“A year into lockdown, here we are,” says Just the Tonic supremo Darrell Martin, whose Covid travails have been offset by the success of this online format, Working from Home. Launched last May, it’s been pulling in viewers by the thousand – and tonight’s edition sustains the momentum. Its USP is a new “pub quiz type thing” from Johnny Vegas, which is as chaotic as you’d expect. But that’s just one section among many in this three-hour sprawl, ranging across standup sets, Matt Forde’s Boris Johnson tribute act, and loose-hinge Jason Byrne playing a trumpet in the toilet.
It’s great fun, and closer in spirit than most digital offerings to the real-world comedy club experience. The Zoom audience, visible to the acts (“Dale, stop picking stuff out your teeth, I can see you”), is highly involved. Paul in Southampton, swilling gin from a football-sized glass, is practically star of the show. That’s only partly because Byrne is headlining. Sat in his loo, parping gameshow theme tunes on a toy trumpet, the Irishman always puts his audience centre stage, a policy it was fascinating to see mapped on to a digital format.
It still works – even if the audible burble from home viewers threatened to drown out his act. It was 11.30pm by now. Had viewers tuned out after the earlier Show Within a Show section – three acts and a compere, wrapped up within an hour – they’d still have had bang for their buck: Cally Beaton playing the fiftysomething vamp, Hal Cruttenden spoofing his self-absorption, and Chris Turner improvising rap – brilliant if, at Zoom close quarters, oddly anxiety-inducing.
But they’d have missed Vegas in viking helmet, brandishing a Donald Trump piñata and touching himself up with a robot claw. “Alright Darrell, I’m getting the sense that you’re rushing me now,” our host protests when prodded to fulfil question-master duties. A quiz of sorts, and a few technical gremlins, ensue. But this is the kind of show – loose-fitting, open-hearted, in-for-a-penny – that can absorb a few hiccups. “I’ve been busy booking live gigs,” Martin tells us at the end, “they’re coming back soon!” Not, I hope – a new sentiment for me – at the expense of this.