I'm afraid that Horne and Corden can only dream of being the new Hale and Pace. I've caught a few editions of Hale and Pace on Men & Motors recently, and they're actually half-decent sketch shows. Proper jokes, good solid comic performances and all the stuff that seems to be an optional extra in a lot of TV comedy now. The lows are pretty low, but the highs consist of good material, put over with gusto. I remember being underwhelmed at the time, but they stand up surprisingly well, especially in comparison to most of what we've been getting in recent years.
Talking of what passes for comic genius now, I've just stumbled across this unpublished article, written for the Oldie's Rant column. The editor decided, probably quite reasonably, that attacks on individuals weren't the sort of thing he wanted to include, and so persuaded me to write about people who take up the bike space on trains with their luggage instead, Anyway, here it is:
Like God and poverty, Ricky Gervais is everywhere. Otherwise sane and rational adults rave about Extras, while believing The Office to be neither as clever nor funny as its creators thought is pure H.M. Bateman material. Sadly, I can’t see or hear him without wanting to put an anvil through my television. Not being a blacksmith and knowing how to switch off, order is maintained, but I still wonder how such a mugging ninny became the saviour of television comedy.
Admittedly, he came in at a perfect juncture, with commissioners actively seeking out the unfunny. Channel 4’s Eleven O’Clock Show was one of the worst comedy programmes ever made and Gervais was the best thing on it. Amid such rubbish, a mediocre comic could only shine.
His stand-up act relies heavily on jokes about race and disability. I can’t work out what winds me up more: being told that something is never a suitable subject for humour or a middle-class white man doing darkie and spaz jokes behind a slender and not entirely convincing veil of irony. He’s just Bernard Manning with a better tailor and worse timing.
His supporters say he does comedy of embarrassment. It seems more to me like the comedy of inflating his ego. When David Bowie appeared in Extras and sang an insulting song about Gervais’ character, it seemed self-deprecating, but the subtext seemed more like “I’m a major celebrity, these are my major celebrity friends who want to be in my hit show. I own entertainment”.
Why do I know so much about his work? I’m a big comedy fan, and I want to enjoy new things. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m missing something? So I watch him, hoping to be dazzled, and each time conclude that everyone else is mad, misguided and stupid. Time to visit Anvils R Us.
Nearly 3 years after I wrote that, people whose opinions I otherwise respect still can't see Gervais for the chancer he is, a man who's made a very meagre endowment of talent go an unfeasibly long way. Am I missing something or is everyone else wrong?