Broadcast on Channel 4 -
11pm, 5 August 1998
Written, presented and produced by Jon Ronson
OPENING TITLES AND SNATCH OF TITLE SONG - 'DON'T MESS WITH MR INBETWEEN'
CUT TO FOOTAGE OF GREG PROOPS ON
JON RONSON V/O
Stand-up comedians can seem very hostile towards their critics.
WE FADE UP ON PROOPS' ROUTINE:
And I don't mean t'sound churlish, I've had a lotta
fuckin' luck here - I don't think the critics can hurt,
really, er... me at this point, y'know... 'cos they've
said nothing but that I'm an asshole and should leave for five
years, and er...
CUT TO DYLAN MORAN ON STAGE
JON RONSON V/O
Here at the Edinburgh Festival, it can feel like the battle
lines are drawn between critics and comedians.
WE FADE UP ON MORAN'S ROUTINE:
And of course I cultivate a lot of affection for critics, like
most performers, y'know? I think the word 'critic'
suggests an insect that eats its young for pleasure... y'know?
(Mimes eating) 'Hello, I'm guilty... '
CUT BACK TO PROOPS' SET:
And they're entitled to their opinion n'shit. I mean,
if there weren't critics, er... God, that'd be great, now
wouldn't that just... ?
CUT TO IAN SHUTTLEWORTH REHEARSING FOR
HIS SHOW 'CRITICAL MASS' AT THE PLEASANCE BELOW. (OR MAYBE
IT'S A PERFORMANCE - SO DIFFICULT TO TELL... ) HE STANDS BY A
SMALL TABLE, UPON WHICH IS A SIGN READING 'CRITICAL MASS:
'COMIC GENIUS' - THE INDEPENDENT' (A PAPER FOR WHICH HE
USED TO WRITE - PERHAPS THIS IS A JOKE?) AND A PINT-GLASS OF
PERRIER. HE DRAGS EARNESTLY ON A CIGARETTE.
Well, basically, what it is, you see, is I'm a cretin. The
kind of idiot who'll spend August up here seeing five
shows... (pretends to consult notes, and then returns to the
mic)... basically, what it is, you see, is I'm a
BRIEF SHOT OF RONSON, AMUSED AT THIS GAGLET.
And now, into this uneasy atmosphere, comes Ian Shuttleworth,
the Financial Times comedy critic. Ian's the first comedy
critic ever to make that leap across the divide and become a
And now, oh dearly beloved, I'm here to share the fruits of
my often bitter, sometimes openly immoral, experience with
CUT TO FOOTAGE OF SHUTTLEWORTH
BACKSTAGE. HE APPROACHES A CLUTTERED TABLE, FINDS A HAND-MIRROR
AMIDST SOME DEBRIS, AND BEGINS TO EXAMINE HIS NOSE AND
Ian Shuttleworth has written a comedy routine that incorporates
songs and funny anecdotes about his life as a critic. He's
booked himself a fortnight run at the Pleasance theatre, and
he's allowed us to film his progress.
CUT TO SHUTTLEWORTH IN THE PLEASANCE
COURTYARD, HANDING OUT HIS OWN FLYERS TO UNINTERESTED
Ian's got a head-start over most new comedians. He's
got some very influential friends here - fellow critics, and even
members of the judging panel for the Perrier Comedy
WE SEE SHUTTLEWORTH IN A LUVVIE EMBRACE
WITH A MEMBER OF THE PERRIER COMMITTEE. 'NOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT
FEELS LIKE!' SHE CHIRRUPS.
CUT TO A VAN PULLING UP OUTSIDE THE
PLEASANCE - A MAN GETS OUT AND TAKES A STACK OF SCOTSMAN NEWSPAPERS
INTO THE COURTYARD.
