Sketch comedy is going through a bit of a lean old time on mainstream TV at moment. Messers Mitchell, Webb, Armstrong and Miller are all doing their own thing, and while it's been great to see pilots from Anna and Katy and Totally Tom, it's all very hit and miss* - and very rarely seen on the flagship channels. And as such, the nominations for the Sketch Show award at last night's British Comedy Awards were pretty uninspired - I'm delighted Horrible Histories won, and This Is Jinsy looks fun (I don't have Sky Atlantic...) but Come Fly With Me and a one-off Ronnie Corbett special? Hmm.
But on the stage, sketch groups are doing rather nicely thank you very much, and - as this new show presented by Time Out and the Pleasance at the Lyric Theatre - showed, what's particularly pleasing is that the genre is such a broad church at the moment.
First up were The Penny Dreadfuls, the Edinburgh Fringe darlings who have said once or twice over the past year that they won't be performing together again... thank goodness they're such damned liars, then, because it'd be awful for them to go their separate ways permanently. Back in Victorian attire, Thom Tuck, David Reed and Humphrey Ker showed that it's easy to find the perfect balance between fine writing and awesome improv. If you happen to be ridiculously talented.
Five-man Late Night Gimp Fight are always at their best when do something just a little bit weird, and their strangely sweet foot puppetry sketch proved as much tonight. Not as in-yer-face as their rap about bestiality, sure, but way cooler. As for Idiots of Ants, I don't think the irony that I'm sure is intended behind their "differences between men and women" sketch really translated, leading to a reaction which hovered between subdued and huffy, but their 'Allo 'Allo meets The Wire sketch is a load of fun. It's Pappy's, however, who are the real masters of Bacchanalian revelry on stage, and so it proved again at this show; a dodgy mic providing the little encouragement they need to go off-script and mess about. Just delightful, and I will never, ever tire of their song about gloves. Ever.
The most unconventional stuff of the night came from the four double acts on show. Pajama Men - whom I have praised enthusiastically on this blog before, but still not enough, in my opinion - probably got the biggest reaction of the night, and it was cool to see that their comedy does translate to a short slot. After two narrative shows, it'd be fascinating to see a proper sketch show from them... Anna and Katy's bizarre sketch in which they play South African men who use their weirdly long arms to fly (I did say it was bizarre) rightly went down a storm, and the charmingly shambling, low-key Two Episodes of Mash were a lovely change of pace.
Topping the bill were Will (iam Andews) and Greg (McHugh) who haven't performed together for a few years, and whom I haven't seen perform together at all. If you go back through my ACMS reviews and tweets, you'll probably get the impression that I'm something of a fan of the hugely inventive and very funny William Andrews - and hey, that impression would be 100% accurate - so it was ace to see him in a double act, and being as brilliant as ever.
All in all, a very high-quality night, and one that would quieten the mind of anyone concerned about the state of British sketch comedy. I wonder if there was anyone from the telly in?
* Annoying that I couldn't get through a piece about sketch shows without this phrase popping up somewhere, but at least it wasn't in the usual context...