I was never much of a fan of Annie Hall. I couldn’t honestly believe anyone would want to spend time with someone who seemed to be so alienated from their own feelings. I sat in the cinema thinking “Get oan wi’ it. Dae something”. But all that happened was introspective discourse and humor as deflection. Sure it had funny moments, but it seemed a million miles away from my life and the lives of those around me. And it seemed indulgent.
Yet, Annie Hall marked the turning point when Allen’s unique brand of humor conquered the world, and changed film and TV comedy for the next 3 decades, right up to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Allen was suddenly everywhere - from the covers of Newsweek and Time, to lengthy interviews on French TV and the South Bank Show. He was the pin-up of geeks and the bourgeoisie, and Annie Hall was a lifestyle choice.
Still, none of that takes away from the fact Woody Allen is a comic genius, and a brilliantly talented writer and director of films.
This fascinating documentary captures Allen not long after his Oscar success with Annie Hall and the release of his follow-up movie Interiors. Made for French TV in 1979 by Jacques Meny, and actress/journalist, France Roche, this documentary takes the neurotic King of Comedy through his childhood, early career, and success as writer filmmaker. Though the voice over is French, Allen’s interview is in English.
Here’s an interesting little curio for those who love British comedy - an interview with Eric Sykes on the set of of his little known feature film directing debut, You Better Go In Disguise in 1973. To the younger generation, Sykes may be best known for his performances in Harry Potter, The Others and even The Tele-Tubbies, but for those who grew-up in the seventies, he will always be remembered for his classic sit-com Sykes.
Long before Schwarzenegger and De Vito, Sykes and the wonderful Hattie Jacques were the original comedy twins. Over 9 series, Eric and Hat were essential Monday night viewing, and were the perfect neighbors, and the kind of relatives I always wishes I had.
Hattie makes an appearance in this clip along with sixties TV ‘tec, Stratford Johns who looks like he’s being interviewed by a giant. Of course, Johns was best known for his role in Softly, Softly, Barlow and Watt and Brond. Sykes gives a purposely confusing description of You Better Go In Disguise, which bombed and was later remade in a slightly different version by Eric in 1981 as If You Go Down to the Woods Today.
The comedienne TIg Notaro is new to me, but she is a well-known figure on the American stand-up comedy circuit (and to viewers of The Sarah Silverman Program, where she played a cop SIlverman goes “les” for). While I may not live in the States, or even have a TV, I am very happy to have found this woman, ‘cos she’s hilarious.
I discovered the wonders of Tig while innocently browsing Zach Galifianakis interviews on the web. Anyone who has seen the excellent Between Two Ferns knows that an interview with Galifianakis can be a brutal, painfully funny ordeal. Well, Tig is one of the only people who can match Galifianakis’ surly, steely cynicism beat-for-beat, and in this clip for Bright Young Things she actually gets the better of him at his own awkward-interview game. That is no mean feat.
Once my interest had been pricked by this clip, I had to go and find out more about this woman, and thankfully her hilarious dalliance with Galifianakis was no mere fluke. Notaro pulls off that west coast, drawling, “Whaaa?”-style delivery perfectly. It’s one of my favorite types of American comedy, and a style that tends to be over-looked in favor of the polemicism of Bill Hicks and George Carlin (not that it’s a competition, you understand). Maybe it’s got to do with all the sweet weed growing over there, but it’s something I think you guys do better than almost anyone else, if I’m honest.
There are some excellent Tig performance clips floating around online (particularly sketches recorded at the Purple Onion) and last year Notaro released her first album of comedy material, Good One. Here’s one of the longer sketches from the album, called “Taylor Dayne”, which recounts Tig’s run-ins with the eponymous 80s songstrel/actress. The way this sketch keeps looping back to the same punchline reminds me of Stewart Lee in a way, but stripped of all that “comedy-about-comedy” pretence that can become tiresome:
Sometimes you can judge a film by its poster, as can be seen by this fab poster by artist Paul Garner for an imaginary flick, Carry On Zombie. Indeed, I’m so taken with Mr Garner’s illustration, I’d pay good money to see Sid, Kenneth, Babs and co. as the living dead.
Based in Brighton, Garner has produced an incredible array of art work for magazines, papers, CDs and posters, all of which is available for view over at his site.
I do hope Mr Garner’s excellent poster will inspire someone to resurrect (ahem) the Carry On… franchise. Meantime, here’s a trailer for one they made earlier, Carry On Screaming.
If John Cleese hadn’t gone into Monty Python, then he would “have stuck to his original plan to graduate and become a chartered accountant, perhaps a barrister lawyer, and gotten a nice house in the suburbs, with a nice wife and kids, and gotten a country club membership, and then I would have killed myself.”
Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men. Sensibly, Cleese opted for plan B, and all the success that entailed. It was therefore a surprise when Cleese quit Python in 1973, after its third TV series, and joined up as a supporting player to stand-up comic called Les Dawson, in his comedy sketch show, Sez Les.
Dawson and Cleese could not have been more dissimilar - Dawson short and plump, Cleese tall and skinny. Dawson was working class and self-educated, who had worked a long apprenticeship of stand-up in the working men’s clubs in the north of England, while maintaining his day-job as a Hoover salesman. Cleese was middle class, university educated and was upper-middle management, white collar material.
Dawson had originally wanted to be a writer, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, he had hitched the highway to Paris, where he found work as a pianist in a brothel. Unable to find a publisher for his poetry, Dawson returned homewards, and inspired by his experiences as a pianist, tried his hand as a comic. Though he made his name with mother-in-law jokes, Dawson was a clever and verbally dextrous comedian, who dismantled jokes, only to recreate them in a funnier form. Cleese described Dawson as “An autodidact, a very smart guy who was fascinated by words.”
After a winning run on the talent show Opportunity Knocks, Dawson earned his first TV series, Sez Les (1969-1976), and fast became one of Britain’s best loved comics. In 1974, Cleese joined Dawson on the series, and the pairing (like a hybrid Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) proved highly successful. Both men had great respect for each other, and more importantly had a genuine affection which came over in their performances together.
Cleese eventually left to make Fawlty Towers, but for 2 series of Sez Les in 1974, Dawson and Cleese were top drawer comedy entertainment.
For thirty-six years, Norma Farnes was Spike Milligan’s manager, agent and Mother Confessor. She was also his friend. Since Milligan’s death in 2002, Norma has shown a loyalty to their friendship, which our world of social networks, Friending, Following and +1ing may never replace. For Ms. Farnes has been collating and editing the millions of words written by the late, great comedy genius, into a series of books - Box 18: The Unpublished Spike Milligan, The Compulsive Spike Milligan, Memories of Milligan - and now, Milligan’s Meaning of Life, his “autobiography of sorts”.
Who else but Norma Farnes could have edited together this fabulous collection of loose threads, extracts, and letters, which make Milligan’s Meaning of Life, such a brilliant autobiography.
As Norma explains in her introduction:
‘A sort of autobiography’. Yes, Spike would have liked that. I can hear him saying, ‘Yes, well, I suppose I’ve had a sort of life.’
...His many followers will, no doubt, find gaps, but it wasn’t my intention to give a complete account - rather an impressionistic journey. I did my best, but as Spike used to say to me: ‘That’s what worries me.’
Farnes should have no fears, as she has compiled a marvelous book, cherry-picking from the best of Milligan’s various writings. Farnes has a terrific eye for the telling phrase and revealing sentence, which presents Milligan as a bruised, sensitive, mercurial, inspired and very funny man. A man who had long bouts of severe depression, suffered terrible nervous breakdowns, was riddled with shyness and insecurities, yet through it all produced some of the our best, funniest and most memorable comedy.
During his life, Milligan produced over eighty books, ranging from poetry (Silly Verse for Kids to Small Dreams of a Scorpion), prose (most notably Puckoon, one of the best comic novels written), and his 7 volumes of War memoirs, starting with the hilarious Adolf Hitler - My Part in His Downfall, plays (The Bed-Sitting Room and countless radio scripts form The Goons and his own classic comedy series Q. In very real terms, Milligan produced more work, and of a higher quality, than most novelists or writers ever achieve in a lifetime.
The man who spawned modern comedy, Lenny Bruce was born today in 1925. Instead of a selection of his well-known monologues from stage and TV appearances, here is Dance Hall Racket, a low budget exploitation movie, which Bruce wrote and starred in, alongside his wife Honey Harlow, and Timothy Farrell as Umberto Scialli.
Produced by George Weiss (best known as the producer of Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?), Dance Hall Racket was the third of the Umberto Scialli films, following on from Devil’s Sleep and Racket Girls, in which Scialli was killed. Dance Hall Racket is a quirky, trashy, Z-movie, and leaves no clue to the Lenny Bruce who would, within the decade, start a revolution in comedy.
Bonus clips, Lenny sings and on-stage, after the jump…
It was a little after three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, when the dark green Cherokee jeep, loaded with canisters of propane gas, hurtled towards the Departure zone at Glasgow International Airport. The driver was saying prayers and asking for god’s help, when his vehicle hit security bollards and burst into flames. 28-year-old, Kafeel Ahmed had intended that the jeep would crash through the glass doors, enter into the airport concourse, where it would blow-up, killing as many of the men, women and children who queued patiently for their holiday flights.
It was June 30 2007, and this was the first terrorist attack in Scotland since PanAm Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988. Little could Ahmed, or his co-conspirator Dr. Bilal Abdullah, have known that their actions were not to lead to holy martyrdom, but rather to the resurrection of one of the funniest, most popular and successful comedy creations of the last 50 years.
