It’s been a while since I wrote about a coping mechanism and this one seems more appropriate than ever right now. As with music, I could write and talk about comedy until the cows come home – it is a huge passion of mine and it helps me cope with most things in life, as I’m sure it does with many of us. I’m not going to delve into the science behind laughter and the release of endorphins etc, except to say that there is a clear link between having a damned good chuckle and feeling good. I’ve had the book The Naked Jape – Uncovering the Hidden World of Jokes, by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves, on my bookshelf since it was released in 2006. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to reading it and perhaps then I’ll be a little more qualified to talk about the science of laughter and joke-telling. Until then, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with me waffling on about why I love comedy and what forms I turn to when I need a pick-me-up. The one thing I will say with some degree of certainty is that I struggle to think of a finer sight than somebody genuinely laughing out loud. It is an action recognisable the world over. No matter what our nationality, sex, creed, colour or age, we know instantly when someone is genuinely tickled by something. It is contagious. I find it nigh-on impossible not to grin away like a loon when I see others doubled up with joy. For me, it’s one of the simplest of pleasures which life has to offer.
I was fortunate when growing up as there was a lot of laughter in our house. Without wishing to wheel out an old cliché, as a child of the late-70’s / 80’s, times were tough at times and God knows we needed to find some humour in everyday life. My Mum has always had a largely positive outlook on life and my Dad has always tried to lighten the mood whenever possible. We laughed at the most innocuous things at times and general nonsense was thankfully a constant. We also watched a lot of great TV comedy together. As a family, along with much of the UK, the huge TV hits of the time, such as Bread, Allo Allo, Only Fools and Horses and the like were essential viewing. These were programmes which regularly attracted audiences of 17-20 million. Admittedly, this was back in the day of only having 4 channels, but they were huge numbers and for good reason. These were fantastic shows which brought joy to many at a time when it was more vital than ever to lift the spirits of the nation. I also have happy memories of my Grandad introducing me to classic and timeless comedy. I fondly remember laughing away at the Carry On films, The Two Ronnies, and Morecambe and Wise; comedy I adored back then and will continue to do so for decades to come. Perhaps my one abiding memory of those times is that when I watched comedy with my Mum & Dad, and my grandparents, we lost ourselves in it. The real world faded away for a short spell. Everything was good with the world and everyday worries and issues were placed firmly on the backburner for a while. I’m certain it is that feeling of complete escapism that makes me love comedy more than ever these days. It is the most effective of releases.
These days we are truly blessed with the sheer scope and scale of comedy available to us and I consume it in many forms:
There is no better way of taking in comedy than at a live gig. I am very fortunate to have a couple of close and like-minded friends and we watch a significant amount of live comedy together. We must have seen close on to 100 comedy gigs over the past 10 years or so, if not more. There’s just something about comedy in a live setting that is completely different to any other form. You’re closer to the comedian – it feels as though you’re a part of their world for an hour or two. You’re also closer to a room full of like-minded people, which only enhances the experience. I’m fortunate enough to have seen comedians who I believe to have been at the very top of their game. Stand-out gigs / performers include Stewart Francis (the Canadian stand-up – not Bolton’s crush-a-grape legend!), Lee Mack, Tommy Tiernan, Bill Burr, Chris Rock, Jim Jeffries, Rich Hall, Justin Moorhouse, Russell Kane, Daniel Kitson, Stewart Lee, Steve Hughes, and Ken Dodd (yes – that’s right – I’ve included Doddy here). I’m sure my friends will be straight onto me to point out glaring omissions but these are the top-drawer performers who immediately spring to mind. If you don’t recognise some of these names, please do check them out. Please also support your local comedy clubs and any smaller scale gigs taking place near you – it usually makes for a great night out. I much prefer smaller scale gigs than arena events – there’s something pure, real and exciting about seeing gigs in such environments. There aren’t many comedians I regret not seeing live but the ones that definitely got away are Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, and Billy Connolly. However, I still hold out the slightest of hopes that I may yet get to see Billy – a man can but dream…
For many, the most accessible form of comedy and certainly the most popular. TV comedy has been a staple of everyday life for decades and for good reason. It brings families and friends together. It cheers us up without us needing to leave the home. Once again, it acts as a short-term release from the stresses and strains of real life. There is far too much wonderful content to go into real detail here but from my very earliest memories of loving the likes of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and The Goodies, I was hooked. People can get a little sniffy about comedy but I have the simplest of rules – if it makes me laugh, it works for me. My favourite TV comedies are the ones I return to time and again; the ones which never feel jaded, dated or in danger of losing their appeal, no matter how many repeat viewings have taken place. Shows which I haven’t already mentioned here that will always have a place in my heart include Monty Python’s Flying Circus (thanks, Dad!), Fawlty Towers, The Fast Show, Father Ted, The Office, Phoenix Nights, That Peter Kay Thing, The Day Today, Brass Eye, Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (and every subsequent Partridge series), The Thick of It, Vic Reeves Big Night Out (and just about everything else that Vic and Bob did together), Toast of London, The IT Crowd, Blackadder, Men Behaving Badly, The Inbetweeners, Extras, Trigger Happy TV, The Young Ones, Bottom, Gavin & Stacey, The Royle Family, Outnumbered, Fonejacker, Police Squad, Harry Hill’s TV Burp, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and Would I Lie To You.
