Some Twitter nonsense

Imac_flowershot

Umberto Eco once wrote a lovely little article on how Mac vs PC is, essentially, the equivalent of the age-old dichotomy of Catholicism vs Protestantism.

At the time, I was working at a posh Anglican school, and I chose to email Eco's quote to all the staff - who reacted with defeaning silence. The only other Rock Chopper on the staff - who happened to have gone to my old school (a Catholic private school whose reputation for academia and discipline I never questioned until employed by said posh Anglican school, where I realised that in comparison, we got away with murder and learnt little) - assured me I was wasting breath, effort and intellect sharing that sort of learnéd observation. In other words, I'd probably offended everyone else on the staff.

As it happened, they would have been more offended by my zealous embrace of Apple Macintosh dogma rather than Catholic dogma; just as the IT department was poised to stock computer labs with a multitude of iMac G3s (remember them?) someone in the senior staff did a deal that saw every student receive a PC laptop and all us followers of false prophets and questionable computers seemed to be given a bit of a wider berth.

I do remember, around that time, realising that 'goodies' used MacBooks while 'baddies' used PCs. Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example; Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. (I said they were good; I never said they were great. But then again, there's Stephen Fry, who is better than all of them put together.) Bond villains, on the other hand, always use PCs.

The other day, Judah Friedlander suggested a totally different take via Twitter (perhaps both Catholicism and Protestantism are a little less relevant to him). For Judah, the Mac/PC divide applied to Star Wars. But it's not what you think; the Death Star Droid isn't powered by Windows.

Rather, this happened, which made my day:

Judah Friedlander

Best Twitter interaction since the day Fry RT'd and LOL'd my foolish comment...

Stephen Fry LOLs Dom

 

 

 


Jim and Eddie TalkS hit

Ben Kochan, a tweep I follow, tweets me to say that Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft mentioned me in their podcast, Jim & Eddie TalkS hit. “That would excite me,” he says. “Maybe it excites you”.

Indeed it does. Jim Jefferies and Eddie Ifft are among my favourite comics. I’m hoping they say nice things. Maybe point people to interviews I’ve done with them. Talk up this blog. I’m already imagining my Twitter followers increasing by a good ten percent in a couple of days, like the time Stephen Fry gave me some link love way back when. (I made him LOL. I’m going to keep bragging about it. I don’t care whether you deal with it.)

But it’s better than that.

I go straight to their podcast homepage to access their latest episode, no. 133. It features Nick Thune. I begin listening.

I begin to get worried when they start talking about fat people. Well, not when they start. When they get to the bit about ‘fat people who don’t see themselves as fat’. I’m pretty sure that’s not me, I’m just hoping I don‘t fit into (so to speak) that category without knowing it. I don’t want to be talked about on their podcast in that context. Even though, truth be told, I’m not that way about my weight. I’m aware of it. However, I am that way about my age. I’m an old person with no idea how old I actually am, or appear. There are people younger than me who seem so much older than me. Mostly because they do grown up things like work hard, earn good money, own houses, drive cars, have kids, submit their Business Activity Statements on time, that sort of thing.

But the fat discussion comes and goes…

There are one or two other moments where the podcast goes to places I hope don’t actually involve me.

Towards the end, Nick mentions he’s coming to Australia in August. I’m guessing, in the last 30 seconds, they’re going to suggest he lets me interview him for this blog.

Nope. That doesn’t happen. That’s not it. And the episode’s over.

I go to iTunes to look at other recent episodes. I see Orny Adams was their guest in the previous episode. And I shudder.

See, I interviewed Orny Adams way back in 2006. Back when I was producing a podcast – a groundbreaking podcast called Radio Ha Ha,  dissecting comedy with comedians much as all the great podcasts do now. And not necessarily doing it any better than anyone does it now. But in a time when practically nobody was podcasting, it was important and groundbreaking.

We had an awesome conversation, Orny ’n’ me. It went for ages, we covered so much ground, we got on brilliantly. And then, when it was over, I realised I’d stuffed something up technically, and hadn’t actually secured a recording I could use. That hurt.

Not long after, I interviewed Eddie Ifft for the first time. I was aware of, and overcame, the technical difficulty early in that interiew, cause I was being extra careful so as not to repeat the heartbreak of an excellent conversation resulting in nothing. Once, with Orny, was all the times I ever wanted it to happen in my life.

So seeing that Orny was the guest of Episode 132,  I knew then and there precisely how I was going to feature in Jim & Eddie TalkS hit. Here is an excerpt, and transcript of the relevant part.

