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Bachman and Ewins

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Back from Edinburgh. Very very tired. Twenty shows in four and a half days and media parties till 6am every night. Fantastic time; comments soon.

Gargh Marenghi's Fright Knight didn't win the Perrier but in the end, I think it's probably all for the best. To be nominated and win in your first real time at the Edinburgh Fringe is to use up your entire Edinburgh career in one go. Once you've won, what reason is there to come back? Instead Matt has achieved an excellent profile at the Festival, garnered a lot of interest in what he and Richard do, and created an automatic audience for his next show. Better all round. And anyway, Rich Hall deserved to win.

James Bachman
Tuesday, August 29, 2000 : link

While James, my erstwhile fellow poster, is up in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe and basking in the reflected glory of his friend Matt (to whom heartiest congratulations and best of luck), I might as well take the floor.

It turns out that San Francisco also has its own Fringe Festival, now in its eighth year. It's not all comedy, but there's enough there for your intrepid reporter to intrepidly report on, so be watching from 7-17 September for some reviews. I'll actually be near enough to the venues to see some of the shows this time, unlike last weekend's Comedy Day.

Rory Ewins
Monday, August 28, 2000 : link

Ladies and gentlemen, here, hot off the press releases, are this year's nominations for British comedy's highest live accolade (and a reasonable instant leg-up to fame and fortune) The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Perrier Award:

Dave Gorman: Are You Dave Gorman?
Rich Hall is Otis Lee Crenshaw
Sean Lock
Lee Mack's New Bits
Garth Marenghi's Fright Knight

(Quick thought connected to these links: why have The Scotsman, the premier Edinburgh daily newspaper, not reviewed all these shows? If you notice, although the reviews are posted on their site, they're mostly from Scotland on Sunday or the Evening Herald.)

Here's the thing: Garth Marenghi, self-obssessed pompus pulp horror writer (almost entirely based on the personalities and writings of Stephen King, James Herbert -- what a cheesy url -- and Clive Barker) is the comic creation of my friend and ex-double-act partner Matthew Holness; This is basically abso-fucking-lutely fantastic (bye-bye objectivity). Two reasons:

  1. His show is brilliant. I saw it at a pre-Edinburgh tryout in Cambridge with a whole load of other comedians, all of whom were wild about it. It successfully amalgamates what originally was essentially a stand-up character into a fully formed, multi-level, hysterical plot-based piece of inspired surrealistic lunacy, brilliantly written by Matt and Richard Ayoade, wonderfully performed by the pair of them and Alice Lowe, and insanely pretentiously directed by Paul King. But physical theatre is so Garth. It was one of the best shows I have seen in years. Dan Gaster in particular said to me afterwards, 'I didn't know Matt could be that good.'

  2. I'm responsible for him being there. In January Matt and Richard were part of a random conglomeration of performers put on a mix and match sketch show at the Hen and Chickens theatre in Islington, London. I went along to see the show with old friend, actor and screenwriter Robert Thorogood, and the second half opened with a ten-minute Garth spectacular. 'I give you Chaos', said Matt, and he did. Robert and I then spent the next two hours in the pub downstairs persuading Matt and Richard that they should take Garth to Edinburgh. They weren't keen -- they didn't think they'd be ready until next year -- but in the end we succeeded. And so have they.

This really is one of the most brilliant things that I have been even a tiny bit part of (Garth originally began as a character in one of Matt and my double-act sketch shows, Shoes). I thought there was a reasonable chance he might get Best Newcomer but this is beyond my (and I'm absolutely sure his) wildest dreams. And to think the last show he did in Edinburgh was a show with me in 1995. Damn him. I won't try and tell you I'm not jealous. But congratulations are absolutely due. Well done, you brie-faced loon. Let's see you win -- and if I can wangle an invite I'll be at the Perrier party on Saturday to watch you do so.

Oh, and by the way, I designed the rather striking publicity.

James Bachman
Wednesday, August 23, 2000 : link

This morning I was thinking, for some reason, about old Not the Nine O'Clock News records. Specifically, about the song 'All-Out Superpower Confrontation', and the sketch where Griff Rhys Jones is a lawyer who pronounces common legal terms incorrectly, such as 'gwilt' and 'aleebee'. Great stuff.

