Truth - or the illusion of truth - is at the heart of all good comedy

Asher Treleaven picks his favourites

Chris Morris: Blue Jam, Unflustered Parents

The first time I listened to Blue Jam I was recovering from a very big night on the bickies and amble cakes and I was not in a good way. A friend of mine who was into spoken word and astral travelling brought over a CD that she had been raving about for ages.

She said that it was important to listen to this CD in the environment indicated on the inside sleeve. however when I checked the sleeve it was just a dirty torn piece of note paper with some drawings of knots and the name Blue Jam on it.

I didn’t really listen to it until the Suicide Journalist came on. Then I began to feel uncomfortably aware that this CD was a horrible, brilliant and hilarious masterpiece and my introduction to the dark recesses of the mind of a man called Chris Morris.

George Carlin: Life Is Worth Losing, Modern Man

George Carlin was a profoundly brilliant comedian. One of those comedians who occupies a sage-like place in American popular folklore. He wrote and performed 19 solo shows for television starting in 1966 and ending the year of his death in 2008.

He perfectly enunciated the frustration and anger of multiple generations and this little excerpt from his second last HBO special, Life Is Worth Losing  is one of the best opening routines I’ve ever seen. In a way it’s a summation of his life, a spoken word memoir or a jazzography and an excellent display of vocal versatility by the Godfather of modern stand-up comedy.

Dave Chappelle: Chappelle Show, Charlie Murphy’s Hollywood Stories

I’ve watched the Prince routine over and over and every time I watch it I laugh, the Rick James saga borders on the perfectly absurd. The content, the straight up way Charlie tells the stories and the ludicrous theatrical recreations performed by him and Dave are hilarious.

I believe that truth or the illusion of truth is at the heart of all good comedy and there is something so perfectly ridiculous and believable about Charlie Murphy’s Hollywood stories that the question of believability is irrelevant. The stories are too bizarre to be anything but the truth.

Sir Les Patterson: Clive Anderson Interview 1995

Barry Humphries is the greatest character comedian to have ever escaped Australia. Fleeing in the 70s like so many other great liberal luminaries such as, Germaine Greer, Nick Cave or Clive James, he allowed himself to rise above the vicious and jocular tall poppy syndrome that Australia suffers from.

If he had stayed in Australia he would most certainly have been killed in a field or relegated to hosting daytime cooking shows. Sir Les Patterson is a character that speaks simultaneously to the very heart of the Australian nature and to the beating heart of British-Australian prejudice. He functions best as a foil to work off in group interviews and this interview with Clive Anderson in the mid 90s is almost good enough to forgive him for the horrid folly that was Les Patterson Saves The World

Bernie Mac: Def Comedy Jam spot

‘You don’t understand.’ Bernie Mac repeats throughout this absolutely sterling piece of adversarial stand-up at the bear pit that is Def Comedy Jam. The legend goes that the previous act was booed off stage and that Martin Lawrence was having a hard time convincing the audience that he was anything more than a glorified silk glove.

The wonderful irony here is that a lot of us don’t understand everything Bernie says although he repeatedly asks us to do so, not that it matters. This to me, is a perfect example of a comedian’s victory against the angry hordes, the holy grail of combative stand-up. It’s something that so many comics seek when they go to perform at the horror show stand-up cock fights in clubs all over the world. Clubs filled with swarming punters out to destroy comedians in a Haze of self-loathing and warm beer. Before stepping into that bear-pit repeat the mantra of Mac, ‘I ain’t afraid of you muthafuckers!’

Stewart Lee: Stand Up Comedian, Princess Diana routine

I first saw Stewart Lee from behind the lapel of Robin Ince as he nursed and bullied me through nine months of Robin Ince’s Book Club. Stewart was a guest in Cambridge and while there he was performing a routine about the inherent sadness of a child’s ballet slipper he found somewhere. I really like the ballet slipper routine but I can’t find it anywhere and I only saw it once so I can’t really repeat it here.

However, The Princess Diana routine in Stand Up Comedian is an excellent example of Stewart’s pacing, theatricality, physicality and lying down. One of my favourite parts of any of Stewart’s routines whether it be about insects, death or sickness is his laying down, which I wish he would do a lot more of.

Published: 20 Aug 2012

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