In a hyper-competitive media world of streaming, multi-channel TV, high-quality witty blogs and the internet, a unique entertainment selling point is more important than ever. But is it wise for a comedian to boast that he can’t speak? Puffins might hope and pray that Nish Kumar should lose the use of his tongue or even his entire voice box but beyond silencing the occasional chronically unfunny ethnic box-ticking BBC lifer will a speechless comedian catch on?
Speaking of speaking, there is a good story of north country raconteur, wit and sophisticate Bernard Manning. You will have heard it before. I will tell it again. Off camera, Bernard regularly ranted that while others of his profession were child molesters, tax avoiders and adulterers, they were still remembered in the honours list whereas he wasn’t. In the silence that followed one such outburst an underling was heard to wonder aloud, “Maybe it was something you said, Bernard?”
Besides a mute Bernard Manning desperate for a gong and a Nish Kumar mutilated about the neck by popular demand, another speechless comedian has emerged, Lee Ridley, The Lost Voice Guy, whose Christmas Comedy Club special was aired by ITV on Christmas Eve at 10:40pm.
Previously Ridley stormed to victory in season 12 of Britain’s Got Talent finishing ahead of second-placed comedy singer/pianist Robert White and Wolverhampton crooner Donchez Dacres.
Born in Consett County Durham, at the age of six months Lee was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and lost his voice. After attending a series of special and mainstream schools, Lee took the legendary Preston polytechnic journalism course (notable alma maters include Kay Burley) and embarked on a career in local newspapers and the BBC. Since 2012, he has performed stand-up and won a BBC New Comedy Award in 2014. A regular at the Edinburgh fringe, the 41-year-old has also starred in and co-written three series of BBC radio’s Ability sitcom.
So how does Lost Voice Guy Lee Ridley make himself heard? Through a Stephen Hawking-style voice synthesiser. The guff states that voice-over artist Dan Pye is the voice donor who recorded six hours of words and infection to a CareProc synthesis machine.
QT Review HQ have their doubts. Everything you see on television is fake and this reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the on-stage voice synthesiser was a prop being prodded randomly to a pre-recorded accompaniment or even a live off-stage voice artist.
So much for the persona, what about the actual Christmas Comedy Club show?
Bruce Forsythe always started his Christmas shows by saying, “Gets earlier every year doesn’t it, my love, kitty, kitty.’ A line audiences loved as they and Bruce were in on the secret that the Christmas specials were recorded as part of Bruce’s other studio work in the middle of summer, as the Generation Game and Play Your Cards Right host preferred to winter in the Caribbean. Whenever Brucie summoned his inner Bernard Manning and monologed off camera about not getting a gong, the advice was always to give up your Costa Rican residency, Darling, and pay some tax over here.
Suffice it to say, a Comedy Club audience unseasonably clad in Christmas jumpers and Santa hats welcomed Lost Voice Guy as he flew onto the stage suspended from two wires and singing Walking In The Air in a voice artist monotone. Once on terra firma Lee, decked in an ‘I’m only in it for the presents’ t-shirt rather than his usual ‘I’m only in it for the [free disabled] parking’, cracked a gag about disability benefits inspectors. His opening monologue was iffy. Santa sounds like an inventory in a garden centre, Hoe, Hoe, Hoe. Throughout this review I’ll try to spare you the groans, tumbleweed and silence emojis at the end of every gag. Sufficient to say there wasn’t one laugh in the whole hour-long dirge.
Delivery consisted of hand signals and facial movements in time with the soundtrack while sat behind the synthesiser prop. Nearly all of the jokes are about disability. Both the delivery and material become tiresome very quickly. Lee leans to the left not because of his cerebral palsy but because he can’t stand the Tories. Much canned laughter. Yawn. The disabled jokes continued thick and boring.
Maintaining the theme of not being able to talk, the first guest was ventriloquist Paul Zerdin and his dummy Sam. Zerdin needs a moustache. You could see his lips moving. Sweary Sam was corny and unfunny. The voices became cleverer when Sam was locked in a trunk and a special effects Harry Potter book was opened. A sweary baby appeared who talked just like Sam while riffing upon the difference between ’twas and tw*t as Zerdin recited The Night Before Christmas in three voices. Break a leg, dear! It was excruciating. Which is odd as Zerdin is a well-established act who won the $1,000,000 first prize in an American version of the Got Talent franchise.
After the break, (don’t go away, if you do it’s a hate crime), part two of the show began with two dancing girls in wheelchairs. Introduced as ‘Adversity’, by this point your humble reviewer felt like disabling himself, especially about the eyes and ears.
By now Zertin and Ridley were on the sofa for a talk show-style Q&A. The carefully scripted interview, another drawback of using/pretending to use a voice synthesiser, was lame with an attempt to draw humour from the idea of ventriloquism as a handicap. Cue the arrival of Lost Voice Boy, a remote control dummy of Lee Ridley with a Geordie accent. By this time Zertin and Ridley were calling each other ‘mate’. Cringe.
