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Monday 17th July 2006

I did a day of filming for ITV2's "Best Man Speech", which aims to take some clueless Best Men, give them coaching by professional comedians with the goal of turning them into hilarious public speakers. That's the idea anyway.
Consequently I spent most of this beautifully sunny day sitting on the balcony of a pub overlooking the River Thames, topping up my Tobago tan, chatting about what is expected from a Best Man and watching my two lads carrying out a crazy challenge designed to boost their confidence. This had been the element of the show that had most bothered me. Aside from Chris Morris, who seemed to have a reason for what he was doing, I am not much of a fan of the TV stunt. Were I Chris Morris I might look at the many TV shows that have been influenced by his satirical dealings with public and celebrities and hold my head in my hands saying, "They copied me without understanding me and thus I am partially and unwittingly responsible for this entertainment abhorrations. I do not blame myself, but something inside me dies when I realise that I was a part of this process. Kill me now."
I know this because I feel a bit like this watching Bo' Selecta, because I saw an early incarnation of that Avid Merrion character some years ago which was a blatant and shadowy steal from the Simon Quinlank character that I co-wrote. If we had not created that character then maybe this monstrosity might never have breathed the fictional air that gave it life. Who knows? It's not my fault and yet still I feel culpable and ashamed.
I liked the idea of the Best Man show enough to allow myself the risk of taking part and also with Edinburgh coming up I really need the money. The stunt that I was to witness didn't sound too bad on paper and I liked the idea of helping people with their speeches, so that's how I found myself on this balcony looking down at a man who apparently had both his arms in plaster and was asking passersby to answer the phone that was ringing in his pocket. I couldn't quite see how this was going to help them with their best man speech, but it wasn't really going to make anyone look stupid and I was glad to see that the best men themselves aproached the task with some confidence and in one case quite a lot of glee.
I had pointed out to the producers that persuading people to do things when you are pretending to have a broken arm is not unlike the tactics of Ted Bundy (the thing in Silence of the Lambs where the killer gets a girl to help him lift a sofa into his van and then traps her is one of Bundy's tricks I believe), but he didn't seem to mind.
The trick was slightly spolied by the visibility of the "hidden" cameras, which made me realise how bogus most of these hidden camera shows must really be. People aren't stupid. They spot cameras and understand what is going on. There was also an element of TV lying in that a couple of members of the production team pretended to be passersby (especially in the morning when not too many people were going by) and it's probably worth checking out some of these supposedly real stunt shows and checking whether the same faces start cropping up. But although much of TV is lies, not all of it was and a few people wandered into the trap unawares and either helped our hapless best man or refused to (possibly on the grounds that they thought he might be a serial killer - or at least a pervert trying to get a stranger's hand in his pocket).
And I think the stunt did help the Best Men. The first one was more introverted and reticent, but I think felt good that he had managed to go through this slightly embarrasing experience with a degree of success. The second was more extrovert and confident and he did an amazing job, being genuinely off the cuff witty (in a way that I would have thought was set up if I'd seen this on TV- but it wasn't) and brave. A very hard looking man with a pretty younger girlfriend came by."Can you help me?" asked our man.
"No!" barked the man, almost pushing this invalid out of his way. But his girlfriend took pity, and possibly annoyed by her insensitive and unpleasant lover stopped to help. The Best Man took the piss by having a massively protracted conversation as the girl held the phone up to his ear. The boyfriend had strode away and then been forced to stop some distance up the towpath to await his girlfriend. But his pride was now dented. If he stayed standing there waiting he would look weak and after his initial confident rebuttal he would surely have lost out in the macho stakes if he ended up hanging around for his woman. He hovered briefly and then went on his way, leaving his girlfriend still holding the phone as this spurious conversation continued. Personally I would have been terrified that the hard boyfriend would return and break my legs to give me the complete set, but this cocky young man carried on until the woman finally lost patience and placed the phone into his head brace.
Performing these (75% genuine) stunts did give the fellas some degree of additional confidence and the second guy was buzzing from the experience. As a comedian I get to flout social conventions on a daily basis, but most people don't get to behave in this way and it is thrilling and exciting and opens up a world of possibilities. I suppose I know from the Hercules show that once you have done something like jump out of a plane, then standing in a room full of people talking doesn't seem such a bad thing. And I suppose doing the Hercules show directly gave me the confidence to go back on the stand up circuit, which has been one of the best things that has happened to me in the last two years.
So I was relieved to feel at the end of the day that I hadn't signed up for some "Balls of Steel" style humiliation-fest. Though I felt a little weird about the little lies I had to tell during the course of the day to help the production along and to cut corners. The time-line is being falsified slightly due to extenuating circumstances and to give the impression of progress we shot a little bit at the end of the day that we pretended was a few days after the initial test. It didn't make much difference as my advice was still the same, but one is aware that once you start falsifying stuff willingly it is easy for things to spiral out of control. It's also apparent why Chris Morris managed to con all those celebs into saying such stupid things on his shows. Everyone is hurrying, you're trying to be helpful and don't want to look like a git and so you go along with stuff to make an easy life. You figure that it doesn't matter in this case, but once you get into that mindset there is the possibility that you might end up doing something that in hindsight you regretted.
Because I am in Edinburgh for one of the weddings the producer asked me to pretend that both weddings are on the same day and I have to chose only one of them to go to. I went along with that, even though it's not true. It just helps push the narrative along and explain why I don't go to one of the weddings without going into too much detail. But does lying about it make me a bad person? Because I have gone along with that, will I tell another more serious lie? If anyone ever found out about the subterfuge (I mean how would they, I am very discrete, but you never know) would they think any less of me?
We're not making an important political documentary/expose here, just a light entertainment programme. So does such lying matter? Or is it this kind of attitude that leads producers and performers to go down the route where they make some terrible programme, without thinking about what the implications of their ideas are and say "Well, it's only entertainment. Let's get it in the can and we can move on."
I've got a couple more days filming to do on this, but by the end wished it was a bit more than that. In reality I can't be much of a mentor to these guys (one of the weddings is this Saturday - though I am pretending to work with them both over a four week period - lies upon lies). With a bit of work we could make the cockier best man's speech something amazing I think, but my genuine advice today may have come a bit late and be a little intimidating.
I think it will be a nice enough show, but as I got driven home in my cab I couldn't help wondering if it could be a lot better if not constrained by time and budget. I feel I could have been a more genuine mentor to these guys and the whole thing could have been a bit more genuine.
TV is a lie.
You know this already.
I expect the production team might read this and now edit the show to make me look like an idiot.

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