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Overheard review – the sketch show reinvented with tiny, joyful snippets of comic tapas

two windowcleaners
Guess what these two had to say … Overheard. Photograph: Mr Box/Youtube

What is it? A sketch comedy micro-series using secretly filmed footage of the public.

Why you’ll love it: These tiny, joyful, stupid snippets of comic tapas are made by comedians Ben Ashenden and Alexander Owen, known jointly as The Pin. After three series of their highly inventive and critically admired Radio 4 show, they have moved into a new medium. But the straightforward sketch show, trotting out and repeating the same characters and situations is not for them.

Instead, they lurk on London street corners and, from a distance, discreetly film members of the public having everyday interactions. Then, like Johnny Morris on the children’s show Animal Magic, they record their own voiceovers, reimagining what their subjects might be saying.

They create a gorgeously skewed universe in which unseen marksmen intimidate buskers via mobile phone and one co-worker passive-aggressively reprimands another for copying his hat. It’s Earth, but an inch to the left.

The short scene (they are all speedy) in episode two, where a man struggles to gain entry to his bus to work made me hold my middle as big woofs of laughter came out of me. It is rare and lovely to be surprised like that by your own noises.

Truffling through the other comedy shorts on the same YouTube channel (Mr Box) you will find some brilliant short-form work from comedians including Natasia Demetriou and Ellie White who I so enjoyed in 2015’s People Time on BBC Three and in the web-only sketch series 2016: Year Friends on Vimeo. A particular favourite is Mum’s the Word, their terrifying, hygiene-obsessed Essex mums whose main goal in life is to be as small and as clean as possible.

But back to Overheard: the apparent fun Ashenden and Owen are having seeps out during every scene and provokes the kind of ticklish giggles that do you good. But it is over far too soon and, now I have watched them all three times, I need more.

Some sketches barely last a second, but that is the benefit of this zippy little format: the tiny episodes are so deftly cut together, a single gag can be chucked away and almost missed.

These snippets call to mind the best of those vox pops that were sprinkled throughout episodes of A Bit of Fry & Laurie in the 90s and feel as if they should be part of a bigger show – the currants in the bun. If this is The Pin’s punt for their own sketch show, I would say they have earned their six-part series on BBC Two. But that sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen any more. I miss sketch shows.

Where: Mr Box, YouTube.

Length: Four five-minute episodes available now.

Standout episode: Episode two, during which a man cannot work out how to board a bus is particularly joyful.

If you liked Overheard watch: Pls Like (BBC Three on iPlayer), 2016: Year Friends (Vimeo) and search the Mr Box channel on YouTube.

This article titled "Overheard review – the sketch show reinvented with tiny, joyful snippets of comic tapas" was written by Julia Raeside, for The Guardian on Thursday 7 December 2017 05.14pm

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