Thursday, 23 February 2012

They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian

I was delighted to see Craig Brown point out that comedians stop being funny: ‘Spike Milligan, too, ended up horribly unfunny, but still going through the motions of popping up on Parkinson, speaking in silly voices and doing ‘outrageous’ things, such as falling off his chair.’ Yes, yes.

Spike Milligan was once fairly funny, in the Goon Show. This makes him exceptional.  Not many comedians are ever funny, funnily enough. Was Cleese? In Fawlty Towers yes and Clockwise, but much more for the scripts than for his acting, and always with an unpleasant element of cruelty. Not in Monty Python.  Ben Elton no. Stephen Fry no, although he was very funny in Footlights at Cambridge. Jasper Carrot was funny at first. Les Dawson was never very and soon ceased to be funny at all. Bob Monkhouse had only one good gag (see title of this post). Eric Morecombe was sometimes funny. The Goodies usually were.

Tony Hancock never. Tommy Cooper yes. Will Hay I like very much but this maybe because I have done so since childhood. Bob Hope? Too American for me. All those relentless wisecracks. Jack Benny had timing. But so many completely unfunny people like Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton and Ruby Wax. Abbot and Costello certainly not. The Marx Bros often yes, but much more often not.

Think about it and there is an obvious explanation. The great stand-up comics had their act or acts which they reused for years  - television constantly requires new material. And humour does not come on demand. It is 'a sudden discovery of a hidden glory in the world' a kind of mystical experience. It cannot be industrialised.

The truth is that good comic actors are very much funnier than gag tellers. Peter Sellers became funny when he became an actor playing Fred Kite in I'm Alright Jack! although he originally did not understand why he did not have jokes in his script. Only when the shop steward on the production ruined a take by guffawing loudly did Sellers understand that he could be funny without jokes.

Terry-Thomas is remembered as a comic actor but he was at one time in revue and this very rare clip seems to me an example of how to tell a (very weak) joke very well.

Today the news that Frank Carson has died. A very nice man I should imagine. The Comedians seems reasonably recent to me but it was full of Paki jokes, it discovered Bernard Manning and first went out in 1972. Carson despite sharing a surname with Sir Edward Carson was a Catholic and  a papal knight and probably an all round good egg who contributed to the gaiety of nations. But I have to say the selection of his best jokes quoted by the Daily Mail today is no laughing matter. They reminded me of Dr Johnson's remark (by the way, Dr. Johnson was funny) that it is a sad reflection on the paucity of human pleasures that hunting is accounted one of them. It must have been the way Frank Carson told them.

 So I rang up British Telecom, I said 'I want to report a nuisance caller', he said 'Not you again'.

·  An Irishman's wife gave birth to twins. Her husband demanded to know who the other man was.

·  Someone threw a petrol bomb at Alex Higgins once and he drank it!

·  A fella walked into hospital and the doctor said: 'You’ve got three minutes to live.' The man said: 'Can you do something for me?' 'Yes,' he said. 'I’ll boil you an egg.'

·  A fella said to the doctor: 'What’s the good news?' 'You’ve got 24 hours to live.' He says: 'What’s the bad news?' And the doc says: 'We should have told you yesterday.'

·  Have you heard about the Irishman who reversed into a car boot sale and sold the engine?

·  I don't think my wife likes me very much, when I had a heart attack she wrote for an ambulance.

·  My father fought in World War I and single-handedly destroyed the Germans' lines of communication. He ate their pigeon.

·  A fella walks into a pet shop and says: 'Give me a wasp.' The shopkeeper replies: 'We don’t sell wasps.' He says: 'There’s one in the window.'

·  A man goes into Boots and says: 'Have you got Viagra?' 'Do you have a prescription?' asks the chemist. 'No', he replies, 'But I’ve got a photograph of the wife...' 


  1. Dave Allen:

  2. I was weaned on Dave Allen. A good comedian - yes, he was funny.

  3. I have just been enjoying the Clitheroe Kid on Pumpkin FM - always on during Sunday lunch which we called dinner and I never understood a word of it. But that is not stand up comedy. Of course I love monologues - also different from stand-up comedy. I like this one very much: