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Tube Talk: When Talk Show Hosts Attack

TUBE TALK: A weekly TV column With John T. Forde

When Talk Show Hosts Attack

When it comes to humiliating yourself on television, noone does it better than the British.

Sure, Americans invented the talk show, but they still believe – bless their trashy hearts – that talking on camera makes them better people. Whether it’s the nice middle-class moms with Hilary Clinton haircuts on Oprah, or white trash teens being cussed out by Latina jailbait on Ricki Lake, talk equals self-validation. I Talk, Therefore I Am.

The Brits have a far more sadistic approach to chat shows. Rather than vying for stardom, UK talk show audiences exist solely to be flayed alive by their hosts. And if TV1’s latest Brit talkshow imports So Graham Norton (Mondays, 10pm), and The Kumars at No. 42 (Thursdays, 10pm) are anything to go by, the thrill of the lash is not dead.

So Graham Norton’s formula, long a staple of Brit TV comedy, is simple but deadly. Find a screamingly camp actor (in this case, Norton, the fruity priest from Father Ted), and set his Evil Queenery on a meekly obliging, badly-dressed live audience.

Julian Clary did something similar in Sticky Moments, purring put-downs with an artfully-raised eyebrow and an insouciant flick of his feather boa. But Norton makes Clary look like Anne of Green Gables - he’s like a coked-up chihuahua with a deathwish.

“How many of you have had sex outdoors?” he yelped in his grating Irish accent, bounding up the studio stairs in his Prada loafers, sniffing for blood. He settled on a woman with a bad perm who’d shagged someone in the toilet at her friend’s party. “Oooh, you’re a naughty vixen, aren’t you?” he chirped, as the woman pleaded with him not to broadcast her confession live. Too late, darling – you’re in Graham’s evil clutches now!

Norton had more luck surfing Internet porn sites and chatting with Masha, a Russian pay-per-view stripper. “Am I making you horny, baby?” she purred in a Eurotrash accent. “I’ve come. Goodbye!” Norton snapped, hitting the “Escape” button.

The verdict? Well, Norton isn’t as funny as he thinks he is, and more vicious than he should be. As my neighbourhood drag queen says, “Always use your powers for good and not for evil, boys.” Norton’s under no such code of queenly honour – you suspect he’s channelling years of childhood bullying and bedwetting problems into a gayboy “I’ll show you!” revenge fantasy. But inexplicably, British TV audiences seem happy to surrender to his sadistic games. How DID these masochists manage to colonise a quarter of the world?

By happy contrast, The Kumars at No. 42 manages to humiliate its guests AND its host. THe brain child of Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal (the crazy kids behind the under-appreciated Brit-Indian comedy Goodness Gracious Me), The Kumars is a weird and fabulous hybrid of talk show, sitcom and stand-up comedy, and it leaves most other TV comedies for dead.

Wannabe talk show host Sanjeev Kumar (played by Bhaskar) has built a recording studio out the back of his parents’ living room. His guests must first be shepherded through the house, plonked on the family sofa, fed samosas and interrogated by his relatives - marriage-obsessed Mother, real estate-obsessed Dad and Sanjeev’s scatological, insanely funny Granny (Syal). “I smell of wee. I meant the French perfume,” Granny told a startled Minnie Driver. Then they all trail into the studio for the live-audience TV interview, where Sanjeev ‘s lounge lizard charms don’t stand a chance against the Kumar Family Assault Course.

If you’ve ever had a particularly embarrassing first date when your parents have grilled your partner on their income, fertility and family connections, then this is the show for you.

While Mum and Dad just want Sanjeev to get married and do well (“Give him some interviewing tips, Parky”, they asked chat show king Michael Parkinson), Granny takes no prisoners and just seems out for a good time. “He’s either gay or he just doesn’t care,” she trilled about her grandson’s failure to marry. “It’s important for mothers-in-law to be humble, agreeable types of people, don’t you think, Minnie?” she smiled, taking a subtle swipe at Driver’s (then) future mom-in-law, the famously self-obsessed Barbara Streisand. “When you all come to stay, you and your husband will have the guest bedroom, and Barbara can have the fold-out sofa!” When Driver tried reading Sanjeev’s Bollywood movie script in an Indian accent, Granny chimed in words of encouragement: “Don’t worry, dear – the accent’s easy. We can all do it!”

Sure, the characters are played as stereotypes, but it’s smart, witty fun, without the bitter aftertaste of Graham Norton’s comic punches. Norton and Granny are both evil old queens, but somehow, acidic one-liners sting less when delivered with a yellow-dentured smile than with an Oirish snarl.

This week, the Kumars are interviewing Graham Norton. Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that he chokes on one of Granny’s samosas and gets married off to Sanjeev.

© Scoop Media

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