BBC brings comedy panel shows to America with “Would You Rather…? with Graham Norton”

“Do you win anything here?” Cyndi Lauper asks during the second episode of Would You Rather…? with Graham Norton.

That’s the main and maybe only thing holding up BBC America’s introduction of comedy panel “game shows” to the States.

Filmed in New York City before live studio audiences, Would You Rather…? with Graham Norton debuts tonight at 11 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, following The Graham Norton Show as part of BBC America’s “Ministry of Laughs” Saturday-night comedy block. Stanley Tucci, Scott Adsit, Sherrod Small and Jordan Carlos make up the premiere panel, followed by Lauper, Michelle Buteau, Joe Mande and Christian Finnegan in the second half-hour.

It’s based on the simple premise. Two ridiculous options are given; which one would you rather choose? Here’s an example from the first episode: French kiss a cat or pleasure a frog?? Roll the clip.

Episode three of BBC America's "Would You Rather? ... with Graham Norton," with panelists Alan Cumming, Faith Salie, Dave Hill and Scott Adsit.

Other panelists, who sometimes appear in multiple episodes, include Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Cumming, Judah Friedlander, Baron Vaughn, Michael Ian Black, Mo Rocca, Eugene Mirman, Faith Salie, Dave Hill, Jessi Klein, Andrea Rosen, Leo Allen, Hannibal Buress, Janet Varney and Sam Seder.

“When they asked me, would I rather sit in London watching television with my dogs or spend three weeks in New York with some of the brightest and funniest people in the States – it was a very easy decision to make,” Norton said.

I watched tonight’s first two episodes in advance (one of them live when it taped), and they’ve definitely used editing to quicken the pace to good effect.

But I’m not up on British television’s history of comedy panel “game” shows.

I did grow up with the U.S. version, which has included classics such as Match Game and Hollywood Squares. Through these game shows, I knew of people such as Nipsey Russell or Paul Lynde first for being funny on a game show before ever learning of any other work they’d done in show business. And on NPR, shows such as wait wait…don’t tell me have proven popular on the radio for years here. In all of these game shows, however, a real-life person could win a real-life prize at the end of the funnyperson frivolity. In the end, after all of the joke answers about news or life, someone had a financial incentive to win.

Certainly another British export, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, also handed out fake points to comedians and left the audience to laugh on the sidelines.

Would You Rather? does include prop comedy at least once an episode, as well as an audience segment reminiscent of the old American classic To Tell The Truth that asks the comedians and celebrities to guess how the audience members answered their own WYR query. Again, though, the original generation of U.S. panel game shows — which also included What’s My Line? and I’ve Got a Secret — all ended with the non-celebrity contestants earning cash money. Wait wait… comes the closest to the current British crop of panel games, offering a voice-mail recording to contestants as the usual prize.

Does it matter to you if the stakes are low in a game show? Or do you just want to have a laugh? Is that enough for you?

If so, let me just say, and this shouldn’t be any spoiler alert for anyone following comedy: Scott Adsit is great at this game. Also, the two non-comedians in tonight’s premiere episodes (Stanley Tucci and Lauper) more than hold their own with their comedian counterparts on the panel.

Here’s a clip from the second episode with Lauper, Mande, Buteau and Finnegan. Would you rather spend the rest of your life with the voice of Darth Vader, or that of Alvin the Chipmunk. Roll it!

I’ll be interested to see how American audiences respond to this newer style of TV panel game. And even more interested to see if BBC America brings more of these shows across the pond.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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