Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

PETER SELLERS

2011-05-29

[Picture of Sellers as Clouseau]Peter Sellers is a childhood hero of mine.  I cannot think of him without smiling.  Loads of people have said that Peter Sellers is the greatest comedian of all time. They just might be right.

However, a lot has been written about Sellers, but most of this is rubbish.  I say that, not because I know better; I never met him, and never knew him. I say that because most of what’s been written has been by people who also didn’t know him either. There is also a lot of looking back with today’s prevalent views and dominant ideology, and I don’t think you should do that; Sellers was a man of those times, not of today’s.

I can recall the way men were when I was younger and everyone smoked and drank. I can remember my father’s friends and I can still pick up the vibe.  Those were days when women dressed very differently from men.  The gender gap was massive compared with today.  There was a man’s world and Sellers lived and worked there.  Back then you could understand someone turning down open-heart surgery after having 13 heart attacks in a short space of time.

I do not believe he was depressed in the modern sense.  I think he was a very creative and humorous personality, and this would naturally lead to periods of writer’s block, and of boredom.  I don’t think we ought to make too much of any of that.  Humans have good times and bad times, I think we can forgive and forget most of the normal human errors and traits in favour of the aspects that matter — in Sellers’s case, what made him loved and famous was his creativity, his fun and his personality.

I was not really old enough for The Goon Show era, but I did appreciate these later when I heard them. I got into Milligan, and then Sellers made it big.

Dudley Moore sort of did the same thing later — a very specialised form of comedy, and a not-all-that-good-looking man making it big in the States.  Super models and yachts in the South of France.  Sellers blazed that trail.

Sellers and Moore are so valuable in that respect.  This cannot be underestimated; it shows that yes, it IS possible to live that life — to join the megarich Hollywood jetset — as long as you had genuine talent. And you do not have to sell-out and change!  And its not just Dud, Rowan Atkinson has gone into movies, and he’s a hit with Mr Bean (even in cartoon form), Russell Brand is just starting.

[Cartoon Inspector]For me, and so many others, Peter Sellers was definitely a role model.  I adored his out takes (I am pretty sure he single-handedly invented the out take genre); they showed the fun he had at work.  Hey, I wanted to have a job like that.  Imagine enjoying your work? Everyday would be such fun! He was such a student of human nature (all mimics are), too much is made of him saying he had no personality as he was always adopting a character or other — THAT was his personality, he interprets and reflects, and uses inventive ways to communicate his views and feelings. I can identify with that, sometimes I have to put on a silly voice to say something important, and I really don’t know why, other than it is how I somehow have to do it!

I simply remember Inspector Jacques Clouseau as one of the funniest characters I have ever seen.  I love all the Pink PanthersSteve Martin, sorry, but the role is Sellers’s.  These films always make me laugh – and without fail – and within a few minutes because they are so tightly written, gag after  gag of comedy genius.

There really has been nothing to match it since.  The nearest have been American self-referential cultural parodies, such as  Porky’s,  Animal House, Police Academy, Police Squad, and Airplane.  All very silly, very, very funny, but not ground-breakingly genre-inventing original.  Pink Panther came from nowhere, it set the bar.  Edwards and Sellers were not doing ironic humour, developing a TV show sketch or referring to modern media culture (such as The Simpsons and Family Guy do).

[Picture of Sellers as Dr Strangelove]The legacy is obvious — not just the cartoon character in the Pink Panther show, or the Goon Show’s influence on Monty Python and so forth. But the character of Dr Strangelove too. We couldn’t have ‘Allo ‘Allo with their rubbish French accents without Clouseau. Harry Enfield and so many of today’s British comedians refer back to Goons, Sellers and Python as a matter of course.  But Sellers was kinda cool too, everyone wanted to be around that type of guy because it was going to be good fun.

