An Audience With Jasper Carrot, the breakthrough 1977 series for the famous stand-up comedian, saw its premier release on DVD almost thirty-five years since its original broadcast on ITV.
Jasper Carrott’s stand-up routines, once a staple diet of televised comedy during the Eighties and Nineties, have taken a backseat with his last offering, Back to the Front, broadcast over fifteen years ago. Incredibly popular at the time with family audiences, Carrott’s shows have been eclipsed in recent years, and to younger viewers he is perhaps something of a mystery. As such, the DVD release of An Audience With gives a new generation the opportunity to experience the popular performer anew, as a comic talent who defined the new wave of observational comedy which is so prevalent today.
Carrott’s routine naturally evolved over the years, shifting away from its background in music towards performance-based comedy which culminated with starring roles in sitcoms such as The Detectives (1993-97) and All About Me (2002-04). An Audience With, takes us back to late 1977 and the very beginnings of Jasper Carrott after his record hit, Funky Moped (1975). First impressions present a radically different Carrott to the suited gentleman we know today. Fresh-faced with a curly, frizzy mop, acoustic guitar and stripy rugby shirt, he has the appearance of a hastily arrived roadie who has thrown himself together on stage. To modern eyes he cuts an image that is recognisably “student”; sprightly, mildly political, sardonic yet liberally upbeat. It’s just the type of thing you’d expect to see at the Edinburgh Fringe, or guesting on Have I Got News for You. In the late 1970s however, Carrott’s have-a-nice-day, flared-trousers-in-council-houses approach was unheard of, at least on television, and verged on radical for primetime comedy performance.
The six-part series of An Audience With is traditional enough in its presentation. Aside from a brief filmed introduction where members of the public are quizzed about their knowledge of Jasper Carrott (which is void in 1977), the entirety of the show takes place in a studio environment before a live audience. The dressings are typically cheap (it’s a LWT production, remember) with some garish palm trees and a rather shabby curtain that’s seen better days. After a rousing introduction from an unseen, uncredited announcer, Carrott modestly appears between the curtains and begins his set, which consists of a mixture of song and personal anecdote. He exudes warmth and causes genuine belly laughs when retelling his everyday experiences, which include speeding around spaghetti junction, squeezing spots in a mirror and binge drinking in the Channel Islands. His is a form of observational comedy which is far in advance of the stand-up routines of the 1970s, which usually comprised of impersonations, bad taste one-liners and broad double-act sketches. Carrott’s loosely scripted technique, punctuated by songs and recollections of his previous tours gives a genuine sense of him as a travelling minstrel who has somehow lost his way.
It becomes apparent when watching the young Carrott that he’s pioneering a new form of stand-up performance, shifting the balance away from scripted one-liners to a more naturalistic form for story-based performance. There is a sense that anything can happen during his show: He regularly breaks convention by deriding the production standards of the set, or by walking off-stage and sitting with the audience. On one occasion he purposely obscured himself behind a camera, causing the operator and director no end of trouble in finding him. As the credits roll he continues talking to the audience; sometimes he even adds a quip over the ident at the end. There is a sense of tensions relaxing and conventions shifting in this form of showmanship; suddenly the constrictive formality of a suited comedian firing one-liners into a microphone seems very archaic indeed. Within ten years, the casual style that Carrott had helped to pioneer would become the norm.
Throughout the series Carrott is highly engaged with his audience, encouraging participation in each of his musical interludes. He doesn’t single out or rely on the audience to structure his gags, or deride them as is the technique of Frankie Boyle and numerous other stand-ups of today. That is not to say that Carrott is overly “safe” either; there are plenty of good-natured digs towards Brummies and the aristocracy, and when a couple arrive late to the show, he gives them a sharp reprimand:
“Ah. Late arrivals. Good evening. Are you the newly married couple? Nice to see you up an about again. Right let’s get started.”
Whilst the joke is rightly on them for arriving late, he hasn’t probed the individuals for material, nor honed in on their remarks to lift a deriding, malicious laugh. The show, the material, is his own. The audience participate en masse, but they are rarely the subject. The performance comes directly from Carrott’s own observations and experiences. As such, he places himself as the victim and the centre of the joke, causing the audience to warm to him and his honesty in a spirit of good-fellowship.
The collaborative element to his showmanship is rooted in his music and aided in part by his genuine likeability. It’s hard not to warm to Carrott as his observations are accurately presented as experiences so very familiar as our own. His memorable tale about having to sit next to the weirdo on the bus is one which, for me, still resonates today on my commute to work. Indeed, part of Carrott’s success is the timeless quality of his performance and material, which has no doubt assisted in him being one of the nation’s best-loved comic performers.
An Audience With encapsulates the greatness and originality of Jasper Carrott in his earliest form, and is an essential addition to any self-respecting collector of quality comedy.
Technically, Network have delivered a satisfying mastering of the episodes, contained within one DVD. Each episode is presented in its original 4:3 format with mono sound. The audio is suitably clear throughout with no discernable distortion. Picture quality varies slightly, with video noise apparent in the darker elements of the material but on the whole the overall clarity is probably higher on this disc than it was during its original broadcast. Importantly, there are no signs of compression or artefacts. As an added touch Network have included the original LWT idents, which are unrestored but highly evocative of the time in which the programme was made.
Theatre Manager, Writer, Film Photographer & Printer, Reviewer, Reader. Secular biped mammal with own views. © Samuel Payne 2016