Wednesday, April 28, 2004
At Nick's behest:
[during an episode of Boothby Graffoe]
[02:10] nickm: "Tony Blair claimed to have no reverse gear. But how does he park?!!"
[02:10] nickm: John - do you see how unbelievably rubbish that is, on so many levels?
[02:11] nickm: "How does he park?"
[02:12] nickm: Blair uses an obvious bit of figurative analogy. And Graffoe then reverts to the referent. It's so clunky it beggars belief - it must be some sort of meta joke, to give it some credit, surely.
[02:12] Johnw - Evil: Finally, finally I've found the right word for what he thinks his songs are - 'Thought Provoking'.
[02:13] nickm: Indeed.
[02:14] nickm: "Blair said he didn't put all his eggs in one basket. But that can't be true, because I doubt he would put them in different baskets when he went shopping - it would be too ungainly to carry!!!"
[02:14] nickm: See, I can do it too.
[02:29] nickm: The joke was "I took my camera into the chemist to have the film processed. The lady at the counter was very rude. She said 'there's only one photograph', and I said 'I know how to use a single use camera.'"
[02:30] nickm: Boom tish.
[02:30] nickm: Read that one liner and marvel.
[02:30] Johnw - Evil: Really? THAT was the joke? I'm very proud of my inability to hear it
[02:31] nickm: But think on it: this man is being given 30 minutes of precious airtime on a national radio station every week, and is being paid for his efforts. It is astonishing.
[02:31] nickm: That was the joke.
[02:31] Johnw - Evil: maybe we should have him killed
[02:31] nickm: In fact, hold on. I want to literally transcribe it.. I don't want to be defaming him.
[02:32] nickm: Ok. Ready?
[02:33] nickm: "I went to the chemist the other day"
[02:34] nickm: "And umm. and uh.. the women in the chemist was very rude"
[02:35] nickm: "I went to get me photographs and she said 'there's only one photograph' and I said 'I know how to use a single use [pronounced the same] camera' "
[02:35] nickm: Audience laughs.
[02:35] Johnw - Evil: kill audience
[02:36] nickm: I went into the chemist to get me photographS.
[02:36] nickm: Plural.
[02:36] nickm: So he lies about the joke at its beginning.
[02:36] nickm: Sloppy, lazy writing.
[02:36] nickm: 'writing'
Because I have the luxury of being able to post here, rather than in broken fragments on the comments, I'm replying to the Boothby question here.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
My disbelief at the Boothby Graffoe programme is hard to voice - not because of some limit of English hyperbole or anything silly like that, but because of the vaccuum-like substance the programme appeared to be made of.
I found listening to it to be like having the air sucked out of me, slowly and surreptiously. Defying Nature's usual abhoration of vaccuums, it seemed to have the ability to spread them.
It wasn't that I thought the jokes were rubbish - it was that it seemed to be devoid of anything that you would mistake for a joke. His songs possessed no punchlines, but instead meandered their way into extended, horribly self-indulgent guitar interludes, that you could only hope against hope would culminate in some sort of fantastic 'ta-da' moment that justified their existence. But no, they inevitably tumbled into a repeat of the chorus, over and over to fade. I'm sure such things would probably be pleasantly placed in an afternoon background at Cropredy Folk Festival, but they have no place in a so-called comedy programme. Wallpaper is not an aural medium.
But they are only a small part of the effort, and perhaps one could argue that they are allowed to not be gag-fests, and instead an interlude betwixt the stand up and sketches. But that would require some sort of humour found in the stand up or sketches.
Every show of the recent series began with the laboured request for someone to holler if they were from Australia. Or America. Which would then be followed by some painfully lame, always cliched, fake-improvised banter. At astonishing length. And I've noticed on at least one occasion (although I can only say definitely that this was the case for a previous series) that the voice crying out in response is Steve Frost's. A man of that little vocal dexterity is perhaps not ideally chosen as an audience plant.
I think the sketches think that they are surreal. They aren't. They're about as surreal as someone shouting "FISH!" and then telling their friend stood next to them that they had said "FISH!", explaining that this was surreal of them. But I still hope that they are intended to be surreal, as the other options are too terrible to consider. "Lonely Buildings" was perhaps the very best example of this dross. It was a laboured joke that didn't work in the first episode - a small ad placed by a building, in some way punning on the nature of the building. That it appeared in the second episode demonstrated a lack of quality assessment in the writing. That it was in every episode of the series beggered all understanding.
The one redeeming feature the programme used to have was the spoof of Radio 4's Round Britain Quiz. It was an excellent observation of the seemingly mad tagents the questions required the contestants take, and even moreso, the apparently psychic ability of the contestants to make those tangents, with utter nonchalance. But this series saw even that broken. Steve Frost clearly only ever fluked success at these sketches previously, as it was quite clear that he didn't understand what it was that was being spoofed this year. His inability to not leap for the "rude" gag meant that Graffoe had to constantly undo the damage by a retracting comment, or the painful device of the pretend 'intellectual' laugh. The tension of this mangled improvisation is audible, and very uncomfortable.
