It’s physically beautiful. Emotionally truthful. And verbally awesome

Deborah Frances-White's comedy picks

Seinfeld: The Contest

An American network sitcom about a wanking-abstinence competition, is a rare event. To pull it off (every pun intended) without once directly referencing masturbation, is a proper achievement.

I’ve watched it a dozen times but I always laugh out loud at Kramer catching sight of a naked girl through an apartment window, skidding across the hall and returning moments later with a handful of cash and shouting: ‘I’m out!’

The plotting is divine. The call-backs are immense. The euphemisms are inventive. The performances are fraught. The dialogue spreads like butter on a crumpet and drips through onto the plate below.

What separates Seinfeld out from so many forgettable American sitcoms is how much the characters care. Comics often reference the writers’ ‘no hugging, no learning’ rule as the mark of its individuality. But while the characters’ aspirations might be trivial, their reactions are huge and their feelings are deep. There are other classic episodes, but for me, nothing beats The Contest. There’s a beauty in the angst of four narcissists trying hard not to love themselves, for a cash prize.

Morecambe and Wise with Andre Previn

I can watch a lot of Morecambe and Wise in a sentimental smiley way. But this sketch I could watch on a loop for 24 hours and still roar. It’s like a great song that gets better every time you listen to it. Eric Morecambe being conducted by Andre Previn. Andre Previn being directed by Eric Morecambe. Ernie Wise jigging next to the piano throughout the butchered concerto.

I think there’s something about the dignity of a world-class conductor and orchestra being undermined by the naughtiness of Eric Morecambe that appeals to the iconoclast in all of us. It’s physically beautiful. Emotionally truthful. And verbally awesome –

Previn: ‘You’re playing all the wrong notes.’

Morecambe: ‘I am playing all the right notes. But not necessarily in the right order... I’ll give you that, sunshine.’

The joy on the orchestra’s faces when they give Previn a standing ovation, says it all. Watch it again. Immediately. And watch it from the beginning when Morecambe and Wise get Andre Previn there under false pretences and talk him into doing the show. I bet you can’t even remember that part.

Tim Minchin: Are You Ready?

I saw this show at The Pleasance in 2008 and made everyone who came to visit me in Edinburgh to see it. An old mate of my mine didn’t get it and I questioned whether I could sustain the friendship beyond that point. I’d liked Tim Minchin before in a casual way, but this was the show that made me love him so much it’s probably wrong.

From the opening song – Ready For This? (‘Have you come adequately prepared for this? Did you consider the possibility that this might be something you’d have to plan for?’) through to the genius that is the R & B satire and mathematics-driven love song If I Didn’t Have You (‘Realistically, there’s lots of fish in the sea and if I had a different rod I would conceivably land some’) – it’s divine.

This show is a combination of musicality, lyricism, passion and poison. And The Song for Phil Daoust, turned up to eleven, is an antidote to any bad Fringe review.

Louis CK: Everything is Amazing Right Now and Nobody’s Happy

We’d never heard of Louis CK till this clip of him on Conan O’Brien went viral. Now he’s a god, a comedian’s comedian’s comedian – the gold standard. His frank frustration at 21st century impatience really gets me going. He riffs about a passenger on a plane, getting pissed off that the brand new in-flight internet goes down for a minute: ‘How quickly the world owes him something, he only knew existed ten seconds ago!’

If I can be allowed a second Louis CK moment : ‘I’m not saying that white people are better. I’m saying that being white is clearly better... I can get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be fucking awesome when I get there... Black people can’t fuck with time machines!’

I want to comedy-sex him so much because he’s highly ‘controversial’– by which I mean brave in his admissions - but his world view is beautiful, not scathing of the vulnerable.

Michael Legge’s Blog

I have a huge crush on Michael Legge’s blog because it’s one of the very few things on the internet that really makes me laugh out loud. In fact the overused inter-meme – LOL , should really only be reserved for Legge’s Blogge.

Dairy Intolerance is the one that turned me from occasional reader to committed subscriber (by which I mean I read it for free whenever I want). He wrote it just pre-Edinburgh 2010 – but it describes all the festivals there’ll ever be. I tried to read it out loud to my friends, but I couldn’t get through it because I was laughing so much, I was crying. One of them snatched it from me and tried to read it out – but then they were laughing so much that – well, I’m saying that everyone had to read it in their own quiet space. Here’s an extract:

‘I may have made a big error. Edinburgh is always a mistake on some level. You go up there with your very first solo show to play at The Pleasance Fucking Miles Away or the Gilded Balloon Asbestos Cupboard and realise that, instead of getting a four part Radio 4 series based on your theme of only falling in love with people who have the same name as characters from Mr. Benn, you have spent £8000 on being ignored except for one 17 year old who wrote on igotafreeticketthatididn' that you are "a cunt"....

‘I can't give up booze. Ever tried talking to a comedian sober? Christ. What? A three-star review, you say? Read like a five? Yes, Frisky & Mannish have done well quickly. Of course, you deserve it more than them. You're writing a book? I have to go.

Read all Michael’s blogs now. Especially if you’re in some kind of misery – I hear you love company.

Josie Long: Trying is Good

I always see one show at the end of the fringe that makes me laugh and cry in equal measure. I just find things funnier when there’s conviction coming at me from the comic, and this show about abandoning a cool lack of effort in favour of having a go at something/anything sticks with me.

I can remember being doubled over during Josie’s story about trying to find an angry-looking man pictured on a loaf of bread. But I still well up when thinking about Edward Hicks, the religiously restricted 19th century Quaker and artist who painted the lion and the lamb lying together, a hundred of times throughout his life, saying on his death bed: ‘Say what you like about me. I really nailed that peaceable kingdom’ It answers the question we all ask at the end of a long, hard fringe - “What was it all for?”

That’s what I love about Josie, she discovers funny in places it’s never been found before.

Published: 22 Aug 2012

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