Perhaps thanks in part to ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ – which, if you believe any of the papers this last week, should be renamed to ‘Britain’s Got Talented Dogs’ – it does rather feel like the good old fashioned variety show has made a bit of a comeback to our screens of late. ITV recently successfully resurrected ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium’ – of which the second series is just about to finish airing.
Even the gods of the format, The Muppets, are staging their terrestrial comeback over in America on the ABC network in the autumn – and there’s a chance, as with their late 90’s series, the oft forgotten ‘Muppets Tonight’, it’ll end up airing over here too. And now the BBC have got in on the act, and have got the man we selected as our ‘Comedian of the Year’ in our End of Year Prizes last year to host it.
Scouse funnyman John Bishop has dabbled in this format for a few years now with his own successful Christmas specials, so you just knew a full series was always going to be on the cards. Filmed each week at the Hackney Empire in London, it’s John’s own inimitable, relatable take on stand up comedy – we were particularly amused by his joke in the first show about how his teenage sons are now blokes who he fails to have a legitimate argument with convincingly – with a whole host of weird and wonderful acts in between.
The wonderful on the first show, in this instance, was the Modfather himself Paul Weller, who performed his new single and an old classic from his Jam days to close the show. Jessie Ware and Leona Lewis are set to be future music performers on the show. The wonderful also amounted to a really promising new comedian – well, he’s new to me anyway – Trevor Noah from South Africa, who offered a very wry and side splitting routine.
And then there was the weird – in both good and awful senses of the word. Felicity Ward, an Australian comedian whose sole joke was about how all Australians are apparently racist, but that’s OK, because she actually is Australian, wore thin pretty quickly. Also bizarre: an acrobatic boy in silver trousers of some description at the very top of the show who John balanced on one hand.
Beardyman, the renowned YouTube beatboxing sensation, was a delight though, as he and John got audience members to participate in creating weird, off the cuff ditties using his synthesizers and loop pedals with strange details about the person’s life: e.g. ‘Why Don’t You Like Me?’ sang in an 80’s, Depeche Mode-esque manner, or ‘You Never Feed the Dogs’ set to jungle music. Utterly bizarre but wholly captivating – the best guest of the show by far.
And herein lies the beauty of having a full on variety show like John Bishop’s on telly: if there’s not something that appeals with one act, there’s always something that will appeal with the next. And – so far – with not one dancing/tightrope walking/fire-eating dog in sight. Not to mention he looks like he’s having an absolute ball doing it.
‘The John Bishop Show’ continues at 9:45pm, Saturdays on BBC One. UK viewers can watch back the first two episodes now on BBC iPlayer.