Britain has a fine tradition of producing clever comedy duos: The Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie to name three of the very best.
Happily, Britons are still rising to meet the standards left by the aforementioned legends: for example Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, David Mitchell and Robert Webb and the outstanding Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller. Graduates of Cambridge’s Footlights, they are not only fine actors but display the same kind of wit from that earlier tradition: Pythonesque sketches, graceful and clever wordplay, ludicrous yet strangely believable characters, lots of dressing up in women’s clothes, madly catchy songs and stupid dances.
Hot on the heels of their successful TV show, Armstrong and Miller are currently on their first major theatre tour together which we caught at Oxford’s New Theatre. Their website calls it an “all-singing, all-dancing theatrical extravaganza of rip roaring comedy.” Well, they would wouldn’t they?
But they were right, it was damned funny. How two blokes were going to pull off two hours of short sketch-based comedy (think of all those costume changes) intrigued me, but they did. When they needed time for scenery or cossie changes, they projected short filmed sketches, one of which (involving a computer game, a rhino, an evil woodpecker and a scantily-clad superwoman) was beautifully resolved in real life at the end.
They wheeled out all their trade-mark characters, We shared a very rude sing-a-long with Brabbins and Fyffe, laughed at the mammoth-obsessed Cavemen, cringed along as a randomly chosen member of the audience was subjected to the examination of Inappropriate Dentist… But the biggest cheers were reserved for RAF Pilots; moody teenagers who speak in street lingo with posh 1940s clipped accents, isn’t it? Keep calm and carry on and shit.
Put it all together and what you end up with is a thinly-veiled series of good old-fashioned nob-gags. Splendid! This intelligent humour. As Alexander said: “If it’s not funny, it’s probably clever.”
Image from Armstrong and Miller website