Ian hopes to get some rave reviews and maybe even win the
Perrier Award, like Steve Coogan and Sean Hughes before him. The
most important review of all here is a five-star review in The
CUT TO TWO BACKWATER NOBODIES EXAMINING THE PAPER FOR A REVIEW OF THEIR SHOW. 'BASTARDS!' EXCLAIMS ONE. 'FUCK ALL AGAIN!' SAYS THE OTHER.
CUT TO INTERIOR OF THE PLEASANCE. WE
PAN ACROSS A STAIRWAY TO A SIGN READING 'PERFORMANCE IN
CUT TO SHUTTLEWORTH IN MID-FLOW. THERE
ARE FOUR PEOPLE IN HIS AUDIENCE.
Erm... what it is, you see, basically, is... I'm a cretin.
The kind of idiot who'll spend August up here seeing five
sh... (does 'pretending to consult notes'
joke)... what it is, you see, basically, is I'm a
But things haven't been good so far, and there's been
no review in The Scotsman. Word of mouth hasn't got round
SHOT OF JAMES CHRISTOPHER OPENING THE
DOOR OF HIS EDINBURGH FLAT TO RONSON'S CAMERA CREW. CHRISTOPHER
LOOKS ABOUT 40 AND IS WEARING A BASEBALL CAP.
It's Thursday, and I've gone to see James Christopher -
the theatre critic for The Times and a friend of Ian's. James
is in Edinburgh to judge the Perrier Award.
WE JOIN CHRISTOPHER AS HE POTTERS ABOUT
IN HIS KITCHEN, WASHING UP COFFEE MUGS.
Watching people die on stage is one of the great sports of the
Most comedians only come to Edinburgh so a judge like James
will consider their show. In a few days time, James will judge
CUT TO CHRISTOPHER ASCENDING THE
PLEASANCE STAIRCASE, CARRYING A PINT OF BEER.
One always goes into a theatre with expectation, carrying
hope... and one always leaves depressed. Well... maybe
CUT TO INSIDE OF THEATRE. MARCUS BRIGSTOCKE IS IN MID-ROUTINE:
Has anyone else here got kids? (Mimes lairy posture)
'Not as far as I know'!
WE CAN MAKE OUT THE SILHOUETTES OF
RONSON AND CHRISTOPHER AT THE BACK OF THE VENUE; CHRISTOPHER TALKS
LOUDLY WHILE BRIGSTOCKE CONTINUES:
Don't marry anyone that's entirely beige...
(To Ronson) What time does he finish?
In an hour.
Probably another... oh, makes you fucking sick, another hour of
I've never heard woman answering that question the same way
- it's like, 'Madam, do you have any children?',
'Not as far as I know... ' No, I tell you, though, the real
reason I find hairdresser's a traumatic place, and I'm
gonna come right out of the closet on this one, is because I have a
What a fascinating man!
Well, that's fine. You can make that noise, if you want to.
But I have something I need to tell you. You know that thing about
blokes not knowing where the clitoris is? Big lie - known for
years, just don't care!
ON MENTION OF THE WORD 'CLITORIS', CHRISTOPHER HAS HAD ENOUGH:
See yer later, Jon.
WE CAN JUST MAKE OUT RONSON DOING A
THUMBS-UP 'YUP, SEE YER LATER' GESTURE AS CHRISTOPHER
BACK IN THE PLEASANCE COURTYARD:
I've seen four shows and I've walked out of three. Did
you enjoy it?
No I didn't really...
No, I didn't enjoy it either. Er... that's why I left.
But I've been keeping away from you because...
Was it again the last 20 minutes that you thought were better
than the first 45 minutes?
No, it was all, it was all...
('THAT'S THE WAY IT IS' TYPE VOICE) It was
crap. Jon, that's gonna happen all the time... is that
you're gonna go and see shows, for the first 45 minutes, 40
minutes, you're gonna actually sit there, then the last 25
minutes you're gonna go 'Fuck, I wanna get out of
here... ' And you've just gotta go. Why waste your time,
going to see this crap? Just fucking get out,
CUT TO SHUTTLEWORTH BUYING A COPY OF
THE SCOTSMAN FROM A VENDOR.
