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Is comedy more or less important than sewage management?

Years ago, I was on a BBC shorthand writing course and one of the other guys on the course was a BBC News Trainee and Cambridge University graduate called Peter Bazalgette; there was something interesting about his eyes – a creative inquisitiveness – that made me think he had immense talent.

But he never got anywhere in BBC News.

He ended up as a researcher on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life! and, from there, he became producer on one of the most unimaginatively-titled BBC TV shows ever: Food and Drink. 

He made a big success of that and in doing so, it is often said, he created the new concept of celebrity chefs. He then started his own company, making Changing Rooms, Ground Force and  Ready, Steady Cook amongst others.

His company ended up as part of Endemol and it is Bazalgette who is credited with making the Dutch TV format Big Brother such a big success in the UK and worldwide. By 2007, he was on Endemol’s global board with a salary of £4.6 million.

Last year, I saw another Cambridge University graduate perform at the Edinburgh Fringe – Dec Munro – and he had a creative inquisitiveness in his eyes similar to Peter Bazalgette’s.

Dec currently runs the monthly Test Tube Comedy show at the Canal Cafe Theatre in London’s Little Venice. I saw the show for the first time last night and he is an exceptionally good compere.

I always think it is more difficult to be a good compere than a good comedian and, very often, I have seen good comedians make bad comperes.

Ivor Dembina and Janey Godley – both, perhaps not coincidentally, storytellers rather than pure gag-based comics – are that rare thing: good comedians AND good comperes.

The late Malcolm Hardee – with the best will in the world – was not a particularly good comedian in a normal stand-up spot on a comedy bill – he really did survive for about 25 years on around six gags – but he was a brilliant, vastly underestimated compere as well as a club owner and spotter of raw talent and, as was often said, his greatest comedy act was actually his life off-stage.

Dec Munro has strong on-stage charisma and, judging by last night’s show, a good eye for putting together a bill, combining the more adventurous parts of the circuit – George Ryegold and Doctor Brown last night – with new acts who are very likely to have a big future – the very impressive musical act Rachel Parris

Of course, if they read this, I could have just destroyed Dec Munro’s and Rachel Parris’ careers. There is nothing worse than reading good mentions of your performance and believing them.

And I don’t know where either will end up.

In three years, Rachel Parris has the ability to be a major TV comedy performer. And Dec Munro should be a TV producer. But broadcast television is yesterday’s medium even with Simon Cowell’s successful mega shows. And no-one knows what the replacement is.

Perhaps Dec Munro and Rachel Parris will ride the crest of an upcoming wave; perhaps they will fade away. Showbiz is a dangerously random business. But, then, so is everything in life.

Peter Bazalgette is the great-great-grandson of sewer pioneer Sir Joseph Bazalgette who created central London’s sewer network which was instrumental in stopping the city’s cholera epidemics.

Sometimes handling shit in a better way can be more important than being a successful showbiz performer or producer.

You can create your own punchline to that.

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Filed under Comedy, Television