COMMENT: The 11 O'Clock Show
First published March 2000
The 11 O'Clock Show - The Comedy Alternative
By the time this website goes up, The 11 O'Clock Show will have started on its fourth series. Not bad going for a show which has become a by-word in the business for disaster, deceit and a sad (not to mention dangerous) reflection on the comedy world. An apathetic media has allowed this abomination to continue thus far. We say 'no more'...

The 11 O'Clock Show is Channel 4's flagship topical satire show, usually broadcast when the Rory Bremner Show (their other flagship topical satire show) is off the air. Why has it continued for so long? Because it needs to.

Channel 4 and Talkback spent so much money piloting the series, blindly trying to find a winning formula, that, by the time a series finally emerged, they had to make their money back at any cost. The only option open to them was to produce another series. Then another. Then another, ad infinitum, in the hope that, eventually, it would become a success (or at least people would just accept it as a permanent fixture).

A comparatively inoffensive 'test series' (beginning on 30/9/98) featured Fred MacCaulay and Brendon Burns as anchors, while Iain Lee was banished to the wings in a Doc Cox/Cyril Fletcher capacity. Daisy Donovan meanwhile cropped up occasionally as a rubbish 'It Girl' character called Pandora Box-Grainger. The show was bland but no real threat. Victor Lewis Smith even reviewed it favourably in the Evening Standard (although he was comparing it with 'Stuff The Week', ITV's then-flagship topical satire show which was genuinely awful.

The second and third series (9/2/99 - 29/4/99 and 19/10/99 - 9/12/99 respectively), however, established and ossified the Lee/Donovan partnership - Lee's ex-comedy partner and real-life flatmate MacKensie 'Charlie Cheese' Crook did a few weeks anchorage, then got dropped - and the show has since adopted a pseudo-reactionary idiom (misogynistic and homophobic vernacular, buffeted by the haziest of inverted commas) in a desperate quest for young viewers.

Everyone on the show fails to realise that 'nasty' comedy of this kind only ever works if a philanthropic heart is seen to beat underneath. Lee (whose catchphrase in his short-lived stand-up days was 'I'm not very good but I'm keen!') and Donovan (pointless daughter of photographer Terence Donovan, whose last work 'Blatant Nepotism' has yet to be unveiled) are clearly so disinterested by both news and comedy that one genuinely wonders why they bother.

The 11 O'Clock Show continues to survive because it flatters the audience into thinking that they too could produce something of the same standard. Not too funny, not too clever - a sort of DIY 'People's Comedy'. With good stuff (Python, Brass Eye, The Simpsons), the viewer is left with a feeling of sheer awe at how on earth such wonderful programmes could possibly be generated by human hands...precisely the feeling comedy should generate of course, but something which evidently worries some fans. With a lot of generally-good-but-slightly-annoying 90s comedy (Izzard, Fast Show, Reeves & Mortimer, Harry Hill, South Park), there is an overbearing 'You could do this at home' mentality which is quickly revealed as an illusion the moment some amateur fucker is stupid enough to try it. The 11 O'Clock Show, however, by-passes talent altogether, and presents something which could literally be done in the pub with yer mates. And what's worse, people do.

One 11 O'Clock Show contributor recently commented that working on the show is difficult since they 'have to be funny to a deadline'. Well, hey, who knows. Maybe one day they'll succeed.


When the show returned for a third series in October 1999 we hoped to illustrate its crimes against comedy over the thrice-weekly seven-week run by keeping a thorough diary of each broadcast. In the end we lost the will to live and hereby present a detailed breakdown of the first and last shows only.

In the weeks preceding the third series, a number of trailers were aired featuring Iain Lee on the streets asking members of the public whether they like the show (eliciting unenthusiastic replies). The Mary Whitehouse Experience did this joke in their Radio One series, but for real. Iain Lee's routine was tightly scripted. 'Would you say The 11 O'Clock Show is the best thrice-weekly topical Channel 4 show there is?', he asked. We can't breathe.

A few hours before the transmission, a (live?) trailer was aired featuring Daisy Donovan in the studio (empty) telling a strained joke about the French feeding manure to cattle.

