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A BritCom blast from the past

A BritCom blast from the past

Back in the 1980s/1990s when I was very very interested in British comedy, I used to collect the odd scrapbook of newspaper/magazine articles of anything related to Blackadder et. al. This was mostly because this was pre-Internet, and I was stuck in mid-Wales and thus very much out of the loop. (Although ironically, I’m now living in West London, working for the BBC and still as out of the loop as ever. Who’s this Miranda woman?)

Fortunately, some kind person has seen fit to share their collection of articles from that time with the world by scanning it all in and posting it to that there Internet. So if you want to revisit articles about comedy gems from Absolutely to Whose Line Is It Anyway (by way of Alan Davies, Ardal O’Hanlon, Ben Elton, Blackadder, Comic Relief, Eddie Izzard, Frank Skinner, French and Saunders, Fry and Laurie, Harry Enfield, Have I Got News For You, Ian Hislop, Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Julian Clary, Monty Python, Paul Merton, Peter Cook, Private Eye, Rab C Nesbitt, Red Dwarf, Reeves and Mortimer, Richard Curtis, Rik Mayall,
Robbie Coltrane, Rory Bremner, Rowan Atkinson, Ruby Wax, Spitting Image, Steve Coogan, The Fast Show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, The Young Ones / The Comic Strip Presents, Tony Slattery and Victoria Wood), pop along to this list of scans from tourmaline1973.

(Really ought to revive my British Comedy Library site one of these days)

Identity crisis

Identity crisis

I’ve always wanted to be a stand-up comedian. But after doing a mini-course on it and being part of a British-Chinese comedy sketch troupe, I’ve been aware that I have zero perfomance skills, and gave up on the idea, while trying in vain to groom my wife for the job.

And then I stumbled across Andrew Wong the stand-up comedian. He’s British, and at least half my age. Fortunately, he’s not a professional – but at the same time, his YouTube channel is the 19th most subscribed channel in the British comedian category.

However, I’m too far in to tell if he’s actually funny or not. Is he?

There’s also an Andrew Wong who was a ninja contestant on Australia’s Got Talent … who got mistaken for another Andrew Wong with suspected benefit fraud. Apparently.

One rule for Chinese comedians, another for Iranian ones?

One rule for Chinese comedians, another for Iranian ones?

I have occasionally dreamt of being a stand-up comedian – oh, the fame! the groupies! The nights of travelling up and down the M1 at 2am before parking in a dodgy service station! – and have therefore occasionally pondered on what my opening line would be.

Omid Djalili‘s opening gambit was to come on and be a generic Middle Eastern stereotype, fulfilling various national stereotypes before turning it all in on itself. And I’d figured if it’s good enough for him, it’d be good enough for me. (Aside from the fact I can’t do impersonations to save my life).

So I was surprised to read on the BBC Arts’ Editor’s report on comedy that Joanne Lau, a Canadian-Chinese comedian, was taken to task on comedy review site Chortle for doing pretty much the same thing in her opening act. And that she’s had to change it as a result.

I don’t particularly remember anyone taking Omid to task for doing the same thing when he started out, and it seems to have worked for him. Any particular reason for this discrepancy?

McSpace revealed…

McSpace revealed…

So, it has come to pass that four minutes of the failed US version of that seminal British classic sitcom Spaced has made it onto YouTube:

It’s amazing how the mere addition of American accents and standing studio sets make it seem more polished, more ‘other’ and more glamorous. Which takes away the original charm of Spaced in that it was rooted in an earthly reality we could all recognise.

Worst of all – the American version of tortured artist Brian has somehow become Jim Belushi with an easel. It’s pretty much the same dialogue, but he seems less of a sweet, likeable tortured artist and more of an escapee from a fraternity who’s convinced himself that being arty with an easel will get him ladies. Though all he’s gotten so far is Marcia (at least that plotline stayed).

The interludes also seem bizarre to the point of pointlessness. Why have a disappearing tram?

On the plus side, Daisy somehow seems more real with an American accent, because in my head a flighty not-sure-what-to-do young woman seems more real with an American accent. Having said that, it’s very hard to see her miming a gunfight with such fabulous gusto as what happens later in Spaced…

Go and see The Comedians

Go and see The Comedians

If you have any love of stand-up comedy, and an interest in the way it’s crafted and the dilemmas between pleasing yourself and pleasing the audience, then get thee hence to the Lyric Theatre (before Friday!) to go and see The Comedians, which I went to last night with @zsk and her husband.

