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Comedians who surpass their material

Started by /m/, March 24, 2018, 01:43:15 AM

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/m/

One comedy-related thing that has stayed with me the longest, more or less, has been something Bill Bailey once said about Peter Cook. I don't have much trouble remembering the show - it was a radio show from 2004, about Cook winnning a 'Comedian's Comedian' poll - but I can't remember what Bailey said exactly. I believe he said something about how exasperating it was to watch someone like Cook at work, on chat shows in particular, because he could always draw a huge laugh from the audience even with some pretty shoddy material. This must have stuck in my mind because I had heard nothing but fulsome and unreserved praise of Cook up to that point, so I think it made the teenage form of me feel somewhat uneasy to hear a comedian qualifying their praise with a bit of criticism. I felt aggrieved on the dead fucker's behalf.

Nowadays, I feel the same way about Norm MacDonald. Now, I may have a disturbing and nigh-on indefensible love for him, but even I think he gets away with some shite: some shite which just plain bad and some shite which, in the hands of a more self-consciously edgy comedian, would bore me. And he gets away with it because his charm, his sharpness, his delivery, and his unflagging commitment to the moment always seems to see him through. There's also a kind of purity and a kind of innocence about him, even though he's a filthy, sick-headed old chunk of coal, and that's why he doesn't weary me like some self-styled Dangerous Comedians do. There's a lesson they could learn from that.

Are there any comedians whom you feel the same way about? Forgetting the very boring fact that what constitutes 'bad' and 'shoddy' material is wholly subjective, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this. You don't have to justify yourself with, um, reasonable arguments. You can, of course, but I don't want people to be afraid to go against the grain.

Claude the Racecar Driving Rockstar Super Sleuth

Stewart Lee can get belly laughs by talking about crisps.

Dr Rock

Mitch Hedburg had so much charm, he took great material to another dimension.

Quote from: /m/ on March 24, 2018, 01:43:15 AM
I believe he said something about how exasperating it was to watch someone like Cook at work, on chat shows in particular, because he could always draw a huge laugh from the audience even with some pretty shoddy material.

That's a bit rich coming from Bill Bailey. The only memorable thing he did was his musical parody of U2's The Edge.

Tony Yeboah

Tommy Cooper is always said to have 'funnybones,' people would laugh at him before he did anything. He had some great material (a lot of the best writers of the day wrote for him) but he could also get laughs from some very weak gags. I think that's praise rather than a criticism. More recently, Lee Evans could be very funny with a lot of hack observations.

sevendaughters

there's definitely something at the heart of Harry Hill that has me interested and invested in his lesser moments though really I just want him to do stand-up and create anarchic TV shows, I've creased a couple of times at his YBF voiceovers for flips sake.

Blue Jam

At the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe I saw several comedians do carefully-structured, well-rehearsed, polished sets but none of them were as funny as seeing Daniel Kitson pretty much rambling. I've seen him several times since, doing more structured stuff himself, and while he's always been good he was somehow funnier that time when he (seemingly) hadn't prepared any material.

I remember being helpless with laughter when he burst into singing, country and western-style while stamping out a rhythm, "Ah like/Fuckin' mah dick/Fuckin' mah dick/With mah butt cheeks", and it still cracks me up whenever I think about it.

phantom_power

Quote from: Default to the negative on March 24, 2018, 02:51:46 AM
That's a bit rich coming from Bill Bailey. The only memorable thing he did was his musical parody of U2's The Edge.

I doubt there was an unspoken "unlike me" in his comments. I think you are being harsh on him there but even if it were true bad comedians should still be allowed to criticise comedy. I think he is right as well

studpuppet

Arnold Brown is someone who makes ordinary material funny. There used to be a bit he did that, written down, looks pathetic. It went something like:

I often tell people that the secret to good comedy is timing.
For example, if you all turned up tonight, and I turned up next week: that's bad timing.
And I'm a professional - I've noticed it makes a difference being just one day out.

I'm guessing I last heard that about twenty or thirty years ago now, and I can still remember the cadences and pauses as he said it.

Brundle-Fly

Not strictly a stand-up but certainly a live comedy performer, Kenneth Williams was 80% performance/ persona over material, I would say.

