Behind the Televeil
Yesterday I was lucky enough to be part of a live audience for a comedy TV show for Dave, a UK TV channel whose slogan is “the home of witty banter” - I don’t think this latter part requires further commentary from myself. With that being said, it was really interesting to get to see how these “in front of a live audience” shows actually work.
The show is called “Comedians Giving Lectures” and the premise is… well. Exactly what you expect. Three comedians choose the title of an existing lecture, from a TED talk or similar, and put their own spin on it, injecting humour into it along the way. I’d never heard of it, and having watched an episode being filmed, I now understand why - incidentally I walked away from the evening with a refreshed belief that I could actually do a passable job at stand-up comedy.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, it’s not all in one take, and the comedians repeat sections after they’ve done the initial delivery of their lecture, so it can be cleaned up in post. The thing is, jokes are a lot less funny the second time round (particularly the ones that weren’t exactly stellar in the first place), so the crew are constantly reminding the audience to laugh. There was a warm-up guy who wasn’t on TV but got up on stage and told jokes beforehand and in the downtime between shots (who again gave me the confidence that, on balance, I’m actually pretty funny myself) who would also project the most unbearable, over-the-top bellowing laugh at everything quip and quibble in order to encourage the audience to do the same.
Then there was the plant. I was quietly confident this guy was a plant from the get-go given how slick his answer to the question “how would you explain credit card debt to a child?” was, especially given my complete inability to come up with a satisfactory answer, but when they did the second take and it turned out he’d memorised his lines… well that was a bit of a giveaway. The last interesting thing was that the funniest things that happened were by far and away the bits that weren’t being filmed. All the comedians had written scripts that they were reading of a teleprompter, but in the downtime they’d banter with the audience, and when they were set free like that, they were hilarious. Sara Pascoe was hosting the show, so most of what she was doing for the cameras was pretty straight-faced, but off camera she was incredibly funny and similarly Keri Pritchard-McLean had a slew of absolutely salacious gossip about David Beckham’s personal life which was amazingly entertaining and also utterly unbroadcastable. Oh, and for a half hour show (maybe even less with ads), it took about four hours to film.
I’ll never watch a TV comedy show in the same way again. It was an experience I enjoyed a lot, and one I would highly recommend - although maybe try and see a slightly better show than I did.