It’s set in 1970s Manchester where a veteran Northern stand-up comedian runs a comedy class – and that night, his students will perform for the chance to get a contract with a venerated club promoter.

It’s often said the past is a different place, but it’s amazing to watch this recreation of 1970s Northern club comedy in 2000s West London, and marvel at the difference between then and now. Jokes you would not possibly get away with these days, mixed in with constant references to localities and local comedy clubs that reinforce the sense of community, from Liverpool to Leeds, that you just wouldn’t get today, especially in Southern England. Plus watching the on-stage collapse of a brotherly double-act is always highly amusing in a horrifying way.

There were, alas, moments when it seemed we were watching Mind Your Language instead, especially when the token comedy ethnic character popped in to steal the show for two minutes. Only, to my mind, made sadder by the realisation that the role was taken by one of the cast of the then ground-breaking Goodness Gracious Me. From being one of the co-stars of one of the most diverse sketch shows to a three-minute role, in ten years.

Of course, now we live in a world where vindictiveness is returning to comedy in a way it never has done before. Frankie Boyle, a Scottish teetotaller comedian, constantly stereotypes Scottish people as racist miser alcoholics, and refers to an Olympic athlete as being so ugly, she must be “very dirty”, and everybody laughs. Even I did. Indeed, tonight, the sick jokes website Sickipedia (don’t visit if you have any sensitivities to any jokes) is putting on a gig.

Still, if you have any love of comedy, go and see it before it closes on Friday!

Is Sarah Silverman funny?

Is Sarah Silverman funny?

When it was announced that Sarah Silverman would be gracing London with her presence, a few of my more adventurours comedy friends were excited. At least until the price of £40 a ticket was revealed, at which point my friends slowly backed away from the idea of buying a ticket.

Personally, I’m not sure why it’s funny to laugh at/with a skinny white Jewish woman making a complete balls-up about hot taboo topics like racism and AIDS. I’m fairly sure most grandmothers do the same thing, for a start. But then I’ve never really liked The Office or South Park either – what’s so funny about five-year-olds saying naughty things? (I will readily admit to loving the South Park Movie – for whatever reason, that so works as a spoof of musicals).

It would seem that having actually watched Ms Silverman, many London fans were bitterly disappointed when they spent £40 and only got 35 minutes of her performance, followed by a rather weak Q&A when she revealed that she had no more material. A fair bit of heckling and boo’ing ensued…

Why would you fly 6 hours across the Atlantic to perform just 35 minutes of material that you’ve performed before – especially considering she’d done the publicity circuit that weekend, miming a blowjob with Ricky Gervais on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. She might have been very scared by the London audience and their vibe of “C’mon, impress me” – but then, she’s played New York. And if you can break that crowd…

Anyway, bring on Eddie Izzard in December. Although he’s cost me £50 a ticket…

Eddie Izzard's sold out, maaannn….

Eddie Izzard's sold out, maaannn….

Time was I remember when Eddie Izzard was an up-and-coming name on London’s comedy circuit. Whispers of him and his genius abounded, and if you were lucky you might get to see him in an intimate setting.

Up till now, I’ve watched his meteroic ascension to stardom with a wry smile – who else could get away with offering downloads of him giving satnav directions (for a suitably high fee of course)? It was still so “him”, keeping to the brand, while still managing to feed the Izzard coffers.

But the latest offer sounds so daft, and ridiculously expensive. A flight for two to New York, three nights in a hotel and tickets to see Eddie in concert. And guess how much you’d have to pay for this privilege?

US$3200. Or about £1800.

I’m pretty sure that a flight for two to New York and three nights in a good hotel will cost about £1000. which basically means that people are paying £400 each for the privilege of seeing Eddie in concert in New York.


Airplane! vs Withnail and I

Airplane! vs Withnail and I

At last month’s Rialto Film Club meeting, we all met to decide which films to show for the next six months. Most nominations within a category went by with the usual nodding heads, stroked chins and debate over whether to show films for their popularity, their rarity or just for us.

Then came the Comedy category. The choices quickly narrowed down to Airplane! vs Withnail and I. No contest I thought – Airplane! is simply one of the funniest movies of all time, full of witty and silly puns, visual and blue gags galore. In short, a guaranteed laugh-fest for anyone with a sense of humour.

