It’s No Joke

The news that Terry Jones is suffering from dementia is terribly sad. What a miserable, cruel illness dementia is-swooping down on anyone from any lifestyle or walk of life. In Terry Jones’ case, [as in Terry Prachett’s], targeting a giant of an intellect-a genius with words and humour; a person who made his living from the spoken word, from comedy.

I was a teenager when Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit the small screen. The humour was fresh and surreal, unfathomable to our parents, which made it even more irresistible to me and to my friends. There had been a few attempts at this kind of bizarre comedy before, with shows like radio’s ‘Round the Horn’ and ‘The Goon Show’ or TV’s ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in’ although it was American, but nothing that resonated with us on the scale of Python; nothing as zany, dreamlike, weird and downright hilarious.

In our teenage get-togethers, alongside gathering to listen to music albums we re-lived episodes of Monty Python, crying with laughter again as we recalled each episode and able to recall every sketch word-for-word. I adored ludicrous sketches such as the two frumpy women in a launderette earnestly discussing John-Paul Sartre or the cheeky ridiculing of Morris dancing where the dancers slapped each other with a dead fish. Then there was the device of bringing parts of one sketch into another. A scene outside a bank would include a long queue of people in rolled up trousers wearing knotted hankies from a previous sketch [‘I’d like to tax people what stand in water’].

Later shows sought to emulate the alternative angle. ‘The Young Ones’, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Little Britain’ followed in the footsteps.

Otherwise, since that time, apart from one or two, longstanding, notable radio comedies [‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’, ‘Just a Minute’] there’s been very little laugh-out-loud comedy on offer. Sit-coms become ever more tired. The channels churn out contrived panel shows featuring the same worn-out comedians peddling the same, stale, clichéd patter.

I still laugh at slapstick comedy and am easily able to enjoy the humour in a children’s entertainment such as Punch and Judy, which probably explains what a simpleton I am.

Each generation has their own set of beloved, cultural icons from music, film, literature and comedy. My grandparents had Charlie Chaplin, my parents had Arthur Askey and Bob Hope. I’m sure there are young comedians around who understand the challenges that today’s young generation faces. I know there are new sit-coms and every season a whole raft of new comedy movies, although as I’ve written before, the genre of American rom-com does nothing for me at all.

I’d say we are ready for a new, fresh approach in comedy-to distract us from all the nasty world events, if nothing else. But in the meantime I’d like to thank Terry Jones for all the sheer, unadulterated pleasure he’s provided over the years. Bless you Terry-you are a genius!

Always Laugh when you can-[Lord Byron]

Laughter, it is said is good for our health. There are also studies that show that sense of humour declines as we age [http://www.belmarrahealth.com/why-your-sense-of-humor-fades-the-older-you-get/].

During a recent programme on the radio a psychologist explained that laughter is fundamentally a means of communication that demonstrates a connection between people. It is true that once you are with someone like minded who shares your sense of humour there is an escalation effect. Years ago [in working life] I attended a drama course which required us to pair up for some activities. Whilst I’d never met my ‘partner’ before she and I became helpless with mirth within moments and continued in this vein for the remainder of the day, no doubt irritating the pants off the course leader.

While I understand the communication element there are plenty of times when I’ve laughed whilst alone. What does this signify? On occasions a book will make me laugh out loud. A particular sequence in a novel called ‘Are You Experienced?’ by William Sutcliffe had this effect on several of us as we underwent a group tour in India. The narrative describes a Bollywood movie showing on a bus and provoked me to tears of hilarity. I am also addicted to YouTube videos of funny animals-one of my favourites a compilation that includes a hen riding on a broom as it is utilised and a particular sweep causing her to lay an egg. For me, even watching alone, the comic effect is undimmed by repeated watching!

I could never have become an actor, since corpsing would be my downfall-was my downfall in working life; meetings were a special source of difficulty. I’ve never lost a particular weakness for slapstick and have an unfortunate tendency to dissolve into hysterics during Punch and Judy shows or anything aimed at children, often discovering I’m alone amongst a mainly po-faced audience.

Alcohol and of course, cannabis are well known to loosen inhibitions and elicit laughter. Years ago at a party I realised too late that I’d over-indulged and was lolling on the host’s lawn convulsed with a fellow reveller when I heard someone nearby asking what their companion would like to drink. ‘Whatever they’re having’ was the reply.

Making comedy is hard. Only comic genius can provoke mirth without seeming contrived. We all have our favourites; ‘Not Only but Also’, ‘Monty Python’ and ‘The Young Ones’ were some of mine, but the sit-com has had its day and many great comedies begin life on the radio. It is all subjective, but big failures for me are manufactured comedy panel games [with the exception of the wonderful ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ and ‘The News Quiz’-both radio offerings] and American rom-coms [my least favourite genre]. In these times of spontaneous video, YouTube and sharing on social networks comedy is becoming more difficult than ever. What is the future of comedy? And what tickles you?