In a hotel room in Budapest, the writer Ian Pattison watched the images beamed from Glasgow onto a flickering TV screen, as the would-be terrorists were arrested, all Pattison could think of was one question: “What would Rab C Nesbitt make of this?”
Fall, present day, the trees are cashing in their savings, and the streets are covered with gold. I meet Ian in a coffee house, in Glasgow’s West End, a background of children and mothers laughing and chatting, and the hiss of an espresso machine. It’s a clear day, and we have a long sweeping view down to the Clyde and across the water to the high rises and tenements of Govan beyond, home to the fictional Rab C. Nesbitt - “the original unemployed man”, whose comic television adventures have brought national acclaim, incredible viewing figures and a cabinet full of awards.
Pattison looks relaxed, toned and much younger than his grey hair implies, and he must be older than he looks for It’s twenty-five years since he first dreamt up the alcoholic, head-bandaged street philosopher Rab C. Nesbitt:
“It was New Year’s Eve,” recalls Pattison, “And I was married and living in this masionette apartment in the north of England. Now I’m an anti-social person and when the front doorbell went, I said to my then wife, ‘That’ll be them from downstairs coming to First Foot, I don’t want to see these people. You entertain them, give them a drink and send them on their way. I’ll go upstairs and you tell them I’m in Glasgow.’
“I go upstairs to ‘Glasgow’, but wives don’t always do what you ask them, and these two neighbors sat there until about 5am knocking back the swally. I was upstairs fuming, wondering what can I do? I just can’t suddenly materialize – I’m in Glasgow!
“So I had a notebook up there, because I used write in the wee room, and I started trying to write something about a Liverpool councilor, but it wasn’t working. Then suddenly, I don’t know why, this mutated into a Glasgow speech rhythm, and in about 10 minutes I’d written the first Nesbitt monologue.
“I’ve no idea where it came from. All I knew about him was he raved, he had a head bandage and wore trainers.””
It was a piece of genius inspiration and Ian passed it on to Colin Gilbert, producer of the sketch show Naked Video. Gilbert liked it, but the actor chosen to play the part, Gregor Fisher, wasn’t so keen.
“There was no inkling of developing the character. I just knew it was a character piece, that is to say you weren’t going from gag to gag to gag. I just knew if it got into Gregor’s hands, I knew what he could do with it, and how he would play it. The trouble was persuading Gregor to do it.”
Anyone who has seen Fisher’s work will know that he is a brilliantly gifted actor, with a warmth and subtlety most Hollywood actors would pawn their looks to possess. I first saw Fisher as an unforgettable, happy-go-lucky, wide-boy in Peter MacDougall’s brilliant Just a Boy’s Game, then a few years later stealing the crappy eighties version of 1984 with a cameo role from under the noses of Richard Burton and John Hurt.
Now Naked Video had made Fisher a household name, on the back of his incredible comic acting, but when presented with a new character to play, he was less than impressed by Pattison’s latest creation.
“Gregor read it and said it was as funny as cancer,” Pattison recalls.
Thankfully, Head of the Comedy Unit, Colin Gilbert was on hand to quietly help matters along. Gilbert is a legend in TV comedy, with a long list of ground-breaking shows from Nesbitt to The Limmy Show, Still Game and Gary - Tank Commander on his long and impressive CV. Indeed, Gilbert with his white hair and beard and twinkling eyes is a polar bear disguised as a man - he may look nice and cuddly, but underneath you know there is this formidable energy just waiting for its moment.
“Colin quietly insisted, and Gregor tried it 2 or 3 times, and by the third time, I think Gregor began to think maybe I’m wrongish, and we never thought any more about it. But when the show went out, people picked up on this drunk character, largely because of Gregor’s eye-catching performance.”
Rab C Nesbitt returns to BBC 2 for 6 weeks from Wednesday 5th October at 22:00 hours
The full interview with Ian Pattison and more from Rab C Nesbitt, after the jump…
The lovely Dan Aykroyd runs through a selection of voices in search of a punchline, in his screen test for Saturday Night Live from 1975. It’s an impressive turn, showing his considerable talent, versatility, and a mustache that made him look older than his twenty-two years of age.
This is an excellent short film, Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life, written and directed by the immensely talented Peter Capaldi. It stars Richard E. Grant, Elaine Collins, Phyllis Logan, Cripin Letts and Ken Stott, and is a comedy about Kafka’s frustrations in writing Metamorphosis - with a little nod towards the work of Frank Capra. This was a deserved Oscar winner back in 1995, for best short film, and Capaldi is now better known for his foul-mouthed Maloclm Tucker form The Thick of It. One hopes he will return to writing and directing soon.
The rest of ‘Franz Kafka…’ plus the best of Capaldi as the foul mouthed Malcolm Tucker - NSFW, after the jump….
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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