A balding Irishman walks into a bar with six English comedians. The barman asks, “What is this, some kind of a joke?” No, it’s the new series of Mock the Week, returning for its ninth run to, well, mock the week. It’s the second series post-Frankie Boyle, the caustic Scot who moved his black humour onto pastures new, leaving producers to make the wise decision to not fill his place permanently, instead allowing new and upcoming comedians to make their mark. Joining the host Dara O’Brian, and regulars Russell Howard, Hugh Dennis and Andy Parsons, were Milton Jones, Chris Addison and Diane Morgan.
As a television format, Mock the Week is undeniably a winning formula, watched by an average of 3 million people and a platform for stand-up comedians to showcase their talent, using it as a base to get their stand-up heard. It is a pity that they don’t replace Andy Parsons with a better regular; his cockney ‘cheeky-chappy’ shtick and rather obvious observations are a substitution for actual humour. Luckily the quiet and witty Hugh Dennis provides the understated laughs, nicely contrasting with Russell Howard the crowd-pleaser, who relies more on funny accents and facial expressions to generate laughs.
The guests always provide the hit-and-miss aspect of the show; with a quiet or obnoxious guest, the show can quickly become focused on the regulars. Chris Addison’s fresh face hid a slightly more controversial side as he slipped in a joke that got an ‘ooh’ from the audience, an area that Frankie Boyle usually went above and beyond. Diane Morgan did well as the token woman, staying fairly quiet but managing to slip in a dry observation every now and again.
Milton Jones stole the show with his clever word-play and one-liners, keeping a poker face that was crucial to his wacky persona. Dara O’Brian is wasted as a host, although he does an admirable job of keeping the competitive pack of comedians in check with his ‘benevolent Irish guy’ routine. When he does manage to slip in some of his own material, which is slightly more pointed, it is enjoyable enough to want more.
With such a varied and impressive array of comedy to exploit, Mock the Week is becoming surprisingly tired. As a piece of satire, it was never very efficient anyway, with none of the required subtlety and subversive nature; quite literally shown by the title, the aim is to ‘mock the week.’
Increasingly with Mock the Week, it feels as if the panellists are racing through the actual game, ignoring the political observations and adapting it to showcase their own brand of stand-up.
Compared to Have I Got News For You, which focuses purely on the news, Mock the Week’s aim seems to be to make as many trite and obvious sweeping political statements as possible, before moving on to talk about how Russell Howard saw a funny monkey once that reminded him of Nick Clegg. However, this is proving to be very popular, and what the public wants, the public gets.
Originally published on The Yorker 19th June 2010