Comics work at be­ing re­spectably funny

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

THEIR Bri­tish faces are as familiar as that of the wo­man on our coins. You’ll prob­a­bly know Ben Miller as the hap­less Howard Steel from the three se­ries of The Worst Week of My Life . Alexan­der Arm­strong was most re­cently seen along­side Caro­line Quentin, also in three se­ries, of Life Be­gins , first on the ABC and lat­terly on the Seven net­work.

Like the Univer­sity of Melbourne sketch com­edy mafia that in­cludes the likes of Michael Veitch, Magda Szuban­ski, Santo Ci­lauro and Rob Sitch, Arm­strong and Miller met while they were at Cam­bridge. Ap­par­ently both were in the fa­mous Cam­bridge Foot­lights, where they be­gat the com­edy duo Arm­strong and Miller.

Four sea­sons of the television show Arm­strong and Miller which, like The D Gen­er­a­tion , grew out of those for­ma­tive univer­sity days, went to air be­tween 1997 and 2001, and the duo re­united for this se­ries in 2007. An­other se­ries is thought to be in the wind for 2009.

So what’s it all about? Well, it’s full- on sketch com­edy: not a mil­lion miles from things such as Fast For­ward , Full Frontal and even Com­edy Inc when it was still funny, but with a de­cid­edly Bri­tish bent, as it were.

Not far from re­cent Bri­tish hit That Mitchell and Webb Look ei­ther, and wouldn’t you know, David Mitchell and Robert Webb went to Cam­bridge and they all met in those whacky Cam­bridge Foot­lights re­vues.

Like some of the Aus­tralian shows men­tioned above, es­pe­cially Fast For­ward , the sketches in Arm­strong and Miller have a habit of con­tin­u­ing in episodic frag­ments.

I can’t say that I laughed my­self sick or peed my pants over any of them, but they are re­spectably funny, in a chuck­le­some if not ex­actly laugh­out- loud way.

In­deed, the set- ups are of­ten fun­nier than the jokes. Tonight’s open­ing rou­tine trans­poses the by now rather hack­neyed monchrome Nazi com­man­dant sketch with our he­roes an­swer­ing back in very con­tem­po­rary ‘‘ val­ley’’ speak but with ter­ri­bly Bri­tish ac­cents in­stead of Cal­i­for­nian ones, hence:

Com­man­dant: ‘‘ When you were shot down you were on a re­con­nais­sance mis­sion over the sub­urbs of Mu­nich. What were you look­ing for?’’

Miller: ‘‘ You know, places to bomb and stuff, like, fac­to­ries, or some shit like that.’’

It doesn’t al­ways work. What sketch com­edy pro­gram does? But what Arm­strong and Miller bring to the com­edy ta­ble are healthy imag­i­na­tions and ter­rific comic ver­sa­til­ity.

I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you be­cause the el­e­ment of sur­prise is vi­tal in com­edy such as this, but you can look for­ward to loose par­o­dies of CSI and Star Trek , and a run­ning gag about a bored po­lice­man stuck on a horse, goaded by his BMWe­quipped col­leagues.

Ian Cuth­bert­son

Cam­bridge chums: Alexan­der Arm­strong, left, and Ben Miller

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