Surprisingly, half the committee immediately chose Withnail and I. I’ve seen it once (admittedly on video on a dull Saturday afternoon) and I didn’t find anything particularly funny about it. I don’t think I laughed once at it. But pretty soon, both sides were arguing passionately for Airplane! or for Withnail and I. The deluded fools.

We couldn’t come to a decision, so it’s been deferred to the next meet. Which is next week.

So which film would you prefer? And why?

Get a grip? Get a new presenter!

Get a grip? Get a new presenter!

So Get A Grip heralds Ben Elton’s return to stand-up comedy – with a funky female sidekick to act as a younger hipper person to his old-dad persona…

So it’s a bit of a shame that it hits off with a quick comedy skit about the effectiveness of spam. Gosh, that’s so 21st century. No, it hasn’t been done to death by every other comedian up to now… Plus, for a supposedly topical TV comedy show, to go on about the Diana conspiracy theory doesn’t exactly scream of bang up-to-date comedy.

And it just gets worse. Alexa Chung might be ok at reading off an autocue, but she certainly doesn’t seem human doing it – couldn’t they get a funky young female sidekick who actually looks capable of responding to Ben ad hoc instead of reading from a script? (Shame I have to diss her really – how often do you get half-Chinese people on prime-time ITV?) Hell, she looks like Tracy Barlow as she smiles there watching her ranting sidekick go on. Plus, someone should have told her that one of the first rules of comedy is not to smile and laugh at your own jokes.

Ben hasn’t exactly moved on either – all the comedy sketch interludes are almost exactly the same format from his BBC series The Man From Auntie (which was 17 years ago), right down to the upside down chins. He’s kept his ranty persona – but now it sounds like the old dad (that he is), rather than anyone actually funny.

Producers of Get A Grip, there is one thing you can do which would make it so damn better. Get them out from behind the desk – it might make the show just a little more dynamic instead of having two people just sat there reading off an autocue.

Of course, this followed the hilarious comedy City Lights which had our two main characters hounded out of your house after witnessing a gangland killing. ITV’s Wednesday comedy night has some way to go methinks.

PS: I would link to my superlative Ben Elton website at this point, but I’ve got no idea where it’s gone. Such is the way of old web sites.

A weekend of comedy

A weekend of comedy

So, as largely predicted, Comic Relief turned out to be more or less a dead duck, comedically speaking.

I still don’t see what’s particularly funny about Little Britain – although it was vaguely amusing when Dennis Waterman sauntered onto the stage – and the much-vaunted Vicar of Dibley LAST-EVER episode was just embarrassing. I must have been having a nightmare when Mitchell & Webb came on as two singing snooker commentators – and I’m still struggling to find the comedy between two comedy characters in a wheelchair singing I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). It was trying so desperately hard to be this year’s Amarillo but it’s not got the novelty factor – or the “dance” which gets funnier with repetition. Plus the song is so over-familiar anyway.

The worst moments were any time Davina McCall was on screen. Alternating between squirmingly-orgasmic thanks to the corporate sponsors (“Let’s hear a huge cheer for Cisco Systems! Yeah!!!!”) and oh-so-sincere think-of-the-children-please-think-of-the-children appeals for more donations, one is reminded why she’s on Celebrity Big Brother and advertising keep-fit videos and not, say, doing a Fearne Cotton and appearing on pretty much anything that has a live broadcast. Hell, in one weekend Fearne did Comic Relief, Eurovision’s Making Your Mind Up and I’m sure I heard her doing the Radio 1 breakfast show this morning.

Still, at least the Catherine Tate sketches weren’t too bad and the Ricky Gervais indulgent skits broke the norm. But they didn’t raise a titter.

Fortunately, Channel 4 rode to the rescue on Sunday with yet another list show – but this time listing the top 100 comedy stand-ups. I’d quibble with quite a few choices:
– Peter Kay above Eddie Izzard ?!
– Harry Hill above Bill Hicks ?!
– Chris Rock above Jerry Seinfeld?
– Billy Connolly as the top stand-up comedian ?!

and it was strange how most of the stand-up comedians I’ve seen on the circuit were languishing in the 20s, while the likes of Peter Kay and Lee Evans – funny, but a little too slick and ungenuine for my liking – were at the very top – but it was a good three hours of entertainment. Now if only more stand-up comedians came to North Wales!

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