My younger daughter came home and put on the TV. She was watching BBC, Ant and Dec were on. She asked me whether I found them funny. I politely put it to her that they are not. She also watches French TV with friends (our connection for most of it is kaputt, but don't mind). So we got talking about comedy.
She doesn't find Ant and Dec at all funny. In fact she finds very little English language humour at all funny. We can watch Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and 'Allo 'Allo and be very amused but there are not enough of them on YouTube to keep us going. The French comedy leaves her cold, although her French is perfect. She laughs at Italian comedy, I can laugh at Roberto Benigni but that's about it, whilst Mama sometimes howls her head off. All the years I spent in Germany I cannot recall any I ever truly laughed at. When I was in Peru I sometimes had to go to the local café to see TV, especially for a much loved comedy show that never raised a smile whilst the place was a riot of laughter. Most American humour leaves me wondering if they understand what funny means.
Anyway, looking back over the years I was considering it all. I am a great Marx Brothers fan, I found Spike Milligan hilarious, the Goon Show still gets me going. Kennneth Horne, sometimes. Bob Hope never.However when I get to other comedy acts I struggle to find a truly funny one. There are some who would be funny if seen once off, as Morecombe and Wise were. They relied on the same gags repeated almost every performance. Norman Wisdom always struck me as the poor little sod who was made fun of rather than be funny. Charlie Drake never did a thing for me. Jasper Carrott could amuse me sometimes. Billy Connolly makes me laugh, but then even he has got too repetitive at times. Les Barker? French and Saunders? Lenny Henry? Jo Brand, sometimes. Rory Bremner - is he actually a comedian at all? Russell Brand, no way. Alan Partridge, Harry Enfield, Ricky Gervais or Armstrong and Miller are all one line and done people.
Either I have had a comedy amputation or there is something wrong with comedy. But when a 10 year old says that she prefers 'Allo 'Allo or Fawlty Towers to anything else that is meant to be funny. She and I both laugh easily, we are far from humourless.
If anything I can often laugh with Vic, Peter, Shirley and a few others who lighten up every moment of every day at the drop of a hat here on SFN. So now it is your turn everybody. You may attempt to cure me of the ailment but as the Gumby doctor said "My brain hurts", but then all Gumbies said that too!
When you were at a garrison in Germany as I was until I was 7, then BFBS was made up of the best of. TWFF was live but the other shows were recordings from the week before. Basically we had it from 1100 through to 2000 on Sunday, I remember the some of the order even about 1953. News, Gert and Daisy Waters, TWFF, Billy Cotton (Alan Breeze the world's worst singer but Kathy Kay to make up for it), the Goons, Forces News, Navy Lark, Round the Horne, Meet the Huggets, Much Binding In the Marsh, Hancock's Half Hour, Journey into Space, News, but then bed for me so don't know the last ones. Mostly comedy, what a day.
I remember Arthur Haynes very well, Jimmy Reid too. ITMA was on BFBS every Sunday, in fact what with Two Way Family Favourites with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore at Sunday lunchtime, I reckon the whole army was listening. In Cologne at least.
As for Harry Secombe, never met him but he lived no distance from him. Jenny, his daughter, was my second ever girlfriend! For me that was like meeting my heroes the Goons, although I never met one of them at all really.
As for French comedy. Actually I have boxed sets of the complete Louis de Funès gendarme films and several Fernandel boxes too. They kill me.
Elaine. The Irish are funny. Puckoon must be one of the funniest books ever, written by the Milligan born in India but noneless an Irish national. I actually like Ardal O'Hanlon on the quiet.
Saw an excerpt from Til death us do part last night. Like Steptoe and son, it was a huge international success. I recall finding both hilarious at the time. Not so now. Dad''s Army on the other hand still makes me laugh. John Bishop is about the only British stand-up I can listen to. On the French side there are very few I can abide. My all-time favourite is Raymond Devos (OK he was Belgian). I can listen to him for hours. And another classic oldie: Fernard Raynaud, a clown as much as a comic -- Le 22 à Asnières was the first of his sketches I remember coming across 50 years ago. Of the moderns, Anne Roumanov makes me laugh but Canteloup? I change channels as soon as I hear his name mentioned. My wife says the problem with most modern comics is that they think it's enough to shout as loud as possible and include a rude word in alternate sentences to be funny.
Most British comedy from the past relies on observations of people and behaviour which these days is ‘offensive’ to some favoured group on a growing list, and risks at least a call from the police, so a large section of comedy material is not available. Old shows mostly get away with it in the same way it is OK to trade antique ivory but not new, and even then some of these shows have lines cut out and some may not be shown.
Another rich area for comedy was satire, particularly political satire. Nowadays what previously would have been satire is reality. You could imagine a Monty Python sketch where someone was arrested and tried for calling a police horse gay… how absurd, but that actually happened.
We have become a society that is no longer allowed to laugh at itself, laugh at others, caricature, ridicule, except within very tight parameters.
I found The Fast Show excellent, although it took a while to get into. But so did Python early on. It's as much about anticipation and brilliance as actual gags. Paul Whitehouse also did a series called Help that was superb - at the time. Standup-wise, if you haven't seen much of Louis CK, find some full-length shows on youtube. He's rated as the best standup comedian in the world at the moment. Not always suitable for younger viewers...
Comedy moves with the times Brian. I admit I do find the same people you mention as being funny. Belly laughs, the lot, but as you say, we get used to them. Poor old Billy Connelly or Ballykinealy as I’m sure you know him, now has Parkinson’s. He is learning to live with it.
There are good French comedians but you do not get the belly laugh, the show stopper, not the little titter in the corner but the one that hurts and leaves you short of breath, tears down the face, aching cheekbones and the wee fart that sees its opportunity to escape - heightening the comic experience.
Try Fred Testo, Danny Boon, or Rachid (Canadian) but does a great parody on France.