 

Jim Jeffries & Eddie Ifft TalkS hit Ep 132- Eskimo - excerp by standanddeliver

 

EDDIE IFFT: I do an interview in Australia, when I was there a long time ago. I’m doing my run through and, you know, you go do your series of interviews before the festival… I’m going to all these interviews. I go to this guy, and he interviews me: Dom Romeo. He’s the nicest guy in the world.

JIM JEFFERIES: That was the first interview I ever had in my whole career.

EDDIE IFFT: He interviews me for like two hours, and he’s such a good guy, and we had had some technical problems that he fixed. And he goes, ‘thanks man; I just interviewed Orny Adams a couple of months ago – I interviewed him for two hours and then found out that the recorder didn’t work.

ORNY ADAMS: Yeah, yeah, so the whole thing sounded like… [makes unintelligible whispering sound] I’m pouring my heart out… Why do you think I’m not trying today? Done!

 

So, if you’re interested, here’s the very first interview Jim Jefferies ever did with anyone.

Here’s the last one I did with him.

Here’s an interview with Eddie Ifft from a couple of years ago (not the Radio Ha Ha one).

There is no interview with Orny Adams for me to direct you to.

Yet.


Alan Davies' Aussie 'Life is Pain' tour

My conversation with Alan Davies, regarding QI, Whites and his own stand-up tour, Life is Pain. Bits of it were Tweeted and Facebooked earlier on. As Alan tours Australia, with tickets to some shows still available, Here it is in its entirety. Enjoy!

Alandavies

 

“The logic of it fails me,” Alan Davies insists. 

Davies – Stephen Fry’s excellent foil on QI and a comic in his own right – is currently in Australia. He came out to take part in a live QI tour and stayed on for his own stand-up tour. But our first topic of conversation is his most recent television project, the quite brilliant but sadly under-appreciated dramedy Whites, cancelled after its first season.

“Losing Whites is the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had in television.”

According to Davies, Whites took four years to reach the screen. Writers Matt King (a regular on Peep Show and Spirited, as well as a stalwart on the Aussie stand-up scene some years ago) and Oliver Lansley started by writing “a taster”, from which a pilot was commissioned. (They actually spent time training as chefs at one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, to authentically capture the feel). A year later, the series was made, followed by another year before it was broadcast. “It’s a long process,” Davies continues. “You can’t imagine a car company spending four years developing a car, putting it on sale, it proving really popular, and then stopping making it and deciding to make a different car. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Not least of all because it was cancelled after the script for a second season was commissioned, and with nothing selected to replace it in the schedule. “It had been very successful with the audiences and critically. It was a real shock and a huge disappointment because it was an ensemble of actors who were the best and the nicest bunch of people I ever worked with.”

Indeed. Isy Suttie, whom we also know as ‘Dobbie’ in Peep Show, was Kiki, the kooky waitress. More significantly, Katherine Parkinson – who’d replaced Julia Sawalha as Caroline Quentin’s replacement as the female lead in the most recent instalment of Jonathan Creek – played restaurant manager and maitre d’ Caroline.

“She’s a super bright woman,” Davies says of Katherine Parkinson. “Very smart, witty, great company and tremendous comedy actress. We’re great fans of hers from the IT Crowd. She came in and auditioned for Whites. No airs and graces about Katherine at all. Hands down she was the best for the role. It’s just part of the huge disappointment about the cancellation that we won’t be able to do any more of those scenes or get those characters going again, because I thought they were really great. That’s television, unfortunately. It’s quite impenetrable at times, and even thought I’ve been working on television for nearly 20 years, I’m as baffled as anyone this time.”

 

Jonathan Creek

Nearly 20 years in television, huh? That in itself is baffling, given Alan’s perpetual youthfulness. Seems like only a couple of years ago he turned up as the tussle-haired lead with the cool accent in that – let’s face it – rather wussy, English kind of X-Files-lite (meant in the best possible way, of course) known as Jonathan Creek. You know, where he plays a magician’s assistant – the sort who helps devise the tricks offstage rather than donning lycra and tights to be sawed in half as part of them onstage – who also solves mysteries.

What was surprising was that – despite the presence of female lead Caroline Quentin, late of Men Behaving Badly, and the vaguely familiar Cleese-alike, in that first episode, who turned out to be an older Neil-of-the-Young Ones Nigel Planer – Jonathan Creek was ‘light entertainment’ more than ‘comedy’. No, actually, that wasn’t the surprise. The surprise was that, despite the show clearly being light entertainment rather than comedy, Alan Davies – whom we hardly knew in this country – started popping up in stand-up specials and shows that were more obviously sitcoms.

