Jack Dee

No Joke

“I hate fat people. Especially the ones who think they’ll get away with it by being friendly…”

Jack Dee used to be funny. Better yet, he used to be horrible; as dry and as cutting as sleeping rough in the Sahara.

Nowadays though he’s a celebrity. After all he was one of the celebrities – the winner ! – who appeared on Celebrity Big Brother.

Judging from his new series, Jack Dee’s Happy Hour, he’s become just another celebrity comic – like fellow former ‘alternative’ comedians from the 90s like Jo Brand, Alexei Sayle, and Lenny Henry –making facile light entertainment that trades on the fact that he used to be funny and cutting edge.

The funniest thing about Jack Dee’s Happy Hour, he told us at the start of the new series, is that it’s not happy and it’s not an hour. (Stop it Jack, our ribs are hurting.)

I knew Happy Hour was going to be a disappointment, one minute after the first episode had started – as soon as he informed us that there was not going to be any material about being in the Big Brother house. Yes, Jack Dee was copping out of dishing the dirt – the celebrity dirt – on his new pals, presumably with the added justification that they had suffered together for charity.

One solitary moment in Celebrity Big Brother showed us a glimpse of what might have been. It came during the second bout of nominations, when Dee cast his vote for Anthea Turner and Vanessa Feltz, sneering that she kept bleating on “about what a good cause it was.”

Turner had gone through hell when she had been nominated the first time, Dee deadpanned with an admirably moribund lack of charity, and he thought it would be “really funny” if she “had to go through it again.”

After that though, Dee couldn’t have been nicer – or should that be more of a hypocrite ? He later said Big Brother was “hell. It was like dying and waking up in Ikea.”

For the most part, he was the kind of luvvie somebody like Dee would normally dread.
“Vanessa contributed more,” he suggested on Parkinson, “because she suffered more.”

We saw him being there for Vanessa and Anthea as a shoulder to cry on when they – gloriously – fell apart.
He was pleasantly blokey with the other (more masculine) contestants – Chris Eubank, Keith from Boyszone, and Brookside gangster, Lindsey Corkhill.

So intent was Dee seemingly determined to be that, for one batch of votes, he even failed to nominate anyone that would express any of his own antipathy – contriving a way to do so randomly (using playing cards), presumably in case he hurt anyone’s feeling. Altogether now: ahhhhh !

The Boyszone fetish he seems to be developing reared its ugly again during the first episode of Jack Dee’s Happy Hour when former Boyszone pretty boy, Stephen Gateley endured five minutes of gentle baiting in exchange for the chance to plug his new single.

Dee introduces it as a chance to “talk passionately” about something they believe in, but, guess what, Gateley just repeated the release date of his single several times.

Even when Dee was being horrible to him (“Stephen comes from a tiny Irish family – of seven. Which shows that at least his mother had a sense of rhythm”), it was all in the nicest, most show-bizzy way. At one point, he even gave Gateley a reassuring little squeeze on the shoulder.

Jack Dee’s Happy Hour is a real pig’s ear of a programme – which is ironic from a man with a face that looks as if it should be hanging upside down in a butcher’s window. It is yet another example of someone at Light Entertainment trying to find a way of a ham-fisted format for a nationally popular stand-up comedian rather than just letting them stand there telling jokes. Jo Brand has the same problem.

Most of Happy Hour is taken up lobbing mild digs at the most obvious topical targets. The most damning thing he could think to say about the Census was the problems it would create in the Beckham household. Targets such as squeegee merchants, Patrick Moore and squeezing wedges of lemon on your food smacked of the sort of 90s leftovers even Ben Elton would decline.

Admittedly, the material about M&S was fairly funny – shrugging off the store’s financial problems on the grounds “why do they need such big shops to sell pants and sandwiches… Yes, big lay-offs at the scratchy pyjamas factory.”

But is faux outrage at the body piercings and general weirdness going on at London S&M club, the Torture Garden though was just the sort of middle aged dross we’d expect from fuddy –duddies like Ronnie Corbett. This impression was driven by the howling canned laughter that accompanied Dee’s every droll remark.

