The Now Show’s right notes

Comedy is hard, all agreed? But musical comedy is really hard. The evidence is there; a gazillion comedians, a much smaller cohort of good ones and a handful of those good comedians who make a decent living at it because enough of us watch their TV shows, buy their DVDs or get up and go out to see them live. The Edinburgh Festival often leaves me slightly despondent, as you reflect on the hoard of hopefuls who made you smile over the month but are never likely to bestow that same gift on their building society branch manager. And if you happen to see a musical comedy performer at Edinburgh their odds of success are as slim as a vegan lurcher. Weird Al in the 1990’s almost tortured the fondness of the genre out of me permanently despite growing up with a weekly dose of Morcambe & Wise. I may have a sepia memory of television from the 1970s but there really was a derth for a decade or two of good exponents and I eventually stopped looking. 

Occasionally though you do come across deft new talent. Jennifer Bede and the Pippa Middleton, Everyone’s Looking At My A*se parody was wonderful – and she’s nailed Lady Anna to a tee in her sharp Downton Gift Shop parody. Last night I watched Arthur Mathews and Matt Berry’s wonderful new show, Toast of London and a musical number found it’s way in – it really is a long time since comedy singing has worked on TV.

Tim Minchin has worked hard for his reputation and he gets it right so often but my first stop now is The Now Show on BBC Radio 4, and in particular the brilliant Mitch Benn. The Now Show created by the Bill Dare who also conceived The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Dead Ringers has been a platform for the Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt for 15 years and now in series 41 it’s still relevant and over the last two series, fresher as ever.

Recorded on a Thursday and broadcast Friday, I usually listen on Saturday mornings. So I caught up with this week’s episode early – regular Hugh Dennis is away – so Jon Culshaw is standing in – you’re just willing WIlliam Hague in to the fray! Boris goes to China, good piece by Nathan Caton, Vikki Stone sings it like it is, Julian Fellowes got what he deserves, and a nod to the most pretentious woman in Britain overheard in Waitrose “Darling, do we need parmesan for both houses?”, but the stand- out piece, which is happening more often, was by MItch Benn.

Certainly my favourite purveyor of humourous tones, Benn’s been around for some time; you may have bumped in to him on The One Show or BBC Radio 7 if you haven’t seen him live, despite the concise sketches, he’s at his best on The Now Show. Radio comedy demands precision and punchiness, and this week’s piece on iOS 7 is around 70 seconds long, and perfect radio comedy. If you’ve missed Mitch Benn before this, the time to catch him is Now.

“The greatest sorrow in my life, I swear to highest heaven, I wish I hadn’t updated my iPhone to iOS 7.”

— Mitch Benn, sung, on The Now Show

Click here to listen to the whole episode on BBC iPlayer

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