Television

Is Miles Jupp On Your Guest List?

Publicity photo for Miles Jupp's most recent tour

Miles Jupp excels at many things, but he earns special top marks for his ability to be both an engaging guest and host of comedy panel shows.

There's a lot that could be said for Miles Jupp's talents.

For example, he's a good actor. Yes, you may remember him as Archie the Inventor in the children's TV show Balamory, but he's gone on to play solid supporting roles in many shows and films. In Series 3 of The Thick of It, he was annoyingly good as the annoyingly incompetent John Duggan; he also had parts in Spy and Gary: Tank Commander.

His strongest performance, though, was as the repressed lay reader Nigel in Rev. The interactions between him and star Tom Hollander were tight and well-played, leading to either fits of laughter or tears of sadness (or anger). He's had a few small roles in films such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Jon Stewart's Rosewater, and he's appeared on the stage as well, don't you know. In 2014, he was in Neville's Island, and last year he received good reviews for Rules for Living.

However, this article won't be about Jupp's acting.

His writing is also a subject that could be worth mentioning. He created, wrote, and starred in the radio show In and Out of the Kitchen, a series about the various work and personal kerfuffles that besieged the life of cookery writer Damien Trench. The comedy was both gentle and sharp, and although the television version of the show was not quite as successful, this was frankly due to the fact that the writing was the show's strength -- we didn't actually need to see them on the screen. The smart verbal back and forth between Jupp's Trench and his partner (Justin Edwards) and handyman (Brendan Dempsey) was where the real comedy took place. Jupp also wrote the entertaining Fibber in the Heat, a book about his experience sneaking into the press corps for the English cricket team's 2006 Test series in India.

But I'm not going to be talking about that, either.

Nor will I focus on his stand-up, where he started out and for which he won the So You Think You're Funny? Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year in 2001 and received a Perrier Award Best Newcomer nomination in 2003. And I won't dwell excessively on his poshness, which seems to go hand-in-hand with his stand-up comedy. He does have that air about him, in both his demeanour and voice, and it plays a key role in a lot of his routines:

If you speak the way I do -- you know, properly -- people do make certain judgments about you. If you have a posh accent, a lot of people assume that you must have an easy life. That is not logically the case, let me assure you. Life is not made any easier by the fact that most people you meet already assume you're a bit of a cunt ...

A lot of people hear the way I speak and assume I must be a homosexual. Don't know what the logic is there. I don't know if they assume I've had to learn to enunciate clearly with a mouth full of cocks. I haven't actually, but I do like to think that if push came to shove, I would probably be able to. I don't think that's particularly arrogant.

He's not the only one to play with those assumptions. Fellow comedian Frankie Boyle once introduced Jupp by saying, "He's a comedian who's been on kids' TV, sings in a choir, and looks like that -- the fact that he's not a child molester once lost me a hundred quid."

No, those things won't be the focus here.

Instead I'm going to talk about panel shows.

Panel shows are like comedy Marmite: you either hate them or you will gladly spread them over toast and eat a whole jar for breakfast. I confess I fall into the second camp. I'm happy to remain blissfully ignorant of scripts, retakes, and pre-arranged off-the-cuffs comments. Not all of them work, obviously (case in point: Celebrity Juice), but -- with the right premise, host, and guests -- they're really good fun.

Jupp is always a brilliant guest on panel shows.

Which is probably why he's so frequently invited. He's been a guest on the radio's Dilemma, It's Your Round, So Wrong It's Right, The Unbelievable Truth, and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, on which he hilariously sang an enthusiastic rendition of "The Marrow Song" to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero". On television, he's appeared a number of times on Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You, and has had guest spots on 8 Out of 10 Cats, Would I Lie to You, Room 101, and others.

