Wearing a big collar and pulling your lips taut over your teeth when you smile does not make you a comedian. Yet somehow twee facial contortionist Harry Hill is held up as one of Britain's best jokers. A recent poll by Yahoo revealed that the public want the former medic to take over Jonathan Ross' Friday night chat show slot. Mercifully, though, Hill won't be sucking funds from the licence fee anytime soon because last week he inked a deal that will keep him on ITV until 2012.
Harry Hill’s TV Burp, ITV's comedy centrepiece (this alone should tell you all you need to know), sees Hill deliver tedious, unimaginative thoughts on of the week's television. Where there's scope for a joke he chooses instead to drop a cheap pun, make jazz hands or, better still, wrinkle his forehead to acknowledge a weak innuendo on Coronation Street.
Perhaps a quarter of the clips (presumably sourced by Hill's researchers) are slightly funny. But his remarks add nothing. Hill almost never evolves the gag. Last Saturday's episode saw him add zero funny freight to a clip of Country File where two men stand by a lake and discuss Ruddy ducks. Yes, it's a faintly amusing name for a breed of duck. But your job, Harry Hill, is to take this observation and explode it into proper comedy. Instead, his comments merely acknowledged that calling ducks "ruddy" is a little bit rude. Worse still, he stayed with the lacklustre avian observation for almost a minute, peaking with "I wouldn't mind but he didn't say anything about the flaming geese!" Hilarious. Imagine if Paul Merton tried to get away with such idleness on Have I Got News For You. We'd have Vic Reeves in his seat quicker than you could say, "What are the chances of that happening?"
Bafflingly, a lot of the same people who appreciate great British and American comedy (Curb, 30 Rock, Peep Show) have bought into the man behind the Burp. They think Hill's a genius, and they must be right because he's won comedy awards. It's frightening, like actual grownups guffawing at Lee Evans, the Chuckle Brothers or drought.
Moderates claim that Hill was funny in the late '90s but later lost it. At least back then aimless surrealism was his core shtick; now his formulaic commentary dominates. In fairness, his Reeves and Mortimer lite stuff has infinitely more oomph (last week's L-shaped cow comment was almost worth a laugh) than his tired cracks about television programmes. But his delivery style -- irritating cartoon/ gleeful child -- strips out any depth or edge. While there's something reassuringly unsettling about Reeves and Mortimer, Hill's safe and nice. You'd let him babysit your kids or water your houseplants. That this same man can be hailed as comedy royalty is, frankly, bewildering. Do you agree?