'Those satirical slappers are back...'. bleats the continuity announcer before the break.

SERIES 3, SHOW 1 - 26 October 1999 (Tues, 11pm)

Tommy Vance reads out the pre-show headlines. Vance has always enjoyed a fey link to the comedy world, promoting Monty Python's 'Contractual Obligation Album' on Top Of The Pops by wearing a pair of 'Monty Python Sat On My Face' underpants on his head; introducing the Comic Strip at Castle Donnington's 'Monsters Of Rock' festival (in the film 'More Bad News') and linking into the repeat broadcasts of Radio One's Mary Whitehouse Experience with a gravelly quip. His dulcet tones were also a regular on Chris Morris' Radio One show ('Stop being poor..!') and he was apparently one of the few interviewees on (Talkback's) Brass Eye to be in on the joke. Here, however, he is simply a cunt.

'TV's Iain Lee' emerges onto the soundstage. Lee and Herring used to use the 'TV's...' tag as a jokey pejorative term. Lee is obviously a fan of the duo judging by the amount of stuff he's stolen from them in the past (including their joke about the 'Bootleg Bootleg Beatles' which Lee and MacKensie Crook blatantly appropriated as the title of their Edinburgh act a few years back. Incidentally the act still performs (sans Lee and Crook) under the title 'The Bootlegs'...).

Iain Lee fluffs his first big joke by stammering like a fool. For some reason it hasn't been retaken. We daresay the production team have some sort of 'no retakes' rule due to the time restraints in bringing to the screen a watchable edit of a show which has only just been taped. However, any half-competent crew would surely override this decision if a) nothing funny happened as a consequence of the fluff (nothing did) and b), if it was practically the first joke of the show (which was rubbish anyway).

The audience still laugh, in a sort of hollow, dubbed, pre-recorded laughter-wash kind of way. It's really rather shameful but, as we mentioned, C4 and Talkback have spent literally millions developing the show so it must be seen to be a success at all costs. A few cheats with canned laughter is a small price to pay.

Iain Lee, undaunted by the audience laughs he won't hear until broadcast, continues by re-using his 'thrice weekly comedy show' joke from the vox pop trailers. He must be quite proud of that one.
Playstation and wanking
Daisy Donovan emerges and asks what Iain Lee's been up to while the show's been off the air. 'Mainly playing Playstation and wanking', he answers. The sort of answer Richard Herring might have delivered on Fist Of Fun which really only works if you've managed to build up a character that is self-depreciating and laughable. Iain Lee is a laughable figure but his unnerving self-publicity precludes any sympathy that would make the line work. The audience of course don't concern themselves with the politics of the situation and simply laugh at the word 'wanking'. Sadly the laughter didn't sound canned on this occasion.

If Iain Lee's line had been 'Mainly stealing other peoples material and molesting children' we'd have more respect for him.

The headlines. They're doing the exact same routine about feeding manure to cattle that Daisy Donovan did in the trailer. We can't believe they're proud of this joke. They obviously don't have any extra material to use for trailers. Not surprising. The routine is longer here and basically an excuse to use as many lame puns as possible. Better comedians use cheap material like this but only as preambles, asides or rhythm-aids to a properly-written routine. Here, it's presented as the routine itself.

Daisy Donovan is vacant throughout. She laughs at one of Lee's 'poo' puns as if she's not just heard it in rehearsal. One of the headline routines looks as if it's been edited out for some reason. Surely it wasn't less funny than the 'Poo' one?

Paul Garner's report. Ex Radio Bedford DJ Garner was Chris Morris' fall guy on his 1994 Radio One series. Morris would speak to him via a mobile phone, send him into late-night corner shops, hotel foyers and airports and instruct him to behave strangely. The premise was soon stolen by Steve Wright as an item on his People Show (BBC1) and later as a show in its own right by BBC2's The Fall Guy, both of which missed the point completely anyway - the instructions were what made it funny, not the situation itself. Paul's role was always debatable. He always sounded like he considered himself and Morris to be 'partners' in the routines but the listener was never quite sure who the joke was on. By urging Paul Garner to go up to a hotel receptionist and sing 'Your forehead makes me sick', Chris Morris wasn't taking the piss out of the receptionist.

