A Nokia ringtone goes off in a crowded place. A man with sunglasses stands up with a gigantic phone. “HELLO?” For anyone around 16 years ago, the words “Trigger Happy TV” will instantly bring back memories of Dom Joly’s hidden camera series, which managed to update pranks for the 21st century. Ask young comedy fans today, though, and those words, like “The Fast Show” or “Big Train”, will probably mean very little.
The decision to bring back the show for Channel 4’s online platform All 4, then, might seem a tad bizarre, but the rebooted comedy takes a leaf out of the book for the copious pranksters on YouTube: the series has become a string of shorts instead of 30-minute episodes, making the most of the rapid nature of Joly’s stunts. Although, for those who want classic Trigger Happy TV, that’s also available.
The old episodes remain a joy, with their brilliant juggling of mundane observational gags and highly surreal extremes: the best moments see men dressed as oversized dogs throwing plant pots at each other, spies approaching members of the public on park benches, or brass bands and fake TV presenters greeting the “1 millionth customer” of a portable toilet in a high street.
Whether it’s the 30-minute compilations or the short, sharp bursts of webisodes, Joly has just the right balance of old-fashioned tricks and new giggles, with mobile phone man updating for the video age – while also becoming a swipe at the social media culture for only presenting your dream life to all and sundry – and squirrels still attacking each other in the streets. Others are more hit than miss, from a brief jaunt in Venice to a “Britain Says No” mobile reality TV show. But the brief runtime of the newer skits means that it’s never long to wait for the next hit, with Trigger Happy remaining at its best when being weird for the sake of it, or laughing at its characters (the angry cyclist is a gem) rather than solely at members of the unsuspecting public. That underlying philosophy makes Joly’s skits far more pleasant to watch than, say, YouTube’s recent Natural Born Pranksters movie. 16 years on, Trigger Happy is as fun and rapid-fire as ever.