Peter Sellers’s biggest feat was being able to pull off being a really funny comedian, yet being a proper grown up man (he managed never to come across as a fool or an idiot). He managed to be one of the cool crowd, a jet-setter, with his own ratpack, and yet he stayed himself.  He often said he was always in character as there was no Peter Sellers character, but he never changed into an American fake or flake.  For a man with no character, he had bags of something that everyone could agree was “Peter Sellers”.

I read not that long ago that he was brought up with a strict Roman Catholic education, and because his mother was Jewish, he was sensitive to religious topics especially anti-Semitic or bigoted comments.  He was not of any religion, but it is very clear that he had a strong moral compass.  He shared that with his close friend in the Goons, Harry Secombe – who later presented a long-running Christian Hymn programme on British TV.

But it is telling that with his health crises, he never turned to religion, but to alternative therapies.

“Being There” was simply wonderful acting, and a triumph in that it showed the preposterousness of our ways without hamming up the comedy. Textbook example of exactly how this ought to be done.

Ultimately, you can look back over Sellers’s work knowing that it is safe — you can watch with your family without fear. No political subtexts, no cultural references to date it, no swearing or off-colour stuff.  It’s not Carry-On, it’s not Benny Hill slapstick, it’s just real life with the fun squeezed to the fore. It shows up the preposterousness and pomposity of our world.

That’ll do me. It’s timeless; we never learn.

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STEWART FRANCIS

2010-02-10

[Picture of Stewart Francis]I first came across Stewart Francis on “Mock The week” on TV. It seemed to me to be so refreshing to hear a comedian tell jokes again.  Just wee jokes — one-liners.  He is one of the few panellists who could stand their own against Frankie Boyle.

Stewart Francis is a superb dead-pan stand-up joke-teller.  I think audiences like to be able to remember the odd joke and tell it a dinner party or at the bar or at work.  A joke is a joke and it belongs to everyone.  Maybe one-liners have a better chance of being remembered for being so short.

I once saw Bernard Manning live in Manchester years ago, and he was “out of favour”, and jokes were out of fashion with the new “alternative” comedy scene.  But, and I hated myself for having to admit it, he was extremely funny; jokes just wear you down in the end.  They are so silly, and delivered so quickly.

Stewart Francis does one-liners, and most of them are clean and fairly PC as well — but he can still make connections and links that lifts the act from disjointed individual gags, to an actual proper routine. In that respect he bridges the gap between Bob Monkhouse/ Jimmy Carr/ Steven Wright / Chic Murray and Mitch Hedbergisms gags and paraprosdokians and the likes of Eddie Izzard and Billy Connolly.

[embedded clip from youtube.com]

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OSCAR LEVANT

2009-12-15

[Picture of Oscar Levant at Piano - An American in Paris]I have been a fan of Oscar since the late 1960s, and I find it sad and strange that he’s not better remembered.

He did the music for zillions of films, wrote tonnes of hit records, was a pal of Jolson and Gershwin and a star pupil of Shoenberg.

So many of my favourite “celebrities” (for want of a better term), are famed for quick wittedness on radio and TV — especially game shows and talk shows.

That is probably what made Levant so famous in his day.

Recent events with Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross made me recall Levant’s remarks about Marilyn Monroe that got his show taken off air — it was about her famous conversion to Judaism.  Levant wise-cracked, ‘Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her!’.

He later said that he ‘hadn’t meant it “that way”‘! Sublime. His show eventually got axed for being too controversial.  This guy was cutting edge… back in the 50s and 60s.

[Picture of Groucho Marx Al Jolson and Oscar Levant 1948]

He is incredibly well-quoted in tear-off calendars, here’s a wee selection of ones you might have heard and admired:

  • I have one thing to say about psychoanalysis: fuck Dr Freud.
  • Everyone in Hollywood is gay, except Gabby Hayes — and that’s because he is a transvestite.
  • Strip away the false tinsel from Hollywood, and you find the real tinsel inside.
  • So little time and so little to do…
  • What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.
  • I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.
  • I used to call Audrey Hepburn a walking X-ray.
  • Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.
  • I’m going to memorize your name and throw my head away.
  • I envy people who drink — at least they know what to blame everything on.
  • A pun is the lowest form of humour — when you don’t think of it first.
  • Every time I look at you I get a fierce desire to be lonesome.
  • I have given up reading books; I find it takes my mind off myself.
  • Schizophrenia beats dining alone.
  • There are two sides to every question: my side and the wrong side.
  • Underneath this flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.
    and my favourite:
  • A politician is a man who will double cross that bridge when he comes to it.

