iPlay-Ha! Examining BBC iPlayer’s Comedy Shorts

Rob casts his eye over the BBC's collection of iPlayer comedy shorts, feat. Bob Mortimer, Reece Shearsmith, Morgana Robinson and more...

Proving that it’s for more than just catching up on that episode of Orphan Black you missed because your mum phoned wanting to know if she should put a sticker over her laptop’s webcam “in case hackers might see me putting in my credit card details”, BBC iPlayer has this week launched a series of 6 online-exclusive original comedy shorts, under the vaguely Soviet-sounding banner title, Original Comedy Shorts.

It’s another toe-dip into content created exclusively for the BBC’s electronic attic: Auntie Beeb has stuck an Elastoplast over her webcam, typed ‘give me comedy’ into her computer, and this is the result.

And, like a cheap pillow, it’s comforting but also vaguely disappointing. Partly because it’s all established comedians piloting the fun rather than up-and-coming talent. Yes, it’s a treat to see bona fide chuckle-folk such as Meera Syal, Reece Shearsmith, Matt Berry, and Bob Mortimer (who’s behind 3 of the shorts), but a few new faces would have been welcome, especially as BBC Three, typically the home of emerging talent, is soon to be turfed out of its digital parents’ spare bedroom to go live in an online studio apartment overlooking the BBC Food website.

At about 7 minutes apiece though, these shorts are something good to watch on your morning cattle-class commute, but also seem purposely time-tailored for people who need a laugh while sitting on the toilet, which when you think about it is a throughly neglected audience. Ever tried to get through even half an episode of Mad Men while on the loo? Your legs will have gone to sleep before Roger Sterling’s sunk his second vodka. Or, er, so a mate told me. An attempt to watch Game Of Thrones might result in death.

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So which of this pixellated pic n’ mix is worth your valuable eyeball time? Without needing to feel the chill sting of morning porcelain upon cheek, I’ve sifted through them for you.

First up, Channel M, where impressionist and short-lived darling of Channel 4 Morgana Robinson spoofs the modern sausage-making machine of TV programming with a fast-paced set of sketches that include Miley Cyrus on The Undateables, ‘Celebrity Forward Roll’, and even that perpetually half-cut couple on Gogglebox. It’s nothing at all ground-breaking, and it could have appeared on telly screens any time in the past fifteen years, but this is a great showcase for one of the best impressionists on UK screens. Morgana’s lampoonings are all well-observed and impeccably executed. For its variation, rapidity, and Robinson’s eye for detail, it’s probably the best of the lot.

Lone Wolf is a Nature mockumentary (scripted by Bob Mortimer) that’s really just a vehicle for fruity-voiced Matt Berry to pour his mellifluous tones all over stock footage of wolves, in the manner of a sweary Attenborough. Think Toast Of London‘s Stephen Toast narrating a nature documentary, except without Clem bloody Fandango interrupting every three minutes.

Thanks to Berry it’s an amusing audio fondue, except instead of bits of bread and crudités, it’s phrases and crudities such as “The elk is lame, it’s as crippled as shit”, and “The wolves accelerate quickly, to 40 MILES PER WOLF HOUR!” being slathered in Berry’s camembert vocals. Tasty and hilarious.

In the proto-sitcom Foxageddon, Mickey Flanagan stoves in a cheeky fox’s bonce with a tin of beans, and then suffers a Cat Bin Woman level of media outrage that extends as far as The White House. It’s as much a jab at the ravenous ouroboros of the 24 hour news cycle as it is that of a stay-at-home comedian’s life and the life of the urban fox. How much you like it will depend almost entirely on what you think of Flanagan as a comedian (either ‘funny enough to make you dry heave’, or ‘funny as a dry heave’) but it is worth watching just to see the ‘media outrage’ sequence. And if you make it to the end you’ll be punished with a credits sequence layered over two foxes rutting away like two deckchairs clattering against each other in the back of a van. And if you watch it all that probably says more about you than the state of comedy.

The Case Of The High Foot plays like a lost Smell Of Reeves & Mortimer sketch (unsurprising as this one is also written by Bob Mortimer), which will be fun to some and as bewildering as waking up as a cockroach to others. Filmed as a grainy black & white matinee feature and set in a doctor’s office somewhere vaguely Teutonic in the 1930s, it sees Reece Shearsmith as a mad doctor with curious methods of treating Sally Philip’s nasty case of ‘high foot’. It’s surreal and contains some great quickfire word-play at one point, but lacks the laissez-faire weirdness of House Of Fools and the like.

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Amid such lunacy, Meera Syal’s Playback is a down-to-earth dark comic tale in the form of an uncomfortable interview with a vain Bollywood star and her ‘playback’ (the woman whose voice is dubbed over her in songs), played by Syal. It’s insightful and well-constructed, but feels like something that was cut from the Goodness Gracious Me reprisal for being slightly too long and for doing such a good job of making the viewer feel awkward. It’d probably be much better as a more involved Sky Arts Playhouse Presents… piece, rather than something to be quickly electronically consumed during a commute.

Finally, we end on a disappointing note with Frankie Boyle And Bob Mortimer’s Cookery Show (where’s Vic, Bob? Where? Sharing a shallow grave with Donald Cox the Sweaty Fox? Hmm?). It has a good idea behind it – taking a jab at how heavily TV is influenced by social media and Reithian remits – but falls flat as Mortimer and Boyle lack such chemistry you’d have to lob a beaker of potassium between them to get any kind of reaction going. It does however give you most of the ingredients for a Lancashire Hotpot. So there’s that.

A mixed bag of mirth then, but hopefully there’ll eventually be more in future, with different faces and new ideas. Don’t feel like you need to rush to watch any of these right now. According to iPlayer they’re all available for the next 11 months. So save them for the next time you have 7 minutes to spare and need a laugh. Whatever you might be sitting on.

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