TV is constantly trying to come up with a format to showcase new comedy, but it very rarely works - BBC Three's Comedy Shuffle was great in the first series, but somehow failed to recapture the magic formula second time round, and of course Blunder was just downright terrible. ITV, however, are trying, with this second series of Comedy Cuts, a completely different tact, in that each routine is performed in a different setting, almost like a monologue, straight to the camera without a live audience inbetween the comic and the viewers at home. In the first series some worked better than others, of course, but it's good that they're trying something different.
The second series of Comedy Cuts starts next Tuesday, 11th March at 11pm on ITV2, and it's got a fabulous line-up, including Alun Cochrane, Nina Conti, Scott Capurro, and the fantastic Rhod Gilbert who I had the pleasure of seeing live last night. Also on the bill is a brilliant musical comedian, Tom Basden, who you might also know as a member of the successful sketch group, Cowards. I had a chat with him about Comedy Cuts, musical influences, and the lack of interest in comedians putting on a silly voice...
TVScoop: Comedy Cuts is starting next week - are you performing a few songs?
Tom Basden: The stuff that I recorded with the guys from Comedy Cuts was several months ago now, so I was wondering when it was going to come out. We did a few songs in a cool little piano jazz bar and I think they're going to put one in a few episodes.
TVS: Was it a bit weird performing without an audience?
TB: Yes, although they did get down about five or ten people, their friends, in the background, but yeah it's weird. It's always difficult performing things which are meant to be funny in front of a really small group of people because... well it doesn't really work! But it was ok, you've just got to grin and bear it in that situation.
TVS: Do you think your work will transfer to TV ok?
TB: I hope so! I don't know really. It was written for the purposes of being performed live, so I don't really see why it should be any different. There are a lot of sort of rules about what does and doesn't work with comedy on telly, but it's very hard to say until you try it.
TVS: I suppose Comedy Cuts is different in that it's not filmed in front of a live audience; it's a different format.
TB: No, that's right; it's more like music videos. But then, I don't know which is better. I think sometimes people like to hear laughter to ensure that what they're watching is actually good. But I think when you're changing genre all the time, and changing location all the time like they do in Comedy Cuts, it would probably be really weird if you had audience laughter.
TVS: Stand-up comedy seems to be going through a really good patch at the moment, I was wondering if you had any ideas why that might be?
TB: It's interesting, I feel like live comedy has been really, really good for the last five years, which directly corresponds with comedy on TV being really poor. I don't know why that is, exactly, but there seems to be less correspondence than ever before between the two things. I think there are a lot of good stand-ups at the moment, and I think that what's good is that there are a lot of people who have their own voice, and are coming at it from a different place, and not really writing stuff with a specific audience in mind, which is something I think is always a bit of a mistake. So I feel like there are a lot of people who are getting into comedy who wouldn't have done before. I suppose where I live in London there are a few venues that are really good, like the Hen and Chickens, where they let people perform who would never want to do the Comedy Store or Jongleurs.
TVS: I read a review of your (if.comedy award winning!) 2007 Edinburgh Fringe show [Tom Basden Won't Say Anything] and it describes your work as "silly ideas set to serious music"...
TB: [hesitant] Really...?
TVS: Haha, well I'll let you respond to that then!
TB: No, I guess that's kind of fair enough. They're not all silly ideas, but that's probably fair. It's quite an odd show; I was quite surprised that people seemed to get into it because it's quite weird really.
TVS: That line from the review does suggest that you consider the melodies as important as the lyrics - do you reckon that's right?
TB: Yeah, I think I do, in some cases I do... I mean, I wouldn't say that I'm really good at music, I'm not writing songs that are complicated and difficult, but I think that one of the things that has changed in musical comedy a lot in the last few years is that people are doing stuff that stands up on its own as music, and I think that that *is* quite important, in the same way that a really funny sketch could also pass as a bit of theatre. Someone like Tim Minchin obviously does that - he has really excellent music to go with what he's doing, and I think that it's quite important so that the audience feel like you've put some effort into it. It's also true about how comedy's changed that people are less into the idea of funny presentation than they were before, like wearing wigs and using silly voices. I think people respond to things that seem either more realistic, or just a bit more careful in the way that they're done.
TVS: Do you think your songs have musical influences as well as comedic ones? Or do they come just straight from you?
TB: I guess so, I mean I like people like Morrissey and Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Ryan Adams, people like that, and so a lot of my stuff is quite simple and acoustic, on the guitar or the piano.
TVS: And do you write "serious" songs, as well as the ones that fit into a comedy gig?
TB: One or two. I just think I'd be mortified at the idea of performing [serious songs]. I have great respect for people that do it, but you hear people singing the most mindless nonsense and I just find it really embarrassing that that's all they could think to communicate. So I guess that's part of the reason why I do comedy anyway, because anything I play would turn into a sketch and the same thing with songs; I just find it embarrassing, the idea of trying to write something that isn't intended to make someone laugh.
TVS: Moving onto Cowards, can you tell me anything about the format of the TV show you're working on?
TB: Yeah, it's three sketch shows, and there'll some things which are in each episode and quite a lot of things which aren't. And there'll be animations... we're still working it out, really, but hopefully there'll be a couple of music videos of my songs in there, and some of Tim [Key]'s poems. It'll be a real mixture of stuff.
TVS: And it's going to be on BBC Four, isn't it? I think that's a good place for it really, because wasn't it originally going to be on BBC Three?
TB: Yeah, well, I don't know whether it would have ever made it on BBC Three... I think it's clear now that the sort of thing we do wouldn't fit in with what BBC Three are doing.
TVS: Yeah, I agree. Ok, so apart from the TV show and Comedy Cuts, do you have any touring planned, or another run at the Fringe?
TB: I'm going over to Melbourne in a couple of weeks, so I'm going to have a month there which I'm really looking forward to, but obviously that's not very helpful for people who want to see it but don't live there! When I get back I'm quite keen to do a mini-tour, I'll see how I get on really. I don't think I'll be doing Edinburgh again this year but hopefully I'll do a few things before and after that.
Comedy Cuts starts on ITV2, Tuesday 11th March, 11pm
Videos of Tom Basden's work can be found here