Turns out, hardcore comedy fans knew Alan Davies a lot better than TV viewers who’d stumbled onto Jonathan Creek. He had cut his stand-up comedy chops while developing his acting, as a student. Prior to Jonathan Creek, there was the excellent mini series Bob & Rose – as important a mainstream debut for writer Russell T. Davies as it was for actor Alan Davies. And as with Russell T’s best work, the drama was so potent because it effortlessly combined comedy in the process. Perfect for Alan. “I did a lot of acting at university and I always wanted to write and perform comedy, so the two things were going on at the same time,” he says. “I was okay in plays, but it was best if they were comedies.”

 

Early stand-up

Alan gave comedy a proper go after he graduated in 1988. It was also the year Alan first visited Australia, where – it turns out – he had relatives.

“My mum died when I was only six and she had one sibling, my Aunt, who lived in Adelaide,” Alan explains. “My Gran lived with her. To hear anything about my mum or get to know that side of the family meant coming to Australia.”

After that initial visit, Davies returned repeatedly throughout the early 90s, gigging while here. Voted Best Young Comic by London’s Time Out magazine in 1991, he was playing the Adelaide Fringe in a split show with Judith Lucy and Jimeoin in 1992 – “I knew Jimeoin from the UK and the Australian promoter put us together with Judith”. He won the Critics Award for Comedy at Edinburgh Fringe in 1994, the same year he missed out on the Perrier (beaten by Aussies Lano & Woodley). He was at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 1995, when it was still a comparatively “low-key affair”.

And even though the success of Jonathan Creek meant slowing down a little – “it did take over my life a little bit and the stand-up started to fade” Alan continued visiting Australia, what with cousins dotted around the country and a best friend from his school days having emigrated to Sydney. Although things got a little busier of late, making his returns less frequent. “My wife and I came over in 2006 and we had Christmas in Adelaide. This is our fist trip since then,” he says. 

But it’s only been five years since Alan Davies was last in Australia. It’s been ten since he was regularly performing as a stand-up comic, and, he says, “I have missed doing it. I never really anticipated being away from it for ten years. I can’t really see where those ten years have gone.”

Hmmm. I think I can. The last eight have involved seasons of QI, the game show with a difference, since rather than rewarding intelligence, as game shows used to, or cunning, as they did most recently, QI demands only that the panelists be interesting.

 

QI

Alan’s involvement in the show came, he says, as a result of his late-’90s “move away from stand-up” when he “sold his soul” for four years, making television commercials for a bank. They were directed by John Lloyd, who’d produced such great comedy shows as Spitting Image, Not The Nine O’Clock News, Black Adder and the television version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy but hadn’t made a television show in a while, concentrating instead on advertisements.

“We got on very well while we were shooting things,” Alan says, “and he had an idea for a panel show and said ‘What do you think of a show where you get points for being interesting?’ I immediately bought into it. We talked about it a lot in the long breaks on set when we were doing those ads.”

A year later, Lloyd phoned Davies, announcing he’d “managed to get the money from the BBC” and was about to “make a pilot of the Quite Interesting Panel Show”; would Alan like to be involved? “I jumped at the chance,” Alan says.

They’ve made a season every year since 2003. The secret to its success is not merely because it lives up to its name, of being quite interesting (that’s what the ‘QI’ stands for) but, according to Alan, because of it’s ‘collaborative feel’:

“We don’t like feeling that people are elbowing each other aside for space and treading on each other trying to out-do one another. You can’t get the questions right. You’re very fortunate to even understand the questions, usually. It takes you into a topic where you don’t know what’s going to come next.” In order to pull it off, there’s “a huge amount of work” by a team of researchers, led by Jon Lloyd, “that goes on for months”.

Although Stephen Fry is so natural in his delivery, and such an intellectual Renaissance man that you’d easily believe that he would know all of the information presented on the show, there are ‘scripts’ provided with all of the material. But, Alan explains, “Stephen’s second to none at absorbing all this stuff and preparing the show. It looks like an effortless conversation, but there’s a huge amount of preparation.”

Meanwhile, the panelists are “totally in the dark”. They have the option of seeing the questions just before taping begins, “but they don’t make any sense to you”. So, according to Alan, “you go and have a conversation off-the-cuff; the whole thing’s spontaneous and really good fun to be part of.”

If you go and buy the boxed set of the first three seasons (through Roadshow, available at your ABC Shop) you’ll see some patterns emerge. Alan Davies loves doing his ‘Mexican impression’; Rich Hall subverts expectations by playing the game virtually against the rules – all non sequiturs and absurd utterances; Jo Brand likewise can stop just about anyone in their tracks with an unexpected – but hilarious – comment; Bill Bailey’s amoeba gag comes up a couple of times.

Alan agrees Rich Hall “has always been a minimalist contributor”, throwing in the occasional line that always gets a laugh. “Many others are much chattier,” he observes, noting that the show works best when you have “a good blend”. What he loves most is the fact he knows most of the guests from his time on the comedy circuit. “It’s like seeing old mates. It’s a very relaxed environment.”

