You Have Been Watching
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Tonight on Channel 4, I’m a guest on Charlie Brooker’s TV review show, You Have Been Watching. It’s at 9 or 10 o’clock, something like that. I wasn’t sure whether to advertise it on here, since I haven’t seen an advance dvd and I think the chances are high that I’ll come across like a moron. Then again, it makes a nice change from listing dates of poker shows or Only Connects, and might trick you all into thinking that I have magnificent range as a performer.
I don’t know whether I’ll watch it myself. I’m in Cardiff doing Late Night Poker, which goes on very late so I’ll either be in the studio or on a train and I might use my klutziness with the “catchup TV” function as a handy excuse to avoid viewing. I dunno. I dunno. They are terrifying, these shows. I said I’d do it because I am a slavish admirer of Charlie Brooker, I think the man is a genius in several ways. And the production team told me emphatically, “It’s not a panel show! Not a vehicle for comedians! Don’t worry! You don’t have to do jokes! It’s just a conversation, nothing panel-show about it, no comedy required, just come along and chat.”
Then, the night before the recording, they sent me the list of other guests in my episode (comedian Phil Jupitus and comedian Jack Whitehall) and a dvd of a previous episode in which Charlie Brooker spoke the words, and I quote directly: “Time for the terrifying quick-fire buzzer round.”
If that counts as “just a normal conversation”, I’m not bloody going for dinner at Charlie Brooker’s house.
Then there were the chairs. The chairs worried me most of all. I stared at them intently on the dvd. Great vast squashy things. Chairs in which one could not, with any decency, wear a skirt. Chairs from which the feet of anyone under 5 foot 6 would not touch the ground. Chairs in which Kate Moss would look fat. And they ask why women don’t do panel shows! I phoned Ruth, the producer, and told her she was an Uncle Tom. I told her that it was bad enough making me go in there with a couple of alpha males who’d have so many one-liners and comic riffs that I would have to force my way into the conversation if I was going to say anything, and forcing oneself into conversation is most unladylike, so I’d just be a completely silent guest - and now it turned out, examining her horrific set furniture, that I would be a silent and ESPECIALLY SHORT AND FAT guest. A sort of Ernie Wise role, with fewer jokes.
I was supposed to be at the studio at 5pm. At 5.15pm I was sitting on the steps outside my flat, chainsmoking, nearly physically sick from terror, wondering what it would look like if I was completely silent throughout the entire recording (as seemed likely), thinking about what would happen to my career if I simply didn’t show up on the night, calculating how long it would take me to build a canoe. Finally I dragged my sorry, terrified arse into the car and crawled down there.
Weirdly, as it turned out, it really WAS just a conversation. A conversation with buzzers. The host was all nice and hospitable, and other guests weren’t interrupty and abrasive at all. I’ve known Phil Jupitus for a few years but never done a programme with him; I assumed he’d be scary in that context but he wasn’t, he isn’t, he chatted as normally and generously as if we were sitting in a pub, just with extra jokes. So, if anything, I got too comfortable. I curled up on the giant chair as if was the sofa at home, and wittered at Charlie Brooker for so long that only basic politeness stopped him from telling me to shut up. I was like the mad neighbour who corners you at the post box. At one point, during a debate about the merits of 1990s game show You Bet, I even shouted at him. On his own show. When it came to the quiz bit, with buzzers, my competitive streak sprang suddenly to the fore; after two series in the host’s chair at Only Connect, watching impotently as the contestants grapple with puzzles to which I already know the solutions, I suddenly found myself hammering the buzzer as if it was the doorbell on the first day of the Harrods sale, shrieking possible answers, right, wrong, I didn’t care, I was just GREEDY FOR POINTS.
My cooler self, the bit that was floating somewhere far above this strange curled-up wittering woman on the sofa, looked jealously at Jack Whitehall. He had the calm composure of Cary Grant. He was quiet a lot of the time, didn’t fight to speak, kept his own counsel… and then occasionally came in with a perfect little series of comments all in one go, summing everything up, full of jokes. And he’s 21 years old! It’s like he was born in the shape of a perfect panel show guest.
Anyway. I dunno, I dunno. With kindly editing, maybe I’ll look vaguely normal. If not… would total stubborn silence have been better? Only the iPlayer will tell me and I might avoid it. But if you find yourself watching, please remember they told me I didn’t have to be funny. And I am a professional, I always do what I’m told.