'It’s a lesson in cringe comedy'

Barbershopera chose their favourite moments


Groundhog Day

For me, the top comedy film of all time is Groundhog Day, the superb Harold Ramis movie with Bill Murray at his most sardonic and misanthropic best. Why is it so great? It starts with a brilliant premise: Murray, a disgruntled weatherman who hates his job, continually wakes up on the same morning, reliving the same tedious, boring day.

If you keep on reliving the same day, and can’t actually die, you can do whatever you want. Cue a succession of excellent one-liners, fantastic performances and hilarious set pieces - my highlight being a car-chase ending in one of the best lines ever involving flapjacks. An enduring, modern-day masterpiece.

The Fish Slapping Dance: Monty Python

Two British army soldiers (John Cleese and Michael Palin), dressed in safari outfits and pith helmets, facing each other somewhere in Blighty on the side of a lock. When some jangly music starts, Palin prances towards Cleese, gently slapping him in the face with a couple of tiny fishes. When he’s finished, Cleese produces a massive fish and smacks Palin across the side of his head, knocking him in the water.

I just love this for its absurdity and unexpectedness. It makes me laugh every time I watch it. Classic surreal Python. In the words of John Cleese, ‘I'd hate to be the high school media student who needs to make sense out of this."

Just a wonderful, ridiculous, utterly random but brilliant piece of comedy.


Extras with Sir Ian Mckellen

‘How do I act so well?’ It's a question that Sir Ian McKellen, and I, often ask ourselves. Naturally, those of us making a living from such methods wouldn't want everyone to know how the magic works. But, in Extras (series 2, episode 5) Sir Ian betrays us, and lets slip the secret of great acting.

This scene is brilliant for two reasons. One: it's refreshing to see a well respected figure sending themselves up with a big slice of silliness. Two: it reminds you not to take yourself too seriously.

And you can tell they had a lot of fun filming it because the outtakes are almost as funny as the scene itself


Friends: The One Where Joey Speaks French

One of my favourite moments in comedy is in the well-loved American sitcom Friends.

Although I am a great fan of the outright silliness found in British series like Blackadder and Monty Python, what I especially love about Friends, is the clever witty yet often touching writing, the sincerity and believability of all of the characters, their different quirks and their genuine affection for each other.

One of my favourite episodes in fact is quite silly, and is the one where Phoebe tries to teach Joey French for a part he stubbornly wants to audition for. SO funny!

Joey is so likeable so the combination of his continual ineptitude to pick up the language (or even hear it at all) and Phoebe’s disbelief at his inability to learn are hilarious ......and that’s before you even get to the bit where Joey proves that he can drink a gallon of milk in 10 seconds when Phoebe questions the skills listed on his CV at the end.

Watch here..


One Leg Too Few: Peter Cook & and Dudley Moore

I think this is the perfect sketch. Sketch comedy is a tricky animal to tame, with most sketches needing to be very good indeed to hold interest beyond two minutes and Cook and Moore manage four and a half with ease.

Interestingly Peter Cook wrote it when he was about 18, perhaps a nod to the notion that those early instincts should be listened to - too many comedy writers seem to tie themselves in knots by searching for some genius leftfield idea and forget to entertain the audience.

It's a silly and accessible concept - a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan - but the script is packed with delicious one-liners, deadpan witticisms and endearing character moments. To combine slapstick, absurdity and highbrow wordplay isn't easy, but this is a masterclass.


Swingers: Answer machine sequence

Laughing at someone making a tit of themselves will always be funny. It ‘s a difficult line to tread though. How many times can a man get hit in the head with a frying pan before slapstick becomes brutal murder? (That I don’t know the answer to. This is the reason I am no longer allowed in the kitchen.)

Swingers is a romantic comedy about out of work actors in LA, and the main character Mike’s quest to get over his ex-girlfriend. His sexual predator friends try to toughen up the lovable and decent Mike and make him into more of a bastard, but we know, deep down, his own brand of bumbling charm will win out.

My favourite scene sees Mike return from a successful night out with a girl’s number and (despite his friends’ advice to wait three days) he calls her immediately, gets her answer machine and leaves a series of increasingly maddening and desperate messages.

From the moment he returns we are willing him not to mess it up. But because we know he’s going to, we also desperately want him to mess it up. And as the messages start to careen out of control, and we realise he’s passed the point of no return. It becomes the perfect car-crash. You can’t tear your eyes off the screen no matter how much your better side wants you to. It’s a lesson in cringe comedy, which will always make me bury my face in my hands and laugh.

Published: 18 Aug 2012

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