Jo Brand as The Sea Monster
Like a lot of stand ups my first introduction to comedy back in the 80’s was Friday Night Live on Channel 4. The 13 year old me was very impressed by Jo Brand as The Sea Monster, I really like that deadpan singey songey delivery, I think it brings out the best in her jokes. The scary thing about seeing a clip from the Eighties of someone like Jo Brand or Alexei Sayle doing fat jokes is that nowadays my first thought is always ‘They’re not that fat’. Which I’d like to take as a commentary on changes in society as a whole, rather than my expanding waistline.
Another primer to stand-up comedy for many of my generation was Adrian Juste’s Saturday lunchtime programme on Radio 1 where he played clips of (mostly American) comedy albums. I used to listen to a lot of this when I had a part time job at a garage in Sparkhill, Birmingham, and it was here I first heard Emo Philips, still in my opinion the best joke writer in the world. Some people are sniffy about pull back and reveal jokes but Emo is a master at them, here he is with the classic ‘car door’ joke.
I like to listen to some of the really old one-liner comics, especially to study what devices they used to break up their long, gag-filled sets. Henny Youngman was very funny, you still hear people using some of those classic lines in clubs today. His autobiography Take My Life, Please is a great read, as it sometimes seems less about comedy and more just a very old Jewish bloke taking the chance to have a bit of a moan. Youngman’s advice to younger entertainers was ‘Nem di gelt’ (Yiddish for ‘Get the money’) ie don’t put up with empty promises about doing things for free because ‘it’ll be good for your profile, future opportunities etc’. It’s still great advice. His iconic line ‘Take my wife, please’ actually came about by accident, he was genuinely telling a floor manager to take his wife – ie get her out the way – but people started laughing, so he kept it. Clever man.
I’m also fascinated by Max Miller, it’s really odd to hear someone making topical jokes about the audience all having their gas masks with them. The phrase ‘blue material’ originally came from Max, who would offer his audience the choice of jokes from his White Book (clean) or the Blue Book (rude).
Liking Woody Allen’s moose routine is a bit like saying you really like the Beatles, but it is probably the best put together routine I’ve ever heard. Usually having a proper narrative reduces your gag rate but Allen manages to keep it up expertly.
Stewart Lee: All Things Bright and Beautiful
This was a brilliant routine from a young Stewart Lee (my other favourite of his is Jazz Pets, a wonderful deconstruction of a postcard of cats on a piano. I thought he was absolutely brilliant when he was doing 20 minute routines in clubs. I know lots of comics (especially Mr Lee) don’t like that sort of discipline, but I think it really brings out the best in people.
Sean Lock Live (2003)
I think the real test of great comedian is how good their CDs are to listen to in the car. Audio strips away all of the peripheral stuff, the performance, the crowd, and all of that ‘likability’ nonsense and just leaves you with the hardcore words. My favourite CD to listen to in the car is Sean Lock Live, absolute top quality.
Adam Bloom Live
This album wasn’t on iTunes for very long but if you managed to get hold of it, it’s packed with such an amazing depth of material all the way through. An absolute masterclass from a first rate, original joke writer. Adam always makes me want to work harder.
Daniel Kitson: Hull University 2003 Bootleg
It’s become a cliché that all comics say that Daniel Kitson is the greatest ever, but that is because it is true. He is the only comic I have ever seen who I would call a genius. Other people I can see are great, and are better than me, but I can still see what they’re doing, they’re playing basically the same game, using the same tools. Kitson isn’t. This Hull bootleg is sparkling. The opening chunk describing his journey to the gig that night is better than most tried and tested routines us mortals have honed over years.
The show’s not available online, but this his him from 2003:
Americans are brilliant at sitcoms. The US model of many writers endlessly honing the script can lead to some wonderful gag packed exchanges. Modern Family, Frasier and Friends are particular favourites of mine.
Family Guy always contains many great jokes. I really like the fact that they break one of the laws of sitcom writing in that all the story/character stuff is subservient to the joke, rather than the other way round. (Clip about performance heirarchy
- Gary Delaney is on tour from April Click here for dates.