The real Jack Dee would be spinning in his grave.

But I don’t suppose we should be surprised. We can chalk the old Jack off as another victim of celebrity.

His popularity has – like Lenny Henry – rendered his comedy harmless. And Dee’s popularity has never been more obvious.

Before doing Celebrity Big Brother, there were two things that Jack Dee was famous for. First, he was famous for being miserable (“the Glum Meister, Captain Curmudgeon, the Prince of pissed-off-ness” boasts his last video) which, in the comic tradition of Hancock and Steptoe, became the gimmick he started to trade on.

Secondly, he was famous for beer commercials that marketed their product – neither by advertising its wonderful taste or thirst-quenching qualities but by dint of it having something called a widget. It was here that Dee first began to truly cash in on his image as a real Honest John, a Man of the People, a man who told you straight.

Now of course, Jack Dee is famous for having won Celebrity Big Brother – a contest that, like challenging the leader of the Tory party, no half-way decent candidate could lose. The combination of not only winning but escaping the Big Brother compound has made Jack Dee more popular than the Queen Mother.

Winning Celebrity Big Brother, you can be certain, made Jack Dee’s agent about as happy as Dee is (professionally anyway) miserable.

Watching at the time, a lot of people couldn’t understand why six ‘celebrities’ (and I use the word loosely) would subject themselves to such intensive public scrutiny.

The answer, in Jack Dee’s case, at least was obvious.

I mean, being locked in a house for a week with Vanessa Feltz, Anthea Turner, one of the dancing dummies from Boyszone, Loopy Chris Eubank and Lindsey Corkhill… let’s face it, Jack Dee couldn’t lose.

Interestingly, despite his declaration that he found Chris Eubank “the most entertaining man” he had ever met in his life, Jack Dee was one of the people who voted for Eubank’s exit, thus effectively eliminating his only intelligent competition at a stroke.

If nothing else, the Celebrity Big Brother experience provided the sort of material (and the exposure) any comedian would kill for.

My guess would be, time will get the better of him and the next time he plays one of enormous live tours or releases his live video in time for Christmas, we will have finally found out what he really thought of it all.

Certainly his fellow celebrities – like the viewing public – seemed to have no grasp of the concept that Dee was behaving as anything other than one of them.

But Dee was the only celebrity on Celebrity Big Brother to treat the show as an exercise in voyeurism, in which he was not the observed but the observer, studying the others. He even wore his trademark dark glasses a lot of the time to camouflage his reactions/discomfort.

At the same time, whilst the likes of Vanessa, Anthea and the Boyszone boy were laying their thoughts and emotions and private pasts open to examination, Jack Dee gave virtually nothing away.

Even though the whole idea of CBB was that we would see the celebrities in their native captivity, in the flesh, and with their guard down, Jack Dee was on duty from the start.

This was obvious when he pitched up in the Big Brother house wearing his trademark suit, in which, for the most part, he remained.

Combined with those dark glasses, this sent out the subliminal message that Jack Dee was performing.

In his normal life, you will see him strolling round the village in the most anonymous flat cap and Berber jacket, not a smart comedian’s suit.)

He even had the gall to justify escaping from the compound on the grounds that “no-one was enjoying themselves” which was a bit rich given his general demeanour while he was in there and professed desire to leave. (A case of he protesteth too much methinks.)

And he couldn’t wait to get on to Parkinson, chatting away amiably about how his wife and kids reacted to it all.

When comedians start using their kids and the things their kids say at material it’s time to let them go to ITV.

“I know where you’ve been,” Dee’s three-year-old son Miles told him after Big Brother. “You’ve been living in the telly haven’t you. I love that way of seeing the world !”

Such a pity. At his most scathing (to hecklers: “to him it’s a night out. To his family, it’s a night OFF”), Jack Dee could have been a kind of British Lenny Bruce, or a modern Hancock, a genuinely hilarious misanthrope.

But now he’s professionally successful, comfortable, married with four kids, and happily, chattily, so.

Jack Dee – the message of his career seems to be – just isn’t miserable enough anymore. So now it looks as if it’s our turn.