Initially, they were “quite careful” about whom they invited on. After it became popular, people were “queuing up” for the opportunity. “There are still some people who you’d like to come on who won’t,” Alan admits. Who? Is he at liberty to say?

“Dawn French. I talked to Ricky Gervais a few years ago and he said, ‘there’s no way, I can’t do what you guys do’. I think he could, but if he’s not comfortable with these kinds of shows, don’t do them. There’s no need.”

Daniel Kitson, likewise, eschews such television shows. Alan’s been trying to get him on “for years, but he simply won’t”. Which is a pity – to my mind the show is practically designed for his intellect and humour, and Davies agrees. “He would flourish in that environment, and it would be lovely to have him there. But he has no interest in it.”

Although, as Alan notes, it took a long time to get Ross Noble on QI. “He’s started coming on in the last couple of years and he’s been terrific. Hopefully Daniel will, eventually.”

You can only imagine, when watching QI on television, that much more material is recorded than broadcast. Sometimes you can almost detect an abrupt edit. According to Alan, they record 90 minutes. Thus, “there’s usually about an hour or more of stuff that’s not broadcast. There are lots of opportunities in the show for us to do stuff that’s unbroadcastable for the benefit of the studio audience. But they give themselves scope to edit down a really, really tight, funny half hour.” 

In more recent years, in addition to the 30-minute television version, there’s been a 45-minute QI XL edit of each episode. Makes perfect sense to make the most of the material produced.

The pity of the Australian tour is that it was intended “just for the ticket-buying public”; not recorded for posterity, let alone for broadcast. No ‘special Australian season’ the way British comedy used to be manufactured, back in the day when it was still Pomedy rather than Britcom – Aussie episodes of Love Thy Neighbour, Father Dear Father and Are You Being Served. Even the first season of Blackadder was a co-production with the ATN Seven network in this country.

“We were hoping that we could salvage Whites that way,” Alan says. “We did have a couple of conversations with the ABC about doing a second season on that basis, but so far that hasn’t come to fruition.” Clearly, the thing to have done was to tape the Aussie QI live season and package it up, to raise some coin for future seasons of Whites. Never mind. That’s only one missed opportunity with this tour. The other – that I’m still bemoaning – is that it doesn’t take in Sydney.

“That is a shame,” Davies says. “There was the intention of doing a show in Sydney, but the issue is Stephen Fry’s availability and the promoter failing to get a venue organised. My own promoter for my stand-up shows is very on the ball and she’s now done everything that we needed to get done.”

Whatever anxiety Alan had – and he admits there was a degree, having had such a long time away from stand-up – he’s tried to “channel into positive energy”, first with small UK gigs before arriving in Australia, and then with small club gigs before embarking on his stand-up tour proper, working up new material so that he’d be “nice and ready” to tour.

 

Some cheeky questions

Before I can leave Alan Davies to his own devices on it, I want to ask some downright cheeky questions. “May I?” I politely enquire.

“If you like,” Alan says, graciously.

I begin with Lou and Andy on Little Britain. You know, the characters – who allegedly happen to be named after Lou Reed and Andy Warhol – consisting of a malingerer in a wheelchair and his carer. To my mind, if Daniel Kitson were to pretend to be disabled and Alan Davies was to wheel him around, they’d be Lou and Andy.

Bb73205little-britain-290x4“I think you’re stretching,” Alan says. “I don’t know who’d be more offended – me or Daniel,” he adds.

My next cheeky observation: that kid who plays the middle, naughty child on Outnumbered. With that hair, that face, and indeed, those speech patterns, he could be Alan Davies’ son.

Wxn3O4bf“Yeah, well you’re about the 95th… thousandth… person to say that…” Alan dismisses.

“Has anyone else brought the ‘Lou and Andy’ comparison up?” I wonder.

“That shows that you do have capacity as an original thinker; good for you on that one. But no, I’m afraid the curly-headed kid on Outnumbered – I get that on Twitter virtually every day and I can confirm to you that he is not my son. But he’s a very good actor. He’s better than me, anyway.”

Well, we know that that’s false modesty; there are things like Bob & Rose early on, and Whites quite recently that demonstrate how good Alan Davies is. And again, we’re reminded how much of a pity it is that Whites ended when it did. It was a great show.

“It’s very gratifying to hear that,” Alan says. “I’ve had a lot of feedback from Australian viewers who were catching it, and now from people in the States who are fans of the new style of English comedy. It’s very gratifying that people would like it. Part of the impetus for getting me back up on stage as a stand-up comedian is the frustration and disappointment of these decisions. At least as a stand-up I can go onstage and there’s no one between me and the audience. I can go and say what I like, and that’s a refreshing change.”


