Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Conflict, comedy and cultural chaos

Strange set of topics to put together; I hope people don't feel I'm unduly making light of the former.

I don't talk much about Iraq largely because I don't have proudly, strongly-held views on the subject. Obviously war is inherently bad and I respect those who have taken strong stances to this end, but I'm wishy-washily war-curious to the point where I'm not prepared to rule out my support under all circumstances. I don't have an answer here.

However, possibly pragmatically, I would appreciate it if anyone could supply evidence as to how Desert Storm and Desert Shield affected the demand for transatlantic air travel and whether the airlines offered unusually good deals while they were in progress to counteract any drop in demand.

This week I have been listening to more comedy than usual on BBC 7, mostly 1998 Just A Minute (noon GMT, repeated 1900 GMT). However, immediately afterwards, today they broadcast an episode of I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again. This lasted throughout most of the 1960s, with the cast normally being Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, David Hatch, Jo Kendall, Bill Oddie and John Cleese with frequent variations. Today's episode, research has showed, was series eight, episode six. It was mostly notable in my eyes for the song "Stuffing The Gibbon", which predated the Garden/Oddie/Brooke-Taylor The Funky Gibbon (ahem) by, as far as I can tell, about five years and yet included a number of the same jokes. Bill Oddie in "ripping self off" shocker.

ISIRTA wasn't particularly funny to modern ears after a single hearing: a lot of jokes which already sounded old, a lot of what were evidently running jokes which I didn't understand, a lot of reasonably topical references (eg Enoch Powell), a lot of jokes which weren't particularly funny. Yet not very much has changed. I think a reasonable comparison can be made to The 99p Challenge on Radio 4, which I've also been listening to a fair amount recently. It's a bit more up-to-date, particularly with references to modern aspects of production values which viewers and listeners can be expected to be familiar with, and uses themed rounds in a weakly-quiz-themed production rather than situations to drive the sketches along. Its cast is largely made up of people with a pedigree of small-but-respectable hits - it's really not a bad line-up at all. However, its jokes are frequently both repetitive (as in too few ideas, each extended too many times) and also fairly hit and miss. This is probably how the state of the art really has been in comedy for some time.

It could be interesting to try to draw parallels between the foremost comedy performers of the day throughout the years. It's interesting to note how it's a constant that a lot of performers can be busy on stage, on TV and on radio at once. Could Paul Merton be the new John Cleese, perhaps, and will he go on to feature films in ten years' time? Maybe. Also interesting to note how little Just A Minute really has changed over the years; it's at its funniest when the line-up of players don't feel too strictly constrained by the format and get into tangential discussions over deviations and non-challenges inspired by the comments that arise during the minutes themselves. Sometimes the shows just aren't particularly funny, sometimes the game is just a framework for the participants to work around in the business of being funny. Given that it has survived changes in regular panellists, one wonders if it might ever survive a change of host who is clearly a far less accomplished performer. I suspect it might, but can't think of a suitable "straight man" to try.

It's also possibly somehow relevant to note the heavy Oxbridge traditions; I believe the Python gang and the Goodies mostly attended Oxford or Cambridge, as did Mel and Sue and the Saturday Night Armistice team. There are still comedy-oriented societies at the universities who put on shows and I'm sure the performers there all hope that they might go on to sustain the traditions and be as big in their own way as the Pythons and so forth, but perhaps there's really only one good period of a year or two in every ten or fifteen. Certainly I've seen some wide-world reviews of the annual "best of Oxford and Cambridge comedy revue" (can't remember the formal title) and apparently it's on a downswing. Also it'll be interesting to note what extent the Internet has on the comedy network, whether comedy stars establish themselves through the Internet and even the blogosphere. I suppose this is where Wil Wheaton, Defective Yeti and so forth come in. Performance art, performance art, performance art.

All the same, I tried to associate myself with one batch of hopefuls at Oxford at the time; it's a sign that I had to Google for their troupe name, Cruel and Unusual Punishment. ("Associate with" is probably the most accurate way of putting it as - for largely lame, prejudiced reasons on my part - I didn't get on with most of them in person or with them at all as a group. They probably hated me too. Nevertheless, this didn't stop me from crashing one of their wrap parties just so I knew that I had done in case they did turn out to make it after all.) I feel I still have to tread carefully because some of the Oxford LJists knew, and may well still know, some of the people involved; it wouldn't be fair not to say that their few performances really were to my taste - far funnier than I found The 99p Challenge or ISIRTA this week, for instance. Could they have made it big had a butterfly flapped its wings in a different direction elsewhere? I'd like to think so. It would be nice if someday they, or some other set including some of them, still did.

I can only remember three of their sketches, though individual sketches proving memorable from over five years ago is doing really well. The first was a performance of that song which includes the lines "Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?" with a ludicrous, elaborate dance routine. (I tended to find their song-and-dance to be more worthy than funny, alas.) The second was a remarkable two-handed sketch in which something completely mundane happened to one of the characters who ended up going off into a massive apocalyptic rant, increasing and increasing in intensity beyond the point of conceivability, which snapped to the funny-because-its-contrary punchline of "Damn! I forgot to masturbate this morning." The third sketch, still amusing, was someone walking on from stage left, stopping mid-point, saying "I'm sure I've had this feeling of deja vu somewhere before", then walking off stage right. Even funnier when they did exactly the same gag the next year.

I've just remembered a fourth of their sketches! The fourth had someone going up to a counter and asking to buy a box of broken biscuits. Someone then brought out a packet of biscuits and smashed them to pieces incredibly vigorously with a hammer. (I think was the closing gag of the first half of their first show.) OK, a gag straight from the Gallagher playbook - not to suggest that any of them would necessarily had ever even heard of Gallagher - but bloody funny to see it live. Five of their sketches! The fifth was the "saying lid game show". This featured a round in which the contestants had to say "lid" as many times as they could. One contestant flapped under the pressure, a second didn't and had to be distracted by the host firing a sucker-dart gun at him. There was more to it than that which I don't remember. However, all these things really were very funny indeed at the time because of the style in which they were performed. Maybe you really did have to be there at the time.

London folk: b3ta points to Circle Line Party 2 next Friday. The meeting point and time are set to be announced on Space Hijackers on the day, but theoretically the party train should brighten the lives of every Circle Line station every 50 minutes. Interesting to see whether they can pull it off. Live blogging therefrom would be cool, but I doubt there are many good points for mobile reception on the Circle Line. Might a wireless network with hardwired transponders at the stations be a possibility?

I do like the Space Hijackers' brand of anarchitecture, which is not too far from mildly mind-bending but fundamentally benign [...] mischief. My favourite idea of theirs is Urban Letterboxing - GPS-free geocaching, or hiding stupid things in stupid places just for the fun of it. 20 caches alive in London as I type; London folk, next time I'm in town, we're goin' huntin'!
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