Part of why he's a good guest is down to his aforementioned talents: he's a clever and funny performer. He's also adaptable: he can be silly or insightful or biting. He engages with the other guests -- obviously the banter between him and his comedian friends flows naturally, but he can bounce well off of anyone, occasionally delivering wicked comebacks or subtle insults (he called Kelly Hoppen MBE a "danger and a menace" who "gets high on forcing children to fight and wrestle" because she used to climb up playground slides the wrong way).

Of course, he still often relies on his poshness as a comedic strategy. He got quite a bit of stick about being out of touch when he was on the music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks; when he couldn't guess the name of a pop song and Noel Fielding said the opposing team knew the answer, Jupp just shook his head dismissively, saying "I'll be honest, that doesn't put any pressure on me -- I'm just not bothered." He's able to use that posh persona to mock and be mocked.

(On a side note: did anyone else find Jupp's feeding Sean Lock spoonfuls of whelks on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown strangely alluring? Or maybe that's just me and I've revealed too much.)

The best thing about Jupp as a panel member is that he really seems to enjoy being there. While other comedians are often just clearly waiting for the chance to deliver their prepared jokes, Jupp listens and responds to what's going on. Sometimes it's simply his genuine smiles and hearty laughter that allow me to believe that it's all just a bit of fun between mates, who've decided to just hang out and be hilarious together for a half hour. Even if the spontaneity is just an illusion, Jupp makes it seem real enough for me.

Jupp has recently moved into the chair's seat on The News Quiz; he took over for Sandi Toksvig in September of last year. It's not the first time he's led a radio panel show; he created and presented It's Not What You Know on BBC Radio 4 in 2011. However, that was just a bit of fun -- guests chose a friend or relative as a partner and then the pairs were questioned on how well they knew each other.

The News Quiz, though, is a different kettle of fish. Considered one of the first satirical panel games and having inspired the TV show Have I Got News for You, it features four guests (usually comedians or journalists) who take a look at the week's news. It first aired in 1977, and its eighty-ninth series (Jupp's second at the helm) began in January of this year.

Before his first episode was broadcast, Jupp admitted it was a big responsibility: "It’s iconic, and that is what is both frightening and exciting. It’s like being told, ‘Here’s this beautiful thing we made -- it’s your turn to hold it, don’t break it.'" (Patrick Foster, "Miles Jupp begins his reign of The News Quiz -- and he's hoping to tweak the guest list", The Radio Times, 18 September 2015). After Jupp's first series, some felt the show had downplayed the comedy aspect, focusing more on the news, but Jupp seems pleased with the changes: "People who talk to me say it feels different, that there is a tonal difference. To them, it sounds as if I am making it my own; that I am pushing things slightly further. There has to be the odd kidney punch" (Harry Wallop, "Miles Jupp: Radio 4 comedy needs the odd 'kidney punch'", The Telegraph, 7 January 2016).

He's a good fit for The News Quiz: although many of the chair's lines are scripted, his delivery works well, and his quick wit means his responses to the guests' answers are smooth. In the episode broadcast on 15 January, as they discussed Cologne's New Year's Eve sex attacks, guest Elis James bemoaned that the problem with the show is that it's "topical and the news is horrendous some weeks ... you know what I like about history? You know how it ended -- you could say 'Okay, that happened' and you could draw a line under it. But the present ... that is horrendous, this is awful."

When he finished, it was clear it was time for the chair to move on, but Jupp let the silence hang before just sighing, "Oh dear." There were plenty of laughs in the episode, but those few moments showed that being able to laugh at the news doesn't make everything all right.

Indeed, Jupp's intelligence allows him to comment on a variety of topics, but he can always joke about his poshness if a pop culture topic takes him out of his comfort zone. Like his stints as a guest, he seems to be having fun on The News Quiz, laughing along with the rest of us.

Whether he's the chair or just a player, Jupp's performances on comedy panel shows have convinced me that he's someone I'd definitely invite to my imaginary ideal dinner party for some interesting conversation and clever quips. If he fancied doing a bit of stand-up, talking about cricket, or bringing along a Champagne & Salmon Box from Fortnum Mason, all the better.

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