Fawlty Towers, Jo Koy, Sukh Ojla, Alex Horne's Football Match - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

Fawlty Towers: The Play. Image shows left to right: Adam Jackson-Smith, Anna-Jane Casey, Victoria Fox. Credit: Hugo Glendinning

Sometimes in the arts, your marketing blurb must also double up as expectation management. Is that the case with the new stage production of John Cleese and Connie Booth's all-time-classic BBC series Fawlty Towers? Let's look:

"Featuring your favourite scenes from the sitcom's unforgettable twelve episodes, this really is the stage comedy event of the year! [...] the play brings together three episodes of the TV series into one storyline: Hotel Inspectors, The Germans, and Communication Problems."

At which point, it's hard not to think "Cleese mate, it's been 50 years, could you not have thought of a single new plotline for these characters?". Instead, this is pretty much a greatest hits package. In the pub after the show, you can discuss how long you think it'd have taken you to paste the script together. Your average audience member will probably clock in around the seven-hours mark.

Still, important to acknowledge the fact that I personally had a lovely time. The acting is all exactly as good as you'd want it to be. As genres go, farce translates onto the stage very well. But most significantly: I watched every episode of Fawlty Towers just once, 20 years ago. So nearly everything landed as if it was new. And I think we can all agree that the source material is a pretty decent body of comedy writing. Once they got to the sections I did remember (which are the sections absolutely everybody remembers) it's notable how quickly my enjoyment waned.

Everybody's mileage will vary with this show, then, and you'll probably already have a solid sense of whether or not you're willing to pay to hear jokes you've likely still got lying around on DVD somewhere. As low-effort scripting jobs go, it works well. It could turn out to be one of the world's most lucrative copy and paste exercises.

Alex Horne's Comedy Football Trophy 2024. Image shows left to right: Mark Watson, Nish Kumar, Charlie Baker, James Acaster, Matt Rose, Mike Wozniak, Mark Olver
Alex Horne's Comedy Football Trophy 2024. Image shows left to right: Mark Watson, Nish Kumar, Charlie Baker, James Acaster, Matt Rose, Mike Wozniak, Mark Olver

Taskmaster creator Little Alex Horne, now, who put on a comedy football match, bringing a whole bunch of comedy faces to the grounds of non-league team Chesham United: James Acaster, Jon Richardson, Sophie Duker, Mark Watson, Tim Key, Ivo Graham, Maisie Adam, Mike Wozniak, Elis James, Alex Brooker and plenty more took part, with Nish Kumar providing commentary (sample line: "Ivo robbing the ball like his ancestors robbed mine").

It was football, then, but remixed with several fun additional rules (see picture below). Despite that, once the game's underway everybody plays it fairly straight, because: comedians are competitive.

The rules for Alex Horne's Comedy Football Trophy 2024

It's pitched as ramshackle Saturday afternoon family friendly fun. Truth be told, it isn't quite as good as the other format Little Alex Horne staged at this football ground a couple of years ago - the Taskmaster Gathering - where all 5000 attendees were competitors and the tasks gradually whittled us down to just one eventual winner. Still, Little Alex Horne is, evidently, good at coming up with formats, and I've wondered in the past if 'inventive remixes of sports' would work on TV, if any production companies happen to be reading. As for this event, it was a fundraiser and the most you were paying for a ticket was £12.50, so complaining too much simply won't do.

Three days later, incidentally, I also happened to be in the studio audience for the next series - Series 18 - of Taskmaster. Which I'm afraid I'm not going to tell you about. Early signs are good though, if you're wondering how it's all shaping up.

Jo Koy

Is Jo Koy in danger of being remembered mostly for his not-entirely-successful attempt at hosting this year's Golden Globes? Well, on the evidence of his recent performance at the Millennium Dome he's certainly not an essential comedian - and the show sure as hell didn't need to be two hours long - but there was fun to be had, once things got going. Recounting the full story of his son's birth isn't exactly striking out new comedy ground, but Koy recounts his own example particularly well here. There's some extremely likeable mucking about with a young guy on the front row. All of which doesn't, unfortunately, counterbalance one questionable section where the 52-year-old seemingly thinks it's worth showing off about his policy of not dating women in their 20s. He also breaks one of the big rules of live comedy. In fairness, maybe US audiences are supportive when a comedian suddenly says on stage "oh god, I'm fucking talented". Here in the UK we would prefer it if you spent a little less time bigging yourself up, and a little more time proving the assertion correct.

Sukh Ojla

If all you've ever seen of Sukh Ojla is her pandemic-era appearance on Jonathan Ross' Comedy Club, you may have reached the conclusion that - whilst she's clearly talented - her humour is maybe a little Royal Variety Performance. Nothing that risks scaring your parents off, put it that way.

All the more pleasing to report, then, that live, Ojla's got bite. Her succinct response to Duolingo not featuring Punjabi in its list of languages, despite its 150 million speakers? "Fuck that racist owl". Following on from that, she lines up an attack on Priti Patel's eyebrows.

Elsewhere, colourism is discussed as a modern and ongoing issue. There's overlap with the remit of excellent podcast/live show Brown Girls Do It Too here, on which Ojla has appeared, and you can easily imagine her co-hosting. She also deserves to have a far wider range of her material aired on the nation's TV screens.


Read previous editions of this column (featuring Rhod Gilbert, Sarah Keyworth, Phil Wang, Jessica Fostekew and Ross Noble).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter. He isn't receiving any advertising money from a certain phone network, so doesn't see why he should stop calling it the 'Millennium Dome'.

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