Today’s entry starts with an If-Then statement, that occurs as a result of this question: Are you, dear reader, familiar with The Fast Show?
To some of you that’s going to seem like a dumb question, because you know every Ted and Ralph gag and have been impersonating Jazz Club’s Louis Balfour for nearly two decades. But I’m aware that there’s a whole new generation growing up online who’ve never seen it – and I’m never sure how well it did in America (where it was in any case known as Brilliant). Anyway, if the answer is yes, then you may skip the first of the embedded clips I’ve posted here (unless, of course, you’d like a quick reminder of how funny that lot could be with the right material). If the answer is no, then I strongly recommend you watch both, in order, because otherwise you’re going to get very confused.
I can’t work out why no one’s thought to do this one already. It seems like such an obvious joke. Actually, it is an obvious joke, because we were making it back in 2008. As soon as ‘The Stolen Earth’ had aired, complete with its view of the multi-tentacled, one-eyed ‘insane’ Dalek Caan (resembling the lovechild of Cthulhu and TMNT’s Krang), the internet forums were on fire trying to work out whether the Tenth Doctor might actually be regenerating next week. But sandwiched between all the remarks about Billie Piper’s teeth and whether David Morissey’s Christmas role was going to get an early showing, there was another thread of discussion doing the rounds – doesn’t Dalek Caan sound incredibly like Johny, the manic-depressed artist?
Higson and Whitehouse’s oft-imitated sketch show always was a little patchy, of course. On the one hand, it gave us the likes of Denzil Dexter, Ted and Ralph, the Offroaders, Jesse the country bumpkin and Rowley Birkin QC. On the other hand, Chris the Crafty Cockney was irritating to a point, and that Suit You gag wore out its welcome in episode two. It was also far too reliant on catchphrase humour, and spawned a wave of paler imitations. Without The Fast Show there would arguably be no Little Britain, and the world would be a nicer place.
But Johnny the Nice Painter was one of my favourites. The payoff to his trigger word – the cry of “Black! Black! Black like a SOUL!” – was wonderful even when you knew it was coming (and in later episodes his wife Katie apparently did, and it was always fun trying to watch her desperately circumnavigate). Higson times his rants to perfection, and Arabella Weir is always nicely understated. We live in sensitive times as far as portrayals of mental health are concerned – recent headlines are testament to that – and it would be interesting to see whether something like this would get the green light today, but even bearing that in mind, Johnny’s condition is too ambiguous to really cause offence.
I put this together over three or four evenings – time I really should have spent tidying the house, but if it took longer than usual it’s because I was experimenting a bit. The first thing you’ll note is the ring modulator on Johnny’s voice. It didn’t really work without it, the artist’s tones being slightly too squeaky to really compete with the other layers of sound. Results (thanks to Audacity and a bit of help online) were reasonable, although the modulated laugh track sounded ghastly, so – with unavoidable exceptions – I’ve kept its use to a minimum, splicing in the equivalent spots from the unaltered original. Then I worked with some isolated audio tracks, which enabled me to dip in and out of the dialogue from Davros, the Doctor and the Supreme Dalek without having to worry about score – which I added in later, using cues from earlier series. The result is one of the cleanest edits I’ve produced in a while, certainly the cleanest from anything in the New Who canon.
Structuring the thing was a bit of a bind. I still worry that it starts too slowly, but the expository conversation between Davros and the Supreme Dalek felt like the only logical point at which to begin. You needed to have the other characters interjecting, so I isolated as many instances of ‘Dalek Caan’ as I could and then spliced them between Higson’s rambling. I then had no idea of how to finish the thing, so I blew them all up, because that usually seems to work.
When I showed it to Emily, she said “So, now you have these audio tracks, are you going to be going back through the other stuff you’ve made and redoing them?”
I looked around at the cluttered hallway, the unhoovered carpet and the pile of ironing.
“I might,” I said, “but today is not that day.”
Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.