By Philly Baines
I’ve never really got Jack Whitehall’s comedy. I find his stand up a bit like a less endearing Michael McIntyre routine and less funny. I didn’t particularly love Fresh Meat, his breakthrough show, and his rise to celebrity stardom has left me feeling a little confused. So to bring in the New Year with a fresh slate, I decided to watch ‘Jack Whitehall: travels with my father’ to see if I could see the world in the new light and unlock the key to understanding his celebrity/ comedy stardom.
The show is a Netflix documentary following Jack’s ‘Gap Year’ to Asia, as he missed out on this ‘rite of passage’ as a young man due to his meteoric success as a stand-up. To keep him company, Jack takes his quintessentially British, Telegraph-reading father: Michael, who doesn’t like foreign food, can’t stay in anything but luxury and loves putting Jack down. The chaos ensues.
In the first episode, the pair arrives in Bangkok, wandering the streets of the infamous Kao Sarn road. It’s full of backpackers, bars and people selling scorpion kebabs. Jack attempts to check them in a hostel, his father moves them to a luxury hotel. The pair meet a special guide who takes them to a niche Thai massage experience where one’s face is slapped so that the skin tightens and there’s an appearance of a facelift without the need for surgery. Jack has his face slapped much to his father’s delight. Finally, the pair end up visiting an elephant polo match. Jack joins the New Zealand team whilst his father joins the commentator box. Jack loses the game and it’s time for the ‘Next time on travels with my father.’
Did I laugh? Yes, Jack Whitehall getting slapped in the face was indeed very funny. His tone is much more subtle and much more subdued, I think largely because his Dad likes to take the limelight. Michael Whitehall has worked in showbiz all of his life as a talent manager and used to represent Colin Firth and Judy Dench. You can see he’s a dab hand at a bit of theatrics himself and both father and son play their good cop, bad cop roles well.
On the other hand, like a lot of these comedy travel shows – Asian Provocateur and Travel Man come to mind – so much of the series is made up of contrived situations that I think are a bit unnecessary. This includes Michael coming on to a ladyboy in the hotel lobby, Michael ordering a Welsh lamb chop in a Thai restaurant and Jack’s effeminate interpretation of the New Zealand Hakka. They’d be funny if it wasn’t worked in the script so obviously.
So where does this leave me in terms of my relationship with Jack Whitehall? I’ve warmed to him. Sometimes context gives you a bit of perspective on someone and the concept of taking your parent on holiday is at the very core of it, fraught with tension and sentimentality. At the same time, I like him as much as I like a lot of strangers I meet. Do I think he’s astonishingly funny, sadly not. Still, I’m glad I gave him a chance and if I’m ever in need of an incredibly light, comedic travel documentary, I might have to watch it again.