Case in point. This recently unearthed Tomorrow's World appearance. He just oozes a peppermint flavoured comic charm that makes me giggle and he's talking about fucking ammeters.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkL35M9sQIY

up_the_hampipe

Quote from: /m/ on March 24, 2018, 01:43:15 AM
Nowadays, I feel the same way about Norm MacDonald. Now, I may have a disturbing and nigh-on indefensible love for him, but even I think he gets away with some shite: some shite which just plain bad and some shite which, in the hands of a more self-consciously edgy comedian, would bore me. And he gets away with it because his charm, his sharpness, his delivery, and his unflagging commitment to the moment always seems to see him through. There's also a kind of purity and a kind of innocence about him, even though he's a filthy, sick-headed old chunk of coal, and that's why he doesn't weary me like some self-styled Dangerous Comedians do. There's a lesson they could learn from that.

Although you're rounding up to a compliment with that, that's still underselling him a fair bit. Have you seen much of his stand-up? He's got plenty of really well-written material, and some of his talk show bits are cleverly done. He makes some lewd jokes on his podcast, and some of his Weekend Update jokes aren't great, but he shouldn't be considered a comic who props up weak material.

Twed

I understand what /m/ means though. I saw Norm try to pass of the "I'm a workaholic; I'm addicted to workahol" joke once. Without the rest of the package he'd often come off as a hack.

up_the_hampipe

Quote from: Twed on March 24, 2018, 10:26:36 PM
I understand what /m/ means though. I saw Norm try to pass of the "I'm a workaholic; I'm addicted to workahol" joke once. Without the rest of the package he'd often come off as a hack.

But the joke is that it's a lame joke. He's not genuinely trying to sell that. When he's actually doing material, it's not like that.

Quote from: studpuppet on March 24, 2018, 12:38:26 PM
Arnold Brown is someone who makes ordinary material funny. There used to be a bit he did that, written down, looks pathetic. It went something like:

I often tell people that the secret to good comedy is timing.
For example, if you all turned up tonight, and I turned up next week: that's bad timing.
And I'm a professional - I've noticed it makes a difference being just one day out.

I'm guessing I last heard that about twenty or thirty years ago now, and I can still remember the cadences and pauses as he said it.

I think that's funny written down.  You can just imagine that being said really dead-pan.

Serge

Quote from: Tony Yeboah on March 24, 2018, 08:38:56 AM
Tommy Cooper is always said to have 'funnybones,' people would laugh at him before he did anything. He had some great material (a lot of the best writers of the day wrote for him) but he could also get laughs from some very weak gags. I think that's praise rather than a criticism. More recently, Lee Evans could be very funny with a lot of hack observations.

Cooper was the first one that sprung to mind for me. There's a sketch I saw on one of his compilations a few years ago, where he walks into a hotel in a suit of armour, and it is so blindingly obvious what the punchline is going to be, but I defy anyone not to be in stitches as he says, "Have you got a room for the knight?" Practically nobody else could have pulled that off.

DrGreggles

Danny Baker was on something recently when he talked about Tommy Cooper visiting the 6 O'Clock Show offices.
He walked in, said "My feet don't 'alf hurt" and the whole room was in hysterics.
Cursed and blessed.

Shit Good Nose

With BB being one of my favourite comedians, I heard (and remember well) the same radio show.


Quote from: /m/ on March 24, 2018, 01:43:15 AM
I think it made the teenage form of me feel somewhat uneasy to hear a comedian qualifying their praise with a bit of criticism. I felt aggrieved on the dead fucker's behalf.

Quote from: Default to the negative on March 24, 2018, 02:51:46 AM
That's a bit rich coming from Bill Bailey. The only memorable thing he did was his musical parody of U2's The Edge.

It wasn't criticism, it was a reflection of how high BB and others regarded Cook's overall genius, where even poor material (relatively - I'm fairly sure he also made the point that poor Cook material is still better than some comedians' best material), which, in most other comedians' hands, would go down like a turd sarnie, generated belly laughs.  The wider point BB was making, and the question he was answering, was about what comedians aspire to.

