If you want to terrify a comedian, go after them with a chainsaw while roaring like a rabid dog. Or, less illegally, ask them to improvise a routine on the spot. Apart from that chainsaw, few things are as scary as improvisation - mainly because few things are as teeth-grindingly difficult. So let us applaud the brave comedic souls who grace Mock the Week. They're expected to dissect, satirise, lampoon and generally warp the affairs of the day on cue, and frankly we doff our cap at their talents.
Created by Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson, who gave us that other great improvisational show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the series features a number of rounds designed to extract as many jokes and jibes as possible from the comedians. Our host is Dara O'Briain, a man who clearly has too many i-s in his second name. He can probably justify it cleverly, though, as he's fluent in Irish. In fact, he's won debating championships in his mother tongue. And, being a despicably talented man, he also studied theoretical physics at university. Don't you just hate people like that?
Of course, the show is famous for ushering in the dark era of Frankie Boyle – comedy's answer to Darth Vader. Despite having the appearance of a perfectly reasonable, if somewhat surly and wary-looking Scotsman, Frankie soon asserted himself as a purveyor of evil, evil comedy. We're talking "making gags about Richard Hammond's crash" levels of unmitigated, remorseless evil. And yet, performed with such brash, punk-like fearlessness that one cannot help but chortle, despite knowing full well you have condemned yourself to a very fiery afterlife indeed.
Luckily, Frankie was long counterbalanced by Russell Howard, the Luke to his Darth, always ready to brighten things up with his wide-eyed, cheeky enthusiasm for everything. Square-jawed Hugh Dennis and egg-headed Andy Parsons are among the other members of comedy aristocracy who have made the studio their second home (not literally – that would deeply upset the cleaning staff), while guests have included literally every single comedian at work in Britain today. By which we mean, the good ones. Who agreed to be on it. They've included Milton Jones, David Mitchell, Chris Addison, Michael McIntyre, John Bishop, Shappi Khorsandi and Rhod Gilbert. How do you like dem comics?
One of the great things about Mock the Week – which distinguishes it from its older, more refined and respectable cousin, Have I Got News For You – is that it's basically two shows in one. There's the panel show bit, the format of which is fairly familiar, but there's also the stand-up bits, which – as the phrase implies – gives us a hearty dose of proper stand-up comedy, albeit all quickfire like. Of course, Frankie tended to leave everyone gawping. Challenged to come up with something you're unlikely to hear on a quiz show, he deployed: "I'm Anne Robinson, and if my botox wears off, my face will turn into a scrotum."
Not that the others are slouches when it comes to sudden wit so sharp you could grate cheese with it. How's this for an unlikely small ad, courtesy of Hugh Dennis. "Please get in touch. Our eyes met yesterday. You were the blonde undressing in your bedroom. I was the man lurking in your garden." And do you remember this deleted line from the Chronicles of Narnia, unearthed by Hugh? "I am Aslan. Formed by the merger of ASDA and Matalan."