Learning about life by letting go

What Woody Allen could learn from Keith Lemon

In Hannah and her Sisters, one of his most celebrated films, Woody Allen plays a troubled television executive, Mickey Sachs.  Mickey spends much of the story wrestling his demons – including hypochondria, religious turmoil and romantic failure.  And then he has a revelation.

Cheer up!

(Feel free, with my blessing, to leave this blog for a moment and follow THIS LINK to a wonderful monologue and clip from the film. But come back afterwards).

At one crucial point, Mickey has reached rock bottom and almost shot himself (missing his forehead while still wrestling with the decision…) before going into a cinema – as much for a comfortable chair as anything else.  The cinema is showing the Marx Brothers’ classic, Duck Soup, and despite his misery he finds himself laughing, and arriving at a crucial insight about life:

I’m watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film, you know. And I started to feel, how can you even think of killing yourself, I mean isn’t it so stupid? I mean, look at all the people up there on the screen. You know, they’re real funny, and what if the worst is true. What if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it. Well, you know, don’t you wanna be part of the experience? You know, what the hell, it’s not all a drag. And I’m thinkin’ to myself, Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.

Keith Lemon. Funnier on ITV2 than in your local cinema

This isn’t a funny speech, it’s a great one, part of an Oscar-winning Original Screenplay.  It’s also a rallying cry on a subject of importance to every human being.

Which brings us, inevitably, to Keith Lemon.

His recent film, Keith Lemon: The Movie has displaced The Sex Lives of the Potato Men as the worst reviewed British film of all time, and only 15% of audience members have been nice about it.  And yet, Celebrity Juice, which Keith presents (or Leigh Francis presents, as Keith Lemon) on ITV2 is a triumphantly pleasurable experience.  ITV’s tracking survey which asks viewers to rate the programmes they watch on all channels rated Celebrity Juice higher than almost any other programme, an Appreciation Index (AI) type score of over 90.  This isn’t just high among entertainment shows, it puts it ahead of Attenborough and marquee dramas.  And it attracts a monster audience for satellite TV – 1.5 million for the first of the new series.

Audiences love Celebrity Juice because it permits guilt-free laughter at silly humour: verbal slapstick, old-fashioned and unashamed breast- and sex-focussed jokes.  It cleverly employs female co-hosts associated with more sophisticated or more family friendly television.

Fearne Cotton co-hosted the BBC’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant to mixed reviews (!), and Holly Willoughby co-hosts family-friendly This Morning: their appearance not only makes Lemon funnier, but it gives the audience permission to laugh.  (It’s the same trick that was traditionally pulled by ‘vicars and tarts’ parties in giving Tracey from Accounts a license to vamp it up)…  And it is also good natured – not trying to shock, or gross out.  It has a warmth which makes the vulgarity cheeky or saucy, while the sexism is leavened by self-deprecation from Lemon.

Half the country has developed a loathing for ‘celebrity culture’ – which is something of a problem for a media brand like ITV which has a close relationship with the genre. Celebrity Juice laughs along with celebrity culture without being arch, or knowing.

This week’s episode featured wholesome and attractive guests Olympics Gold Medallist Greg Rutherford, singer Ronan Keating and model/ presenter Kelly Brook.  It included blowing peanuts from nostrils into a glass, a hysterical audience member, Kelly and Holly dragging Keith and Ronan Keating the length of the Rutherford’s Gold Medal winning long-jump, guessing whether photos are of someone having sex or doing the long-jump, Keith re-enacting Prince Harry’s naked photos with a blow-up doll and helpful pixellation, Greg and Fearne guessing what Keith is rubbing into their feet (gravy, mini-milk ice-cream…).  Describing the programme doesn’t really do it justice – try clicking on the link below.

Two scheduling decisions have helped – by resisting the temptation to move the programme from ITV2 to ITV1 (which would have doubled its audience) Celebrity Juice has preserved its sense of being a guilty (or guilt-free) secret.  ITV1 has a reputation for being strait-laced and family-friendly (which does it no favours for late night television) – the programme just doesn’t fit on ITV1.  It could have been put on later, but being scheduled at 10pm on Thursday allows it to attract a wide audience – including teenagers – and to be watched with others, or on your own, and it effectively counter-programmes the news.  Friday night programmes sometimes tip into a boozy mess along the lines of The Word, as if they are trying too hard to compete with their audience’s social life. Celebrity Juice is far more clever – Thursday at 10pm has started to anticipate the weekend, and is the perfect timeslot to give its audience something to talk about on Friday and Saturday.

Ahem.. Did you see Celebrity Juice last night? Wasn’t it funny!

Tiswas. Surprisingly sexy for a children’s show

More broadly, Celebrity Juice delivers on a fundamental human need, the hedonistic desire to lose our inhibitions or critical faculties, to shed our self-consciousness and worries, and just LAUGH.  Children find this easy, but adults spend so long keeping themselves in control, or looking for validation from others, or for some sort of security that many have forgotten how to let go.  But there are times when we want to run naked through the woods, or to eat ourselves stupid, or to say what we feel without fear.  It’s what a modern-day Mickey Sachs would appreciate. It’s a form of escape, and television doesn’t do this very often – Tiswas, It’s A Knockout, Benny Hill, Carry On Films…. (any more suggestions?  Use the comments, please)

I’d recommend Celebrity Juice to anyone.  When times are a little tough or complicated, it’s perfect.  Woody Allen doesn’t really need to learn anything from Keith Lemon, or Celebrity Juice – he said it all in the quotation above.  It’s the rest of us that need to learn from it.  Why not give it a go.

Unconditional pleasure at the weekend



Celebrity Juice: Unpretentious but proud and surprisingly wise


This sketch works from a similar principle

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