Garner's contributions were always hit and miss anyway. So keen was he to impress his mentor that he'd often indignantly paraphrase the Morrisian amusement he was instructed to say, resulting in humourless and embarrassing listening. Garner later appeared, briefly, in Morris' Brass Eye, which presumably solidified his link to Talkback.

Here, Paul Garner reports on French beef, attempting to parody the tabloid media's anti-French attitude but only serving to become part of it. As always on this show, Garner attempts to get his vox popees to say something stupid. Instead they query his stupid comments and comport themselves diligently. Garner is obviously hoping for something along the lines of Morris' Feedback Report/Speak Your Brains material. He can't do it - he doesn't have the same sense of the ridiculous Morris has. The public's reactions here are the sort of thing Chris Morris would have snipped out. Only on one occasion did he broadcast (on the Radio One show) a reaction by an incisive member of the public ('Why are you talking strangely?') and that was only to illustrate that the recordings don't always work out.

Back in the studio, Iain Lee makes another joke about computers and wanking. Another laugh. He continues by doing a joke about Prince Phillip telling the Chinese president that his wife had 'good tits for a slitty-eyed bird'. The audience laughs because each and every one of them could have written that joke themselves and they feel uplifted. Again, Daisy Donovan laughs far too much.

There appears to be an odd thing happening in comedy at the moment whereby an audience responds to a bad joke (and the embarrassment attended thereto) just as enthusiastically as a good one. Never Mind The Buzzcocks thrives on such anti-humour, as indeed do Barrett and Fielding.

Daisy Donovan interviews Glenda Jackson on tape. Donovan's 'Angel Of Delight' pieces involve her talking to celebrities in a plebbed-down paean to Chris Morris' media interviews. Unbelievable - she makes a pun about Glenda frequenting Ronnie Scotts and 'appearing in jazz-mags'. There is nothing to attach this punning to - Jackson herself points out that 'jazz has had no part in my life at all'. The writers have come up with the 'jazz-mag' pun and are absolutely delighted by it, yet they aren't interviewing anybody from the jazz world so they try it out on Glenda Jackson instead.
The reason she doesn't pick up on the rubbish puns is that she doesn't normally choose to keep the company of sniggering nine-year-olds.
They genuinely do think this is clever - Daisy Donovan continues to insert strained giggly schoolboy puns - 'lick Mrs Thatcher', 'front bottom', etc - into the interview. Glenda Jackson doesn't notice - ha ha, isn't Glenda stupid? Nope. Neither is she deserving of such tedious intrusion. She isn't your average media whore, doesn't deserve to be 'taken down a peg or two' or in any need of exposing as a stupid or brainless celebrity. The reason she doesn't pick up on the rubbish puns is that she doesn't normally choose to keep the company of sniggering nine-year-olds. Also, since the puns are so strained, they render what Daisy Donovan is saying practically gibberish most of the time anyway.

Nothing wrong with schoolboy humour of course, as long as everyone is agreed from the start that 'it isn't big or clever'. That way it becomes a nice release from maturity for a bit. The 11 O'Clock Show and its cackling pleb audience don't understand this.

Robin Ince's John Peel piss-take takes us into the break. This is quite funny, and a good impersonation. And at least it doesn't allude to anything in the news (which, history has shown, is a genuinely good thing in a topical news comedy show).

Commercials - a quick shower to wash off possibly infection from part one.

Part two - a joke from Daisy Donovan about Richard Madeley stealing bottles of wine, followed by mock deadpan insistence that he didn't do it, obviously. Like Lee & Herring used to do...

An oh-so-on-the-fucking-edge joke about Jill Dando's death. 'Dead As A Dando', says the caption behind Lee. We reckon the joke is left over from when Dodi Fayed died. At least the pun worked then, in a sort of boring sick-office-humour kind of way.

The editing of this show is unbelievably bad, retaining Daisy Donovan's continued panic and side-glances at monitors, autocues and fire-exits. She really is appalling. Iain Lee pulls a stupid austere face whenever awkwardness occurs which is slightly more professional, but no less easy on the eye.
sweaty, half drunk and irritated
A studio interview with Malcolm McClaren. He looks sweaty, half drunk and irritated by what's going on. The interview is heavily edited yet they've kept in another unfunny fluff from Iain Lee. There seems to be an internal decision by the production team to make him look as inept as possible.