The second guest was introduced as an old-school lip-moving comedian. Her lips moved but comedy it wasn’t. Josie Long told us she’s a stand-up comedian by day, which is the wrong time for it. By night she’s a window cleaner, also bad timing but an opportunity for a humourless critique of landlords.
Glasgow. The Orpington grammar school girl and Lady Margaret College, Oxford graduate is an expert on Glasgow, especially the Mean City’s 100 different varieties of rain.
Although unfortunately able to speak and tell ‘jokes’, Josie has ADHD and is also a previous winner of the BBC New Comedy Award.
On the sofa, she admitted to a Christmas weakness for devils on horseback which the rest of us know as pigs in blankets. Presented with a plateful, she sat and stuffed her face with them like a nurse ganneting a patient’s Christmas dinner after wiping out a food bank.
Dara Ó Briain was next, fresh from losing his weekly £30k sleepwalk reading someone else’s gags from an auto-cue on the recently cancelled Mock The Week. His eight-year-olds working in sweatshops routine revolved around wanting his own eight-year-old to bring expensive sports shoes home from school instead of a cardboard rocket. It was about as funny as, well, sweatshops full of 8-year-olds.
Speaking of forced labour in the third world, leftie Dara was quick to defend fellow comedian Jo Lycett on Twitter when the gay Brummy funny man, who had criticised Qatar as a World Cup venue, was revealed to have worked in the despotic Gulf state himself. No mixed motives, obviously. Or are there?
Dara only gigs in tolerant, liberal, modern, pro-LGBTQI++ democracies whose values are instep with his soppy metropolitan Liberalism. Erm. Not. In an excruciating YouTube clip, Dara pleads with his fans to come and see his St Patrick’s Day show, “In of all places, the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai.” “That’s where I’d love you to be as well.” He boasts a previous appearance in the Middle Eastern dictatorship had been, “A hell of a night. Oof, what a night that was.” Stoning gays? Covering women from head to toe in black sheets? Marrying his reluctant cousin? Cutting a camel’s throat without stunning it?
While we’re on the topic, and bearing in mind everything on TV is fake, do you honestly think that every gay on TV really is gay? Seriously? Feel free to ‘in’ any suspects via the unread comments.
Back in the show, there followed a department store joke. True story. A serious thing had happened to Dara and his wife at the jewellery counter. In real life, Mrs Ó Briain is a surgeon. Losing somebody on the operating table would be more likely to get a laugh than one of her husband’s shopping-with-the-wife anecdotes.
Retiring to the sofa, Dara encountered Voiceless Man now kitted out in wig and specs. They would perform a science sketch. At first I thought the gormless semi-paralysed gurn permanently attached to Voiceless’s face was meant to be Going-Postal’s favourite irritating astrophysicist Brian Cox but no, it was Steven Hawking.
“What’s the difference between motor neurone disease and cerebral palsy?” asked the host.
“I don’t know,” quipped the hilarious Irish guest.
“Not your best punchline,” was the non-punchline.
The final guest was Abandoman the rapper, who provided some fully improvised Christmas (w)rapping. Older Puffins may be reminded of Lance Percival’s clever and funny off-the-cuff calypsos. Forget them, this was awful. The guests took it in turn to tell Abandoman what they wanted for Christmas and then he rapped about it, or rather he didn’t. Paul Zerdin asked for a skinny dip off the coast of North Cornwall. What rhymes with St Ives, Newquay or Perranzabuloe? We shall never know. Abandoman didn’t even touch upon Brown Willy (a hill on Bodmin Moor) or Cocks (just to the southeast of Perranporth).
With that, the programme was a wrap. Thank God, it was terrible, zero stars.
All of which begs the question, why are modern-day comedians so bad? Because they aren’t comedians, they’re television presenters. Ridley and Long are BBC Comedy Award wallahs. Posh Dara from posh Bray went straight to Southern Irish national broadcaster RTE after graduating from posh University College, Dublin. By age 20, Paul Zerdin had his own Disney TV vehicle.
Back in the day, nobody except the Queen begrudged Brucie his tax-free pennies as he’d thanklessly trod the boards for sixteen years before becoming an ‘overnight’ success comparing Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium. When finding fame through That Was The Week That Was, Lance Percival was already in his thirties and had previously served as an officer in Egypt with the Seaforth Highlanders. Bernard Manning left school at 14 and was 41 by the time he made his television debut on The Comedians. Long apprenticeships in the real world are not allowed for by contemporary television careerism – and doesn’t it show.
As well as pondering the vagaries of modern-day media, I sit in front of my Mac all day long editing words and surrounded by Worth-Sayings. Likewise, Mlle Veronique, my ship that passed in the night and every Puffin’s favourite French film star, sits in front of hers surrounded by cats and editing film. Her latest painstaking masterpiece, and it is nicely done, I wouldn’t say so if it wasn’t (regular readers are aware of how caustic my reviews can be) addresses Afghanistan. Shown on network French TV the other Sunday, because it clashed with the World Cup final, literally nobody watched it.
That’s show business.
© Always Worth Saying 2022