Friday. Ian's not been happy these past few days -
there's still no review in The Scotsman. Tomorrow, James will
be considering Ian's show for the Perrier Award. I hope that
James doesn't walk out of Ian's show too - Ian and James
are friends and fellow critics, and I don't want an unpleasant
scene to ensue.
SHUTTLEWORTH FRANTICALLY RIFLES THROUGH
HIS SCOTSMAN. THERE IS NO REVIEW. HE DOES A KING LEAR-TYPE GESTURE
TO THE HEAVENS.
You see, I wasn't caring as much till you started following
me and getting me taking the issue every night. Now the dramatic
tension's escalating and escalating and it's getting to me
as well. (He starts pacing, running his hands through his sweaty
CUT TO CHRISTOPHER ENTERING THE
Saturday. James is half an hour late for Ian's show, which
is in full swing. This isn't a good start.
CUT TO INSIDE OF VENUE. AGAIN, HARDLY
ANYONE IN THE AUDIENCE.
You see... for years, I made no bones about my
corruptibility... y'know, I'd come right out and tell
people, 'Well, you want a positive mention? That'll be a
couple of pints... rave review? Well, that's sexual favours with
a member of the company... '
CHRISTOPHER ENTERS LOUDLY, AND SITS WITH JON AT THE BACK.
Never go to any solo, biographical show performed by an
American actress of a certain age. If you read in the notes - and,
as I did a few years ago - that so-and-so 'is probably best
known for her portrayal Corabeth Godsy in The Waltons', you
know you don't wanna get any closer to it than
CHRISTOPHER CACKLES LOUDLY, IN AN
UNCONVINCING 'HA HA HA HA HA' TYPE WAY, KNOWING FULL-WELL
THAT HE IS MIKED UP.
Genuine example. But, in a late-breaking addition to the show,
the, er... we've got a fine example from Tuesday's Scotsman.
Um, opening paragraph of the... of the review... (shows blown-up
print-out of review to audience)... 'a look at Wallace
Corrothers, the inventor of nylon on the night of his suicide, this
solo performance charts the alcoholism, failed love affairs and
mental illness which led to his despair'. And I know we'll
all be beating a path to that venue!
MORE SYCOPHANTIC SNIGGERS FROM
CHRISTOPHER, WITH MUTTERINGS OF 'THAT'S BRILLIANT'
UNDER HIS BREATH.
But possibly the greatest value-free one-liner ever written
SHUTTLEWORTH UNVEILS ANOTHER BLOWN-UP
PHOTOCOPY, WHICH READS 'LOVERS OF LATVIAN AVANT GARDE DRAMA
WILL LOVE THIS LATVIAN AVANT GARDE DRAMA'. COMPLETELY FAILING
TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS WAS CLEARLY HUMOUR ON THE PART OF THE
REVIEWER, HE READS IT OUT:
'Lovers of Latvian avant garde drama will love this Latvian
avant garde... '
CHRISTOPHER IS LAUGHING SO MUCH,
SHUTTLEWORTH DOESN'T BOTHER FINISHING THE
Later, Ian will identify James' laughter as the turning
point. It gave him confidence and it changed the atmosphere in the
room. It became the moment when Ian finally won over the
WE SEE ALL SEVEN AUDIENCE MEMBERS
APPLAUD PATHETICALLY. CHRISTOPHER IS THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC,
Thanks a lot!
After the show, James announces that he thinks Ian should win
the Perrier Award.
CUT TO THE PERRIER COMMITTEE IN THEIR
POSH BOARDROOM - NICA BURNS AND THE USUAL SUSPECTS.
FEMALE VOICE (OOV)
Er... Ian Shuttleworth?
His material is fantastic. I mean, and h... what he does with it
is... is actually... took me by, completely by surprise, I mean
Ian... some of you may know him, but he's a genuine eccentric, I
can't... I don't understand what he goes on about 99% of the
time in real life, and on stage it suddenly makes sense. Maybe
FEMALE VOICE (OOV)
It sounds to me...