Depressed Beyond Tables

Pretty much all of Bob Mortimer's output could only really be done by him as it's predominantly in the delivery. Bob is one of those who, as the cliché puts it, could read the phonebook and get laughs. The material is only a small part of it.

jobotic

Quote from: DrGreggles on March 28, 2018, 11:54:54 AM
Danny Baker was on something recently when he talked about Tommy Cooper visiting the 6 O'Clock Show offices.
He walked in, said "My feet don't 'alf hurt" and the whole room was in hysterics.
Cursed and blessed.

Danny Baker doesn't usually make me laugh, although I find him affable enough. He did the other week though on the radio, when he described himself as a dangerous rule-breaker "like one of those perfumes".

Utter Shit

Quote from: Tony Yeboah on March 24, 2018, 08:38:56 AMTommy Cooper is always said to have 'funnybones,' people would laugh at him before he did anything. He had some great material (a lot of the best writers of the day wrote for him) but he could also get laughs from some very weak gags. I think that's praise rather than a criticism. More recently, Lee Evans could be very funny with a lot of hack observations.

Spot on about Lee Evans - his Wembley show is one of my favourite ever stand-ups, but anyone else delivering that material and it would be total shit.

Jack Shaftoe

It was either John Mulaney or Conan O'Brien who was talking about picking up Bill Cosby to do a talk for their college, Cosby just being a normal, faintly grouchy dude in the car, then getting on stage and more or less just going 'ah hello a-be-dooby dooby doo' and everyone just falling about laughing.

Makes me think of Trump's speeches, where what he's saying either makes no sense at all or is just hideous, but he's got the rhythms and timing of a stand up, so he can just waffle on and the crowd are enthralled.

Quote from: Blue Jam on March 24, 2018, 09:48:17 AMAt the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe I saw several comedians do carefully-structured, well-rehearsed, polished sets but none of them were as funny as seeing Daniel Kitson pretty much rambling. I've seen him several times since, doing more structured stuff himself, and while he's always been good he was somehow funnier that time when he (seemingly) hadn't prepared any material.



Yeah this was my first thought. I do love Kitson's carefully structured shows but I have rarely laughed as much at anything as I have at him when he's just doing off the cuff shit at a WIP or as a compere. There's something about his extreme confidence coupled with his introverted personality I think, and also that he clearly genuinely enjoys himself.

Also second Bob Mortimer, just turns the most subtle turn of phrase into hilarity.


Pete23

Peter Kay; the man who said "Garlic Bread?" lot's of times and became the biggest comic in the UK and who finished his last tour by doing Queen karaoke that had them literally rolling in the aisles. Personally I love his early stuff, but there's no laughs to be had without his delivery - case in point: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/apr/26/peter-kay-jokes (his best jokes aparently!)


Autopsy Turvey

Quote from: Brundle-Fly on March 24, 2018, 12:58:38 PMNot strictly a stand-up but certainly a live comedy performer, Kenneth Williams was 80% performance/ persona over material, I would say.

Lovely clip, many thanks for that! I'd say KW didn't really do material as such, he had anecdotes that he structured and embroidered and although many of these would be respectably amusing on paper, it was certainly all about the delivery. I'd love to see his compere segments from International Cabaret, seemingly his only vehicle for proper stand-up, evidently his performances were very well received at the time. The only gag I know he delivered on the show was "I'm a cult you know, oh yes, I'm one of the biggest cults you'll find round 'ere", as it was quoted in his autobiography as an example of what he could do to a line with delivery (starting off posh and going Cockney at the end), but on late 60s TV that joke would be funny in anyone's voice.


ProvanFan


Action Fish

Quote from: DrGreggles on March 28, 2018, 11:54:54 AMDanny Baker was on something recently when he talked about Tommy Cooper visiting the 6 O'Clock Show offices.
He walked in, said "My feet don't 'alf hurt" and the whole room was in hysterics.
Cursed and blessed.

He recounts the whole thing on the new Barry Cryer podcast. Plenty of Kenneth Williams chat too.

Glebe

Yeah I remember Jimmy Tarbuck talking about Cooper in some doco and saying he'd get annoyed because people would start laughing when he entered a room and that sometimes.

I remember Bob Monkhouse on an ITV documentary about Cooper saying that people would start laughing if Tommy made some non-humorous enquiry, such as 'can you tell me the time?' or 'can I have a drink?'