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How To Start Your Own Country (2005)
Creator: Danny Wallace

review by Jonathan McCalmont

This joins the likes of The Dave Gorman Collection and Googlewhack Adventure in what is becoming an interesting little comedy niche. If you're a comedian there are normally three kinds of things you can do on TV: you can write a sitcom, you can do stand-up, or you can present a chat show. Wallace and Gorman though have discovered a fourth route by making what you might describe as comedy travelogues where the comedian goes on a funny journey meeting funny people and doing funny things.

This tells the story of Danny Wallace, who one day decided to found his own country. We see him learning about micro-states and constitutions and armies and national identity and the whole thing is glued together by a series of interactive broadcasts where Danny fills you in on how many citizens he has got and reads out emails and fields phone calls from the public.

Wallace co-wrote Gorman's first two adventures and has also written a book about a year where he said yes to every opportunity that presented itself. The results were funny and silly, and had a solid narrative to them. The problem is though, that this series manages to be just different enough from Wallace's previous adventures to make it seem less substantial and less funny.

How To Start Your Own Country is whimsical and nice to the point of insubstantiality. Danny is a lovely cheerful happy engaging guy but it's difficult to make funny jokes if your tone is relentlessly up beat and positive. It's also difficult to be dramatic because there's never a risk of failure or of any negative consequences whatsoever so the episodes slip past, things happen but it's not really telling a story and it's not really funny. The series also fails to be really informative, Danny never shows more than a fleeting interest in the real issues surrounding state-hood and his politics are so nice and inclusive that he doesn't have anything to say about what his country should be other than that it should be 'nice'. Given that this series touches on themes such as immigration, what should be in a constitution, the rights of a state over its citizens and features Sealands, a real-life state created by a family, the results are annoyingly lightweight and you can't help but feel that an opportunity was missed here to say something interesting. Wallace was even granted an audience with Noam Chomsky and all he could do was nod, grin and hand him a t-shirt, though on further thought this makes him no different to any other Royal who gets introduced to famous and influential people and never ask them anything more demanding than 'And what is it that you do?'

Having said that, this is far from unwatchable. Wallace is an engaging presenter and this is an entertaining and up-beat way to spend a few hours. The problem is that given Wallace's writing credits and the themes touched on, it could have been so much more.
How to Start Your Own Country

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