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FRANKIE BOYLE

2009-09-22

[Picture of Frankie Boyle comedian]Frankie Boyle is brilliant.  He is the best part of “Mock The Week” — sooo acerbic!

He has a new book out soon called “My Shit Life So Far“, and I can hardly wait until 1st October (because that’s the date it will be available)! There’s no chance of seeing his run of live shows at The King’s Theatre next year as they are already sold out — but I like the fact that it’s called “I Would Happily Punch Every One of You In The Face Tour”. How “Frankie” is THAT?

Very few comedians make me laugh aloud, Frankie is one of them — and it’s guaranteed!

Embedded YouTube clip of Frankie Live at The Apollo December 2008

That’s just magic – “He looks like a sad face that somebody”s drawn on a scrotum” – sheer genius, and Abu Hamzar doing shadow puppetry with a hook for a right hand — fantastic. I don’t think he aims to be offensive, he’s just like blokes on the street in that respect — anything goes.  Most of the stuff on YouTube was cut from being broadcast.

Embedded YouTube clip of Frankie Live on “Mock The Week”

Like most comedians, once you get to know the material, you can hear the same gags re-used from time to time. But, with Frankie, it seems to me to be a two-way street; his quick-thinking wit informs his stand-up act as much as his stand-up repertoire provides gags for his on-the-spot stuff.

Where he falls down is his awareness of sensitivity — hence the legendary amount of outtakes and cuts.  I would guess that being aware of rules and suchlike would hinder his thought-processes to his detriment, so long-live Frankie Boyle’s free-flowing super-wit.

I love the reaction he gets from other comedians on “Mock The Week”; that really shows how “Out There” Frankie gets.

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EDDIE IZZARD

2009-09-15

Eddie Izzard is my hero!  I have always enjoyed his comedy; it’s witty, clever, thought-provoking, intelligent, surprising and yadda yadda yadda.  Basically the man makes you laugh on lots of different levels.

I can remember when he first started — what an influence he was!  Even people in the street began talking like Eddie, the murmuring, the speeding up and slowing down, the drawing out of vowels, the languidity, the erudition — this was not plain “stream of consciousness” -type comedy, this was the rapids!

Embedded YouTube clip:

The man is a genius at what he does.  He unfolds a virtual world, develops it, draws you into it, until you reach a state that can only be called “glee” — all done with tricks and manipulation by a master of surprise.

Embedded YouTube clip:

I’ve been following him on Twitter (twitter.com/eddieizzard). Check out his website too: www.eddieizzard.com.

Well, surprise of surprises Eddie has run a full length marathon every day for ages!  All round Britain for charity! How unexpected is it that this high-heeled “Action Transvestite” could run one marathon, let alone 43 in 52 days.

Sorry, but that has really blown me away; it’s so bizarre, so extreme, so altruistic, so … mental!

He has single-handedly restored some faith in humanity for me in my grumpy old age.  How inspiring, and awe-inspiring.  Eddie has actually rocked my world — and now that he’s finished, he’s off to do a 44 date comedy tour of the UK !

Like wow.

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GLESGA

2008-06-09

Glasgow should be a city state — its own country; it’s so completely different from Scotland.  Now, it has to be admitted that I was born and grew up in Renfrewshire, which is near Glasgow.  However that’s a mere detail; Glasgow is not restricted to political boundaries.  A good way to determine whether somewhere is in Glasgow or Scotland, or whether someone is Scottish or Glaswegian, is to listen to how they speak; Glaswegians do not say “Ken”, instead they say “y’know” (which means the same thing).  In Glasgow, something is “Big” where in Scotland it is “muckle”.  A ‘weegie will say something is “good” or “great”, while a Scot will say the same thing is “braw” or “bonnie”.