Additionally, we are truly blessed right now with the sheer amount of TV comedy which is available at the press of a button. There are huge amounts to access via the likes of Netflix and Sky but even terrestrial TV is kind to us, with the likes of the BBC iPlayer and All 4 offer fantastic binge-watching opportunities. In addition to the shows I’ve listed above, there’s a list almost as long of comedy that I have yet to watch, primarily American, including (and please don’t judge me on this list – time is an issue, ok!) the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Parks and Recreation, Catastrophe, Friday Night Dinner, Peep Show, all the Family Guy episodes I haven’t seen (which is the majority of them), Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister, Modern Family, Russian Doll, The Larry Sanders Show, Frasier, 30 Rock and no doubt many, many more.
When it comes to movies, my two favourite genres are comedy and horror. The two rarely mix well but I can’t think of many better ways to spend a couple of hours than taking in a really good comedy movie. However, I believe TV is a format slightly better suited to comedy than film. Perhaps it’s the difficulty in maintaining laughs across 2hrs rather than 30 minutes. Perhaps it that TV comedy has more range and scope than film comedy and is able, in the main, to be a little more experimental and push the boundaries. Having said that, I still have a considerable number of comedy movies that I frequently revisit, including repeat viewings of Blazing Saddles (for me, the funniest movie of all time), Borat (I’m not typing the full title here!), most of the Richard Pryor & Gene Wilder movies, especially Stir Crazy and Silver Streak, The Blues Brothers, Airplane, Trading Places, The Naked Gun, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mr Doubtfire, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, A Fish Called Wanda, American Pie, School of Rock, Wayne’s World, There’s Something About Mary, The Hangover, Anchorman, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. These are all movies that I’ll stumble across whilst channel-hopping, knowing that I shouldn’t watch as I have too much to do but inevitably spending the next couple of hours laughing like a drain. No doubt some of these will be taken in again during the current lockdown.
There are some astonishingly good comedy podcasts at the moment. Some of these offer insights into the comedy craft. Some provide really insightful interviews with comedians and comedy actors. Some are just downright silly, puerile, and pant-wettingly funny. Some of my favourites are:
- Justin Moorhouse: About 30 Minutes No More Than 45: This is a real treat. Justin is an established stand-up at the top of his game (he really does deserve to be more of a household name) and this podcast sees him recording much of his life and distilling it into a weekly podcast that is between 30-45 minutes in length (hence the title). It goes without saying that it is funny but the real beauty of this is that it also offers a rare insight into the life of a stand-up comedian: the highs, the lows, and the behind-the-scenes elements us fans rarely see or hear about. Featuring interviews with other stand-ups, family members, and other people of note, this is a really entertaining and insightful podcast. Definitely one to subscribe to.
- RHLSTP with Richard Herring: Full title: Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, this sees comedian Richard Herring conduct interviews with a huge number of comedians and entertainers. At the time of writing, there are a mammoth 332 episodes available, all landing at the 50min-1hr mark. The guest list is astonishing and you will find more insightful interviews here than you’ll ever see on any TV chat-show.
