The Americans and the British love a good game. Unlike the barbarians that surround us–that is, everyone else–games are only meant for winning. There’s passion in both nations, no doubt, and the losses are felt very deeply, but winning through a technicality or a cheat is near to murder in moral equivalence. Losing through a technicality or cheat is more like a salve for the wound.
That said, I am concerned that the Americans are losing that kernel of sportsmanship over time. I take as Exhibit A that there are no Panel Shows in this country! Cruel, cruel world…or country…why do you deny me such delights?
A Panel Show has, at its center, a game of some kind. But that game is really just a device for the real sport at hand: comedy. Winning or losing is not so much the concern as everyone having a great time.
A Panel, which is a really weird word the more you use it, is a set or bevy of individuals sitting in a kind of dock. Generally, in the Panel Game, there are two competing teams (of two or three) separated by the Quizmaster or Host. Some games are individualistic, but the set up will look the same.
This panel is made up of comedians or popular individuals of one sort or another. Some panels are always and exclusively comedians, while others make room for politicians, reporters, and the like.
The show has a theme or gimmick. It’s a quiz, a music quiz, a news quiz, or a challenge of some kind–spot the lie, do a stand-up routine on a given issue, etc.
The Host/Quizmaster is often the crux of the show and will provide most of the attraction. They have to balance their own role as moderator with their capacity to provide comedic content. In that way, it is not often a good thing to have a kind of Robin Williams exuberance in the Host’s chair. They may dominate or cut off others and fail to keep an even rhythm. The best Hosts will supplement the comedians by providing transitional punch lines or giving gentle jibes when a joke fails to come off.
As far as approaching Panel Shows, I don’t think that anything is really required. They are, by their nature, improvised and, therefore, lacking in complication. They will refer to pop events that you should be able to follow, make mistakes you are likely to make, and usually be full of, shall we say, lavatory humor.
When you watch these shows, like the Sketch Shows, I wonder why we have no American television Panel Shows. Do we have a dearth of comedians? Hardly. Are American comedians particularly dumber than British ones? Possibly, but since we have so many, surely we could find some that weren’t idiots. I’m being serious there because when you look at the CV of British comedians, you will see a large percentage are Oxbridge graduates–that is, went to Oxford or Cambridge (explaining does sort of defeat the purpose of using the term, but I feel that now I’ve introduced it, you’ll be glad for the lesson).
What you get from these Panel Shows is a far deeper affinity with the comedians. You get to know them outside of their fictional or stand-up routines. For me, these shows serve as letters of introduction for certain comedians and lead me towards their own shows/routines. If we consider the success of shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? in the United States, I think we should feel fairly confident that we could produce similar programs and provide a similar service.
Next time, I’ll go through the Panel Shows that I’ve come across through Youtube and the like. As always, I’d love to hear about your favorites or thoughts on the subject.