Odd that Ali G, considering his success among the plebs, wasn't used in this first show of the series, especially as he's the only selling point they have. A tempting theory is that Iain Lee may himself have suggested a 'slow-burn' to keep people tuning in, but in reality is really worried about how unpopular he is by comparison. In a better world of course Ali G would be doomed to extinction, being a one-joke character (a la Dennis Pennis) but the media seems to have stopped judging the shortcomings of such affairs, preferring to hype them well beyond their talents or achievements.

Executive Producer - Peter Fincham. He has the clout to remove his name from the credits. Yet he doesn't.

We take a break in the article here in the interests of balance and present Talkback's own official CVs of Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee...


Daisy Donovan was a runner on the pilot series of The 11 O'Clock Show and was hired as a researcher for the current run - before being plucked out of the office to appear on screen as one of the three studio presenters.

A graduate of Lamda, Daisy once appeared in a US television movie as a KGB spy - and she can be just as tough in real life, listing judo, boxing and stage combat on her CV.

She appears in two incarnations in The 11 O'Clock Show - as herself in the studio and as The Angel of Delight, one of the programme's roving reporters.

In character as The Angel of Delight, she is the reporter who kills with kindness. Inspired by all TV's caring blonde presenters, with their sympathetic smiles and smooth as silk bedside manners, the Angel celebrates the lives of the cream of Britain's glitterati. No question is too small, no gossip too mundane.

By contrast, when Daisy appears in the studio, as one of the trio of main presenters (alongside Iain Lee), she is herself - the ultimate 90s girl.

Away from The 11 O'Clock Show, Daisy is a photographer, specialising in style pieces. She has worked for English and US Vogue, the American version of Harper's Bazarr and for Frank.

Previous work includes that appearance as a KGB spy - in made-for-TV movie The Unexpected Mrs Pollyfax, which starred Angela Lansbury.

She also featured in the film Elizabeth, directed by Shekar Kapor, in which she played Amy Ronsart the wife of Joe Feinnes' character Robert Dudley.

TV appearances include BBC1 comedy Smith and Jones - not to mention making the most of her complexion in an ad for Oil of Ulay.

Other films include Parting Shots, directed by Michael Winner and Still Crazy, directed by Brian Goodson.

Daisy has an MA (Hons) degree in English from Edinburgh University.


TELEVISION (includes)

THE 11 O'CLOCK SHOW (3 series) ....................... CO-PRESENTER
Talkback for Channel 4

VENT ..................................................... VOICE OF MR BUCKLE
Big Talk for Channel 4

NEW LABOUR NEW LANGUAGE ................................ PRESENTER
Diverse for Channel 4

Channel 4

FAKING IT ........................................................... VOICE OVER

THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER ............................................. GUEST
Talkback for Channel 4


SHOWBIZ NEWS ................................................... PERFORMER


SUNDAY EVENING SHOW................................................... XFM
SUNDAY SERVICE ................................................. Radio 5 Live
THE IAIN LEE SHOW .......................................... FM103 Horizon
THE MORNING CREW .......................................... FM103 Horizon
THE STEVE WRIGHT SHOW ....................................... Talk Radio
DISCUSSION SHOW ............................................. Liberty Radio


HYSTERIC STUDS .................................................. PERFORMER
Battersea Arts Centre

So now you know.

SERIES 3, SHOW 21 - 9 December 1999 (Thurs, 11:05pm)

End of the series. Thank you, Jesus...

Tommy Vance is still barking the headlines. We had a limited amount of respect for Vance in his DJ days: he presented Radio One staples like The Friday Rock Show and the Top 40 with a dry wit and a vague knowledge of how ridiculous he was. Here, he has been cast as a quasi-reactionary 'voice of the show' type figure. Commenting on Irish footballer Roy Keen's £52, 000 a week pay rise, he adopts a crude, cod-Dublin accent and remarks 'Ah, that's a lotta potatoes...'. Cue a huge laugh from audience. The show's writer's are not racists, but they clearly get a kick out of dabbling with pseudo-ignorant phraseology. Which is somehow worse than if they were doing it for real.

