With their show largely consisting of jokes based on the differing body shapes of the pair, stereotypically camp gay characters and characters from popular culture transplanted into comically unsuitable movie franchises, it’s fair to say the antics of Horne and Corden could be equally at home in the Saturday night schedule of ITV from the early 1980s. With this in mind we’ve come up with a new yardstick for measuring the success of BBC Three’s flagship comedy show. It’s time for:
How it works: Take the first five skits from a 2009 sketch show. Take the first five sketches from an ITV pre-watershed comedy show from the 1980s. Each sketch faces off against each other, with the better of the two receiving one ‘point’. After five sketches from each have been measured, we have our winner. Simple. Effective. Most importantly, quite easy to do. Tonight:
Horne & Corden, episode 2, series one (BBC Three, 2009)
Cannon & Ball, unknown episode from series six (LWT, 1984)
We haven’t seen either yet, and we’re doing it on the level – we’re not going to rig the vote so the BBC Three show loses. We’re not even going to mention how Cannon and Ball had to work their way up to television after years of honing their act and performing in working men’s clubs, whereas Horne and Corden were two actors who had worked together on a popular comedy drama show. So, to round one.
ROUND ONE: INTRODUCTIONS
Horne & Corden:
Corden bounds on, and apologises for the lack of Horne. Midway trough the apologies, Horne announces his arrival from off-camera. The crowd giggles as the camera turns to the delayed Thin One Of The Two. He is revealed to be tied to a bed frame as the crowd whoops with delight.
He hops on stage to encounter a startled Corden, proclaiming how the girl he had ‘been with’ was ‘mad’. Said girl turns out to have been a stalker he’d met on Facebook. He begs Corden to scratch his freshly shaved scrotum as we rapidly re-evaluate our earlier statement about them being suitable for pre-watershed 1980s ITV.
Cannon & Ball:
Tommy Cannon thanks the crowd for their applause, as Bobby conducts the level of applause like an orchestra leader. As Ball proclaims how good it is for a tall and sexy man like him to be there, it is revealed he is actually standing on a box to appear taller than he really is.
Tommy soon notices this, and cheekily milks the situation for all it’s worth, forcing Ball to admit to feelings of inadequacy regarding his height. Tommy orders Bobby to ditch the box, much to the chagrin of his bubble-permed partner. In a fit of pique, Cannon eventually chucks the box off-screen, causing Ball to storm off, only to return in a pair of platform boots. Cannon pretends to see the funny side, and then leads the band into playing the duo’s signature tune. As the pair begin to sing and dance (“laugh me a laugh, grin me a grin”), Ball stumbles and falls in his cumbersome clodhoppers.
As Ball complaints about the unfairness of the situation, Cannon explain the importance of their mismatched physiques to their act. Ball understands this, and apologises. As Cannon smiles in agreement, he begins to introduce the first act (a gospel band, foreshadowing their later act). As he speaks, Ball is raised up in the air, as he is on a wire. Cannon smiles, and walks away, leaving Ball to dangle helplessly in mid-air.
Points: Well, neither gag is going to go down in the annals of entertainment, but both are traditional enough. Cannon and Ball sneak it, purely because they haven’t just stolen a joke from Alas Smith and Jones. Come on Horne and Corden, just because your target demographic weren’t born when Alas Smith & Jones was on air, that doesn’t make it okay. (See here, about two minutes in)
Horne & Corden 0, Cannon & Ball 1.
Synchronised swimming, with a team of women, and our favourite two mismatched funsters.
They perform to the tune of Abba’s Waterloo. The four proper swimmers perform impeccably, while Horne and Corden flail about hopelessly. The television commentator meanwhile plays it straight.
A New York basketball court. Cannon and Ball strut on in their ‘street gear’. Cannon proclaims they’re going to ‘do’ West Side Story. Cannon takes it seriously, while Ball arses about. We’ve got our first ‘comedy gay’ moment of the night, with Bobby delivering the line “Modern day Romeo & Juliet? If you’re expecting me to climb a wall to kiss you… [camply] I just might do!”.
Cannon explains the concept of the two gangs, and Ball duly misinterprets his comment about a gang of Sharks. Cannon calls on his team of Jets, three burly blokes, who scare Ball so much he leaps into the arms of Cannon. Bobby decides to call up his gang of Sharks. An elderly dishevelled man walks onto the set.
Bobby tries to rapidly become a Jet, before being rebuffed, and grabbed by the scruff of the neck by one of Cannon’s minions. The performers struggles to keep in character for laughing as Ball surveys the damage to his T-shirt. The Jets surround the Sharks, and try to scare them via the medium of interpretive dance. In retaliation, Ball dances around in circles in a comedic fashion. Suddenly, the action really kicks off, as it turns out the elderly dishevelled man is actually a kick-ass fighter, who despatches the three burly Jets with ease.