This is the comedy event of the year
that is

TW32010
 

This is a brief history of things that have been…

Here’s the deal: back in the dark ages of modernity, about half a century ago in what must have been the late 1950s, a guy called David Paradine Frost went to Cambridge University and was a member of The Footlights. The Footlights was a student club dedicated to humour, which nobody could join – you had to be invited. Other people went to Cambridge University and were members of The Footlights. People like John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle, who went on to be members of Monty Python. People like Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, who went on to be Goodies. People like Clive James, Douglas Adams, Griff Rhys Jones, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Germaine Greer, Miriam Margoyles, Eleanor Bron, Alexander Armstrong, Ben Miller, Michael Frayn, Jonathan Miller…

One of the most revered people to have been a member of the Footlights was a guy called Peter Cook. He had graduated in the years before people like John Cleese and Clive James even got to Cambridge, but he was still highly revered and spoken off respectfully by people who had known him, seen him or heard of him, who were still present. While Cook was still an undergraduate he had written professionally for established comedians. He’d written two whole shows for Kenneth Williams of Carry On infamy.

One of Cook’s creations was a character called E. L. Wisty, who essentially delivered stream-of-consciousness monologues in a lugubrious monotone – kind of a forerunner of The Sandman. After Cook graduated, he and another Cambridge/Footlights veteran, Jonathan Miller, had been recruited along with two Oxford University graduates, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, to appear in an Edinburgh Fringe Festival show entitled Beyond the Fringe. It was important because it was a new kind of revue that more-or-less launched what became known as the British satire boom – a new wave of contemporary absurdist humour, dealing with contemporary absurd life, came to the fore and, like contemporary music, fashion and art, took a firm hold. People describe the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s in England – the pre- and post-Beatles age – as being a shift from black and white to colour.

As events unfolded, the person who made the most of the so-called satire boom was not Peter Cook – even though he helped fund and launch a live venue, the Establishment, featuring live, cutting edge comedy; and came to be associated with an important satirical publication, Private Eye – but someone who bloomed later than Cook, and sustained that later bloom: David Paradine Frost. Employing the best comedy writers to follow, he established a weekly satirical show entitled That Was The Week That Was – or TW3 for short – which would provide a satirical wrap-up of the week’s events. Frost also did serious journalism. He is the same Frost upon whose interview with President Nixon the film Frost/Nixon is based. But fronting TW3 (and later, The Frost Report), is how Frost first made a name for himself.

Frost gave so many comedians their professional start – employing many as researchers on his serious show, employing many as writers in his satirical shows. He was instrumental in ensuring the Pythons – and Tim Brooke-Taylor – got their pre-Python/Goodies breaks with the shows Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last The 1948 Show. And when he got wind of Monty Python’s Flying Circus taking off, he apparently asked if he could be a part of it, providing the links between sketches. “Piss off, David, you can’t be in this one,” is how Eric Idle summed it up in the doco Life of Python. By Monty Python: The Complete And Utter Truth – The Lawyers’ Cut, the only reference to Frost comes from John Cleese, and it is utterly reverential.

Fact is, some people seem to resent Frost his success. Or at least, they once did. And it’s possibly because he never seemed as talented as genius Peter Cook on campus (but then again, who did?) whereas, after university and initial success, Cook seemed to be permanently stalled while Frost was amazingly successful. Adding insult to injury by seeming to deliver every line in a kind of lugubrious, E. L. Whisty monotone. You can hear it in action in the theme song – Frost provides the ‘brilliant wordplay’. (Note use of inverted commas; also note that the youtube clip of the themesong sometimes fails to load – in which case, it lives here.)

The main vocalist was Milicent Martin, and it was produced by George Martin (any relation, I wonder?), head of the Parlophone label and producer of a lot of comedy records – Goon Show albums, as well as albums and singles by Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, albums by Flanders & Swann (who are sent up by Armstrong & Miller as ‘Brabbins and Fyffe’) not to mention the cast recording of Beyond The Fringe – prior to signing and producing The Beatles.

51921YGG0CL._SL500_AA300_

Britain’s That Was The Week That Was had an American equivalent. It went by the same title. One of the regular contributors to that show was a Harvard Mathematics lecturer who had already written to volumes of satirical songs of his own. His name was Tom Lehrer. He would provide a topical song each week. At the end of the year, the best songs were compiled for an album that proved very popular indeed. It was called That Was The Year That Was. Every sophisticated Aussie household with a sense of humour had a copy. A generation or so later, Tom Lehrer proved one of the inspirations that helped launch Sammy J.

