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Does God Like Gareth Gates? February 28, 2003

Posted by worldspectacle in Uncategorized.

Your Primer on British Culture:

Every couple years the BBC runs something called Comic Relief, where every British comedian, no matter how offbeat (except Chris Morris) gets together with the BBC for one night performing all sorts of wild’n’wacky stunts for “charidee”, interspersed with footage of the same comics getting all earnest and serious for a moment, as they explain that this money that people are pledging for fun is going to starving kids in Africa.

One of the main methods of raising money is through the selling of comedy red noses which people are encouraged to buy and wear for the entire day. Yes, that’s right. For one Friday in March every couple years since 1985, half of the population of Britain walk around wearing clown noses.

It’s sick, I tell you. Sick.

The other main merchandising opportunity (and there are tons: books, magazines, tshirts, everything) is the Comic Relief Single, which is invariably destined to go to the top of the charts… because it’s for charity. It began with the unlikely pairing of religiously inclined waxy-faced granny pleaser and bona fide National Institution Cliff Richard and anarchic “alternative” comedy ensemble The Young Ones, performing a funny-the-first-couple-times spoof version of Cliff’s 1950s hit Living Doll.

This year’s single is no exception, but especially upsetting because the culprits – well, some of them – are normally pretty good when they’re not being earnest.

Let me explain this.

What makes The Kumars at Number 42 such a great premise for a show is that it pretty much defines what a whole stratum of our culture thinks of itself, namely third or fourth generation Anglo-Indians.

The Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the UK are pretty unique – they’re very British, but at the same time taking on their own identity. They’ve got their own radio stations, fashion, pop music, everything. And they’ve affected British culture for the better too. The British “Indian” restaurant is a case in point, serving uniquely British food made with Indian ingredients in an Indian style.

The Kumars at Number 42
The Kumars

Anyway, what the Kumars do is genius. It’s ostensibly a chat show in a big studio, with real celebrity guests – and pretty desirable guests, too – presented by a good-looking and fairly confident thirty-something called Sanjeev Kumar (played by the show’s writer, Sanjeev Bhaskar).

The joke is that Sanjeev, like lots of Generation X Anglo-Indians, still lives at home with his family – in fact, the studio was built by Sanjeev’s dad Ashwin behind the Kumars’ semi-detached house in Wimbledon (because he wants his son “to make something of himself”). The hapless guests arrive at the front door of the house, sit on the sofa, are plied with tea and cakes and made part of the family’s crises, and then shown through to the live studio audience at the back of the house.

Sanjeev’s show imports the American idea of co-hosts, but subverts it. Instead of a guy sitting on the couch next to the celebrity who laughs at the presenter’s jokes, Sanjeev’s mum, dad and grandma share the couch with the celebrity and basically undercut the poor guy (actually a mass of insecurities) at every move. Ashwin keeps on trying to elicit financial advice from Sanjeev’s guests and tells pointless anecdotes. Sanjeev’s mum radiates crushing disappointment at her son’s inability to find himself a wife, while at the same time idolising and fawning over the celebrities (“why can’t you be more like Charlotte Church, Sanjeev?”). And Sanjeev’s ancient, cranky and irritable grandmother considers him an idiot, lusts openly after male guests and belittles and insults poor Sanjeev at every turn.

It’s sharply observed and very funny, not least because of the reactions of the guests, who don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.

Why, then, is their take at a Comic Relief single so bloody awful?

A great deal of the blame must go to the pop star they’re sharing performing duties with: Gareth Gates. Fresh-faced butter-wouldn’t-melt Gareth became a star in Britain over a year ago now when he appeared on Pop Idol, a show so insanely popular that not only did one tenth of the entire population of the UK phone in to vote for a winner, but that the US wanted it: an American TV company – I forget which one – bought the format and one of the presenters and called it American Idol (funnily enough, a US network recently bought the format of The Kumars, although the US version won’t be Indian, obviously).

Did Gareth actually win Pop Idol? No, He was the runner up. Yes, he came second. The winner was a high camp no-not-in-the-least-bit-gay chap called Will Young. But I digress.

aw. bless.
Gareth Gates: aw… bless.

The point is, young Gareth has teamed up with the Kumars to cover cod-Gospel classic Spirit in the Sky. Gone is any kind of zip to the video. Gates delivers the song straight, while the Kumars insert “funny” lines inbetween his singing. Added to the irony is that Gareth has replaced Cliff Richard as the Godbotherer’s pop-star of choice, since he outed himself as a good Baptist who loves his mum. Doing a gospel song in a Hindu stylee with the Kumars making mildly sacreligious comments about this Jesus bloke he’s singing about will disappoint many and no doubt be seen as a betrayal by some.

I could forgive them if it was actually funny, but it isn’t. The jokes are all far too good-natured, and the best thing about the Kumars – their constant subversion and belittling of Sanjeev – just isn’t there. The best part of the entire video (having replaced the t.A.T.u. video as the number one pick on the pop video channels – which is another reason to hate Spirit in the Sky in and of itself) is right at the end, where the camera pulls back, and we reveal that the Kumars have been watching the whole Bollywood-style spectacular on the TV. Sanjeev flicks the remote control and says “what do you think?”, only to met with disappointed looks and Granny saying “Have we still got Will Young’s phone number?”

I’m not entirely sure that Will could have saved it, to be honest.



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