The Scots have a passion for comics and cartoons, mainly the city of Dundee — the home of “The Beano”, “The Dandy”, “Oor Wullie”, and “The Broons“.

The characters in “Oor Wullie” and “The Broons” are Scottish — NOT Glaswegian; they say “ye ken”, they say “muckle” and “braw” and the chat is closer to Swedish than English. (Swedish for “Muckle” is “Myket”, “Brå” is “Braw”).

Glasgow was once the second city of the British Empire (after London, of course).  As the British empire was the biggest empire in history, it therefore follows that Glasgow was once the second biggest and most important place on planet Earth.  It was MASSIVE — five football teams and millions of people — in tenements marked out on a North-South-East-West road grid system.  It had trams, buses, ferries, bridges, tunnels, trains, and was the first place outside of London to have an underground train system.  in fact, Glasgow has a subway as well as low level trains!

Naturally, the people had an ATTITUDE — a swaggering approach to life — and a very famous sense of humour.  Comedians used to be afraid to play Glasgow as the hecklers were funnier than the acts!

Stanley Baxter and others used to make fun of the Scots — especially regarding how measly Scots were with money!  This native Scottish thrift is forever remembered in Glasgow by virtue of a bridge — the train bridge going south over Argyle Street from Central Station — for it is known as the “Heilanman’s umbrella” (Highland man’s umbrella — making fun of the Scottish misers from “up North” who wouldnt’ spend money on an umbrella, and would instead stand under a bridge to keep dry).

Glasgow was world-famous for it’s city-wide sense of humour — Stanley Baxter, Chic Murray, Francie and Josie, Billy Connolly, Arnold Brown, Rab C. Nesbit, Hector Nicol, and Lex Mclean, and can still raise a laugh today  — Rory Bremner, Frankie Boyle, John Sessions, Jerry Sadowitz, Armando Iannucci, Chewin’ The Fat, Karen Dunbar, Alan Cumming,  and Still Game.

Classic Glesga music hall “Francie and Josie”:

Here’s a wee taste of some recent stuff from the brilliant Chewin’ The Fat…

Making fun of the famous gangland culture — No mean City, with “The Big Man” —

— and taking the piss out of the Scots is still done — check out Karen Dunbar’s hilarious Teuchter Schoolteacher in a Glesga school (note also: Thomas Devine’s “Gypsy Haircut” LOL)…

And to finish, the (in)famous stonner/ stawner…

For me, the good old days of Glasgow humour was epitomised by the likes of cartoonist Bud Neill and Tom Shields’s Diary in The Herald.

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WOODY ALLEN

2008-01-21

Woody Allen is a big hero of mine. Not because he was nerdy or geeky; I didn’t relate to that. Neither did I associate with nervousness, agitation, Jewishness or pretty much anything else.

The plain truth is that I love Woody Allen because he is so alien and so different from me. I laugh because he surprises me all the time.  Stories can go anywhere (and do).

He’s the nearest thing to a person worthy of envy.  It is impossible for me to think of him as a bad person or as having bad intentions. His single function seems to me to be to enrich our lives, to make things better for us, to entertain.

I think we all ought to live in a better world, the type of world Woody Allen seems to be in.  He proves that it is possible.  If only we could change the world to be more like that. That is something tangible to aim for.

It has to be the product of North America; that is where there is a culture of patronage, of philanthropy.

He is so versatile and creative and his work is so successful by most  metrics — but there are always detractors of his work and of his life.

I grew up with they guy. He’s always been there, ironically like Bogart was for his character in Play It Again Sam. I have his books, and I always went to his movies each year — and that brought about a new dimension.

“80 percent of success is showing up”

— That Woody Allen line has kept me going through surprisingly difficult times in my life.

But how marvellous to be given carte blanche — to make a movie every year for the rest of your life, starring whomsoever you want, about whatever you like!  A blank cheque.

