It’s rare to watch a show and during the opening five minutes realise that what you’re watching will probably always remain ‘cult’ – in case you missed it, ‘cult’ is the modern euphemism for “good, but will never be popular”.
I had that experience while watching It’s Kevin. I also had it when watching Limmy’s Show. The similarities don’t end there. Both shows break the fourth wall constantly. Both are fully aware they are television shows. Both engage in surrealism. Both have very small bits set in sparse coloured rooms (mostly white), interspersed between longer sketches.
Let’s clear the deck.
Limmy’s Show is probably the greatest British sketch show of the last twenty years, if not ever. It’s fantastic. Comparing any show to it is unfair, because that show won’t stack up. Even if that show is good – like It’s Kevin is.
It’s great that Kevin Eldon (one of our greatest comic actors) finally has his own show with his voice front and centre of it. It’s great that the BBC is standing behind surreal comedy that is different, instead of the same old crap. I’m really glad that It’s Kevin is airing (and proving unexpectedly popular, or at least Twitter popular – which is very different).
Limmy’s Show feels much different though. Limmy’s Show is very obviously and clearly an auteur’s vision. The show is wholly about Limmy, and the sketches are his voice and only his voice. He writes, directs and even does most of the art production on the show. It is very literally Limmy’s Show.
It’s Kevin though is named aptly. It’s more of a showcase of Eldon’s manifest abilities. He’s a great actor, his propensity for physical comedy is fantastic, and he inhabits characters with gusto. It’s Kevin is sillier than Limmy’s Show. A lot sillier. This is sometimes a good thing. Limmy has a tendency to self-indulge a little bit too much; but more often than not the silliness takes the show out of my belly laugh zone. It’s also a showcase for the talents of others. Limmy is very clearly a lone wolf. His Twitter is a constant stream of jokes and aggression that is more often than not clearly part of his persona as “King of the Trolls”, and his attacks on fellow Scottish comedians (while still probably jokes) are so close to the bone, and played so seriously that it makes me seriously uncomfortable. Limmy is nevertheless championed by his fans, and by the leading lights of comedy – people like Graham Linehan, and Stewart Lee. On the other hand, Kevin Eldon is extremely popular in the comedy fraternity. His softly softly career where he has more often than not allowed himself to be a great second fiddle to the comedian or actor leading the show, which is appreciated by most of those working in the industry. His show features people like Linehan, Daniel Maier, Julia Davis, Adam Buxton, Bill Bailey, Simon Munnery and many more. With a cast and crew list like that, It’s Kevin (while it’s brilliant) should be better. It should be perfect with those names.
I smiled throughout It’s Kevin, and laughed often. When watching Limmy’s Show I have more often than not been crying with laughter. I’ve had to pause episodes in case I miss the next sketch. That’s the major difference, I think. I was watching It’s Kevin and enjoying it – but the tone and leit motifs kept reminding me of Limmy, to the detriment of It’s Kevin.
Another thing I noticed is the age of virtually all of Eldon’s collaborators. This stable of alternative, surrealist liberal British performers and writers that came of age really in the 90s is growing older. There were around two or three perfomers in the first two episodes that looked under thirty, and I’m worried. I don’t want this aging group of (fantastic) performers and writers to age and leave a vacuum behind. Cardinal Burns, and Anna and Katy can’t fill the gap on their own and if the space left is filled by people like John Bishop, Michael McIntyre, and for a different reason Russell Howard and Frankie Boyle then I think British comedy will be much, much, much worse off.
I don’t know. I liked It’s Kevin loads. I really like Kevin Eldon. I’m not implying that It’s Kevin is derivative in any way, at all – especially considering Eldon is 53 and has been doing his thing for a lot longer than Limmy. And I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to what I believe is the greatest British comedy show possibly ever, and when it doesn’t stack up, go well then it has failed. It hasn’t failed. It’s Kevin is fantastic and really funny.
Also, I hate the semi-serious contempt for the audience shown by Eldon’s use of grating sounds to play over the credits instead of music. The first episode had a pneumatic drill, and the second had a dog barking. I hated it. Limmy’s Show made me uncomfortable many times, and often purposefully but always with a purpose – or even if just done for kicks, there’s another laugh along in a couple of minutes.
Oh and for similarity: