Dead Men Left

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Funny ha ha or funny peculiar

It being a quiet moment on my return from a place so sickeningly pretty it probably ought to be razed to the ground, goaded on by a certain impossiblist, and noting the interest it has inspired over at Chase Me Ladies..., I've (probably unwisely) decided to offer my extended opinion on the screamingly foul Reader's Digest Top Twenty Funniest Britons list. This is alongside a brilliant opportunity, a little later, for you - yes, you, dear reader - to take part in a vital bit of social research, answering the much-needed question: do my visitors here, select as they are, have better taste than the Readers' Digest subscribers? (You can imagine how this has bothered me.)

The Readers' Digest list:

1. Tommy Cooper
2. Peter Kay
3. Billy Connolly
4. Morecambe and Wise
5. Bob Monkhouse
6. Ken Dodd
7. Roy 'Chubby' Brown
8. (equal) Norman Wisdom
8. (equal) Les Dawson
10. Lee Evans
11. (equal) David Jason
11. (equal) Dawn French
13. (equal) Jim Davidson
13. (equal) Rowan Atkinson
15. Benny Hill
16. Jasper Carrott
17. Lenny Henry
18. Spike Milligan
19. John Cleese
20. (equal) Eddie Izzard
20. (equal) Freddie Starr

The gnawingly unpleasant sensation I had on glancing down these twenty-plus names was that, if I was asked to compile a list of twenty people the Readers' Digest would vote for as the funniest Britons of all time, that's almost exactly the list I would have come up with. (I'd probably have missed Roy "Chubby" Brown, but otherwise... yep, that looks about right to me.) It disturbs me greatly that people should conform so precisely to a stereotype; there is nothing on that list that it was worth asking 2,000 Readers' Digest readers to find out about. Sickening, isn't it?

And this is exactly why I'm so loathe to pass judgement. The last thing I want to do is reveal my own conformity to smart-arse lefty/spoddy student stereotypes by telling you all how great The League of Gentlemen are. (NB: I do not think they are that great. I hardly ever repeat catchphrases from their TV series, for instance.) Not, I grant you, that Dead Men Left has done much to prevent anyone reaching this conclusion, beyond the occasional plug for Iggy Pop. Still, you can see how picking even five great British comics presents a major problem.

With that in mind, and in the interests of wild iconoclasm, I will venture to suggest that BILL HICKS WOULD NOT BE ON MY LIST. Yes, yes, obviously he's not actually British, but even if he was he wouldn't be on it. BILL HICKS IS SERIOUSLY OVER-RATED. His timing was poor, he muttered, his jokes dragged on forever and a day without reaching a punchline, damn and blast it I simply refuse to join the great lefty conspiracy that says Bill Hicks was the funniest thing since Freddie Engels' star-turn on open mic at the Three Compasses. Ha! So there.

In a similar, though probably more predictable vein, John Cleese is a definite no, and Monty Python does not get him off the hook. Fawlty Towers is the most hideously over-rated television series in history; it's cheap, it's nasty, it's predictable in the extreme, I cannot stand Fawlty Towers, grrr, I could get worked up about this. It manages to take an infuriatingly predictable, turgid premise - manic hotel owner! crazy guests! domineering wife! oh, the fun - and construct something even more abysmal. (Ok, ok, it's still better than much of the crap on television; but still, by virtue of the undeserving hysteria it seems to inspire, I have nothing but the deepest contempt for Fawlty fucking Towers .) Seriously - Fawlty Towers - why? Explanations would be appreciated. A Fish Called Wanda was crap, too. Ha ha! Americans! Ha ha! Perhaps this is a slight improvement on the "Germans! ha ha!" thing F. sodding T. did to such (apparently) comic effect, but I doubt it. Crap crap crap crap crap.

(Actually, whilst we're on the subject, I cannot stand anti-American humour. It is particularly irritating when coming from the miserablist faux-Left inhabitants of a wreck of a country whose sole achievement since administering an Empire of breathtaking brutality has been to roll around like a dog being tickled every time whichever gang of crooks and madmen currently sits in the White House decide to do something dirty and unpleasant to luckless former "natives"; on ocassion, the dog has managed to savage a defenceless innocent or two at the gang's request before settling back into its snooze and deluded dreams of grandeur; of all this, a defeatist "radicalism" concocts a charmless guffaw. Is this is a damning critique? Is this internationalism? Is this funny? Don't make me laugh; and, you know what, it really doesn't. Another Budweiser, thanks, and a brief nod at The Rights of Man whilst you're at it. That said, snide remarks about Americans are not nearly as bad as the miserablist faux-Left inhabitants of this aforesaid wreck who decide to actively encourage the crooks and the madmen. Woof woof!)

John Cleese is, of course, a notorious Liberal Democrat, as is Eddie Izzard, of whom my defeatist-Blairite Old Labour (you know the sort) A-level politics tutor remarked he would like to have as a friend. From that moment on, I have scowled at Mr Izzard and all his works. There is no place in the comedic pantheon for his brand of whimsical tomfoolery.

Exclusions are easy. Inclusions? I would probably include Peter Kay. He's good. He's very good. His appearance on the list above, in fact, is suspicious. I think he was planted to make it look, y'know, contemporary. With the kids. Either that or he does the kind of cheeky northern humour thing that befuddled McCarthyite grannies delight in. Oh god. Perhaps this should tell me something.

I'd also incline towards allowing Eric Morcambe on the list. Ah, come on - the guy was a genuis. I like the cheeky northern humour thing. Spike Milligan likewise, even if he is not Northern. Or cheeky. (Or, sometimes, even funny.)

But enough of this. Your turn. Those comments boxes need a workout - I want lists of names: funniest Britons ever, in that box below. I'll compile them later.