However, Vance is playing a character here, right? Yeah, like Bernard Manning might do. Vance introduces Iain Lee as 'everyone's favourite lanky twat'. Lee probably insisted on this moniker to pre-empt insults of this kind for real. What he doesn't realise is that his office nickname is 'Embryo Head' (yet another thing the writers have stolen from The Mary Whitehouse Experience).

Lee's opening monologue gets a poor reaction from the audience as usual, and he keeps things chugging along with his legendary ad libs ('See what we do? Jokes...' he remarks, before pulling his useless face). Being the last show in the series gives him and Donovan a license to re-cycle old material from previous shows, including pointless jokes about Welshmen 'bumming sheep' and Vanessa Feltz's weight. Again, the irrelevance of the material is what's offensive: instead of subverting and building upon Welsh/sheep-shagger jokes, they simply ride happily on the crest of their inevitability; similarly the Vanessa gag is misplaced - Feltz is guilty of many crimes, but her weight (the easiest and laziest target of all) is not one of them. It would be more interesting if Lee and Donovan were to create characters based on their supposed 'nastiness' (or on the media climate where the first reaction is to lash out at someone's personal appearance), Far too much hard work. Won't get the kids watching.

Much of Lee's material is actually written by Kevin Day, although this is actually the easiest job in the world for Day as he simply sells the production his old material from Radio One's 'Loose Talk'. 'Topical material' which is still usable five years after it was first broadcast. Says a lot, that.

There's some frightful thing about the directors of The Blair Witch Project making a Monty Python-style comedy: no joke, just footage of a woodland, over which a Pepperpot voice screeches a famous line from Life Of Brian. Cut back to the studio and Donovan is laughing her tits off.

Next up is a report from Alex Lowe, a man even more insignificant than Paul Garner. His opening comment about Gordon Brown having 'Oeff all over his fat face' is pure Armando Iannucci (and gets an obedient cackle from the audience on this basis), despite the fact that Lowe has no idea how to pace the delivery which such a vernacular demands. The rest of his report is reliant on both lazy homophobia ('He wouldn't take it lying down' reads Lowe, followed by a shot of some pink marigold gloves) and an adults-behaving-as-children premise (Gordon Brown asking who wants to be in 'his gang'), always the ironically appropriate last refuge of the childish comedy show.
Even excellent comedy can be killed by the act of putting a third party in to react to it
Back in the studio, and Ricky Gervais is 'interviewed'. Gervais is from the depressing Ricky Grover/Phill Jupitus school which says that the only attribute you need to be a successful stand-up comedian is to be working class. Originally Gervais' contributions were pre-recorded inserts of him purportedly improvising a topical A-Z of dubious political leanings. Here he's in the studio and plays his material off Lee and Donovan who sit there shaking their heads with dismay. Whatever the merits of his comedy, any half-competent producer could spot the flaw in this set-up a mile off. Even excellent comedy can be killed by the act of putting a third party in to react to it but the situation is flawed anyway by the fact that Gervais is supposed to be a sick, offensive man who shocks everyone with his revolting opinions...but his views are no more reactionary than those already expressed by Lee and Donovan. Indeed, in many cases, he is comparatively less offensive. Not that it worries anyone.

The buffer into the ad break features a parody of the 'Charly Says' Public Information Film cat talking to an animated Iain Lee about Prescott and pies. Here, the kitsch student market is catered for. The previous series had also parodied PIFs and had spent a painstaking amount of time getting the scratchy yellowing picture and oversized captions just right. Shame they never wrote an amusing script to justify the effort.

