The Jam Factory is a pleasant, if a touch over-priced little restaurant cum bar cum arts centre on the station side of Park End, and the Boiler Room there is a nice place for a one-man show, or, indeed, a comic sketch duo. Not too hot, not too loud. Nothing too challenging. Which about sums up the evening, really.
Perhaps I have been spoilt, but it is a little while since I have felt as uncomfortable watching a sketch show as I did with Mullins and Gladwin’s Are You Having a Laugh?. Not that they were offensive. One thing that these cheerful, well-groomed men are not is controversial. Nor did they lack energy; clearly they enjoy working together, and their broad grins and good humour in the face of minor prop malfunctions was endearing. Theirs is a friendly, gentle set.
So gentle, in fact, that I began to get the odd impression that they were deliberately shielding us from the full force of their humour, cushioning their punchlines in such a thick layer of build-up and ex-post facto exposition that any punch the lines might have had dissipated entirely before the blackout. If they were trying to protect us, they probably needn’t have bothered.
They made the unfortunate mistake of opening with their strongest material. Much of this relied on mime, and both of them, Gladwin especially, display entertaining flexibility and energy of movement. There were indeed some perfectly well-executed, respectable physical gags interspersed throughout the show. But that is what they were; respectable. Belonging to a safe, almost conservative canon of Twentieth Century Humour.
The whole performance seemed to belong to another era, in a way which cannot now be pulled off without a near-lethal injection of irony. I, for one, have never seen a workman in a brown raincoat outside a Guy Ritchie film, and oddly I think even Messrs Mullins and Gladwin must be too young for the phrase ‘She’s a bit of alright’. Their jokes come from an earlier period in the evolution of sketch comedy, but without the abrupt, stylised delivery of the music-hall. This, perhaps, is why their cartoonish physicality plays such an important role. Granted they are not attempting naturalism, but there is something naturalistically flabby about their script. The only time the intellect of the audience is challenged is when a red herring is thrown in, some extraneous, irrelevant piece of information which must be carefully ignored for the sketch to have any meaning.
It is telling that at one point the incidental music was the theme to Fawlty Towers. It was, no doubt, a diet of shows like this and The Two Ronnies which inspired their entry into sketch comedy, but unfortunately without the writing of a Cleese or a Corbitt to back it up, this stuff just falls flat in 2011.
There is a future for these men in children’s television; perhaps when the Chuckle brothers finally leave our screens their hour will come; it’s clean, visual, clearly signposted, daytime stuff. Nothing to frighten the horses, and no jokes younger than that expression. With this in mind, though, they might find their niche audience amongst pensioners. They’ll never give anyone a heart-attack, after all.