The best blissfully silly comedy for lockdown

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Looking for some escapist laughs? Here are a few tips, from John-Luke Roberts’ chaotic sketches to Flight of the Conchords’ smile-guaranteed songs

John-Luke Roberts

Stories are “a fantastic way of being lied to”. Nonsense honours the randomness of lived reality. Such is the credo of misfit standup John-Luke Roberts, whose career peaked (so far) with the 2018 set All I Wanna Do Is [FX: GUNSHOTS] with a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy! The set, which wowed the Edinburgh fringe, is both a hymn to absurdism and an inventory of 24 hitherto unknown Spice Girls. There’s a sketch for each one, from That’s Not My Husband Spice to Facts About the Romans Spice and beyond – sketches which crash into and cannibalise one another in a show with all the chaotic energy its title implies. It’s a carnival of invention from our blue-moustachioed host, with a very high hit rate of laugh-out-loud jokes, too. Available from Go Faster Stripe.

Kate Berlant

There aren’t many funnier acts in comedy right now than Kate Berlant, who pulls off the trick of being clever-clever and abundantly silly at the same time. Her semi-improvised live act, mocking her own supposed colossal self-regard, is a must-see. Her online work with soulmate and Search Party co-star John Early is always worth a look, their recent lockdown video Surreal Zoom Call being no exception. Then there’s Netflix’s The Characters, in which Berlant burlesques the art world in character as a sub-Marina Abramović modern-art maven. If it doesn’t deliver the dizzying hit of her standup, the half-hour show (also starring a handful of Berlant’s other alter egos) remains a deliciously daft send-up of big egos with small talents. The Characters is on Netflix.

Remote Comedy from the Paddock

If lockdown is bad news for the live circuit, it’s been a bumper time for armchair comedy fans, with our most creative talents bringing hot-off-the-press new work online and to the small screen. Some of the best – and most joyously silly – can be found at E4’s Remote Comedy from the Paddock. Highlights from its first two episodes include Nick Mohammed – in character as bumptious amateur theatrical Mr Swallow – plotting his return to musical theatre (“I’ve personally had every gig cancelled from last March until 2029, I think – which feels a bit much!”); Ellie White and Natasia Demetriou as out-of-work actors on a downwards spiral; and Lolly Adefope auditioning to play “black James Bond”. In each case: a hoot. On YouTube.

Lazy Susan

It’s a great moment for a comedy-watcher when an act graduates from good to great before your eyes. That’s what happened to double act Lazy Susan (AKA Freya Parker and Celeste Dring) two summers ago, when their tongue-in-cheek #MeToo show Forgive Me, Mother! stormed the fringe. Its irreverent spirit, and a few of its sketches, survive in their 2019 BBC pilot, one of a handful of BBC Comedy Shorts (Tim Key’s gorgeous Wonderdate among them) worth revisiting under quarantine. Dring and Parker have since had a series commissioned – for which this cheerfully ridiculous 15 minutes of crap bowling, chat-ups gone wrong and cackling sandwiches whets a considerable appetite. On BBC iPlayer.

Flight of the Conchords

Only the funniest comedies can raise a smile at times like these. But then, I’d trust Flight of the Conchords to amuse me at the apocalypse. Their songs, their self-mockery, their Kiwi deadpan – it’s a blissful brew. But the TV version has nothing on Flight of the Conchords live – and their HBO special, a recording of the 2018 tour, is as good as their live work gets. Old classics like Inner City Pressure and Hurt Feelings jostle with jaw-dropping newbies like Father and Son in a set that’s guaranteed to wash those lockdown blues away. On HBO.

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