A first rate documentary The Art of Stand-Up by Alan Yentob on BBC 1 last night, as part of the Imagine arts series, has set me thinking about my comedy likes and dislikes.
You can watch the programme here on BBC iPlayer and this post has to be completed in time to allow me to watch the second part later tonight.
Happily Yentob’s approach was not didactic which was just as well because no two comedians among those he interviewed about stand-up agreed with the other.
What I liked about Yentob’s approach was he allowed popular though non-PC performers like Jim Davidson and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to have their say too among the more house trained comics.
The latter once summed up Britain's unique attitude to sex - ignorance combined with enthusiasm - in the one-liner: “I don’t know where the clitoris is but I don’t mind having a bloody good look.”
Trite but true, humour comes down to personal taste. I can’t stand Frankie Boyle but Jimmy Carr still makes me laugh even though both men trawl the same dark depths. Ricky Gervais used to before his unfunny "mong" set.
When it comes to comedy it’s easier to say what I don’t like rather than what I do. The older I get the further I’m moving away from observational humour; political stand-up is edgier and harder and more relevant to the messed up world we live in. Or perhaps I’ve lost patience with routines where the male stand-up bemoans his love life, as though becoming rich and famous hasn’t improved his pulling power.
Using your family – particularly the oddities of your parents – into your thirties is scraping the barrel in my book. It would also be refreshing to watch a woman stand-up who avoided mentioning her breasts or weight.
My stand-up favourites are many. From America Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Richard Prior, and Bill Hicks. On this side of the Atlantic my tastes are softer – from the old school there’s Ken Dodd, Bob Monkhouse, Les Dawson and among the latest crop who seem to fetch up on television on the hour every hour, there is a reasonable standard; but for the time being Frank Skinner needn’t worry.
The stand-up who was in a class of his own in Yentob's show was Bob Hope (pictured). If you didn’t like one gag there’d be another along in 10 seconds. It wasn’t just the strength of his joke writers or the pace of his delivery. It was his embracing persona that reached out into the audience and spoke directly to the customers.
Eltham’s favourite son didn’t pretend he wasn’t a star and a friend of presidents but he shared that experience with you.
Any one of the Road movies he made with Bing Crosby is a master class in comic timing.
21/12/11 Unfortunately Part 2 wasn't a patch on the opener.