There was a lot more live telly on when I was growing up in the 80s. It all seemed to come to an end once the likes of Shaun Ryder, Jarvis Cocker and Julian Clary had said too many swearwords on the shows.
The programme that really encapsulated the live spirit for me when I was a kid was Friday Night Live. It was this anarchic live show of sketches and comedy hosted by Ben Elton. I watched it every week – if my mum and dad had friends round for drinks or dinner, I’d have the telly on in my room – it was a portable one you could pick up and carry upstairs.
There were so many amazing people who used to be on the show. I remember Fry and Laurie, and Harry Enfield making me laugh. I always forget how influential Elton was for me. I feel like he’s often overlooked as a standup comic by people who just know him more for his TV writing, but I always associated him with that show. He used to wear a shiny suit, and he had this old-world-meets-new-world aesthetic, channelling an American TV host while trying to manage the unpredictable acts and studio audience. It felt to me that anything could happen. I was present when I was watching.
I was only 12 or 13 when it started in 1985, so I probably wasn’t supposed to be watching it – it was a bit naughty. It really informed my future love of live work, though. I love having an audience, where things can happen in the room. Now that gigs haven’t been around for a year, I am really missing that feeling as a punter and a performer. Those TV shows gave access to lots of people who couldn’t make it to live comedy for one reason or another. I can’t think of many other programmes that have since created that sense of being in the room where it’s happening. Maybe Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, even though it is recorded in October and people pretend it’s New Year’s Eve.
Shows such as Friday Night Live and, later, The Word and TFI Friday made me feel like it was the weekend. Especially TFI Friday, which was on at 6pm and then 11pm, so you’d watch it after the pub. That was event telly. I’d be curious to watch it again now because often when you revisit these things, they’re sometimes nowhere near as edgy or cool as you thought. But the sense that anything can happen is so enticing.
Panel shows are now going more in that direction, too. They’re moving away from the combative push against each other and into a much more playful and collaborative mode. Friday Night Live never felt competitive, it just felt like they were all putting on a show. I think shows like Taskmaster feel like that now too. Even the competitive side of Taskmaster is slightly playful and tongue-in-cheek. Or it is to me. Perhaps that’s not as true for Ed Gamble.