Christmas baubles

Some comedy stocking-fillers

Christmas is the time all the comics release their live DVDs, and almost every showbiz autobiography is published, in the hope that recognition of a celebrity name will be the prompt Auntie Edna needs to buy it as a gift. But away from the main releases, a deluge of stocking-filler items also flood the market. Here we look at a few of the coemedy-related items around this year…

Little Britain Interactive DVD Game
£19.99. Click to buy

This interactive DVD is a general-knowledge trivia quiz introduced by various Little Britain characters. But the one question it failed to ask is: ‘How much money do Matt Lucas and David Walliams REALLY need?’ as it seems they’re happy to devalue their creations by putting their images on ever bit of tat going – and this is no exception.

If you think the characters’ catchphrases are annoying now, imagine hearing them time and time again, out of the context of any sketch, introducing question or telling you that you’re right or wrong. It’s utterly tedious and means you’re left with a very slow quiz game mixed with repetitive, unfunny snippets.

Rounds are themed to fit the characters, so Little Dennis Waterman might sing a ‘feemtune’ for you to guess, or Dafyyd will ask you which celebrities are gay, with such clunking questions as ‘which of these tunesmiths is also a gaysmith?’.

On the third time of playing, questions started repeating themselves, too – even though there are said to be more than 1,000 on the disc – suggesting this pointless trinket will be stuffed into a forgotten drawer before the Christmas Sprout have been boiled. Oh, and I say three games – we never got past round five on any of them, as our copy crashed on round 5 every time. Blessed relief, really.

Have I Got News For You
By Ged Parsons
£9.99. Click to buy

Most of what you can say about this book is in its rather-too frank foreword: ‘If you are looking for a detailed, expert, behind-the-scenes guide to the workings of TV’s top satirical quiz, then you should have bought the two previous Have I Got News For You book years ago, shouldn’t you? Those bastards bagged all the good ideas for making a panel game look halfway decent in print. As it is you’re stuck with the “concept” we eventually came up with. We have just crowbarred a lot of old jokes into loosely assigned categories, with a cursory nod to alphabetical order.’

So, from ‘A Few Missing Words’ to ‘ZZZZ’, the show’s writer Ged Parsons relives some of the funniest moments from recent years: blanked-out headliners, odd ones out and caption competitions being the best to transfer into print, especially if you don’t remember these particular moments from the show.

Interspersed with all this are some unfunny, college-magazine standard in-jokes about the making of the programme. Like the explanation of what the backroom boys do ‘Graphics: Responsible for defacing the studio toilets with obscene diagrams’; the ‘day in the life of’ Boris Johnson full of ‘cripes!’ and chaos or the Paul Merton family tree. All substandard filler that detracts from the genuinely funny extracts from the programme.

Otherwise, a fairly slight book to while away a few spare moments – but a pretty funny one at that.

The Book Of General Ignorance
By John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
£12.99. Click to buy

The QI spin-off The Book Of General Ignorance provides a more substantial – and fascinating – read, with nearly 300 pages of things you never knew. And, more interestingly, debunking things you thought you knew.

No, the Canary Islands aren’t named after birds; no Captain Cook did not discover Australia and no, witches generally weren’t burned at the stake…

Any fan of the erudite, but entertaining, panel game would know not to fall into The Trap of giving the obvious answer (well, except Alan Davies whose role on the show is to never learn), but the truth is much more unexpected than you’d imagine. And this book blows away some of the most widespread myths, with at least one ‘well I never’ guaranteed on every page.

The only downside is that die-hard fans of the show – and I suspect there is no other type, as it’s something to which you become quickly addicted – will already be aware of most of the fallacies, as the book is compiled from questions already asked the TV series.

But it’s still a good primer for more recent converts, and a perfect companion for anyone who aspires to be the pub smarty-pants. They’ll need it, as human friends might be thin on the ground.

That Which Is Not Said
Look At You Publications
£7. Click to buy

Not the most obvious stocking-filler, this, but an excellent and unusual choice for the stand-up fan: an eclectic collection of 46 poems from the cream of the circuit. This anthology was published in a limited print run of 1,000 in aid of homeless charity Shelter and launched at this year’s Fringe, but copies are still available.

Ignore the offputtingly amateurish cover design, and inside you’ll find everything from a seven-word haiku to a nine-page epic by Andy Zaltzman, based on one of his stand-up routines.

Some of the contributors you might expect to find in an book such as this: Owen O’Neill, who is a published poet as well as a stand-up, the ever-imaginative Simon Munnery, Boothby Graffoe’s whimisical daftness and Arthur Smith, who puts the verse in to subversive. But there are a few surprises, too. Russell Brand contributes a witty poem deconstructing the phrase ‘like a kid in a sweet shop’; there’s surreal silliness from Harry Hill and Tim Vine; and Wil Hodgson adapts some of the themes of his award-winning rambling stand-up into verse, along with many more.

Some of the poems are hilariously funny, others aren’t meant to be, and the wide range of styles reflects the diversity to be found on the more interesting edges of comedy. If you love your stand-up out of the ordinary, this appealing collection of bite-sized comic samples will be right up your street.

Published: 7 Dec 2006

Live comedy picks

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