sun 24/08/2014

Hit the Road Jack, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Hit the Road Jack, Channel 4

Stand-up Jack Whitehall tries his hand at variety

Jack Whitehall's solo television debut has a bit of everything

It can't be often that producers are faced with the agreeable problem of trying to shoehorn in several talents when devising a debut solo vehicle for a stand-up making the transition to television entertainer, but Hit the Road Jack's makers had that challenge with Jack Whitehall. Can he do jokes, spoof sketches and documentary-style pieces, followed by a bit of Candid Camera-like comedy, then chat-show banter with a celebrity guest? Yes all of that, most of which he makes a decent fist of.

Following hot on the heels of Sarah Millican, Whitehall has been launched on to our screens with his first “and this is me” effort, although many know him from the excellent Fresh Meat on the same channel, playing a priapic posho slumming it at a steel-and-glass university with great elan. In it he proved that he is a very good actor, so one can forgive the ever-ready mention in his stand-up act that he lost out in the global-fame stakes to Vampire movies star Robert Pattinson, who briefly attended the same school.

The USP of Hit the Road Jack is that Whitehall visits a different part of the country each episode, recorded locally in front of an audience after he has spent a week living with a family, learning the local customs and doing some hidden-camera comedy. Last week he was a New Age antipodean coach (pictured below) working with Welsh rugby players, last night he was Kit Brady, “an American TV executive” looking to recruit people from Geordie Shore, "the show that makes Towie look like fucking Downton Abbey". (The enormous false nose he wears for these sketches makes him look uncannily like Owen Wilson, by the way.)

Normally I hate hidden-camera stuff; it's most often cruel and humiliating, and rarely funny, but last night it did produce a genuinely laugh-out-loud moment (or maybe that should be head-in-your-hands moment) as one of the reality show's “stars” was asked by Brady if she read any Shakespeare. No. What does she read? “Katie Price. She's Shakespeare for girls.”

Living like Geordie lad for a week meant going down the gym, getting a spray tan and necking copious amounts of alcohol on a night out, which clearly floored the soft southerner when they went to a famous Newcastle nightclub - “After 10 minutes I don't remember a fucking thing.” Fair play to Whitehall that he allowed footage of him looking like Edward Cullen had just had the last laugh to be shown.

The show, having so many constituent parts, doesn't quite settle into a groove and one is left wanting more of some things, such as the summary of the place he's visiting - “Newcastle, a city that says winter can go fuck itself” - living with a local family and the chat-show element (last night with football legend Alan Shearer) while dispensing with the weaker stuff (Whitehall isn't cruel enough to make the spoofs work really well).  And now that his “disguise” has been revealed, it would surely be difficult to film more of the spoof elements for a second series anyway.

When he first started doing stand-up a few years ago, Whitehall, who is still only 23, was considered by some too cocky by half, talking about being educated and middle-class, and of his success with girls. Much of his material was mediocre, trite even, but his command of the stage was immediately apparent and, having worked hard at developing his act, he is now a very accomplished comic. He's a very likeable on-stage presence, too, and that charm is noticeable in Hit the Road Jack - not quite the right vehicle, but one that does showcase a lot of his talents. And mark my words, you'll be seeing a lot of more of Jack Whitehall over the next few decades.

  • Hit the Road Jack continues in Channel 4 on Tuesdays

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