It used to be just Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin who could do the stadium circuit. Add the names Newman and Baddiel to the list. Stephen Chester chats to the would-be kings of chuckledom.
The funny business is big business. it’s been argued that comedy is the pop of the 908, and certainly the marketing of funny folk is coming to resemble the selling of Take That so closely that it's difﬁcult to separate the two industries and their audiences.
Rob Newman and David Baddiel, the sexier ones from The Mary Whitehouse Experience are symbolic of this latest triumph of created consumer demand. The pair are set to appear in a six-part BBC2 series. Newman And Baddiel In Pieces, followed by a four- week national tour. There are also the T-shirts, giant fly-posters, groupies and spin-off videos, culminating in a gig that promises to be the high-water mark of comedy corporatism; the UK‘s first Wembley Arena
if this is the show which is going to permanently alter our perceptions of how comedy should be seen, then Rob Newman (the one without the glasses) isn’t shedding any tears for the old order. ‘When i started,’ he says, ‘for all the mooted radicalism of Alternative
Stadium ciuicklers Newman and Baddiel
Comedy, there were people who‘d done the same twenty minutes for eight years and would say, “if it's not broken, why ﬁx it?". There’s more emphasis on quality now. All the old guard really hype up the days when it was this warm cottage industry, when people wore downbeat clothes and did moving pieces about the miners' strike. And then to the sound of sinister cello music the big corporate moguls came along and busted up the scene. That’s just bollocks.‘ The antagonism between the generations may be mutual, with older comics resentful of the duo‘s slick packaging and commercial success — their video
History Today has sold over 100,000 copies and the ratings for the last Mary Whitehoase Experience series hit ﬁve million. But. as Newman explains, they’ve earnt it.
‘We’ve been writing the new series all year. it‘s incredibly intensive in time and effort — they wanted us to do a show in the spring but i felt it wasn‘t enough time to write a really good show, so i said we‘d do it in the autumn. We‘ve got lots of new characters, like The People Of Restricted Seriousness, who have faces like you get in joke shops, and the Safety instructor, who causes a lot of accidents. There’s an ongoing narrative for some autobiographical stuff. As comedy series go, it's quite dark in a way — there’s a lot of stuff about depressing subject matter, although i find it quite uplifting to talk about that — more uplifting than the neutral things that most comics talk about, and the petty tone they use to talk about serious things.‘
‘As comedy series go, it’s quite dark in a way - there’s a lot oi stuff about depressing subject matter.’
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The concluding Wembley gig is more than just a two-fingered adios to the comedy culture Newman and Baddiel have rejected, as larger venues mean smaller tours (in the last two years, they‘ve been on tour for eight months) and also allow more money to be spent on visual gags, including the clown car Newman hopes to use for his stage entrance. But for all that, its main attraction for Newman is, ‘Rubbing every other comedian’s face in the dirt, and dancing around afterwards saying. “I am the man who did Wembley".'
And you thought they were such nice boys. Newman And Baddiel are on BBC2 from Monday 20 Sept at [0pm. The tour hits Glasgow SEC C on 26
:— Mission impossible
‘Owen irom Brookside wants to kill me,’ says Jen Benson, and after watching a preview irom his iorthcing, ‘comedy investigations’, it’s not surprising. Peter Purves, Nicholas Parsons, Duncan Boodhew and other assorted publicity-hungry minor celebs’ are probably lighting the torches right now.
All appear in an episode oi The Benson Mission, a show written, presented and improvised by this ‘Tlme OIt’ columnist turned canera- luvvie, and all sing their hearts out on a charity pop video written by Benson called, ‘Let’s Stamp Out Grime’.
‘it was almost believable but basically inst a prank, ’ he enthuses, “but the people were really easy to get.lsentall oiihemthewordsand
they all wanted to do it.’ A truly merose pop ditty about the spread oi crime by the jobless, its crass lyrics are matched by the heavy-handed video where the celebs perionnance in the studio is lntercut with real news ioetage.
_ this joke oi almost sacriligious proportions is the thread which links these six programmes. With his tongue lodged resolutely in his cheek, Benson’s show is one big lrenical trip. From a shambolic rambling round the nudist beaches oi Bournemouth to an
investigation oi the Jesus Army, Benson gets tight-lipped mutterings irom a couple who live above a sex shop, true confessions irom a dwari actor and sings ‘Wlthering iieights’, (?) with the owner oi a supposedly intelligent parrot. ‘Our target is the high-minded documentary like 40 Minutes,’ he says. ‘All we’re doing is just showing what people do all the time. it’s all ior real in this programme.’
Billed as, ‘outrageous’, Benson is part Blue Peter presenter, part Welsh/Jewish Sean Hughes. Slebbing around with a TV crew, he rubs the gloss oii the glamour oi the media with paint stripper. ‘I’m not obnoxious’, he pleads. ‘l’m delightiul. As tor the people we interviewed, they all wanted to do it. The iunny thing was almost all oi them said afterwards, ‘Oh I’ll probably get sacked ior this but never mind.’ lever mind? Are they totally mad. TV, it’s such an alluring mistress.’ (Beatrice Colin)
The Benson Mission on Wednesdays on BBC 2 at 6.50pm.
so The List 10-23 September 1993