Jack Lemmon stole my career!

Hal Cruttenden's comedy choices

Some Like it Hot

This movie is the first black and white film that I remember truly loving. It was made in the early Fifties but still seems so modern. It contains crossing dressing, Marilyn Monroe in her best screen appearance and the last line hints at a future gay relationship between Jerry (Jack Lemmon’s character) and the old millionaire, Osgood.

It’s incredibly subversive for the period in which it was made. I saw it at aged 10, a period of my life when I needed to know that the heroic macho guys who populated mainstream movies weren’t the only type of man one could be.

Jack Lemmon showed me that there was comedy to be had in being highly strung, neurotic and slightly sweaty. I even took up playing the double bass because his character plays bass in the movie (I only made it to Grade Four but, due to lack of bass players, still had to play in Junior Orchestra - it was hell!). He also spends half the film dressed as a woman but that would have been more difficult to carry off at an all boys’school.

The Odd Couple

Again it’s a Jack Lemmon film. I love him so much but also envy the fact that he took many of the film roles that I myself would have been great at if only I’d been born 50 years earlier.

Having said that, if I’d been born 50 years earlier I might have been caught up in the end of World War Two and had to take part in D-Day (I don’t even like camping out). Actually, with my knees, I could have got a nice job moving flags around on maps in Churchill’s war rooms or maybe driving a general to his office well away from the front line. That’s my dream job - a nice uniform without any danger.

Sorry I digress.

In this film, Lemmon plays Felix Ungar a man who’s thrown out by his wife and moves in with his divorced friend, Oscar. Oscar’s a relaxed chilled out slob while Felix is a house proud, neurotic, hyper-sensitive hypochondriac. This relationship almost exactly mirrors what’s going on in my Edinburgh flat where I’m living with fellow comic, Alistair Barrie – except I’m neurotic and lazy which is an awful combination.

Watch the scene where Felix is clearing his sinuses. That’s me! It’s me with an American accent! The man stole my character before I was even born.

An Audience With Billy Connolly

Most of these ‘Audience with...’ shows were appalling. Billy Connolly’s was, I believe, the best bit of television stand up to come out of the Eighties. It was the first time I’d sat down and watched a full hour of his stuff and it blew me away.

This was the show where they cut away to show you the famous faces sitting in the audience. It’s a bit like Live At The Apollo except there aren’t any normal punters at all. I can’t quite understand why producers still do this. Do audiences only laugh if they know that Robbie from Eastenders finds something hysterical?

However this Billy Connolly show isn’t the usual celebs laughing self-consciously and checking discretely whether the camera is on them. This is an audience absolutely pissing themselves. Bob Hoskins wide-eyed in amazement; Wincey Willis crying with laughter; Tim Piggott Smith more animated than in any acting role he ever played on TV.

Connolly is really quite brilliant with classic bits like ‘We should have the Archers for the national anthem’, ‘Incontinence Pants’ and ‘Parties in the Glasgow tenements’. It’s fantastic stuff.

The show is also a reminder that fame is not a constant. One can see Barbara Dixon, Wincey Willis, Michael Brandon and Suzi Quattro enjoying the evening, unaware that they would soon disappear from our TV screens. If you’re under 30 you may now be wondering who these people are. They were geniuses and our lives are poorer without them. ‘Specially Wincey.

Stir Crazy

It was the early Eighties and I was 13 years old when I went to see this movie. I was friends with a guy called Mark Jackson. His father’s name was Michael and I used to love calling his house and having his Dad pick up and say ‘Michael Jackson’. Nothing else funny happened about that but it entertained my stupid pre-pubescent little mind.

Mark Jackson was the year above me at school but lived near me so we hung out together and he introduced me to smoking. It’s probably thanks to him that I never made it to six foot.

We’d gone to see an awful film called Spring Break about a guy basically trying to lose his virginity in Florida. I was thinking that I would soon have these experiences. I was being premature (not for the first time). Little did I know that it would be many long years before I would have sex and even longer before I’d learn to do it with any real competence.

However these were the days of the double bill (God I’m old!) and the film before it was Stir Crazy starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. The scene when they are first locked up in a cell and are trying to act tough yet end up hugging and crying in a corner of the room is masterful. Similarly, when they’re given massive prison sentences for a crime they didn’t commit, Pryor has lines like: ‘One hundred and twenty five years! I’m gonna be a hundred and sixty-one when I get out!‘

They were two great performers in their prime. I will fight to the death any man who claims this isn’t the greatest work either of them did. They were both in their forties and enjoying their best comedy years. I think comedians improve with age - British TV producers disagree.

Eddie Izzard: Unrepeatable

This was the first time I’d seen Eddie Izzard. I bought the video because everyone was talking about him and, after watching it, I wanted to be a comedian. I actually said this to him when I first met him which was bloody embarrassing.

Two things scared me about being a comic - my soft, effeminate voice, which I have been bullied about since I was a child (before it broke I sounded like a girl - after it broke I sounded like a woman); and the fact that I was a posh middle class man from West London. Izzard is also effeminate and very middle class. He opened my eyes to the fact that to be a stand up you didn’t have to be a lad, you just had to be who you are.

I love his confidence and the fact that he never apologises. He never feels the need to explain his cross-dressing or the questions it raises in the audience’s mind about his sexuality. He’s silly and clever without being affected and disappearing up his arse.

I’ve just realised that cross dressing is becoming a theme in this article. I’ve never done it but did once buy some women’s sunglasses and it gave me a tingle to wear them. Is this the start of something?

The Day Today

The best piece of TV satire of the Nineties. It introduced us to the great Alan Partridge character as well as legends like Peter O’Hanraha-hanrahan. I cannot watch the news any more without seeing through all the tricks that reveal news production to be just as much about performance and entertainment as about informing the public. I suppose this is obvious to many but I needed ‘The Day Today‘ to spell it out for me.

It’s one of those shows that has been a launch pad for many great careers. Not just Chris Morris but Steve Coogan, Patrick Marber, Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan and David Schneider. All firmly established comedy legends. It is the only piece of comedy that has permanently changed the way that I view something (although I’ve also read some pretty hilarious Tory Party manifestos).

Published: 9 Aug 2012

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