Radio review: Concise is the soul of wit, even as it spans over half a century

Why isn’t there more comedy on the radio? It’s a great vehicle for it. For example, unlike radio dramas, which are a more complex business — the actors’ faces and bodies, even the setting or costumes, convey many of the messages in the film. television — in general, a lot of comedies, from monologues to audiobooks, operate entirely on sound levels. You don’t need to include pictures to make people laugh.

ut for some reason, programmers don’t do it enough. Or at least, not enough for my liking; If I was in charge, comedy would make up about 80% of all radio, if nothing more than a distraction from the dreary horrors of much of reality.

To be fair, BBC Radio 4 always flies the comedy flag more than other stations. (Yes we have Callan’s kick on Radio 1 and Mario Rosenstock on Today FM, etc; still not enough in Ireland.)

Just a minute (Monday 6:30pm) is probably the BBC’s top comedy, if not the best. (Though taste in comedy is, more than anything else, very subjective.)

It is hosted by Sue Perkins, who took over in 2020 after the late, great Nicholas Parsons had an incredible 52 years at the helm. If you haven’t heard it Just a minute — where have you been in the last 55 years? — the basic gist is this: this is a game in which panelists have to humorously speak for 60 seconds on a given topic, “without hesitation, repetition, or deviation”.

Opponents can knock someone out, midway through, for silence or stumbling or any of the myriad other sins. Making a case for the interpretation of the rules, like the most naughty of the Jesuits, is interesting.

This week’s show features regular and veteran commentator Gyles Brandreth, along with actress Lucy Porter and comedians Ria Lina and Rhys James. Their list of wildly random topics includes Wordle, the incredible Hulk, fake death, unflattering selfies and “a terrible bottle of wine”, Take That, Harry Kane, revenge, dance swaying and New Year’s resolutions are broken.

There are some pretty good jokes, which often fall outside of the actual “convention”. I liked Perkins’s winged compliments on Brandreth – that he’s so good at buying time with his lengthy “mmmm… like an ad for gravy” – and Porter’s quip about the Take That members have specific jobs: “Gary wrote the songs, Robbie was the charismatic one, and the other three I guess moved the instruments when they were on tour.” James made an interesting observation: that we suggested New Year’s goals to each other, rather than making our own.

All are quite “elegant in Trung Anh”: Just a minute it feels like it might be dreamed of by the light-hearted Oxbridge college students instead, who are smart and nimble, and at the same time enjoy arguing and reciting. You will imagine the pattern guardian readers will enjoy this (while eating organic lima beans and talking about Tories).

Meanwhile, Brandreth’s voice is fruity, rumbling and wailing, he sounds almost parody of a semi-luxury Englishman — think of Stephen Fry’s General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forthbut even more exaggerated.

But there’s nothing wrong with any of that. And while this may not be my favorite kind of comedy, Just a minute is entertaining enough. I guess half a century of fame is pretty hard to argue with. Radio review: Concise is the soul of wit, even as it spans over half a century

Fry Electronics Team

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