The Very Best of Friday Night Live (DVD)

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, what about Mrs Thatch etc etc etc.” Yes folks its back to the late 80s with this 2-disc release of performances from the ITV show Friday Night Live. This showcase for up-and-coming as well as established comedy talent, mainly culled from the alternative comedy circuit, was once considered cutting edge — but now, 20 years on, seems a little blunt.

Friday Night Live was the follow up to Saturday Night Live and little changed. The format was still the same, the audience still cackled like hyenas at everything sparkly-suited host Ben Elton said and the set was still as bizarre. Old favourites returned — such as Harry Enfield’s Stavros the Kebab shop owner, and Loadsamoney with his new and far funnier Bugger-All-Money. But the viewing audience had better things to do on a Friday night, and this was to be its one and only run. As with most comedy releases from this era, the material has dated badly. The constant knocks at “old-style” comedy becomes wearing; we need to remember that by this stage, alternative had become mainstream. Elton’s constant attempts at making innuendo topical and relevant falls flat at a horrific rate, and his ever-increasing loudness doesn’t make him any funnier. Also moments such as his game show spoof “Stupid” is cringing to say the least.

But it’s the forgotten artists such as Moray Hunter and Jack Docherty’s early incarnations of their Absolutely “Donald and George” characters that make this an interesting release. Also Michael Redmond’s deadpan and slow but deliberate delivery, which knocks the audience off kilter, is a breath of fresh air. Julian Clary, still known as The Joan Collins Fan Club, proves that schoolboy humour never dies and is one of the few shining lights here. A very young Lee Evans makes a great “Norman Wisdom” styled debut while Robbie Coltrane reminds us why he should be back on our screens doing comedy. But there is too much dead wood here — Patrick Marber, in particular, haemorrhages with his “I’m so bloody clever and you’re not” routine and is just irritating, while Howie Mandel (yes folks, the voice of Gizmo and host of America’s version of Deal Or No Deal) dies on his arse and proves that not all transatlantic comedy can travel. Fact fans might like to note that his name is spelt incorrectly on the credits! This release is only for people who want to experience the death of the alternative comedy movement.

EXTRAS This DVD is totally bereft of extras, which leaves it as flat as Ben Elton’s comedy routines.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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