I loved the fact that he kept his films 80 mins long, with the same crew and black-and-white credits and titles.

The thing is that you could see the legend emerging before your  very eyes — you knew as it was happening — that this man will be of legendary, Dickensian/ Shakespearian stature.

There has always been a strong sense of history being made with Mr Allen.

With is considerable output, he has been free to experiment — and not all things have been successful in terms of living up to the expectation or in terms of financial success at the box office.  But no matter.

Let Woody try it, make the mistakes and indulge himself on our behalf.

Ah the wonder!

Apart from that, I like the fact that he plays clarinet in a small Jazz club every Monday night.  He seems very centred in his life — in New York, in his work.  Much more sensible and grounded than his on-screen persona.

I reckon he’d be a good laugh on a day-to-day basis; that kind of quirky mind cannot be closed down.  I don’t think that his “serious” work shows that he’s grown up or become dry and sober and boring.  I just think he has to keep challenging himself — I mean to say come on; who could make a funny film every single year?

His early comedies are legendary, and his letters and articles brilliant. If you do not know him, do yourself a favour and check out this genius immediately!

embedded video:

Sadly, a lot of people I know think of Woody only in terms of him being a paedophile — which is pretty shocking.  I don’t know what is more shocking — that people think that or that the media can get away with that sort of thing.

Here’re that facts as I remember them — Woody Allen was married twice.  His first marriage was to a 16 year old when he was just 19.  They were both classically “too young”. Allen married again for a few years — and that marriage was finally wound-up in 1969.

He didn’t marry again — until Christmas Eve in Italy in 1997 when he married in Soon Yi, and they have been married ever since — that’s over a decade, and by far the longest relationship, and longest marriage Woody Allen has enjoyed.

The problem is his wife.  Soon Yi was adopted by Mia Farrow and André Previn, and raised as their child.  When Farrow and Previn split, she started a relationship with Woody Allen — and although the two never married, they had a son called Satchel and adopted two others.

Woody and Soon Yi fell in love and Woody split from Farrow.

Farrow was furious; and fair enough — she was spurned and scorned, this was her adopted daughter, her ex-lover and ex-boss.  He was father to one of her kids. She went to the courts for custody and she went to the media for backup.

Farrow got custody, but even though the courts threw out all the accusations, as a result of this bitterness and fuss, Woody Allen is often somehow thought-of as a paedophile, with the suggestion that he’d molested his own children, that he had abused his position as a father! Some people even think he married his stepdaughter, and that is such a shame!

I remember being furious at the press back then; it was very poorly reported, extremely unfair and biased.  But then I could see that it was somewhat “unsavoury” for a chap to take up with his lover’s adopted kid (whatever age and whatever the age difference), it may not be “nice”, but it wasn’t evil or illegal or abuse or anything like that.

However, as time has gone by, I have to say that they are a true couple – married for longer than usual in Hollywood, and that speaks for itself.  I don’t think Woody Allen takes marriage lightly — marrying the girl was a massive risk when you consider that Mia Farrow had all but ruined his reputation; with a costly divorce and no reputation, could he have recovered?  The only conclusion one can come to is that they really did just fall in love, and that they are a suitable and compatible couple.

A love that is strong enough to survive all that media hype, but also on a personal level as he’s lost his kid and she’s lost her adopted father André and mother Mia, and adopted siblings.

I personally learned a LOT from this tale — that it doesn’t matter what people think, that once you know your mind, stick to your guns.  Woody, to my knowledge, conducted himself with dignity throughout this long and drawn out saga, and I do not recall him slinging any mud back at Mia Farrow.

I don’t get a lot of modern life — Woody Allen’s situation is surely far from unique in this day and age.  I know of other odd arrangements, for example, take a woman who split from her man and taken the children. She then embarks on a relationship with another man.  If she then dies, is the new man responsible for these children? or does he hand them back to their original father(s)?

Hey, looks like material for a Woody Allen film… LOL!

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