There is a new tradition of satirical shows going by the name That Was The Year That Was. It started a few years ago and is now an annual event at the Sydney Opera House, featuring a host of brilliant comics giving their take on the year that was (who better, eh?!) The third one is upon us. December 29, December 30. Go buy tickets. Then come back and read some of the interviews with comics…

Tripod; (and again; and again; and again;)
Fiona O’Loughlin
Jeff Green

 


Comedy Duos – Twice the Fun?

OnABCLocalRado

I’m on ABC Local Radio Overnights tomorrow (Sunday) morning across Australia. As Rod Quinn’s guest, I’ll be bringing in a bunch of samples as we discuss comedy duos. I’m on from around 4 am EST (which I think is 2am in Western Australia and somewhere in between, when you’re somewhere in between the eastern states and WA). Since I’m doing it live, and there’ll be talkback, if you’re an insomniac do listen and phone in. Don’t make the questions too hard – I’m working off the top of my head.

My playlist will be drawn from the following:


1. ‘The Cuckoo Song’ - Laurel & Hardy (sort of)

A logical place to start: Laurel & Hardy are a – perhaps the – seminal comedy team and this ditty – which existed independent of them – became their signature tune.


2. ‘Smokers’ – Fry & Laurie

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were Cambridge students who graduated to Edinburgh Fringe shows as part of the Footlights (the student club that gave members of Monty Python and The Goodies there start along with so many others I shan’t get caught up listing here), like so many university revue-educated wits before them. They first came to prominence in episodes of Black Adder before landing their own excellent sketch show, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, which is where this sketch originated. Nowadays Fry continues to write books and make documentary series while serving as Twitter’s biggest celebrity user, while Laurie enjoys massive success as the main character in the US medical drama series House.


3. ‘Pregnant Women Are Smug’ – Garfunkel & Oates

How’s this for a ‘comedy duo’? Their name itself is a joke on ‘duos’, referring to the ‘lesser sidemen’ in music duos. The point, in comedy, is that even if it looks like only one comedian in the duo is doing the work, the other one is still necessary for the comedy to work: it’s all about the dynamic. (“What was it that Dudley Moore used to do?” the question has been posed. “He made Peter Cook look funny” is the standard answer. He did much more than that – without him as a foil, Cook was more-or-less lost; his work never shone as brightly after cuddly Dudley made it in his own right in Holywood.)

Garfunkel & Oates are two young Californian actors, Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci – Kate’s a regular in later episodes of Scrubs. Their sideline are these cute satirical songs. I’m hoping they become popular enough to visit some Aussie comedy festivals, in time.


4. ‘Six of the Best’ – Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

I could bang on about the genius of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore for days. Suffice to say, as a duo, what they did on stage was magic, and in many ways I see Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh as their present-day equivalent. For its time, groundbreaking social commentary, since Moore plays the elderly schoolmaster, Cook, the arrogant and disrespectful student, reversing the power structure just as the young generation appeared to be taking control – or at least becoming the dominant element in popular culture – in the ’60s. It’s funny because it was revealing the unspoken truth. Of course a lad on the threshold of manhood could intimidate an elderly schoolmaster, but respect for age, experience, intellect, class and position prevented it from taking place. It’s less funny now that the scenario being enacted is one that more-or-less takes place in schools all the time now.


5. ‘Chocolate’ – The Smothers Brothers

The Smothers Brothers – Tom and Dicky – illustrate why the comic song works so well within the parameters of ‘comedy duo’. The ‘straight man’/‘funny man’ dichotomy creates humour through the straight guy trying to deliver the song as it should be performed, while the clown continues to subvert expectations. Within this song, many of the traditional elements of the folk song are turned on their head.


6. ‘Bob Geldof’ – Mel Smith & Grif Rhys Jones

After working on the sketch show Not The Nine O’Clock News with Pamela Stephenson and Rowan Atkinson, Smith & Jones continued to work with each other on the sketch show Alas Smith & Jones (the title’s a piss-take of the early ’70s cowboy series Alias Smith & Jones). One aspect of their work together were their ‘chats’, naturalistic dialogues derived, no doubt, from initital improvisations, not unlike the work  Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in ‘Pete ’n’ Dud’ mode – two old mates talking bollocks over beer.


7. ‘Sarah Jackman’ – Allan Sherman

Allan Sherman was mostly a solo act, coming out of a Jewish television/showbiz background (the titles of many of his albums began with the words, ‘My Son…’ like My Son The Nut and My Son The Folk Singer – as though his parents were still disapproving). He was a producer of the classic Tonight Show ever so briefly – but not good enough at it. After he was sacked, he returned as a performer, doing what he did best: song parodies. Indeed, the first time you watch the Walt Disney animated masterpiece Fantasia, you may think yourself a little crazy when you realise the melody of Ponchielli’s ‘The Dance of Hours’ (ostriches doing ballet) sounds almost exactly like ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fuddah’; that’s because Sherman took ‘The Dance of Hours’ melody and wedded new lyrics to it. And he did it well – every syllable is where it should be.

