Producer/writer/performer Armando Ianucci is a very clever guy, the man behind such clever stuff as I’m Alan Partridge and Chris Morris’s Brass Eye. Sometimes he’s so clever that your head hurts just trying to get the jokes (or even the programme title), as in his Friday Night Armistice topical revue. So far be it from us to pass judgement without a lot more head-hurting on whether Gash, his new nightly “satire comedy show”, was actually funny. But from a pre-Anadin perspective at least, it wasn’t.
The format was mainly Radio 4 buddy-show, where some interesting people who were at university with the producer sit round and create the kind of glittering conversation that interesting people have, only with the oiks (us) listening in and a nice fee at the end. Armando had two Interesting People with him (comedian/novelist Dominic Holland and comedian/soldier Nicky Wilty), and the three of them sat around saying not particularly funny things about Iraq and SARS, with breaks for a few not particularly funny micro-sketches and some rather more entertaining (and lengthy) ads.
Armando tried his best, but looked tired and lacked the incisiveness that used to make you believe he was being funny even when you didn’t know why (one line about 1980s band OMD being arrested by Americans looking for WMD harked poignantly back to his Armistice heyday). When white-suited former war correspondent Martin Bell came on, he seemed unsure whether to do a straight interview or joke it up, ending up with a compromise in which Bell’s generally worthwhile insights into TV war coverage were spoilt by “humorous” interjections from the Interesting People.
Topical shows are bound to be a bit unplanned, but this one could have done with more writing and, on a slow news night, a few more background pieces in the bank (such as the funniest item of the show, the end-sequence which linked footage of the Queen firing last year’s Jubilee fireworks to Saddam’s palaces going up in smoke). In the event, it was all a bit Baddiel and Skinner, only Baddiel and Skinner do it better. You can still get away with this sort of thing on Radio 4, but not on terrestrial TV, which is probably why the BBC wasn’t showing it.