Seriously Funny! Review

As a charity fundraiser, the BBC's Comic Relief appeal is hard to criticise. Spearheaded every two years by its Red Nose Day event, it raises millions of pounds for underprivileged people worldwide and does a wealth of good work for all and sundry. The trouble is that because everyone gives of their time voluntarily, and because the appeal is such a worthy one, it's often seen as churlish to even begin to hint that the comedy on offer is often, well, how can I put it...crap. Fair enough it’s for charity, fair enough it raises tons of dosh, but I don’t think we should be afraid to say what we honestly think of it (provided we donate some money at the same time!).

Perhaps it’s just me, but I often find the Red Nose Day programmes stale and unfunny. True, there is some gold among the dross, but often the whole evening seems just a shallow excuse for dodgy comedy routines concentrating on shock value rather than true comic worth. As Kenny Everett famously didn’t say, “It’s all done in the worst possible taste.” The nadir was the sight of a naked Billy Connolly dancing around Piccadilly Circus in 2001 - could things possibly get any worse? Well, I decided not to watch much of this year’s offerings so I can’t comment. But I expect it probably did.

This new DVD modestly calls itself ‘The Greatest Comedy Collection!’, proudly announcing that it is “the funniest DVD you will ever own!”. The surprising thing is that although it says it contains the very best moments of Comic Relief, it is actually more than four minutes long.

The actual presentation of the DVD is little short of appalling. Firstly, every item has been cropped to 16:9. This means that apart from the ubiquitous Nick Hancock’s specially-shot links, you’re watching material that has lost approximately 33% of its original picture information. The results are obvious - heads are missing in long shots, compositions are ruined, close-ups are unnaturally extreme, and any degradation in video quality (of which there is plenty on display here) is shown in all its gory glory. Secondly, there is not a single sketch or musical item that is allowed to play in its entirety. Most of the time, these items (courtesy of disc producer Ian Brown) are abruptly cut before they’ve finished, but sometimes - and more painfully - they have had their middles clumsily snipped away (ouch!). This results in a shoddy-looking affair in which any sense of pace or timing has been shot to pieces - a disaster for anything, especially a comedy routine.

So, taking it as read that this disc is well below standard, what can we expect? Well, as mentioned, Nick Hancock introduces fifteen loosely themed segments taken from the past 17 years of the appeal, and what follows are the highlights and lowlights of what’s on offer:

Livin’ Doll
We start with one of the better items, the first Comic Relief charity single, with Cliff Richard accompanied by the cast of The Young Ones: Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and John Ryan. This is a well-made pop ‘video’ (in the days when they still shot some of them on film) and appears to be a transfer from the video master rather than from the film itself. The song has been crudely hacked to pieces, losing most of its manic middle section, and as such is pretty indicative of the rest of this disc.

Double Acts
This has various snippets of celebrities joining in with the antics of the Comic relief comedians. Highlights include Neil Morrissey and Martin Clunes’ encounter with a diminutive Kylie Minogue from a Men Behaving Badly spoof, The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse and Mark Williams giving their unique brand of obsequious insults to Richard Wilson, and Frank Bruno and Rowan Atkinson performing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (taken from the original Shaftesbury Theatre show in 1986). Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke in their Kevin and Perry guises put then-Big Breakfast presenter Gaby Roslin on the spot (“Have you shagged Chris Evans yet?”) and Hugh Grant kisses Dawn French on a big pink bed. A very brief Smashy and Nicey excerpt (suffering from a nasty case of video offlock) and French and Saunders discussing “men’s toilet parts” are unnecessary inclusions.

Unlikely Songs
Here you’ll find excerpts from the various charity releases over the years, of which we probably all have our favourites. For sheer ‘celebrities per second’, I’d have to plump for Phil Collins’ rendition of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, which includes such luminaries as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Whoopie Goldberg, Martin Sheen, Liam Neeson, Goldie Hawn and Kevin Kline. Lulu accompanies The Spice Girls for their 1997 single ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, a young Noel Edmonds features on a Queen pastiche, Denis Healey gamely contributes to ‘The Lumberjack Song’ from Monty Python’s Flying Circus ( a clever bit of archive footage trickery) and there’s an amusing medley of Kate Bush songs performed by Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan).

