it’s rather fortuitous that (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Mr. Fielding was the victor because no one else would want these spoils, right? Noel really had the right set of skills for this type of competition. With his keen sense of the surreal and an art school background, he had the proper mix of creativity and reckless abandon. He also ended up being more athletic than some might expect from a self-professed goth. Sometimes his devil may care attitude missed the mark as when he was disqualified for putting a wet suit atop his head instead of on his body during the small talk with Fred the Swede challenge, but overall his risks and unique perspective paid off. Perhaps Noel can use this big gold replica of Greg Davies’ head in one of his future art installations or stand-up routines. I’ve seen his live show so I know whereof I speak.

That being said (and those who know anything about me know I’m an avid Fielding fanatic), my favorite contestant had to be Mel Giedroyc. She was so genuine, enthusiastic and supportive during the course of the show that they compiled a montage of her all her authentic positiveness that is guaranteed to make you grin. Then in true Taskmaster style turned around and presented poor Mel with a super frustrating special task that involved hiding a gigantic beach ball from Alex in a wide-open football stadium. (Apparently her favorite swear word is bollocks.)

So if you find yourself in need of a tension-relieving chortle, may I suggest an episode or two of  Taskmaster?  In the US I found series four on Daily Motion. I apologize in advance for the all the repetitive advert breaks. In addition, series five is on its way to UK audiences very soon – September 13th to be exact.

All photo images are courtesy of Dave UKTV except the one of Greg’s head which was posted on Twitter by Alex Horne.


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credit image Talkback Thames and BBC

credit image Talkback Thames and BBC

As you’ve probably heard, Stephen Fry is stepping down as the erudite presenter of the long running comedy panel show QI.  The newest  series, which has already been recorded and begins airing on BBC Two this weekend, will be Fry’s thirteenth and final attempt to impart obscure knowledge and relieve us of the misconceptions and old wives’ tales we’ve held to be true all these years.

So as Mr. Fry bids adieu to QI viewers, I thought it was the perfect time to focus on some of the more amusing, dare I say even silly, moments from series past.

Cockney Rhyming Slang – A lover of words, dialects and language in general, Fry’s attempt at Cockney rhyming slang comes across a little too middle class. Taking the piss out of their esteemed presenter for his posh background is a favorite pastime of Alan Davies and his guest colleagues Bill Bailey and Phill Jupitus.


The “Acropolis where the Parthenon is” tongue twister- Stephen’s normally nimble tongue fails him on a question about the Acropolis. Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Jimmy Carr and Rob Brydon take advantage of this usual moment of speechlessness from their host to behave like naughty school boys taunting a substitute (or for my UK friends, supply) teacher.


A Bewildering Array of Scottish Accents- Stephen puts his ear for accents to the test in this clip. From Billy Connolly and Mrs. Doubtfire to something approaching David Tennant, Fry impressed and possibly confused his panelists by producing at least four distinctly different Scottish dialects.


Sampling Snuff- Surely encouraging the likes of Ross Noble, Noel Fielding and Alan Davies to experiment with flavored varieties of snuff was never going to be a good idea. Despite the risk, host and babysitter Stephen Fry passes it out anyhow which results in nastily stained handkerchiefs and temporary blindness.


Alan and Stephen, a Complicated Relationship- From the very beginning, week in and week out, it’s been Stephen Fry and Alan Davies together on QI. They have a playfully antagonistic rapport on screen that is highlighted by exchanges like this one. Seeing as how Fry called his co-star a “wonder of nature” in his leaving announcement, I have to think all the ribbing is mostly for show…


In the end, I feel a bit melancholy about the news of Fry’s departure.  I wish the best of luck to his successor, Sandi Toksvig, but I can’t help thinking that QI without Fry at the helm will never be quite as interesting.


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I’m a big fan of British comedy panel shows a la Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Would I Lie to You and QI so I thought I’d write up a little compare and contrast piece between two examples of the genre.  And just to make it a bit more interesting I’ll be pitting famous comedy duo Matt Lucas and David Walliams against one another.

Lou and Andy – one of my favorite character combos

I’d like to preface this comparison by saying that while it appears that back in June of 2011 the media was abuzz about the professional split of the Little Britain stars, I couldn’t find online confirmation from either performer that they had permanently ended their partnership, although neither have they worked together since.  These two actor- comedians met up early in their careers and combined talents to create something more brilliant than either one could alone.  They worked together for over 20 years creating primarily sketch comedy and even toured with a live production extravaganza.  But lets face it, eventually anyone would want to take a break to stretch their wings and make their own mark.

Which brings us to Walliams and Lucas each having a go at the popular comedy panel show format.  In the summer of 2011, Walliams took on quiz master duties for a new Sky 1 series called Wall of Fame that asked “celebrities” to answer questions about the UK’s top 25 trending people of the week.  This was the most amusing clip I could find, and even though it features a favorite of mine, Jimmy Carr, it still isn’t that funny.


Then in the spring of this year, Matt Lucas premiered on BBC with a sort of hybrid panel/chat show, The Matt Lucas Awards.  Actually based on Lucas’ earlier radio show entitled And the Winner Is… Matt asks his three guests to provide nominations for categories not typically found at most award ceremonies such as “Smuggest Nation of People.”


