Roy Walker: Goodbye, Mr Chips / Alex Horne: Wordwatching /
We Need Answers / Lunch With The Hamiltons
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 2008

This year sees a comparative explosion (i.e. there are two of them) of old-school comedians whose shows include re-creations of the TV game shows they once compered. I have not yet seen Jim Bowen’s show Look At What You Could Have Won, which features a sequence modelled on his darts-based TV series Bullseye. I have, however, attended Northern Irish comic Roy Walker’s Goodbye, Mr Chips, which combines a gentle trot through his life story with a climactic episode resurrecting his former series Catchphrase. In fact, I must admit that I won a T-shirt by correctly identifying a well-known phrase from a cartoon animation clue. I was trying not to win, honestly, especially as Walker announced that the answer had eluded audiences for several days. I sat muttering it loudly in the hope that people sitting nearby would overhear and make the answer themselves; in the end, though, a combination of loyalty to a fellow Belfastman and sheer impatience led me to blurt it out.

I’m thinking of returning to win two or three more of Walker’s shirts, which I could then stitch together to fit me. For I can state with confidence that I am the most honest critic on the Fringe. This is in a rather specialised sense of the word, however. Comedian Alex Horne’s show Wordwatching is an amusing and fascinating account of his quest to introduce various new words and sense meanings into the English language. One of these is a new sense of “honest”, meaning “fat”. His greatest success so far has been in usage of the word “honk” to mean “money”, but any lexicographer would rapidly notice that the several instances currently in print or media record are all by Horne himself.  Consequently, he appeals for the audience to aid him in spreading the word (literally) and to offer contributions of our own. It’s a show worth a few quid of anyone’s hard-earned honk.

Horne is also one of the trio of comperes of We Need Answers, a late-night quiz tournament in which comedians are the contestants and the public supply the questions, either by texting Horne directly or via the trivia text-message service AQA. I also managed to insinuate a question into the first heat of this year’s tournament, although frankly, “True or false: Beethoven was so deaf he thought he was a painter?” will never rank as one of the great brain-teasers.

There is always the option of making your own break: heckling. Putting down a heckler smartly is of course one of the great skills for a stand-up comedian, but alternative approaches seem to be gaining ground. Last week I saw Reginald D. Hunter try to engage a heckler in intelligent conversation (a forlorn hope, since the guy was almost too drunk to speak), and a friend reports witnessing Ulster-Australian comic Jimeoin adopt the high-risk strategy of dealing with an interrupter by being gracious to them.

And there have been occasions when I have helped others to prizes. Former MP Neil Hamilton and his redoubtable wife Christine are back for their third and (they claim) final year of lunch-time chat shows, each edition of which ends with a party game in which audience members compete for prizes by inflicting mild humiliation on some of the day’s guests. After several appearances with this strangely un-dislikable couple (I am their “resident critic” this year), I now know that whenever I appear, the game will be one in which punters wrap guests in toilet roll, the winner being the one with the most impressive “mummy”; I also know that, under the handicap system, they will produce an extra-large roll of industrial-strength stuff for me to be swathed in. And I usually win, although on one occasion last year they also topped me off, by now immobile under layers of tissue, with an eight-foot python. Honestly.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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