There were a few albums, including the beautifully-titled double LP 'Hedgehog Sandwich' - all now long-forgotten, along with the early 1980s from whence they came. There may be some CD re-releases or compilations around, but I doubt they sell many copies. Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones are no longer the big comedy names they once were, nor is Pamela Anderson; only Rowan Atkinson remains in the public eye, as Bean and Blackadder (and even those are now yesterday's news, the Millennium Dome Blackadder Back and Forth special notwithstanding).

This got me thinking about the longevity of comedy, and led to a startling realisation: Monty Python is going to rapidly diminish in popularity from here on because of the demise of the comedy LP.

To explain: I'm from a generation that discovered Python through their records, not through their television shows. Too young to have seen them on TV, yet a few years away from the release of their shows on video (which didn't happen until the late 1980s), my friends and I discovered Another Monty Python Record, Matching Tie and Handkerchief and the rest at the impressionable age of 16, and were soon amusing ourselves (and boring everyone else in earshot) by reciting our favourite sketches at every opportunity. As you do.

Years later, the shows came out on video, and even though I was past the tedious (dead-) parroting phase I watched them all, of course. There were certainly plenty of good new sketches to devour: if Scott of the Sahara's encounter with the electric killer penguin had been even one nanogram funnier I would have died on the spot. But I was also struck by how dated the show looked. (Well of course it did. It was 15-20 years old even then.)

Not really a problem for an established fan, of course. But I now wonder what a 16-year-old of today would think of Python if their first encounter was a viewing of those thirty-year-old TV shows. Would they be as taken with them as I and other 30-somethings once were? I'm not so sure.

There's something about sound recordings that strips away time in a way that video can't. It's probably because we're a visual species: eighty or ninety percent of our information about the world comes through our eyes. We notice that someone in an old 1970s TV show is wearing huge flares or sporting an afro before we hear what they're saying, and it's hard to take their words seriously as a result. Most 1970s TV shows can only be enjoyed as camp nowadays for that very reason. How long before the same is true of 1990s TV shows? (It's already happening with the 1980s. Watched any John Hughes teen flicks lately?)

But accents don't change as quickly as clothes, and a few dated words don't jar as much as the sight of an afro. An old Python record won't seem as comically old-fashioned, therefore, as a video of the TV show. If you're not English, then even the references to 1970s prices (less three decades of inflation) and public figures (since long-forgotten) won't matter, because they would have seemed strange and foreign to you all along.

The more I think about this, the more it seems true. A good test case is old Peter Cook and Dudley Moore records. I challenge anyone to find anything as funny and fresh as their 'Frog and Peach' sketch; in audio, it hasn't dated one bit. But watch a tape of the TV show and you'll be brought up cold by the early 1960s attire and, more to the point, the fact that they're in black and white. You can't help interpreting them as something from then, whereas listening to the records it's easy to forget that they aren't from now.

Comedy albums are, sadly, out of fashion nowadays. VHS and DVD capture more of the performance than a plain old record could, so it seems only sensible to release a TV show straight to video rather than editing and possibly re-recording it for audio-only. But as far as longevity of humour goes, this is a case where less is more. The parrot sketch will sound fresh for decades, but watching it you won't be able to stop noticing John Cleese's sideburns.

Rory Ewins
Tuesday, August 22, 2000 : link

So we're actually thinking about making a go of this, are we? Okay. I'm off up to Edinburgh for the Fringe on Thursday morning until Tuesday, where I shall be seeing the following shows (tickets already booked of course, see how efficient I am):

Thursday 24th August
Stewart Lee's Badly Mapped World (Pleasance, 8pm)
The League Against Tedium: I Am, I Will (Meadows Big Top, 9.30pm)
(and I think I may have a free ticket for Mackenzie Crook earlier in the evening)

Friday 25th August
Spymonkey: Stiff - Undertaking Undertaking (Assembly Rooms, 5.45pm)
Dave Gorman: Are You Dave Gorman? (Pleasance, 7.10pm)
Lee Mack's New Bits (Pleasance, 8.30pm)
Garth Marenghi's Fright Knight (Pleasance, 11pm)

