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Iain Lee ...
 Himself - Presenter / ... (35 episodes, 1998-2000)
Tommy Vance ...
 Himself (33 episodes, 1998-2000)
...
 Herself / ... (32 episodes, 1998-2000)
...
 Himself (26 episodes, 1999-2000)
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30 September 1998 (UK)  »

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Remarkable for the talent it incubated rather than the quality of the show
19 April 2016 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

As a concept, the 11 O'Clock Show had nothing remarkable about it: one of many "sideways looks at the news" shows but intended to have a more adult humour for late-night audiences. It was structured with two or three hosts performing topical gags intercut with sketches from various contributors. The gags for the hosts tended to be mildly amusing (the sort of jokes the host of Have I Got News For You gets to do, only not as good); the real problem were the sketches: often a weak premise would be stretched to breaking point, not just over the course of the sketch, but over a whole series, where the joke would be repeated every episode. The humour also tended fell back on being crude rather than being funny, very much in the vein of the lads-mag humour that had ruled the 90s but was looking tired by this point.

With one exception: Sacha Baron Cohen and his writing partner Dan Mazer got their big break on this show, with Cohen conducting fake interviews in character as Ali G. Sometimes vaguely connected with news stories at the incept, and then expanding to cause confusion on all manner of topics, I don't need to explain how good the writing and improvisation was on these segments, because they're the segments of the 11 O'Clock show that were released to video, repeated in compilations and uploaded to YouTube. It was the show's best segment by default, but also represents some of Cohen and Mazer's best work, more consistent and wittier than the Borat and Bruno characters and far better than the narrative films they ended up working on.

Despite the generally poor quality of the material, there was a lot of budding talent elsewhere on the show who never got to show what they were capable of: Ricky Gervais had a sort of news report sketch he did from behind some portaloos that was pretty bad and Mackenzie Crook was a sometime presenter, sometime sketch artist refining the persona that would eventually be Gareth in The Office. I remember little of Crook's contribution. Other writers and performers included Simon Blackwell, Robin Ince, Jon Holmes, Charlie Brooker, etc.

The show was at its peak quality in the very first series with Fred MacAulay, Brendon Burns and Iain Lee presenting, and went downhill from there, probably more due to a decline in the material than the presenters, though the subsequent team of Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan was weaker despite being more demographically friendly.

The incubated talent may be the 11 O'Clock Show's greatest contribution to the British comedy scene: it gave opportunities and provided networking for a lot of comedy talent who were starting out and had yet to hone their craft.


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