Christmas is a really good time to review television programmes for a blogger like me as part of my celebrations involves seeking out interesting and offbeat programmes.
Last night I watched Imagine…the Art of Stand-Up (Part One) and I really enjoyed it. It was a montage of thoughts and feelings about what makes good stand-up involving a range of comedians. I even clicked the red button and watched more. It was one of those programmes that you didn’t want to end – and I’m so glad I’ll get to see the rest this evening.
I’m not always a fan of this series as sometimes it’s really self-indulgent and catering for those who immerse themselves daily in art and is not aimed at ordinary mortals. This programme was an exception as it embraced some great stand-up comedians alongside those who are at the dawn of their careers. I’m thinking particularly of Billy Connelly, Frank Skinner, Jack Dee or Omid Djalili – all comedians I’d pay good money to see live.
It also involved comedians who just aren’t my cup of tea like Jim Davidson – who I have seen live and, for me, is very dated. There was also some younger, newer talent including Simon Amstell, who frankly, would drive me crazy within about ten seconds, as he came across as so intense and introverted. For goodness sake, lighten up Sir!
This morning I’ve read a review in a daily newspaper which said the programme was frustrating, that it tried to cover too much and the suggestion is that it failed to do so. Reviewer, you’ve missed the point and have been led into a long, and boring, justification of your views.
This was not a programme designed to give all of the answers in a structured analytical exercise – it’s an interesting flavour of what comedians think of their art. How it makes them feel when on stage, what they think of hecklers, how their own lives and observations feed into their performances etc etc. For me, that’s enough. I find people interesting and I don’t always need to have a finite beginning, middle and end. So to this particular reviewer (she knows who she is) ‘baa humbug!’
There were also some other elements which, as a programme-maker, I loved. Although I’ve never produced a programme with this kind of budget, it’s not rocket science, you can easily see how it was shot and enjoy the dynamic of that process.
For example, there were many shots showing the cameras and the set-up of interviews, sprinkled with random shots of the interviewer, Alan Yentob prior to interview, Alan Yentob attending a couple of events (and a few necessary cutaways during the interviews). I love that style of involving a presenter, where they play a more subliminal but important role. No need for endless pieces-to-camera or voice over. I also loved the simple way that different subjects were introduced with a few simple words at the bottom right of screen. This suggests to me that there was no rigid structure to the interviews, that they flowed and ebbed quite naturally (even though I know that the BBC style is often very structured).
The locations were also interesting to me. A lot of the interviews were done, I think, in the same location as much of the film The King’s Speech was shot, especially with the less well known comedians. I surmise, though clearly I don’t know, that the most famous comedians were visited personally by the crew (wherever they live) and the less well known were asked to attend a shoot at a single location. That way the budget was carefully used to include the best stand-up comedians and those seen as rising stars. But there was also an element of young comedians ‘trying out’ new material – which I found really interesting. Simon Amstell testing his new material on a small audience, writing notes, ticking off lines that worked and did not. He may not be the kind of comedian I like yet – but I admire his tenacity and his commitment to his art.
Needless to say I’m looking forward to the second instalment tonight on BBC2 – somehow I was not expecting Imagine to be near the top of my Christmas tv list this year…..