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Home > Media

TVJism: Balls of shit

29 June 2005

Whilst giving an interview at the War of the Worlds premiere on Sunday evening, much-maligned Hollywood actor Tom Cruise was on the receiving end of what was later described as a 'practical joke'. He was talking, warmly and sincerely, about the spiritual journey made by the family in the film, when a short spurt of water shot onto his cheek from a comedy mic, wielded by a comedy monkey, in the employ of Channel 4. Even by Channel 4's recent standards, this was not the most sophisticated of pranks, and not surprisingly, Tom didn't find it funny.

It isn't funny. Rather, there is something heartbreaking about the footage, something that makes you think that perhaps the end of humour itself is nigh. Under the circumstances, Cruise reacted with incredible dignity. Refusing to let the 'prankster' disappear into the crowds, he began to question him. 'Why would you do that?' he asked repeatedly. Four times he asked it. The prankster muttered embarrassed responses about practical jokes and thinking it was funny. 'What's so funny about it?' asked Cruise, seemingly genuinely to want to understand. 'It's ridiculous,' he said. 'Do you like making less of people, is that it? That's incredibly rude. I'm here giving you an interview, and answering your questions, and you do something really nasty. You're a jerk. A jerk.' By which point, the prankster must have been hoping Cruise would just pull out a nine and finish him. But that's not Tom's style. He's more into slow, burning humiliation of the Scientology free personality test. So he just said 'jerk' again and that was that. It was off for arrest and inevitable litigation for the prankster. Which is where it actually starts to get funny.

It makes you wonder though, just what kind of reaction they were hoping to elicit. Presumably they were hoping Tom would either fly into a Prescott rage or burst into tell-tale gay tears. Then they could have labelled him a prima donna and bemoaned the humourlessness of Celebrity in general. When the same team pulled the same stunt on Sharon Osbourne last month, her reaction was to seek revenge with bucket of ice. There was probably a certain amount of back-slapping around the C4 comedy offices that week. Not this week.

The show is called Balls of Steel. Enough said really. It is made by a company called Objective Productions, who have previously specialised in entertainment clip-shows such as 'Movie Mistakes Uncovered Uncut' and 'Best Unseen Ads', as well as magic shows such as 'Extreme Magic, Extreme Danger' and anything with Derren Brown in it. Not forgetting 'Hypnosex' and 'Psychic!'. A wide range then, of almost wholly unmitigated trash. But if it survives humiliation by Cruise and makes it to air, 'Balls of Steel' promises to be the worst so far. The programme-makers probably imagine they're 'bringing celebs down a peg', getting some small compensation on behalf of the embittered masses who aren't that rich or gorgeous. They probably live by Homer Simpson's pronouncement that 'if celebrities didn't want people pawing through their garbage and saying they're gay, they shouldn't have tried to express themselves creatively'. For shame.

So, Channel 4's journey from challenging and bold to shit-eatingly bad seems just about complete. 'Balls of Steel' is the perfect non-antidote to 'FAQ U' and 'The Friday Night Project', and the fact that it's being made at all says a great deal about our society. It says: 'bibbuu, bibbuu, bibbuu', the sound of one finger flibbling against lips for 27 minutes. Riotous applause. Credits.

Objective Productions are already diverting calls to Channel Four.


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