For the duration of this song  – a parody of the French children’s song, ‘Frère Jacques’ – Sherman’s part of a duo with Christine Nelson. The song takes the form of a ‘catch-up’ phone call, one imagines by someone who has grown up and left the old neighbourhood, catching up with all the comings-and-goings. There’s a good deal of social commentary from its time – the early ’60s – with cousin Shirley ‘married early’, brother Bentley ‘feeling better mentally’, cousin Ida a ‘freedom rider’ and – my favourite – Sonja’s daughter Rita, now a ‘regular Lolita’!


8. ‘Who’s On First’ – Abbott & Costello

One of the seminal pieces of comedy from a classic comedy duo. Essentially the Abbott & Costello signature piece, it was recorded a number of times – in various films and on radio and television shows. This is an excerpt.


9. ‘Hawk Hawkins’ – Smart Casual

Ben and Nick Mattick are Roger David and Fletcher Jones (I may have the charaters in the wrong order), AKA Smart Casual. They first appeared on the Sydney comedy scene a few years ago, getting to the national final of the Raw Comedy competition on the strength of songs that had the good sense to be more than one gag repeated ad infinitem accompanied by 12-bar blues, or all of their jokes, delivered to opened-ended chordal vamping – which is how so much ‘musical comedy’ is unfortunately presented. (See what I’m saying, comedy n00bs? The tokenistic inclusion of music will fool the masses as easily as any other comedy corners you may find a way to cut. But people who ‘know about’ music and ‘know about’ comedy won’t be be impressed.)

Part of what makes Smart Casual’s material work is something that Garfunkel & Oates also know full well: if the joke is a quickie, so too must be the song. This year Smart Casual featured in Comedy Zone – the show the Melbourne International Comedy Festival puts together from the best new talent around Australia. ‘Hawk Hawkins’ was their Raw Comedy finale and has served them well. I suspect they’ll soon be ‘resting’ it as they move on to new material.


10. ‘Happy Darling?’ – Eleanor Bron and John Fortune

Eleanor Bron and John Fortune came to the fore as part of England’s so-called ’60s satire boom. Bron went to Cambridge University and was a contemporary of Peter Cook’s. She also has a major role in the Beatles film Help! – among other things, she’s the woman being sung to in the clip for ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’. During the 70s Bron and Fortune developed a series of sketches about relationships under the title Is Your Marriage Strictly Necessary? which John Cleese cites as one of the inspirations for Fawlty Towers.


11. ‘The Phonebook Song’ – Scared Weird Little Guys

The Scared Weird Little Guys are another two-guys-and-a-guitar comedy duo specialising in genre pardies and clever-silly songs. They comprise Rusty Berther and John Fleming, who met in a capella groups, having cut their teeth in barbershop quartets and the like. (Their first shared project was a five-piece a capella combo, ‘The Phones’.) ‘The Phonebook Song’ is a classic live number that demonstrates vocal prowess. At the very end, it refers to another novelty song built around clever rapid-fire syllables.


12. ‘Sweet Fanny Adams Part 2’ – Mel & Sue

Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were (and possibly still are) an English comedy duo who, earlier this century, were likened – and perhaps burdened by the comparison – to ‘French & Saunders’. The BBC Radio 4 show, The Mel & Sue Thing, and subsequent Edinburgh Fringe shows, demonstrated a clever, funny approach to sketch comedy. ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ was a regular feature of the show – the serialisation of Jane Austen’s last – and lost – novella, the perfect antidote to the costumed period dramas that still occupy BBC television broadcast schedules. Part of their ‘Mel & Sue’ persona sees them share a bed in their pyjamas in a very ‘Morecambe & Wise’ manner. Mel pops up in a Vicar of Dibley Christmas special.


13. ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ – Morecambe & Wise

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise met as kids in a touring vaudeville troupe and perfected their comedy in partnership very early on. Being in the right place at the right time, they were the ones who made the transition from the vaudeville stage to television most successfully, becoming the most watched comedians of their age as they broke viewing records, particularly for their Christmas specials, in which regular non-comedic television personalities – news readers and the like – would appear in guest roles. ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ was, by the end of their long career, established as their signature tune.



