TITTER SWEET SYMPHONY

JIM ALEXANDER manages to review the live versions of Shooting Stars and The Fast Show without cribbing any of their catchphrases. Nice!

THE FAST SHOW/ SHOOTING STARS

London Hammersmith Apollo

Prepare for trial by a thousand catchphrases. Or, Ron, a game of two halves, with the Zeitgeist for goalposts. Enduring image, isn’t it? Let’s get one thing straight from the start: comedy has never been the new rock’n’roll. It is the old sitting in the pub/office/playground annoying your mates with badly-executed misquotes from last night’s telly. Yet the fact remains that few bands, and even fewer comedians, could cause tonight’s rabid enthusiasm. Which is why the two programmes responsible for more Friday nights at home than a combination of poverty, halitosis, and a complete lack of mates, have managed to sell out this venue for a whole whopping month.

As Reeves and Mortimer take to the stage, there is a great air of expectancy. Slightly disappointingly, their formula has not been tampered with, providing the usual mix of thigh-rubbing pervery, spot-on surrealism (a dance interpretation of the power of the doughnut, anyone?), casual sadism (Vic & Bob hitting each other with outsized saucepans like a Tarantino-directed episode of Masterchef), and a hefty degree of opening weekend amateurism. It is, however, very funny. Especially when Mark and Ulrika murder ‘Barbie Girl’ with singing that could boil cabbage, George Dawes pronounces himself Chancellor Of The Exchequer, turns briefly to Jesus and performs a medley of ‘Edelweiss’ and Peter Andre’s ‘Flava’, while skits involving dog dirt and Linda Nolan’s flammable arse lower the tone to somewhere several feet below juvenile.

It is Shooting Stars in Christmas TV spectacular mode; slightly too long, a little hit and miss, but still full of priceless moments. But if they are tonight’s known quantity, the real question is, without the aid of snappy editing, just how fast can The Fast Show be? If anything, robbed of a video rewind button, it’s even more bewildering than usual, as a disorienting array of (largely) new sketches, featuring everyone from BRILLIANT!! to Jazz Club to Dave Angel, whizz by. Wigs, costumes, and whole sets are deployed for a one-liner, one character defies the laws of time and physics by appearing onstage at five different places at once, while longer sketches run the whole gamut of British comedy with stand-up, slapstick and – of course – laughing at foreigners.

Listen to the laughs and cheers of recognition for the appearance of old favourites, and the real reason for their runaway success quickly becomes apparent; Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson are sculpting the modern argot, their characters as ubiquitous as the Spice Girls in the national consciousness. Alternatively, this is comedy as daft and as clever as it gets. One moment Deaf Stuntsman will be throwing himself off a balcony, the next you can ponder the postmodernist effect of finding yourself as one of Arthur Atkinson’s cackling audience, fidget as Suits You remove the comforting fizzle of the telly by directly questioning our sexual peccadilloes, or cringe as Colin Hunt mirrors our own trainspotter comedy obsessions just a little too closely for comfort. But, perhaps more poignantly, this is not as much comedic as tragic; while still being so funny you’ll require a week of facial massage to get rid of your grin, obviously.

Hence characters make Herculean efforts to avoid spouting the expected lines, before failing gloriously, and collapsing back into type with open arms. As Swiss Toni approaches meltdown with his car/love-making analogies, and Ralph and Ted edge ever closer to revealing their feelings via an astonishing West End musical number, only to have consummation cruelly snatched away at the final moment, the tears in your eyes are not just those of laughter. Then sob some more, and kiss them goodbye, for this, reputedly, is The Fast Show’s final flourish. If it does prove to be their last will and testament, it is somewhere approaching perfection. Nobody else – including Vic & Bob – comes close.

Jim Alexander