Christmas and New Year isn't a good time for comedy, and
it's an even worse time for finding stuff to read on the
train. By mid-December, newspapers and magazines stop printing
proper articles and just start publishing lists instead. You know
the kind of thing - highlights, lowlights, man of the year, etc. And
among said lists is usually a small round-up of what's been
hot in the comedy world over the past twelve months. No discussion,
no arguments, no pointing at the emperor's tiny shrivelled
cock - just an inventory of recent money-spinners. So, in the comedy
world, that's Jam, Black Books and Papa Lazarou
in The League of Gentlemen. Satisfied? Good. No time for
spoilsports to offer counter arguments - this is quick-buck
reference time. Popular thing = No need for an opinion. Original
thing = Far too much effort. Which means that, in all the lists
published this year, absolutely nobody mentioned Saturday Night
Jack. Which is a shame, because it happens to be the best comedy
show in a long, long time.
Saturday Night Jack is a 90-minute show on Radio 2 hosted
by Jack Docherty and 'evil musical genius'
Pete Baikie, produced by Paul Rodgers. It started on 21
October last year and will finish its 13-week run on 20 January.
It's fantastic, for the following very specific reasons (and,
aspiring comedy whores, for God's sake pay attention):
1. It has the same 'playing records and
arsing about' format / lack of format that made the Armando
Iannucci, Lee & Herring and Chris Morris shows so lovely on
Radio 1 a few years back. All of whom, of course, owed a huge debt
to Kenny Everett. Who they'd heard of.
2. Docherty and Baikie make jokes about things
they actually care about (which is mainly The Beatles), as opposed
to things they feel they ought to talk about in order to
'reach' a pre-determined audience. Nev Fountain.
They sound like they're genuinely
enjoying themselves, rather than biding their time until their
careers take off.
4. It's a radio show presented by two old
hands famous for their TV work who certainly don't need the
money...but it pisses over ANYTHING cooked up by some spotty turk on
a Talent 2000 commission. Noble & Silver.
5. They relish their own stupidity, but treat
the listeners as equals.
6. They have a big say in choosing the playlist. Which is
mainly The Beatles.
7. They understand comedy better than anybody
else on the planet.
Everything about Saturday Night Jack is
great. It's a personalised show, and that's what makes
it work. Like Everett, Morris, et al, the duo recognise that the
purest comedy is that which lies between the comedian's real
life identity and the persona around which the show revolves.
Absolutely fans will take delight in the
frequent references to Jack's father, clearly the influence
behind the 'Nice Family' patriarch - a
man who set off to Scarborough at 4:30am in order to (cue tangible
inverted commas) 'beat the traffic'. Fans of
cultural references will also adore the tales of Jack's
student days - dancing around in his pants to Kirsty MacColl's
'They Don't Know' and being
informed of John Lennon's assassination by flatmate Nicky
Campbell. It's exactly what radio comedy should be - apparent
effortlessness wilfully disguising an obscene amount of talent. Take
the routine about Pete Postlethwaite and the Seven Dwarves - a
satirical comment on the formulaic nature of television, certainly,
but it still sounds like an off-the-cuff bit of whimsy the pair
dreamed up in their tea break. If they have tea breaks. And
it's impossible to hear Pete Baikie giggling without feeling
glad to be alive.
But it hasn't (and won't) be praised by the media. As
such, its future on Radio 2 is uncertain. Read on...
Since about 1996-ish, most radio comedy has operated at the same
level as the hum of a photocopier. It's there, you can
identify it as comedy, you may even laugh once or twice...but when
was the last time it REALLY made your mouth drop? It's not
just Nev Fountain's fault either - once upon a time, the
producers had spines too. They'd tell Disgusted of Tunbridge
Wells to fuck off, rather than kowtow to the hysteria and apologise.
Consequently, anything which doesn't now resemble the
'suitability' of, say, Jon Culshawe pretending to be Tom
Baker or Dominic Holland talking about sell-by dates, gets rejected
- anything vaguely 'offensive' is out (no matter how
out-of-touch the parameters become), as is anything a bit weird and
silly. The humour of Saturday Night Jack wouldn't last five minutes on the current Radio 4.
So thank fuck for Radio 2. This is a network, after all, that
broadcasts Richard Pryor tributes of a Saturday lunchtime. Radio 2
listeners seem open to experimentation, or - at the very least -
appear to understand that all programming has a context and a
listenership that justifies its existence. The current schedule is
partially similar to Radio 1 in the 1980s and early 90s - likeable
DJs like Bob Harris and Steve Wright spin the discs, rather than
po-faced, nipple-pierced career-climbers pretending to enjoy The
Prodigy. Punt & Dennis' It's Been A Bad
Week remains one of the few genuinely enjoyable,
done-with-real-love comedy shows on the BBC - and twenty times
better than its colder, worthier Radio 4 sister, The Now
Show. Even Mark Lamarr sounds like an alright bloke
underneath - his interview with the unashamedly trainspottery (ie,
interesting and informative) Ranking Miss P about reggae edits was
one of the best shows of last year. In fact, it's very
difficult to watch those television trailers saying how fantastic
Radio 2 is and not find yourself agreeing whole-heartedly.