To Tweet or not to Tweet

Lots of commentators are talking about Twitter now, with the Twitterverse growing. Like anything that started out as a minority interest, a ‘private joke made public’ (you know, all those cool shows you were into with your mates before everyone knew what they were, where the first two season are brilliant but then they get a budget with which to stuff up the third) there’s a danger that it may just turn to shit. But it’s still at the phase where Rove can do gags about it without quite knowing what it is (or perhaps pretending not to, for comedic effect; he appears to have two Twitter accounts parked, just in case it does turn into something to capture viewers with).

And Jon Stewart can do gags about it without quite knowing what it is (or pretending not to for comedic effect; although perhaps he truly isn’t into it – the corresponding Twitter account isn’t actually his).

With all manner of mainstream spokespeople taking about it, Twitter could become a bogan pastime if, say, single mums start spending the baby bonus on iPhones instead of plasma TVs – or it just could become boring and irrelevent if something better captures the audience. But like most things, it’s a little less cool once middle Australia thinks it knows about it. Like the shoes hanging over powerlines: it might have once indicated a dealer’s house, but by the time someone on ABC Local Radio tells you that’s the case, you’re not about to go hooning through suburbia looking for dangling trainers. The likelihood of a dealer within, nowadays, is even slimmer than the chance of there being an ABC Local Radio listener who is drug dependent but can’t get sorted. 

Sorry, I’ve gone a bit off-topic here.

I started tweeting some time ago, introduced to it by the same person who encouraged me to start my blog, but stopped, figuring Facebook enabled me to update my status as often as I liked, and more besides, rendering Twitter unnecessary. Then, to be brutally honest, I noticed cool people who wouldn’t be caught dead being mistaken for techheads, along with fools and morons who originally eschewed social software, jump on the Twitter bandwagon after they’d heard people they actually respect talk about it. Or they paid for courses in online this-or-that at one of many ‘Fasttrack Your Media Career’ Enterprises P/L, where Twitter was pushed as part of the networking arsenal.

Not being a bandwagon jumper myself,1 I had a cautious look around and noticed that, since there were more people using it, it had become more interesting and far more useful a means of sharing ideas, even for a technoluddite like me. People I respected, like Stephen Fry, were pointing me in the direction of interesting stuff. Of course, I also find people pointing me in the direction of useless crud. The trick is to avoid useless crud and keep track of the interesting stuff. The other trick is to realise that how I define interesting stuff and useless crud most likely differs to the way virtually anyone else defines it. One thing I did find interesting was that a lot of people I knew and liked – in real life I mean – happened also to be using Twitter. So it made sense to be updating Facebook via Twitter, and keeping in touch with this new multitude of interesting thinkers (and doers) in the process.

People ask me what Twitter is and what it’s for. Even its creator admits users keep pointing out that it’s for different things. Different people use it in different ways to different degrees. I mostly use it the same way I mostly use Facebook: in an age where we have less personal contact, when I’m tied to my computer more and more (and no, I don’t have a computer-in-the-pocket like a Blackberry or iPhone; I can't afford one), Twitter helps keep my smart-arse-comment and quick-comeback muscles supple. I basically troll the site when having a break and banter as I would in the office if I still worked in an office where banter was welcome. And I use it to point out when I’ve updated my blog with a new post (a status update that automatically appears on Facebook, which also takes a feed from my blog; sadly despite this, the ol’ blog gets less hits in this age of everyone ‘blogging’ through MySpace, Facebook and Twitter).

But I haven’t explained what Twitter is, nor shall I. Some guys have prepared a YouTube clip that does the job just fine.

More importantly (days after having updated this blog entry for the third or fourth time), I discovered that Twitter founder Evan Williams had given a talk on the origins and uses of Twitter:

The quoteable quote of his speach is: “When you give people easier ways to share information, more good things happen.”

I’ll continue tweeting (or Twittering) whatever happens, but I have one strong reservation: last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival was the one that boasted, as the best show title, What Up Fags I Got No Material lol. In featured a multitude of comics who spoke of LOLing, ROFLing and LMAOing. So what? Festivals frequently feature a confluence of inspiration; ‘tribes’ of comedians often have a shared collective unconscious of material from whence jokes are drawn. One year it was monkey references. More recently it was SMS predictive text. I’ve mentioned before the Melbourne tribe that seem to share references to Weekend at Bernie’s, wooji boojing and a habbit of ‘fer shizzling’ their ‘nizzles’. But please don’t make this the year of Facebook and Twitter gags, unless the material can be amusing to all parties: the social software tragics, the day-trippers, and especially the people who have no idea at all.

STOP PRESS:
Facebook is restructuring to be more like Twitter.

FOOTNOTE:

  1. My clever mate Tony has pointed out that by blogging about Twitter, I have indeed jumped on a bandwagon – the one containing lots of commentators talking about Twitter.