fri 18/10/2019

Paul Merton in Europe, Five | reviews, news & interviews

Paul Merton in Europe, Five

Paul Merton in Europe, Five

Has he got no laughs for you

Paul Merton in Germany: The people when they're not drinking it have baths full of beer

On Have I Got News for You, the world viewed through Paul Merton’s eyes is not quite as others see it. He makes the random connections of the lateral thinker, thinks jaggedly round corners, and competes manically to have the last word, the last laugh. He also likes you to know that he knows stuff. Last night Paul Merton went to Germany to make a documentary. He’d never been before. You rather fancied that Germany viewed through the Mertonian prism might come up looking a little different, perhaps even a little funnier. But no, I didn't laugh once.

In Merton's Germany it's business as usual, only more so. The people when they're not drinking it have baths full of beer. They go ten-pin bowling when stark bollock-naked. They make fun of neo-Nazis as only Germans can: with a heavy tread. In short, Germany looked exactly the same as it always does from here. It’s difficult to say whether this was Germany’s fault, or Paul Merton’s. On balance, you’d have to blame Merton. Or, as he did in a running gag, his researcher – an ice-cool Berliner who looked quietly mortified at the asinine stereotypes he was being invited to serve up for our entertainment.

Merton doesn’t have a curious bone in his body

One day you’d like to see Germany come here and make a documentary about Paul Merton. They’d find a man who on one day of the week brilliantly makes up jokes for fun, and on another wanders round foreign countries being well paid to be baffled. There were one or two trademark asides, but the wackos and eccentrics who form an orderly queue to show off in this kind of documentary are just not Merton’s kind of people. He can’t riff off a man who breeds giant rabbits to gift to the people of North Korea. Or a compulsive hoarder who has made thousands of miniature origami ships. They are already their own joke.

The other structural problem is that Merton doesn’t have a curious bone in his body. He was booked into a hotel in Kaislerslautern that used to be a prison. We were given the tour, briefly espied the guests, and generally got the basic picture. But it didn’t occur to Merton to find out why such an institution exists, or talk to someone who uses it. “It may be better not to know too much about my fellow guests,” he said. Rather the reverse, I fear, Paul? That's what reporters do. The same happened when he fetched up in a bowling alley among a gathering of swinging genitalia. “I still haven't got a clue why they want to be naked,” he said as he left. Likewise the boxing gym where they play chess. The list will no doubt lengthen as he trots around the continent not asking questions.

Either I’ve had one of those sense of humour bypasses that are said to flourish in Germany, or there really is no point to Paul Merton in Europe. It is basically an uncut set report for Eurotrash in which he sadly doesn’t link back to Antoine de Caunes in the studio. Next week, a Hamburg family who make sex toys. Lazy television. If he wanted to take time off work, why bring a film crew?

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