Sadly, the rest of the media aren't so clued up. Roland
White, the Radio Times' labour-saving device, gave the
first episode of Saturday Night Jack a stinking review. Unfortunately for him, it revealed
his ignorance not only of Docherty's
humour, but of comedy in general. Complaining about the brilliant running
gag about Jack's mobile phone (which played a tune
by whichever pop star was purportedly ringing him), White
observed that the duo were evidently 'very bored indeed'
(reader, can you imagine Pete Baikie being bored by
anything?), and this, he was keen to inform us, was the
problem behind the show. He went on to say that Docherty was
'best known for his Channel 5 chat show' (not in the
world we're proud to inhabit, Roley boy), before passing off a
piece of received, I've-got-a-press-release-in-my-pocket
wisdom about Docherty 'writing Radio Active' as
if it was a great big secret that nobody else knew about. The
Guardian, meanwhile, argued that 'Docherty is funny, but
not as funny as he thinks he is'. Since Docherty, like the
rest of the Absolutely team, exhibits a modesty about
his work that makes you want to punch him, this was a particularly
meaningless viewpoint; a classic case of an ill-informed,
coffee-break opinion dressed up to vaguely resemble sense.
Docherty, you see, is best known to journalists for his
Channel 5 chat show. Not to comedy fans. For journalists, said chat
show was a 'failed' project, and can be dismissed as
such for an easy reference - despite the fact that it was
consistently entertaining throughout its two-year run, and Docherty
was never less than great . More to the point, loads of people
enjoyed Absolutely - not to mention the two
Bodgers series on Radio 4 - and recognise his real
talents (see the Absolutely article in
'Archive Review' for further details). But as far as
journalists are concerned, a show like Saturday Night
Jack cannot simply be enjoyed as part of the ongoing
Docherty experience - it has to fit in with a pre-conceived lazy
opinion on who Docherty is (and was) in the
Baikie, meanwhile, gets ignored completely. As a composer for
comedy, he's as prolific as the Popes, Brints and Goodalls of
this world...but, hey, who wants to know about some keyboard-tinkler
in the background? And besides, all comedy songs are awful, right?
Balls, balls and thrice balls. Saturday Night Jack
needs to be heard. And, with the comedy-review climate the way it
is, we can only pray that it is re-commissioned later in the year.
We can also pray that Docherty and Baikie realise there are enough
people out there who adore the show and want to ride their
Before we go, here's ten particularly amusing moments from
the series. In truth, the only end-of year list worth
1. Pete's Beatles anecdotes. Pete
excitedly recites a well-known story about the Fab Four, to which
Jack periodically bellows 'I know!' as Pete
obliviously rabbits away. Of particular note was Pete's claim
that McCartney can be heard fluffing the drums on 'The
Ballad of John & Yoko'; we listen expectedly for
this subtle observation to be confirmed, only to hear the terrific
din of a drumkit crashing to the floor. A momentary pause, and the
jaunty song fades back in again as if nothing had happened.
2. Jack's new mobile phone. The ringing
tone told him who was phoning him, and thus whether he should
answer. It plays a Morrissey song and he answers nonchalantly:
'Hi, Morrissey - listen, about this light that never goes
out...' (Later on, the phone plays a Blondie song. Jack
declines to answer it - 'You see, it could be
Debbie Harry, but then it might just be one of the blokes,
3. A sequel to the BBC series The
Sins, in which, on a weekly basis, Pete Postlethwaite
adapts the mannerisms of the Seven Dwarves - including one episode
which just features him sneezing.
4. Mr Bobby Crussssshhhhhhh.
5. The Very Hard Quiz,
including such questions as 'In the 1966 Cup Final, who
was the crowd member standing to the left of the German goal during
the second half holding a glass of red wine?' (Forget the
man in the first half - we all know who he was.) In one show,
the contestant was Jack's sister, who answered questions on
'our dad' and still lost.
5. Their suggestions for fantastic new TV
programmes, prompted by Moray Hunter's father's
suggestion of 'Polite Camera Action'.
Highlights included 'Wristwatch UK'
('What's that about?'/'It's...just
about wristwatches, really...') and 'Animal
Hospice' ('Half an hour of animals dying and Rolf Harris
6. The mock cut & paste interviews with famous pop stars. E.g.: JACK: I
like your haircut - what is it? DAVID BYRNE: It's kind of an
7. The jingle - 'On BBC Radio
8. Pete explaining how digital radio works.
We think he should be hired to explain everything , frankly.
9. Running jokes about Toots and the
Maytals. '54-46, That's My Number'
was announced as 'the
second best song ever recorded'. The first, Jack revealed, was,
of course, '54-46, That's My Number
10. The events listings, including 'World's
Shortest Long Thing' and 'World's
If you want to see Saturday Night Jack
recommissioned, write (don't e-mail - it carries less clout)
to the controller of Radio 2 at this address:
The Controller, BBC Radio 2, Broadcasting House, London, W1A 1AA