Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sponge or stone

“I’ve never seen Star Wars” is fascinating. Originally on Radio 4 and now on the telly, each episode sees Marcus Brigstocke get some celeb to try five things they’ve never done before. So, for example, Paul Daniels reads The Female Eunuch, Clive Anderson tries judo and watches Withnail and I; John Humphreys listens to the work of his colleague Chris Moyles… They then score each new experience out of 10.

It’s a deceptively simple idea by creator Bill Dare, yet - perhaps more than similarish formats like Desert Island Discs or Room 101 – is surprisingly revealing about the celebs who take part.

The thing is, the more they throw themselves into the thing they're doing, the more fun and funny they are. Newsreader Emily Maitlis punches her way through her first video game; John Humphreys tries moonwalking and is so impressed by Michael Jackson that he says he’ll be going to see him in concert…

It’s also often surprising. Maitlis denied that The Godfather and gangster stuff generally is all about family – as its adherents sometimes claim. The wives and kids, she said, are shut out of the room. Instead it’s about the tough guys’ conflicting egos. And there’s little to like or admire about these men.

Maitlis also admitted skimming through The Satanic Verses looking for the controversial, offensive bits. (Like, she said, skimming Lady Chatterley for the rude bits.) On what’s a light-hearted, low-fi comedo-entertainment show, Brigstocke then concisely explains the theological history of the implicit allusion. The audience titters nervously, less out of awkwardness as at having learnt something rather profound.

The celebs don’t have to enjoy the things they’re given to read or see or do, but it’s their attitude to trying new things that is so revelatory. You warm to the ones who give it a go willingly, and who have to think about how their scores.

Then there are the ones who seem to have made their minds up beforehand. Sandi Toskvig doesn’t bother to see the end of her first football match, and has little to contribute but that she found it boring. What does it say about Rory McGrath as a writer of comedy that he’d never seen Fawlty Towers – and then didn’t think it any good? Or that as he explained what it did all wrong, the audience didn’t laugh?

It’s easy to decide what you think of something before you’ve given it a chance. I can think of a whole bunch of stuff that won me over once I’d learned to be less of a prick. And I also realise who odd, how disquieting, it is when people are proud of the things they’ve not seen or read or experienced.

(Relatedly, the Guardian had a bloke tell us what happens in Star Wars without having seen it.)


Adaddinsane said...

It would be on my list of things to watch if I had a TV ... currently I'm missing out terribly.

Am I the only person in the universe who's never really liked Rory McGrath anyway?

Today's verification word is "Puglyzz".


(You just have to shout it.)

Le Mc said...

I always want to listen to this programme on Radio 4 but like everything else, I manage to miss it. :-/

Anonymous said...

I've never read The Slitheen Excursion: I shall remedy that shortly.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the Hugh Dennis one, which seemed rather atypical in that it was about things Hugh Dennis quite fancied doing, rather than huge gaps in his cultural knowledge. It was entertaining viewing, particularly the roadkill man, who was eccentricity in motion.