Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Matt Berry

Toast of London, S02E01

By Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews
Objective Productions for Channel 4
Monday, 3rd November 2014

This new series begins with Toast (Matt Berry) at Scramble studios, Soho, where he’s recording a version of the London Underground’s ‘Mind the gap’ announcement. Alongside producers Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif) and Danny Bear (Tim Downie) is ‘Boris Johnson’, who vexes Toast by asking him to say the famously brief phrase with ‘quite a long gap between the words the and gap.’* In the next scene Toast is at home and asks his thespy friend Ed (Robert Bathurst) what his ‘porn name’ is. Ed immediately replies that it’s ‘Posh Dong Minge-Muncher’, but then admits that he’s never heard that to arrive at one’s porn name, ‘you combine the name of your first pet with your mother’s maiden name.’ How nice to be back in the world of Toast of London, where it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the surreal elements and those that only appear super-real because Theatreland in fact is.

In the first category (I think) is Ed’s annual ‘Celebrity and Prostitutes Blow Football Tournament’, in which Toast agrees to take part: ‘Blow football with prostitutes? This sounds right up my rue.’ His nemesis – in blow football as in life – is fellow actor Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), who looks like a colonial-era military man, except for the white turtleneck and werewolf hair.§ Toast’s first choice of prostitute blow football partner is Mrs Purchase (Tracy-Ann Oberman). She’s already agreed to partner Ray, but Toast raises the ante by having sex with her while Ray is passed out next to them in the bed. (He’s hungover, having had a skinful with the anti-gays after a lecture about ‘rampant bum banditry’.) Toast and Mrs P’s slomo dog-style sex is hilarious, with the cross-eyed Toast oddly cartoonish and resembling a dwarf from the new Hobbit film.


However, he has some humiliation of his own to stomach: a part as Charles Dickens that his agent has secured turns out to be a tour guide job aboard an open-top Routemaster for ‘What the Dickens Tours’. For no congruous reason the tour is conducted in what is evidently suburban London, so we get to see Toast out of his Soho comfort zone. Speaking through a megaphone for the benefit of his one passenger, he misidentifies a Belisha beacon as a lamp post, gestures off-camera at what apparently ‘looks like an abattoir’, and confidently asserts that ‘London was built in the thirteenth century, mostly made of straw, then a Great Fire came and knackered the lot.’ Toast’s mood is lightened, however, when he bumps into Purchase – aboard a rival bus, working for ‘Beefeater Anti-Gay Tours’ – and is able to slander loudly Mrs Purchase’s scruples (‘your wife’s a prostitute’).

Later, at the Colonial Club, the tournament is about to begin. Purchase is so confident of victory that he agrees, in the event of his losing, to do whatever Toast asks of him, ‘however disgusting or degrading’. The tournament final, when it comes, is a close-fought thing: Team Purchase wins 10–9, but is then disqualified on the grounds that Mrs Purchase is in fact ‘not strictly a prostitute’, thus handing the victory to Toast and his partner Wendy Nook (Louise Jameson). The episode ends with the forfeit of Toast’s choosing: a third and final bout of lovemaking and pleasure between him and Mrs P.** It’s much like the first, except that this time, instead of being unconscious, Purchase is tied to a chair with his eyes held open by a pair of specula oculi.


* ‘The brevity of the phrase is said to derive from the limitations of solid-state digital recording technology when it was first introduced in the late 1960s’ (Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable).
† Jimbob Cain, in case you’re wondering.
‡ The Toast type in this milieu is quite hard to pin down. He works in showbiz but tells his agent he’s never heard of Gary Barlow or Russell Brand. I think of him as a former Groucho rakehell, who swung from candelabra with YBAs in the ’90s, but never quite had the talent and is now looked upon as an also-ran.
§ The two of them greet each other like Seinfeld and Newman, by simply saying the other’s name through gritted teeth.
‖ The lecture’s thesis is similar to Keith Chegwin’s in Extras: ‘Men have knobs, women have fannies: pop knob in fanny.’
¶ The director must have been pleased with the effect too, because a few minutes later they’re at it again on a bed in Springleys, a soft furnishings shop in the Fulham Road. (This is the opposite of ‘then I got off the bus’ humour: instead of panning out to reveal the inappropriateness of the sex, the viewer knows from the off that we’re in a public place, and the joke is that the other customers pay the lovers no attention at all – almost as if Toast and his world don’t really exist.)
☞ The setting is identifiable as Cleveland Road, W13. The bus travels east past Cleveland Park.
** See ‘House Of Fools, S01E04’ (note §) for a comment on Berry’s pronunciation of pleasure.


