Friday, February 12, 2010

Barrymore is less

Cards on the table: I like Michael Barrymore. I saw him live at his mid-1980s peak, and I've never seen anybody control an audience like him. The self-destructive urge within him prevented him from becoming one of the greats, but, on his day, he was a stunning performer. As for the Stuart Lubbock thing, the basic, horrific fact is that a man drowned in his swimming pool. However, the same happened to Art Malik, and nobody blames him for what happened. Relative values at work again.

Fast forward to Barrymore's recent appearance on an Irish chat show with right-wing crusader and host Brendan O'Connor. If ever something deserved the description "car-crash telly" this is it. With a strong, intelligent interviewer, Barrymore would be a worthwhile guest. He needs someone to say "Sit down and stop showing off. You're here to have a conversation with me". Brendan O'Connor isn't that man. Barrymore evades every question in the most unsubtle manner. O'Connor should have opened with a couple of softball questions, just to see if Barrymore was in chatty mood. Then, he could have asked about the comedian's fall from grace. Instead, he opened with it, and was met with a rambling and unfunny flight of fancy about being the patron of the Sheep Society, followed by an audience participation version of Charles Aznavour's 'She(ep)'.

From there, getting any sense out of Barrymore was impossible. The male guest (who he?) almost managed it by remembering Barrymore trying to keep a similarly wayward Spike Milligan under control. For a second, it looked like Barrymore was going to respond with a proper anecdote about working with Spike, but he was distracted by a gap in the sofa and the thread was lost again, with Barrymore standing up and asking the audience if they liked his shoes. That this interview should be such a jaw-dropper for all the wrong reasons is a shame, because Barrymore's looking better and sounding more lucid than he has in years. If he sat down, behaved himself and talked like an adult about his life and bad choices, maybe people wouldn't think so ill of him. The odd thing is that his success was based largely on refusing to sit down or behave himself. Barrymore remains constant (the Jedward gag near the end is a genuine flash of the old mad brilliance of the man, and also a fine example of his utter fearlessness on stage), but the context has changed. Pre-Lubbock, the public were happy to indulge him, but the goodwill is no more.


Dave said...

Wow. He was determined not to let that interviewer get to an inch beyond his comic persona. Not that the interviewer tried very hard.

James said...

Never liked him on TV but managed to see him live at the Oxford Union in 2000, was fantastic.

Madame Arcati said...

Disturbingly, I agree with your every word. Something can't be right.