Fringe Online 2020
Each week unemployed comedians Steve N Allen (The Mash Report) and American turned Brit comic Erich McElroy (Good Morning Britain) present the day’s news AND solve any problems you throw their way. They’ve got time to think about these things since they have nothing else to do.
The premise of the show is that members of the public send in problems, via social media, for Steve N Allen and Erich McElroy to solve. Whilst they are waiting, they discuss world events, politics, pandemics and life under lockdown.
This is an unusual double-act, an American and a Brit. Steve drives the show, managing the content, timing and acting in the sketches. Erich interjects, discusses the various stories being covered, asks questions and does the housekeeping. There are clear differences in comic styles, Steve tends to be darker and slightly more savage than Erich, who comes across as cheerier and upbeat, more ‘American’.
They focus on news from around the world, with the George Floyd story taking the lead. The response of Donald Trump to the subsequent breakdown of law and order in the middle of a global pandemic, proved to be a mine of comedic potential. The comments and actions of The President and his team are so extreme that they succeed in turning the narrative back to him. A point that was bought out, through a well-thought selection of clips and some keen observations.
One problem satirists and comedians face, is finding something more outrageous, funnier or more satirical than whatever it is Donald has done. For example, one of his aides, compared The President’s photo opportunity outside the White House with Winston Churchill. Not only is it insulting to Winston, it is patently laughable. It is difficult to trump Trump on that one.
It is interesting to see the subtle comedic and intellectual differences between the two presenters and the show may benefit from more of this. Highlighting these differences would add an extra layer, making more of Erich’s view of British life and culture may add depth to the show.
As for the structure, this is a well-developed show. The clips, whether acted out, audio or shared from the internet were well chosen, provided variety in the presentation and linked the show’s structure. They took it away from it being two guys talking and catered for short attention spans.
With a run time of around 45 minutes, it rattled through. The guys covered a range of subjects, there as a nice visual gag comparing a BA Advert with a Ryan Air one. At one stage they included a discussion comparing live gigs with streamed shows and the importance of laughter. This was nicely illustrated with examples of canned laughter playing in response to some dodgy one-liner puns. It worked.
On the positive side, this show has good material, interesting topics, and slick well-ordered presentation, delivered by two confident performers.
From a viewers perspective, there are some points that Steve and Erich may wish to consider.
While Steve and Erich read viewer comments off of social media, they didn’t solve their viewers’ problems, a premise of the show. Not solving problems didn’t appear to be meant as an ironic joke, if it was I apologise for missing it.
If it wasn’t ironic then perhaps framing the structured segments as problems that require solving may help alleviate a shortfall in viewer contributions. For example; what is an overindulged white racist to do when one of the help kills a black man in front of the neighbours?
Although it’s good to thank those who donated, this takes up a considerable amount of time. From a viewers perspective, there is little interest in watching teacher read the register. Perhaps, it could be shorter, quicker or done by posting list of credits at the end.
The third point to consider is the interaction between Steve and Erich. The slick and organised structure of the show is a strong positive, it makes it appear professional. There is a danger here, in that it can come over as, it’s your turn to do a bit, now you have a go, then back to player 1. Where you have two clever and funny guys, more interaction, chat and making each other laugh may augment the viewer experience.
Exploring the differences between British and American culture could make this show pop, and give it a USP. I can’t think of an Anglo-American double act doing clever comedy. There is much to explore in the cultural and comedic differences between the two countries, consider how much better Coupling was than Friends, as an example.
On a technical point, the presentation of the show is excellent. However, finding the show is more difficult. It is distributed through social media, it did appear in my Facebook Time Line but this relies on limited sharing. A web page and a Comics in Quarantine You Tube Channel may help with distribution, and allow for the genreration of advertising revenue. There is a link at the start of this review, to the show, on You Tube.
This is a good show, with much to recommend it. Steve and Erich have been doing comedy for a long time and they are good at it. Comedians in Quarantine has avoided many of the online traps, delivering a slick format, with ‘sketches’ that are well-acted, well-written and well-delivered. The selected clips augment the unfolding narrative, without it feeling like a ‘clip’ show, which is a neat trick to pull off. Comics in Quarantine solving problems is recommended, even if they don’t solve any problems.