- The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast with Stuart Goldsmith: Similar to the Richard Herring podcast, this claims to be for anyone who writes comedy, makes comedy, loves comedy, or just has an interest in comedians and what makes them so annoying. As with the Richard Herring podcast, this one currently stands at the 360-episode mark and features an equally as impressive array of guests. What I like about Goldsmith’s podcast is that he doesn’t shy away from asking probing questions about difficult subject matter at times; something which makes this an eye-opening as well as amusing listen.
- Talk Sport Clips of the Week: A long running Friday feature on the marvellous Hawksbee and Jacobs afternoon show, this is essentially a compilation of fellow Talk Sport presenters making mistakes whilst on air. A podcast that is far funnier than I make it sound here.
- Athletico Mince: Pure silliness from the utterly brilliant Bob Mortimer and his pal Andy Dawson. Loosely based around football, this is puerile, surreal and a danger to your health as you may crack a rib or two laughing at it. If you want to hear Roy Hodgson wax lyrical about Warhammer, Peter Beardsley discuss his wife’s love of eggs, or the pontifications of Barry Homeowner (the original version of Bob’s current Twitter sensation character Train Guy), then this is the podcast for you.
- Fighting Talk: The last sport-related entry here, I promise. Fighting Talk is a long-running weekly sports quiz, taking an irreverent look at the biggest sporting stories of the week. Hosted by the brilliant Colin Murray, the panel of 4 contestants usually consists of sports stars, comedians, sports journalists, and other media personalities with a passion for sport. Amazingly, having debuted in 2003, the quality shows no sign of dipping – this is a consistently highly-amusing show.
- Clinton Baptiste’s Paranormal Podcast: Clinton may have featured in just one episode of Phoenix Nights but that was enough for him to become a cult favourite. Thankfully, Alex Lowe, the man behind the character, decided to start a podcast as Clinton in late 2018. Now 13 episodes in, the podcast is so popular it has led to a nationwide tour which saw ticket sales go through the roof last year. The podcast is full of bad language, utterly bonkers and downright hilarious, especially Clinton’s exchanges with his Scottish nemesis, Ramone. I genuinely had to stop listening to this on my daily commute as my laughing out loud was resulting in some strange looks from fellow train passengers…
- Gossipmongers: Mad, filthy and insanely funny, this features Joe Wilkinson and a couple of friends (David Earl and Poppy Hillstead) debating unsubstantiated rumours sent in by listeners before choosing their favourite. Not for the faint-hearted or easily offended, this is toilet humour at its very finest.
My go-to option these days for a comedy quick fix. I follow a number of classic TV and film comedy pages on Facebook, along with official and fan pages for a number of comedians, and often spend time I can’t really afford taking in new video clips. The same applies to Twitter, though there are certain pages which I have bookmarked and visit on a daily basis. Current faves are the incomparable Bob Mortimer and, during these times when politicians are everywhere we look, Michael Spicer’s ‘The Room Next Door’ is essential viewing. Our current situation has brought with it a boom in creativity and a number of wonderful home videos, such as the current Tik-Tok dance craze clips and the lady singing an alternative version of I Will Survive, have quite rightly gone viral. It is easy to get lost in social media and waste hours on end but, given the current climate, is that such a bad thing?
In attempting to summarise all of the above, I guess what I’m trying to say is that comedy is a coping mechanism for the vast majority of us. We need to find the positives and keep ourselves amused, smiling and in good spirits. Whilst not wishing to make light of what is currently a desperately sad situation, it is vitally important that we try to remember this. It will prevent us from watching the news 24/7 and wallowing in misery. It will remind us that all is not lost. It will banish the fear, depression and anxiety, even if only for 30 minutes or so. It will help us get through. There are undoubtedly some out there who are in the midst of desperately sad situations and will not be able to smile just now, and my heart genuinely goes out to them. For the rest of us, it is important to stay positive, stay upbeat and remember that better times will return soon.
Thanks for reading, stay calm, keep smiling and, as always, take care.