I laugh a lot. People who’ve spent any meaningful amount of time with me will know this. I have the full range. I guffaw at old chestnuts. I chortle and chuckle at television shows. I giggle during periods of extreme comic tension. I’ve got a silent vibrato-laugh as well for those hysterical moments. Sometimes the laughter is controlled, although I am loathe to call it fake. For instance, when someone cracks a PJ, i feel the need to acknowledge the effort.
I was a giggly baby. It’s genetic. My mother’s a giggler, and so is my sister. My dad is good at the jolly belly-laugh. The origins of my own personal sense of humour are lost in the sands and all, but here’s an attempt to pay homage to the comic geniuses (genii?) that have tickled my innards.
Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck
Bugs Bunny was probably my first glimpse of postmodernism, although at the time, I could barely shape the syllables of the word. He sings WWII era pop songs and kisses his enemies on the lips. He does things for no apparent reason, like his frenemy Daffy Duck. Daffy was a bit more hit-and-miss with his humour. Sometimes he just had too much energy. But on the whole, these two loony toons epitomize the Golden Age of American Animation.
Before I had discovered Monty Python, John Cleese was just Basil Fawlty, the unspeakably rude proprietor of Fawlty owers. There’s nothing that can be said about the show that would do it justice. If you do not like Fawlty Towers, then it can safely be said that you do not appreciate slapstick. Of course, the show is much more than that.
Now I’ll admit, the Beatles are musicians first, and comedians second, but ooh they did a great part-time job! And the music was pretty funny too. From Norwegian Wood (“So, I lit a fire…”) to All Together Now (“Black white green red / Can I take my friend to bed?”) to Rocky Racoon (“The doctor came in / Stinking of gin”) – the Beatles made nonsense melodic and intensely joyful!
They didn’t write the scripts for their movies, but no other Liverpudlians could have pulled off those zany hijinks. My sister and I know A Hard Day’s Night and Help! by heart — start to finish. [We speak to each other in a language made up of lines from our movie and tv show collection.]
John Lennon was also the author of some stellar nonsense. Enough to give Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll a run for their money!
Mr Bean keeps up the tradition of silent comedians from the early days of cinema. But slapstick is not his only game. In the Blackadder series he wows us with his elaborate puns and insults. Rowan Atkinson is a consummate performer, and I don’t think anyone can pull a funny face like this man. Highly recommended: Not the Nine O’Clock News. A show from the early 80’s that brought sketch comedy back, proving that Monty Python had not killed off the medium by being too brilliant.
[Need I say more?]
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
If comedy were a religion, then Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman and and John Cleese would be among its most revered saints. I discovered them rather late in life — while I was in IIT. It must be understood — Monty Python was not consistently funny. The TV show was very hit-and-miss, and the movies were brilliant but flawed. But few comedians can claim to have influenced generations of comics on both sides of the Atlantic. The broke the barriers. They defied the need for a punchline. They wore dresses. They featured a knight who hit people with a rubber chicken. They did silly walks.
And for this, we are eternally grateful. [Watch sketches on youtube! Dead Parrots! Hungarians!]
Mitch Hedberg was a stand-up comedy hippie. Surreal, disjointed, and observant. Tragically, he died before the world could fully discover his talents. Some quotes:
“I hate turtlenecks. Wearing a turtleneck is like being strangled by a really weak guy. All day. Like, if you wear a turtleneck and a backpack, it’s like a weak midget trying to bring you down.”
“I was in a casino, I was standing by the door, and a security guard came over and said “You’re gonna have to move. You’re blocking the fire exit.” As though if there was a fire, I wasn’t gonna run. If you’re flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit. Unless you are a table.”
Seek him out on youtube.
Another stand-up comedian. This time British. Bill Bailey is an audio-visual mindjob. He mixes his carefully constructed rambles with musical spoofs and parodies. His show “Part Troll” is available in its entirety on youtube. I have seen it at least 7 times. If you like music and/or drugs and/or laughing, you’ll like this madman.
Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Them of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame. Two must-see movies. (Shaun of the Dead features a guy fending off zombies with a cricket bat. Brilliant!) Brits, but with an unmistakable American influence. I like comic duos. There’s also Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (watch Jeeves and Wooster, and A Bit of Fry and Laurie.)
Simon Pegg is also in a show called Spaced which I quite like. Surrealism, pop culture and …er… romance (sort of).
Woody Allen is, in my opinion, the greatest comedian of all time. Even if he had done nothing other than the film Annie Hall, I would still say this. Most of my favourite comedians are British, but this man single handedly maintains the trans-atlantic balance. I’ve often said that British comedy is quicker, zanier and generally of a higher quality that the American varieties. But Woody Allen transcends these distinctions. He is fast-paced, brutally witty, and in his writing he is wackier than the maddest Englishman. He even transcends the boundary between comedy and drama. He can bring me to tears – both of laugher and sadness.
Special Mention (since I rarely do comedy recommendation posts…here’s a truckload!)
Peanuts (Existential angst was never so beautiful. Good ol’ Charlie Brown.))
Garfield (though he sucks nowadays. Try this out. It’s fantastic.)
The Far Side
Pearls Before Swine
Asterix (These Belgians are crazy. I was reminded of this by Blue Floppy Hat.)
Dexter’s laboratory (Genndy Tartakovsky)
The Powerpuff Girls (Craig McCracken)
Ren and Stimpy (Scary. Brilliant.)
The Simpsons (Obviously. Greatest TV show ever. Period.)
The Flintstones (Watch it again. It’s very good.)
Pinky and The Brain (Narf!)
Tom & Jerry
M*A*S*H (Ranks up with the Simpsons for greatest show ever.)
Cheers (I love that will-they-won’t- they tension between Sam and Diane. Probably the best example of a traditional sitcom. The spin-off Frasier was good too.)
I Love Lucy (Surprisingly, this is still very watchable. World’s first TV sitcom.)
Home Improvement (Perfect for families to watch.)
The Young Ones (Anarchic nonsense.)
The Fast Show (Ooh! Full of catch phrases. Watch on youtube and stage6.divx.com)
Goodness Gracious Me (Kiss my chuddies!)
The Marx Brothers (I haven’t seen enough — but they were very influential.)
Abbott & Costello (Watch Who’s On First Base?)
Eddie Murphy (look for his stand-up from the 1980’s. You won’t believe it’s the same guy who made Norbit.)
Bill Hicks (philosopher-comedian. Profound. Watch It’s Just a Ride.)
Ed Byrne (a new discovery – watch him rip Alanis Morissette to shreds.)