So let’s break this down into analyzable elements, shall we?

1.  Set

Matt Lucas wins this hands down…

Matt Lucas Awards has a homey atmosphere AND a performance space

This set is supposed to make you feel as though you’ve been invited into someone’s living room, perhaps the one from Matt’s childhood complete with dated wallpaper, board games on the shelves, and his mum hanging out in the kitchen in case he needs a snack.  The audience members even sit on couches and recliner chairs.

The Wall of Fame set, boring…

Nice color palette of blue, pink and purple curtains but very generic

2. Music

Matt Lucas is a musical kind of guy.  He’s very famously appeared in Les Mis as Thernadier, the innkeeper so he’s proven his Glee chops. Therefore, his show has an expository opening theme with animation…

Most episodes also include attempts at musicality by panel members, often accompanied by house band, Dave Arnold and his keyboard.


This is the only music related clip I could find for Wall of Fame:


Point goes to…Matt Lucas Awards.


3. Guests

This isn’t quite as straight forward.  Both shows feature a rota of VIPs, most that I don’t know from Adam, but a few that I’m delighted to see on any program.  For example, Ruth Jones made an appearance with Matt Lucas while Jessica Hynes joined a team on the Wall.  But in my opinion what is best about this type of program is when I chalk up another witty person find.  This time it was Sue Perkins making a very amusing appearance on the MLA .  On the other hand, I find WOF weekly panelist, Jack Dee, an irritation and when Billie Piper popped up as a guest panelist I could see the tone of the show was not going to be clever but instead sort of common and well, floozy.  So….The Matt Lucas Awards wins again.

4.  Writing

I’m not sure how shows like this are written since it should come across as though the panelists are witty and spontaneous.  But I suppose the main bones of each episode need to be established, special “bits” need to be planned for, and at times, expert guests like an etiquette specialist or David’s pocketbook dog are incorporated.  I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but here again The Matt Lucas Awards trumps the Wall of Fame; however I must clarify that Lucas cowrote and produced his show while Walliams only acted as host on his.  If he’d had a hand in the writing, I’m sure the quality of the series would have been improved significantly.

So the Lucas award for the Best Comedy Panel Show Hosted by a Member of Little Britain goes to…  big surprise here –The Matt Lucas Awards.  That’s not to say it’s the best show of its kind ever, but it is miles ahead of our other nominee in this specialized niche category.

Now I’m not suggesting overall that Matt is doing better in his solo career than his possibly former partner. Since the last Lucas/Walliams project, Come Fly With Me, was finished, David has tried his hand at a little bit of everything.

The effort he’s put into charity fundraising has been phenomenal.  His most impressive feat to date is his Thames River swim for the charity Sport Relief in which he raised over one million pounds.

In the midst of a harrowing eight-day river swim


Mr. Walliams has also penned five children’s books.

David tempting children with sweet reading treats

One of his books, Mr. Stink, was even turned in a scratch and sniff musical production.  In addition to his foray in children’s literature, he’s also got a memoir coming out this week cleverly entitled Camp David. 

And as far as television goes, David has also become a popular fixture as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent, apparently alternating between mooning over Simon Cowell and putting him in his place.  Here’s David doing the latter:


Despite their hits and misses, I wish both these guys well.  I just hope they’ll reunite some day because in their case, I believe the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

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Okay, I just wanted to share the latest thing that is preventing me from getting anything important done – Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  It is a BBC comedy panel show featuring musicians, actors, comedians and other miscellaneous celebrities who attempt to answer popular music questions in order to earn points that don’t matter ( just like in Whose Line Is It Anyway?).  

The show, in production for fourteen years, has been emceed by various hosts and guest hosts during that time.  There are two teams, each made up of a captain (a more or less permanent position) and two guest stars.  The program is organized into four rounds.  Round 1 consists of trivia questions concerning musical artists in the news.  Round 2 is the Intros round wherein two team members perform a capella versions of songs for the third teammate to guess.  The catch is they must use their voices to make instrumental sounds only.  Round 3 is the Identity Parade – the audience gets to view a video of a once-popular musician and the teams must identify that person from a five person line-up without the aid of the aforementioned video clue.  Next Lines is the final round with the host speaking lines from songs and requiring the teams to provide the next line of lyrics.

Many of my favorite British tv performers have made appearances on the program including James Nesbitt, Chris O’Dowd, Martin Freeman (a guest host) and Noel Fielding and Bill Bailey (both have served as team captains). 

What have I learned about the UK from Never Mind…?  It is a great resource for learning about British popular culture. It isn’t just a gentle cultural immersion; it’s a tidal wave of names and products and places!  And what I love about this show is that I sit before my computer LOLing like an idiot despite the fact that I’m gasping to keep up with the references.   The jokes come fast and furious and there is some mumbling and instances of panelists talking over one another so make sure you aren’t tired when you try your first episode.  It will require some concentration.

A  great number of episodes have been uploaded onto YouTube and most have been divided into three 10-minute segments.  Here’s a tiny taste courtesy of the BBC.

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