'Divine and hilarious chaos' | Doug Anthony All Stars pick their Perfect Playlist

'Divine and hilarious chaos'

Doug Anthony All Stars pick their Perfect Playlist

As they return to Edinburgh following last year’s triumphant comeback, Doug Anthony All Stars choose their favourite comedy moments:

Al Murray vs Americans

We first worked with Al Murray shortly after the Boer War. His tuxedoed assassin character fired a variety of meticulously imitated weapons at the audience. This making him a perfect foil for our own attacks (which were not imitations).

When his Pub Landlord arrived on the scene, it was a punch to the gonads of world comedy. It seems vapid to say his treatment of Americans was ahead of its time, but the Septics have recently caught up to him big-time.

Madman on The Mound, circa 1986

As young fellas in Edinburgh for the first time we heard about The Mound: a strip of cobbled stone beside the art gallery where buskers hawked their wares. We began as street performers and it was to the street we always returned to gather an audience.

As we approached The Mound the din grew louder and we entered ‘the shit-storm of the narcissists.’ We were unprepared for the multitude of performers representing every bastard offspring of the arts desperately vying for attention from baffled tourists and bored locals.

It seemed someone had dumped the entire festival and the Fringe, along with its cohorts of hangers-on and every hope-filled wannabe, out onto the cobbles. Solo performers lavishly costumed attempted soliloquies over Chilean pipe orchestras. There were brass bands, bagpipe players, largely ignored mime artists, comic jugglers, opera singers, jazz-handed teens, jive dancers, Christians, crazoids, painted faces, ghetto blasters, electrified pop bands, pop-lockers and us, the Allstars, with a guitar case and our hand-drawn photocopied flyers.

This was an open-air coliseum of chaos, a bloodbath of competing theatre types embracing the rivalry of the fey.

Amidst the madness a figure like a Beano character: red and black striped mohair jumper, black jacket, blacker bowler & leering grin. Brandishing a copy of The Girl Guide’s Handbook (circa 1958) in one hand and a wooden clotheshorse in the other, the creature moved forward by smashing the clotheshorse down on the cobbles. Then he’d read a line from the Handbook. Then he’d thrust out his bowler and demand - MONEY. People fled, gaps emerged in the scrums of terrified performers, space magically appeared. Surreal, frightening, engaging - with a taste of Dadaist anarchy and the utter antithesis of the buffoonery about him. It was out first encounter with the Glaswegian great Jerry Sadowitz.

Wondrous. We’d never seen anything like Jerry, and probably never will again. He wasn’t selling anything, and he wasn’t making any money, he was just creating a divine and hilarious chaos in that cold swamp of desperation.

Blackadder’s Last Stand

The sabre-slashing satire of the four series of this British marvel was relentless until these final moments. All the writers’ cards are laid bare. The cruel idiocy of class, the blunt reality of the Empire fantasy, the sclerotic futility of WWI – it all comes to a poignant point.

The cunning Blackadder, his fool Baldrick, the loveless Darling and the indefatigably, Britishly buoyant George run into No Man’s Land. We see them mown down by enemy fire. Then the battlefield is transforms to a field of poppies. A bird chirps.

Having laughed through so many episodes, our emotions have nowhere to hide from the bitter truth.

Mary Tyler-Moore: Ted Baxter Gets The Bad News

Mary Tyler-Moore is one of the great US Sitcoms. Check out Ted Baxter, news anchor, giant/mouse. Here, Ted gets bad news and takes it like a man. Sobbing, whining, gasping, catastrophising…

Ted was a magnificent comedy creation. With the bluster and spinelessness of a Commedia Il Capitano archetype, he somehow inspired affection from his news team colleagues and the audience. His honesty about his fears made us pity him. Despite the narcissism, we gotta love the guy – because he is us. By that, we mean you..

Pets At The Vets, Creature Comforts

Animals explaining the joys and horrors of medical care were a eureka leap in comedy science. Real-life human interviews animated by the masterful Nick Park and Aardman Animations were a clever trick that became an empire and a genre. Sad, scary and funny. Beautiful.

Getting On With Jo Brand

We love Jo Brand. In that way. Always have. Always will.

3am Late Night Nudes – Circa 1987

Before the Guilded Balloon at the Cowgate was flooded by flames it was a crucible of late-night wonders. High weirdness abounded, confused hybrids emerged and on any given night anything could happen and often did.

It was well after 1am when Chris Lynam took the stage. We were all there for him, turps’d up and eager for entertainment. We knew the show and we loved it, especially ‘The Ethel.’

Towards the end of the set, in a captivating balletic display, Chris danced across the stage ending up in the splits. But he didn’t rise again, at least not quickly. Some damage had been done. The pain showed on his face. In the process of giving his all in the name of late-night comedy he’d strained a muscle, corked a thigh or snapped a hammy. Some horror had happened and we could see the anguish writ large.

Chris hobbled about like a broken puppet. He was clearly conflicted: a dash to casualty or finish the show?

Finish the damn show.

Defiant and valiant, his pain obvious and hilarious. Each wince drew gales of guilty laughter - and it was about to escalate.

Chris needed a hand to accomplish his much-loved finale, he couldn’t achieve it alone, so he drew on the dubious skills of Malcolm Hardee. Chris, cupping his man-bits in one hand, called out to his mate. He didn’t have to ask twice. Malcolm ambled toward the stage already disrobing, arriving wearing only drab socks, old boots and thick black spectacles - spuds resplendent.

Malcolm knew the act and he knew Chris held the Roman candle between clenched arse cheeks but when Malcolm was handed the leather thonging containing the candle he attempted to wedge it up his date. In Malcolm’s ‘re-imaging’ the candle was to become a firework suppository, he may’ve even got some purchase, when Chris between fits of giggles and aching pain begged him to stop.

There was a small discussion between the nude gents.

Malcolm proffered his arse anew. Chris knelt behind the pale rump encouraging Malcolm to tighten his butt cheeks to hold the firework upright. There was no musculature to Malcolm’s arse, whether purposeful or not no clench was achieved, and the candle fell to the floor at each attempt. There was nothing that could be done Chris would have to hold the candle in place to replicate the desired vignette.

In great pain Chris knelt behind his mate, both hands holding the firework in the flabby formless fold of Malcolm’s crack and he lit the wick.

Just two naked men on stage, one kneeling in supplication close behind the arse of the other, bodies illuminated by the Roman candle as it spat brilliantly bright arcs of spluttering colours into that unlit room while Ethel Merman wailed ‘There’s no business like show-business.’ Brilliant.

And as the candle gutted, true to his craft, Chris lifted it to his lips like a cigar and gave it a bit of the ol’ Groucho Marx - despite knowing where it had been. True Craftsmen.

Then it was off to casualty…

• The Doug Anthony All Stars: Near Death Experience, Pleasance Courtyard 22:00 and at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London on September 1 at 8pm.

Published: 2 Aug 2017

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