Don't Make Me Laugh
Announcer: Geoffrey Whitehead
Scorer: Emily Dean
So Radio and Fierce Tears for BBC Radio 4, 17 July 2014 to 19 May 2016 (10 episodes in 2 series + 1 special)
Comedians face the challenge of going up to the mike in front of an audience without making them laugh, given a topic in the form of "There is absolutely nothing funny about... [Geoffrey Whitehead bellows an inherently funny thing in deadpan]."
Each player begins to ramble, a la Just a Minute, hoping to be as unfunny as possible. If they get a laugh from the audience, they lose the mike, and it passes over to the next comedian. The longer they go without making the audience laugh, the more points they score, and a run of 27 titterless seconds scores a ten-point bonus.
The mike gets passed a lot over a round, thanks to a number of other penalties the players must avoid. If the speaker resorts to
deviation straying off-topic, hesitation stalling, or wandering into excessively dark and morbid territory ( repetition?), they can get buzzed and lose control of the mike. Also, players can interrupt each other and declare "No, that's funny because..." in reference to something the speaker just said. If their assertion gets a laugh, they'll steal the mike. This rule is great for allowing quick interplay between the comedians, but it also leads to a number of juvenile interruptions for accidentally uttering a word found in the Oxford Dictionary of Rude Lad Euphemisms ("Tee-hee, he said 'member'" and so forth).
Any comedian who deliberately works a joke into their spiel faces a forfeit (though the forfeit is usually arbitrarily assigned once per topic). The audience is invited to shout out a heckle at the offending comedian, who must resist their vitriolic instincts and respond with kindness and dignity. It's a nice diversion, but the audience usually loves the comedians in play anyway, so the heckles are more funny because they're just embarrassing for the bloke who shouted it out.
There's great fun in the quick interruptions either by challenge or penalty, but once a comedian passes about ten or twelve seconds in their run, the audience seems to try to stay more silent, wondering if he or she will make it for the whole 27 seconds (and forgetting that they're the biggest obstacle). The tension builds as the clock ticks down the last few seconds and the audience erupts in applause when the alarm (which sounds like an iPhone marimba ringtone) goes off. Even though the point of the game is to be unfunny, this moment of genuine sobriety feels a bit out of place, but it's welcomed as a reward for the silliness that preceded it.
Once a comedian reaches the 27-second target, or if it looks like no one's going to come close, the topic is retired and a new one is played. After about four rounds, the comedian who spent the most time being unfunny is the winner.
After two episodes of the second series had aired on Thursdays at 6.30, the show was moved to Monday at 11pm. In Radio 4 terms, this is a complete burial: from prime-time to a time when no-one's listening. The show on 21 April 2016 featured a round in which the comedians were asked to talk about the subject "The Queen must have had sex at least four times". The transmission date was the Queen's 90th birthday.
The BBC Trust issued a grovelling apology. The series was not re-commissioned.