However, the exertion of battling the Jets takes it out of him, and a weary Ball shoves him gently, causing him to collapse on the ground. Cannon and Ball stroll off the body-strewn set to applause, and into the distance. But, it’s not over – as the set uses forced perspective, they need to crouch as they walk ‘up’ the street.
Points: Two similar skits, both relying on traditional set ups and physical humour. Cannon and Ball’s wheezing old man walking onto the set elicited our first audible snigger from either show, and the forced perspective gag at the end sealed it. The Horne and Corden sketch didn’t really go anywhere after the premise of them being two blokes in an otherwise all-girl swimming team was revealed. Another point for Cannon and Ball.
Horne & Corden 0, Cannon & Ball 2.
A mens’ toilet. Horne is standing at a urinal. Corden appears from a cubicle, wearing a large wig, sharp suit, Bluetooth headset and wry smile.
He retreats to his cubicle, flushes it, then runs out and grabs Horne, who is clearly taken aback by his actions as he falls backwards and pisses everywhere.
Corden then shouts “it was me! See ya later!”
Tommy Cannon on stage, about to introduce the next turn. The audience laughs as Bobby Ball walks out, dressed as a Shakespearean king, causing Cannon to join in the laughter.
Cannon pretends to mistake him for the Hunchback of Huddersfield. Bobby proclaims he’s actually here to play Richard III in ‘the Shakespeare sketch’. Tommy Cannon rebukes Ball, revealing this is part of a recurring theme where Ball walks on stage in the wrong costume each week. As Cannon continues to chastise Ball for ruining the show, Ball bursts into tears (“you’ve made me hump wobble! It’s stinging!”). Cannon allows Ball to introduce the commercial break. Ball tries to do this in character, and Cannon gets annoyed.
(Excellently, the rip of Cannon and Ball has the commercials intact. Old Flake ad, one for making your dinner with gas-based 'Cookability', one “they’re tasty, tasty, very very tasty” Bran Flakes ad, Victor Kiam and his razors, Lucozade and Renault cars. Old car adverts are always fun – trying to make a ropey old 1984 model Renault 11 look like it’s suitable for a mid-80s upwardly mobile ABC1? It surely never worked.)
Scores: The Cannon and Ball skit didn’t really go anywhere, but it still trumped Horne and Corden’s urine-based effort. We were quite honestly hoping this was going to be a bit closer, but the match is already over.
Horne & Corden 0, Cannon & Ball 3.
News spoof. This time the Comedy Gay Stereotype is doing a special report on knife crime.
Comedy Gay Stereotype Man tries to get a street gang on side by handing out free packets of Capri-Sun, which is a little bit funny. The sketch ends with CGSM reacting to homophobic taunts from a rival gang by dissing their outfits and questioning their sexuality, and their unwillingness to accept it.
A ballroom dancing spoof. “Ladies and gentlemen! Please welcome Tommy Tuppence, a roadsweeper, and Cynthia Hallworthy, a trainee mud-wrestler!” Borderline sexist pratfalls ensue.
Points: With a sketch that finally shows a little bit of invention and our expectations being quietly confounded, Horne and Corden see themselves back into the reckoning. It’s too late to take the win, but can they make it respectable?
Horne & Corden 1, Cannon & Ball 3.
Corden leaves a shop with some bags and a beard. He holds his bag up to the camera and says “I’ve just bought some cord-u-roys” in a funny voice, then he pulls a silly face.
Int. Golf club. Day. Tommy is at the bar. Bobby enters, dressed as a fisherman.
Fish-based prop gags ensue. Tommy tricks Bobby into buying a round, much to the amusement of the bruised and battered barman, whose appearance is clearly due to this being another running sketch.
The barman is one of those actors who always used to be in things, but only ever in quite minor roles. You know, like that quite posh woman who always pops up in dramas, who acts quite posh for a bit, but then isn’t seen again. Anyway, Ball pokes him in the eyes and walks off.
At a table, talk turns to the morality of fishing, barmaids with ‘big charlies’, the purpose of life and the class system. The talk gets confused, leading to Ball proclaiming how he “wouldn’t want that from a wooly woofter”. Talk drifts to the differences between the sexes, and how Ball has heard that “oysters are bicycles”. “You mean bisexual,” corrects Cannon. Then they go off and try to tap off with some blonde women at the bar, and that’s the end of the sketch. Groundbreaking stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Points: Neither were very good, but at least Horne and Corden’s non-joke was out of the way in one tenth of the time it took Cannon and Ball.
Final score: Horne & Corden 2, Cannon & Ball 3.
Oh well, better luck next week, Horne and Corden. We’re off to try and track down a torrent of h&p@bbc to measure against next week’s episode, so we’ll leave you with the sixth sketch from this episode of Cannon and Ball. It’s a sketch we were really hoping could be used in the comedy shootout itself, but fate was against us. We’re sure you’ll agree it would have been much better than all the sketches we’ve just sat through.
(Oh, and that YouTube caption is wrong, it was definitely 1984, as we remember a nine-year-old us being delighted upon the original transmission.)