150 shows had been considered for the Perrier Award at this
meeting, and now - thanks to James - Ian is down to the final
CUT TO SHUTTLEWORTH IN HIS HOTEL ROOM.
HE IS STICKY AND FLUSHED WITH EXCITEMENT.
Ah... bugger me, it worked!
BRIEF CUTAWAY TO SHUTTLEWORTH'S
MANTELPIECE - A GLITTERY GOOD-LUCK CARD WITH A PENGUIN ON THE FRONT
BEARING THE LEGEND 'STAY COOL!', AN ASSORTMENT OF COPPER
COINAGE, AND A HALF-FULL (OR HALF-EMPTY) BOTTLE OF
I guess, trading on my status, I thought I'd be able to get
some attention from the panellists I knew, and maybe... maybe parley
it into some kind of... of novelty citation. But serious
consideration hadn't... hadn't occurred to me.
Erm... yeah... again, er... one of the things, that... y-y-you
don't let yourself dream. Because it's so completely at
odds with the likelihood of how reality was gonna pan
CUT TO SHUTTLEWORTH BEING PHOTOGRAPHED
BY EDINBURGH PAPARAZZI. HE GRINS INTO THE SUN, HOLDING HIS PINT
Tuesday. Word of Ian's place on the Perrier long-list has
got around, and now Ian is big news in Edinburgh. Finally, a
Scotsman review has been written by another close friend of
Ian's - Anya.
CUT TO ANYA IN HER HOTEL ROOM. SHE
READS OUT AN EXTRACT FROM HER REVIEW:
'Maniacally weaving facts and anecdotes into a seamless -
and sometimes shameless - stream of witticisms, he explains what
the words on all those publicity blurbs really mean. He gives
hilarious examples of why shows using the words like
'wacky' and 'unpredictable' should be given a wide
SHE IS THEN INTERVIEWED BY RONSON:
He... he deserved a good review, so that's what I gave him.
I tried to keep my personal, erm... involvement to one side and just
continued as a normal reviewer. Dunno whether it worked.
How many stars have you given it?
(WITH AN UNDERCURRENT OF 'I HAVE TO ADMIT... ') I
have given it five...
Out of five. Erm... it was going to be four and a half, but he
said if I gave him five stars he'd never propose marriage to me
again, so, er... I went with it!
Did it cross your mind maybe to put some criticism into the
People still have feelings. You may not have enjoyed all the
show, but there must be some redeeming features there which make
people think, 'well, I can still hold my head up in the street
and not feel like throwing myself under the next bus'.
Erm... and he is... I-I think he's quite a sensitive person as
well, so... (SHRUGS IN A 'WHAT CAN YER DO?' TYPE
WAY)... you have to take all these things into consideration
when you have this kind of power.
BACK TO THE PLEASANCE
I thought Ian would be overjoyed at the news of the imminent
five-star review, but instead he's very angry. Ian's heard
that The Scotsman's editors have been docking stars from
reviews, and Ian's five star review may appear as four stars.
Ian feels this is a terrible injustice.
And as far as I'm concerned, if it comes out and it's
got four then the Pleasance can damn well put the fifth star back
up and stick that on the publicity, and if The Scotsman call us on
it, well I'm perfectly prepared to sing from the rooftops that
they've been buggering about with the copy they've been
receiving from their reviewers, for no readily apparent
Two hours later, and Ian's review finally hits the street.
I'm afraid his success may be changing him - Ian has tasted
glory now, and I don't think he'll be happy until he has
SHUTTLEWORTH HAS READ HIS
Having already been told unofficially by the reviewer that it
was a five star review, it now appears in print as four. Oh yes, if
I were... if I were being rational, I'd be dead chuffed, but,
y'know, the fact is, I know that, as submitted, it was even
better than it's come out as printed. So, yeah... I want it all,
END OF PART ONE
05/08/98, Channel 4