Crazy Things We Do
A ragtag of items involving celebrities, very similar to the previous but one chapter. Highlights include Bob Geldof and Midge Ure performing the Monty Python charity sketch with Stephen Fry as the hard-nosed businessman, and Ian McKellan performing the lyrics of Maddona’s ‘Like a Virgin’ as an 'actorly' monologue. (This last item is the only one to feature Ruby Wax, thank goodness, and wonder of wonders, she actually keeps her mouth shut for the duration.)

Criminal Records
Some of the crime-related spoofs Comic Relief has done, including ‘Prime Cracker’ with Robbie Coltrane and Helen Mirren, ‘The Unprofessionals’ (terrible picture quality), ‘Miss Marple’ with various soap stars, and a Crimewatch spoof done with some style by regular presenters Nick Ross and Sue Cook.

A glimpse of David Baddiel and Rob Newman doing their “That’s you, that is,” routine introduces some of the more famous interviews done in the name of charity. Graham Norton talking to Fergie is pretty dire, but the one with Ali G and the Beckhams is always worth watching, even though, typically, we only get to see a few exchanges here.

Des Lynam and his old BBC pundits try not talking about football, leading to a delightfully surreal monologue from Jimmy Hill; a pre-scandal Angus Deaton introduces ‘Have I Got Sport For You’, and Mr Bean ice-skates with Jane Torvill, a sequence that doesn’t make much sense unless you’ve seen the rest of the 1995 sketch it comes from.

Hard To Please
This is just Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield as the Pub Bores. The point being? You tell me. When I see something like this, I feel like saying, “Enfield, Whitehouse - no!”

Goodness Gracious Me
This is part of the fabulous ‘English Restaurant Sketch’, which is all very well but - like the previous chapter - hardly enough to justify a whole section to itself.

Red Nose Day has become synonymous for the acres of bare flesh on display. But this chapter pulls its punches just as much as all the others, hardly justifying the ‘12’ rating. After a 3 second clip of the 1999 record for the largest amount of naked people on stage ever, we get a heavily sanitized glimpse of Billy Connolly dancing around Piccadilly Circus (wedding tackle not shown) followed by a bit from The Fast Show in which Robbie Williams appears as Sir Ralph’s new gardener. Naked? Hardly. (Sorry folks.)

Music Videos
This is an imaginatively titled chapter looking at music videos. Much the same as Unlikely Songs really.

1997’s Red Nose Day featured various cock-ups from Blackadder II, Blackadder Goes Forth, Bottom, French and Saunders and Red Dwarf, and this is it. There’s some hilarious stuff here, in particular an off-screen Hugh Laurie making Stephen Fry corpse in the fourth series of Blackadder. Ironic that some of the funniest stuff on this DVD is through accident rather than design. Says a lot, doesn’t it?

TV Favourites With a Twist
Only Fools and Horses and Blackadder II claim to be Comic Relief-related, but in my inexpert eyes they’re just clips from ordinary episodes. Odd. More relevant is a University Challenge spoof with the cast of Coronation Street heckling Jeremy Paxman, then there's Samantha Fox being felt for charity (not as exciting as it sounds - she keeps her assets covered) and Mr Bean on Blind Date (the latter from 1993, in the days before they started mucking around with a winning format.)

And Finally
A couple of documentary reports showing how the Comic Relief money is used. Billy Connolly memorably accompanies a father in Mozambique who is being reunited with his children - very moving stuff - while Lenny Henry talks to a woman in Scotland with Alzheimer’s.

So is this disc worth spending money on? Well, despite its good intentions, I'd have to say a resounding 'no'. It's an amateurish mishmash of poorly edited extracts presented in a format that does it no favours whatsoever. Donate your hard-earned cash straight to Comic Relief rather than buy this unsatisfying twaddle*.

(* Twaddle - Poorly compiled Comic Relief material)

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