Saturday 26th August
Autoboosh (Pleasance, 7.30pm)
Dan Antopolski: Second Coming (Pleasance, 9.45pm)

Sunday 27th August
MacHomer (Assembly Rooms, 5.30pm)
Jerry Sadowitz (Assembly Rooms, 8pm)
Marcus Brigstocke (Assembly Rooms, 9.25pm)

(Notice how all these shows are at the Pleasance or Assembly Rooms. It seems the Gilded Balloon is losing it's place as a member of The Big Three... You can get descriptions for all of them at, and reviews for most in The Scotsman.)

And then during the next day or so there'll be mopping up of some plays, and a few visits to some shows that will hopefully be awful such as this or even this. (Incomprehensible blurb? One o'clock in the morning? Free tequila? Sure, why not?)

I shall be accompanied to all of these by top comedian Dan Gaster, and occasionally Channel X development producer Barunka O'Shaughnessy, and I shall attempt to distill our views on each show onto this site as we visit them. If I can find a terminal (I think they have some in the cafe in the Pleasance).

And do you know what? I'm really looking forward to it.

James Bachman
Sunday, August 20, 2000 : link

The big comedy event in San Francisco this weekend is Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park, or, as the East Bay Express nauseatingly termed it, 'four free hours of nonstop nyuck-nyucks'. That sounds disgusting. Anyone nyuck-nyucks around me and I'm calling the cops.

Apparently there's a website, but I keep getting a 'no such server' message, so maybe it's just a practical joke. Nyuck-nyuck-nyuck.

SFWeekly lists 'Tom Ammiano, Will Durst, Bob Sarlatte, Sue Murphy, Father Guido Sarducci, and others' as some of the stand-ups who'll be performing. I don't think I'll make it up to SF tomorrow to see them, but you never know...

Rory Ewins
Saturday, August 19, 2000 : link

A day of problems solved.

Trouble posting to One Day Soon. Let's see if it works here...

James Bachman
Friday, August 18, 2000 : link

Rory, just go to Blogger and edit your profile. You need a nickname.

James Bachman
Friday, August 18, 2000 : link

Looks like we've got a hitch with Blogger going on here, so that my posts are 'posted by at'. Yes, it's James and the Invisible Man, coming to you live from London and San Francisco.

Rory Ewins
Friday, August 18, 2000 : link

Well, the pressure's on now: I'll actually have to go and see some live comedy in San Francisco, to keep up my end of the bargain. Alternatively, I could just go to the movies (I saw Drowning Mona on the plane over, which was quite amusing - does that count?), or watch some TV (I saw this hilarious new sitcom this evening called 'Friends'. Has anyone else seen this? It's a gas.).

One way or another, this will mean yet more time spent posting to blogs. Is this a productive way to spend one's day? Is it worth staying up until four o'clock in the morning to do?

All these questions and more will be answered in the next thrilling instalment of etc.

Rory Ewins
Thursday, August 17, 2000 : link

I saw this hilarious new sitcom this evening called 'Friends'. Has anyone else seen this? It's a gas.

James Bachman
Thursday, August 17, 2000 : link

Welcome to Funny Ha Ha, the blog where soon-to-be-employed San Franciscan manque Rory Ewins and experienced London comedy writer and performer James Bachman trade the highs and lows of the ever blooming comedy scenes both sides of the Atlantic.

Does anyone know the surface area of Britain and America? I think Rory has a harder job -- assuming he can get one in SF of course, but hopes are high and things are looking up (cue old Viz cartoon -- I would bung a link here but it was so sodding long ago that I don't think I have a hope in hell of finding it. It was a pun. Work it out yourselves. Oh alright. It's some things. Looking up. Ha ha.)

This is all just a mad idea of course, so it's quite likely that nothing will be posted here for eons. In the mean time why don't you check out Rory and my hardcore comedy credentials.

And if that's not enough, why not poke your eyes into this vicious vessel of British comedy criticism?

James Bachman
Thursday, August 17, 2000 : link


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