Then everything else each episode: the abysmal post office joke - one so poor that the electrocuted studio audience couldn't even bring themselves to do more than a discomforted half-laugh. But not once! The same joke, the *exact same* joke, every week. No variation, no building. The same joke. Or the broken, open-ended stand up sections, each as if building up to the point of the routine, the part that would deliver based on all these feedlnes, and then just stopping. The air fallling out of your mouth, as you sat, aghast that it could really be that poor. And very irritating - the repeating of material previously broadcast in The Big Booth - lazy.
Again, a lot of my frustration is borne out of disappointment. Graffoe used to be a very good stand up. His routines based on a meandering tale that would carefully and deceptively spin on itself, until its tale met its mouth in delightful punchline. I remember being excited by his stuff. I think the collapse matched the cutting of his hair, in some sort of unfortunate Sampsonite parody. Associating himself with the bottomless pit of comedic uselessness that is Steve Frost seals the deal for me.
Following the current trend, I now half expect Graffoe to post an angry reply.
Well, hasn't it all become terribly exciting?
I obviously owe Mr BENN an apology, as he in no way deliberately ripped off a TMBG song.
This blog does not have a large number of readers, as someone generously believed. It's round about 20, so not a huge audience to ruin the career of Radio 4's premier song spoof person.
My tone was, as is often the case, far too strong. I am but a fool. And of course, as we now know, too stupid to know better.
What happens, you see, is my London based friend Nick and I often listen to Radio 4 comedy programmes late at night (on Listen Again) before going to sleep, conversing via IM. Obviously I can see that such an action is replete with internet geekery, and labels us, possibly quite fairly, the same.
But it's a fun way to unwind at 1am, before falling asleep. We pick a show from the Radio 4 'comedy' line up, press play at the same time, and then commentate on why it's so bad. Or good. Mostly bad. For us, The Now Show is an absolute must. The dreadful state of that programme warrants a great deal of analysis as to why it's quite so poor.
(Ok, perhaps to most, it doesn't warrant any such thing. But for Nick and myself, we are fascinated by radio comedy and how it works, or doesn't work, and this process is an entertaining way of practising this. I have long followed the medium. Examples of exceptional programmes would be On The Hour, Saturday Night Fry, On The Town With The League of Gentlemen, and more recently, The Sunday Format. Then of course there was the majestic and hideous Blue Jam, or the brilliantly silly Fist of Fun and Armando Iannucci Show (all three on Radio 1). Then there is radio comedy from long before our listening lives, Round the Horne, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (which Nick *hates*), and the long running (and perhaps too long) I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and Just A Minute. The greatest of these being On The Hour. Radio comedy is very capable, and something that matters a great deal to me).
Anyhow, back to our listening. Because of the current terrible state of radio comedy, our only choice is the dross. The mediocre does not offer much of a conversation point for our chitchats, and there's nothing above that currently broadcast. Earlier I mentioned The Now Show. Written by a team led by Punt & Dennis (former Jaspar Carrott sidekicks, and the other pairing in The Mary Whitehouse Experience. It's only fair to mention that Mitch Benn is a member of this team), it purports to be satire. So much so that the Radio 4 continuity announcers appear obliged to embarrassingly say the word in the show's introduction... "And now on Radio 4, SATIRE, with The Now Show...", followed by the extraordinary nasal belching of the title by Hugh Dennis.
Unfortunately, this 'satire' follows the BBC's current misconception that topical comedy automatically equals satire. This isn't the case. Satire is crucially angry. It is vitriolic, passionate and dangerous. And it's been going for a long, long time. In the 16th century Jonathan Swift wrote satire that caused social outrage, angry letters, public disgust. In the 20th/21st century, Chris Morris wrote satire that created more complaints to the ITC than any other programme, had newspapers blaring our headlines, caused MPs to make public fools of themselves in response, and he has been fired from just about every job he's had. Whether this is a good thing, or a terrible thing, is not the matter in hand. What is the matter is the importance that this is what satire does. Merely mentioning something that happened in the news, and then (in the case of the Now Show) saying, "but what if George Bush was on the Weakest Link!", or whichever "what if X were Y" formula they may choose, isn't doing this. Governments are not feeling threatened. And most importantly, people are not being challenged by their thoughts. (I don't think Marcus Brigstock's few phonecalls to Feedback about his relatively well delivered MMR routine quite counts).
And Nick and I aren't gloating. We aren't smugly dancing with glee at how bad it is. We're upset. Really upset at how poor radio comedy is these last few years. We know what it's capable of, and we are recognising by how much it's failing. We lament these programmes, we find what is wrong in order to better understand how to make it right. And yes, with that last thought in mind, we are of course intending to put our money where our mouth is (although to not do so is not hypocrisy, as if often illogically argued - I can recognise that a wall is badly built when it falls down, without having to build walls myself. Recognition requires observation, not response. Although response is ideal).
So I didn't want to listen to Mitch Benn's programme that night. Nick moaned at me until I agreed. I have already heard a couple of episodes from the series on its recent late night broadcast, and didn't enjoy them at all. But anyway, we listened, and I was again annoyed by its poverty. Not nearly as annoyed as I am by Boothby Graffoe's recent series, which was astonishingly bad - achingly so, but just frustrated by the wasted opportunities. And then I heard the song, that I mistakenly thought to be a deliberate lift of a TMBG track, and in the moment emailed. I shouldn't have, but did.
So apologies to Mitch Benn for my incorrect accusations.