Part two begins with their special guest, 70s rock star Suzi Quatro. Like all other guests in the series, Quatro is inoffensive but pointless. There is no possible reason why she is on the show - she isn't plugging anything, she has no relevance to a topical event, and most of the audience, cast and crew are too young to remember any of her records. She doesn't even have kitsch value on her side, unlike - say - a minor member of Slade. Undaunted, however, Lee makes a joke about his penis, and the interview descends into masturbation euphemisms very quickly. 'Hey, it's sex with someone you love!' quips Quatro, presumably thinking that the audience will recognise this famous Woody Allen line for what it is. '!' replies Lee, presumably thinking that he can pass the witticism off as his own because the audience is full of South Park fans. Tellingly, Lee's response gets a bigger laugh than Quatro's quotation.
a comedy character that even Felix Dexter wouldn't be seen dead in
After an inconsequential vox pop selection concerning acceptable behaviour for wives, the show ends with a compilation of Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen)'s interviews over the series. Again, it is odd that - considering he is often viewed as the saving grace behind the show, he has produced so little material (in the case of this third series, about 15 minutes of footage). In a further display of barrel-scraping, the first few clips of his interviews with American dignitaries feature Ali G's questions alone; this is fair, since - unlike the Lee and Donovan vox pops - the joke relies on the stupidity of his questions rather than his supposed ability to ridicule's just a shame the audience (not to mention every cunt writing in Time Out) don't recognise this. Unlike Lee and Donovan, Cohen has some sense of pace and timing, and - for a few brief moments (his discussion with economist J.K. Galbraith about selling slippers over the Internet) - it's almost funny. But, again, the sycophantic cackles block out all the pauses, and you become aware that you're watching something distinctly unremarkable. When Chris Morris approached Brixton coke-dealers in Brass Eye, it looked genuinely dangerous (to people who live outside London anyway), but - with Cohen's interview with Bronx street gangs - even the illusion of danger isn't on his side. It's just an amiable gangster chatting to a comedy character that even Felix Dexter wouldn't be seen dead in.

Lee and Donovan tell us they'll be back in the new year. Yes, they will, and they are.


Okay, so what are you going to do about it? Yes, you, sitting there in the cybercafe with the cold coffee and a melted overpriced muffin. We can safely assume that anybody who has read through until the end of this article has more than a passing interest in the future of comedy, yet you have allowed this show to continue. It's up to you to put a stop to it.

FACT: Daisy Donovan came within a gnat's breath of being acknowledged as the 'Best Female Performer' at the Comedy Awards '99. You did nothing except moan about it in the pub.

FACT: Ali G has been hyped, on the basis as being the least unwatchable contributor to a television show nobody really wants, as a cult-hero. The word 'cult' now appears to refer to something that has become popular because somebody lends an overpriced video to his mate at work on the grounds that 'he likes a bit of a laugh'.

FACT: Iain Lee still works in television.

Nobody has actually complained. There have been a few jokey quips (Lee & Herring admonished them live on This Morning With Richard Not Judy for stealing their material; Jonathan Ross made some fey joke at the 1999 Comedy Awards about Iain Lee resembling the Elephant Man; Private Eye referred to it as 'The 11 Viewers Show') but nothing concrete. Channel 4's sop-flinging public access show Right To Reply gave two idiot students a chance to air their views on it's supposed 'offensiveness' but they utterly ruined the opportunity by sitting on a glory-hunting fence and admitting that the show was 'quite good sometimes, especially Ali G...'.

The 'offensive material' is not offensive. It's just a few sad acts swearing a bit. The offensive aspect is that the show exists at all and has become accepted as a new standard of comedy. Imitators are queuing up in their droves - not just 'down the pub' but on TV too. Channel 4's plebgasm The Priory features Jamie Theakston doing vox pops which manage the amazing feat of being worse than Iain Lee's (e.g. asking people who don't speak English what they think of Steps' payment disputes, then pulling a funny face when they don't answer). Just when you think a new low has been reached we descend one step further into comedy hell.

Ali G was subject to a complaint on BBC's Watchdog over the fact that his cash-in Xmas video featured the same material as the compilations spread thinly over the 1999 Xmas TV schedules. Anne Robinson and that other twat on the show basically dismissed this complaint with an attitude that gushed 'Oh, who cares - he's very funny isn't he? Yes he is. Very funny!'. Robinson went on to gush broadly about how she'd recently been approached to be interviewed by Ali G for his new series. See? Everyone's in on the joke. And what a great big fat ugly joke it is too.

 Comment: The Return of The 11 O'Clock Show