Stand-up is not a fashion show

Doc Brown on his comedy favourites

The Jerk

This may seem a weird one to include, as I know it's not held in the highest of esteem. It's also a deeply silly film, but honestly it's one of only a handful of movies I can watch over and over again. I first saw The Jerk at around nine years old and I can't tell you how many times I've seen it since.

It's like a cartoon really, with totally unbelievable characters and a premise so ridiculous an actual cartoon wouldn't touch it but it works. It just works. Steve Martin is captured at the height of his absurdist powers- it was 1979 so he was still a rising star in Stand Up and you can see why in this movie- he's an unstoppable ball of loveable energy, playing a simpleton not unlike Rick Gervais's Derek, a geek with special needs (or for Jerk fans a ‘special purpose’) and it is simply 90 minutes of the stupidest funniest nonsense I've ever enjoyed.

I've literally grown up with this film. I even sing the song from the beach scene to my kids at bedtime; my eldest has learnt the harmonies. Martin was such a great clown and I've realised now that his performance in The Jerk had proved to be that rarest of things in comedy: Timeless.  

Annie Hall

The only comedy to ever win an Oscar. That kinda says it all really.

The movie features everything I love about comedy: incredible dialogue, believable characters experiencing recognisable emotions, a heroin gag made by a five-year-old... It's got it all!

And Woody Allen, whatever you might think of the man, is a comedy legend. I've got stand up records of his from the 60s on vinyl that my dad handed down to me that are groundbreaking for the artform and still funny today. He brought all his neuroses and loads of his best gags to this movie and added a love story that is totally irresistible.

To call it a rom com is a bit like calling the Godfather Part 2 a gangster film or Jaws an action movie. Like those films, Annie Hall transcends its genre and becomes a certified, undeniable classic. There's so many layers to it, including a lot of meta stuff that was years ahead of its time: the talking to camera, the moment of animation, the out-of-body marijuana experience, the subtitles sequence (which was the inspiration, alongside Subterranean Homesick Blues, for my Slang 101 bit) and the random vox-pops in the street.

‘Sir, how do you and your wife keep your sex life fresh?’

‘We use a large vibrating egg.’

‘Well, there you go. Ask a psychopath, you're gonna get that kind of an answer.’

Louis CK: Chewed Up

The only stand ups I really rate are all over 40. I'm only really interested in men and women who have lived a lot of life: stand-up is not a fashion show, I really couldn't give a shit that you're young, good looking or can rap or some bollocks.

Louis is an Everyman, almost an American Karl Pilkington, a guy you feel like you know, who, having lost his vanity, ended a marriage, had two kids, just doesn't give a shit any more, and he's saying what the hell he feels.

In Chewed Up, Louis very pointedly begins by breaking down the most offensive words in the English Language- he humanises them and expertly discusses their context. It's actually as enlightening as it is funny. Plus, in one moment regarding Louis' eating habits, the show features the line ‘every shit is an emergency’ which must've been worth the entrance price alone.

Porridge

I have such warmth for this show. Mainly because it reminds me of my dad. He got me into comedy as a kid and had the best taste. He showed me A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, Blackadder, The Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin... So much great stuff.

But something about Porridge and the father/son-type relationship between Fletch and Godber really brought me and my old man together somehow. It felt real, it felt like proper working-class people dealing with real trauma. I couldn't believe it when I found out Ronnie Barker was actually well-spoken, to me he was such a convincing North London ‘lad’, he sounded exactly like the cheeky white guys on my estate.

It was sad, it was touching and yet it was laugh-out-loud funny. If you want to have a masterclass in comic writing, watch the episode An Evening In, which is an entire episode set on the bunk bed in their cell. It's a play-like two-header with Fletch and Godber baring their souls. Godber is struggling with his fate, Fletch tries to reassure him with tales of the outside world. It's pure poetry; a thing of absolute beauty.

Porridge is the template for everything I do in comedy: real-life content with a generous portion of pathos.

Red Dwarf

AKA Porridge in space. I was the perfect age when this was first making an impact. I was around 12 and Series 2 just blew me away.

I will live and die by this statement: If you've ever seen the episode Future Echoes, you will be hard pressed to find a cleverer piece of comic dialogue ever written than in the moment where Lister sees a ‘future echo’ image of Rimmer, has a seemingly nonsensical conversation with him, then the past Rimmer is immediately replaced by the Rimmer of the present, who repeats exactly the same words, that now make sense. Absolutely awe-inspiring and a scene that has stayed with me for 20 years and STILL makes me laugh.

Brass Eye/The Day Today

I'm gonna cheat and throw these in together, as one is kind of an extension of the other. I don't think you can ever throw enough superlatives at Chris Morris. The man not only had balls of steel, he was a true visionary: he didn't just satirise the news media as it was then, he saw where it was going, and where society might end up alongside it.

The real news is now so scarily close to the absurdity Morris created in the 90s it truly is frightening, but makes me respect his genius even more. Also, lets face it, there's no Partridge, there's no Brooker, no Baron Cohen... there's no real cutting edge darkness or tragedy in British comedy today without Chris Morris' blueprint.

  • Doc Brown is on tour from April. Visit his website for dates.

Published: 13 Mar 2013

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