House Of Fools, S01E04

By Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer
BBC and Pett Productions for BBC Two
Tuesday, 4th February 2014

Detractors of Vic and Bob’s style of surrealism would have us believe that they merely present viewers with objets trouvés, objects ‘found or picked up at random’ (OED), with emphasis on random in the trivial sense. But, as Stewart Lee has said (talking about The Mighty Boosh) ‘Cynics think free-associating surreal stuff is easy, but it’s much harder than simply putting the word ‘fish’ into normal sentences at random points’. That is, it’s not easy to do it and be funny (and to keep doing it and keep being funny).

So, the seemingly-random-but-not-really object in this episode is Bob’s toupee.* He’s fussing over it because in the evening it’s the presentation of the Wig-Wearer of the Year Award, which he’s already won two years running. Vic is desperate to go too, but Bob is adamant that he won’t allow it. Everything will go smoothly unless, as Vic says, ‘something untoward happens’. No Wig-Wearer of the Year Awards for guessing if it does, particularly since untoward literally means not moving towards something, and plotwise House of Fools contains plenty of scenes of which that could be said. For example, after an argument about the respective merits of straight and curly cheese puffs, Bob patronisingly suggests to Vic, ‘Why don’t you show me what you’ve been doing on your little computer?’ ‘I’ve been up all night working on Photoshop, knowamean?’ Vic replies. What he’s done is attempt to work out what Richard Branson would look like without a beard by getting a picture of Branson and drawing a cross on said goatee. (And not with Photoshop but Paint, by the look of it.)

This episode is called ‘The Wig Affair’, and after the above untowardliness l’affaire side of things hots up: Bosh (Dan Skinner) comes in, proclaims his love for Bob as an excuse not to have to move out, calls him a twat, and, crucially, gives him some ‘bodybuilding juice’. Vic and Bob drink the juice, then see an arthritic rat-weasel-gerbil-bear-beaver-camel thing making off with Bob’s toupee. At this point the juice – which turns out to be a Reeves & Mortimer ’Roids solution – kicks in, and the two of them hulk up. However, Vic smashes a hole in the wall and the rat thing escapes into the flat next door, which belongs to Julie (Morgana Robinson). Following the entrance of Beef (Matt Berry), bearing a warped plastic frying pan and a pair of boots made from a wolf’s penis, Vic goes round to Julie’s to get the toupee.§ He and Julie discuss the longevity of the rat thing and its long-term residency in the block. This prompts some Are You Being Served?-style ’70s flashbacks, but yields no piece. Getting desperate, Bob assembles everyone to discuss possible solutions, and Vic suggests using some more of the pump-me-up juice. After a chemically-enhanced chase they all dive on the rat thing (à la the Croc Botherer) but in the mêlée Bob’s wig gets torn to shreds!

The solution is to fashion a wig out of cheesy puffs (duh!). And with this on his head Bob storms to a third successive victory at the Wig-Wearer of the Year Awards, and L’affaire de Toupet comes to a close.

* And actually, a toupee is more conventionally comic than many of their objects; the pork pie in Episode Two, for example. This is because, if comedy is fundamentally about seeing something that someone is trying to hide, then a snatched rug is its quintessence. Remember Elaine throwing George’s out the window in Seinfeld, or the scene at the beginning of American Hustle?
Knowamean, Vic tells us, is ‘cool for do you know what I mean?’ The iPlayer subtitles put it properly like that in the first place, which brings to mind Russell Brand’s story of someone’s nan who marked her ’Allo ’Allo! videos ‘Hello, Hello’.
‡ Whose ears are supposed to burn at this discussion of shaky, trivial projects, undertaken on little computers? Is it those who Martin Amis referred to as ‘the semilliterate windbags of the blogosphere’? Mea culpa?
§ Of the word issue, Kingsley Amis wrote, ‘The pronunciation of this word is perhaps the only point on which I agree with Tony Benn. It is ISHoo, and to say ISSyoo is a piece of pressi-OSSity.’ True, but for the purposes of comedy Matt Berry has been honing this sort of sibilant preciosity for years (pleaSSure etc.), which here gets an airing with peniSS. Indeed, Berry is so funny that Vic can be seen, not corpsing exactly, but just openly laughing at him.

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