Tag Archive: comedy

When I first saw the trailers for Derek I was concerned as it looked like Ricky Gervais had written what was supposed to be a comedy about what appeared a clichéd depiction of someone with learning difficulties and/or autism.  It seemed that if the trailer looked this crass I was either misinterpreting the program, or that the depiction was inaccurate, or just that it was a shit and potentially very bigotted piece of writing.  I have to give context here, I do not like Ricky Gervais, I don’t find him particularly funny and as a person he comes across as pretty objectionable. I saw him first on the comic current affairs program the 11 o’clock show many years ago where he was given a brief solo spot, I did not find him at all funny he seemed bland and a little puerile and I did not expect him to return to the screen.  Looking back now it is easy to superimpose thoughts I have had since onto how I felt about him then, in truth I simply did not give him much time, he wasn’t prominent or notable enough.   Now I could see his performances then as having something of the counter-revolutionary alternative comedy about them, the post-modern Jim Davidson if you like, stripped of any tangible malice or outright bigotry but neither especially witty nor observant.  The comedian for Thatcher’s children and that’s still an overriding impression I have.  My guess is that he would be very matey if you were in his gang and a right twat if you weren’t.  So that does tell you the colour glasses I’d be wearing when casting a critical eye over his output.  I hope I have retained some objectivity or at least that my subjectivity has grounds!

The Office was largely well-written and certainly well-acted and had David Brent been played by someone else I think the tragi-comedy element would have been drastically heightened.  It is easy for me to find fault with something that has been a huge success, but success means good no more than it means perfect. For me the Ricky Gervais David Brent was consistently annoying, not uncommon in anti-heroes but with few if any redeeming features and here lay the lack of any sympathy for the character it was an exercise in car-crash tv waiting for the next excruciating cringe.  Having myself at the time an office workplace and line managers with equally few redeeming features I wallowed in this dramatisation of what seemed like my career it was an identification with rather than a wry regard from without.

Gervais’s next project was ‘Extras” which seemed frankly an excuse to get as many famous actors onto a series as possible, as if simply notches on a slate.  I found it disengaging and consequently disengaged.  I heard few if any people speaking about it and no evidence that i had made a rash decision.

Gervais then went to Hollywood and the trailer I saw for the film in which he was cast made me think of a vehicle of a Black And White Minstrel show using Gervais as a quirky Englishman playing to American stereotypes.  Now this is not fair since I did not see the film and trailers are notoriously biased toward what they think will appeal to the audience they are hoping to attract, but I’ve once written a review of a film I didn’t see that received a favourable comment from someone who had done so I’m no stranger to judgementalism!

And so on to Derek.  The only thing I had heard about the program was Gervais’s assertion that this was a favourable portrayal.  For the entire program Derek is shown with facial ticks, a perpetual open-mouthed gormless expression, a shuffling gait and a constant repetition of words in what would often be categorised as an autistic fashion. It is the pastiche of how anyone might perceive the autistic, the sort of ‘man in the street’ view of “the afflicted”.  Derek’s dress sense is no less clichéd the shirt top button done up, the lack of any colour in the clothing, stereotypical light brown shirt and dark brown jacket with nylon slacks directly out of 1974. Having been very recently to a centre dealing with people with extreme conditions of learning difficulty I can state without fear of contradiction that in those I met fashion sense has moved on at the same pace as everyone else’s.

Ultimately the show was meant to be a comedy and so should be judged in that light but the comedy elements Gervais writes are obvious and badly crafted, the sitting on the bowl on the chair, the falling in the pond are both utterly cringeworthy and tedious. Sometimes being able to see what is coming can be funny others it looks staged and ridiculous and this falls into the latter, it makes standing on a rake or slipping on a banana skin look new and edgy.  When he tries to show anything other than a vacant staring open-mouthed simpleton it comes across as clumsy, no more is this better illustrated than when one of the elderly inhabitants dies and Derek is recounting that she has said that it was more important to be kind than clever or good looking at which point he stumbles out that he is neither clever or good looking but is kind.  It just seems awkward, something one could not imagine a character that is not autistic saying, one would have expected more self-deprecation from a non-autistic person.  It was a scene that could and should have been tender and emotional and with minimum difficulty save for an ability to act.  In The Office Gervais had the excuse to look into the camera as this was in the context of it being a fly-on-the-wall documentary, Derek uses the same premise but his continuing to look in the camera gives more the impression that the style is used to allow Gervais to keep attention on him rather than anything else.  The character would probably have been a great deal more convincing if less comfortable in from of the camera.

Kerry Goodleman’s performance had some heart and her head butting one of the chavs on the way out of the pub was definitely the funniest moment of the 1/2 hour, admittedly without comparison.  Karl Pilkington, who in the limited experience I have of him comes across as a fairly vacuous person, gives a performance that shows Gervais up and this is in spite of Pilkington’s character being very unsympathetic.  Where Pilkington’s character performs the task of highlighting how little we think of the treatment of elderly people the defence is mounted in such a way by Gervais as to make it look like it is only normal for it to be so negative since those who do care have something wrong with them.  There was little else that offered any redemption and I cannot help but see it as a loss of time in my life that I would like to have back to spend more constructively.

If this is supposed to be sympathetic and demonstrating feeling for a character who may suffer ridicule and stigma due merely to his style and manner it is a horrendous way of doing so and is either the fault of the writer(s) or Gervais’ acting that this does not come across at all. The character and acting of Gervais in this is self-indulgant, ill-conceived and cruel.  It strikes me as being one that Gervais has seen in someone somewhere and decided to embellish and exploit for comic purpose in a sniggering and schoolboy way and this perhaps more than anything else shows how we allow certain people to be treated.  It is childish in the sort of way that is not merely ignorant humour but has a nastier streak.  Whether or not Gervais feels such a critique is unfair this is the way I found the program and I fail to see how anyone else might find it otherwise.  The trouble with humour is that whilst it is to be defended in its lampooning of things and I have stood up for Chris Morris in the past for his very sharp and deeply uncomfortable depictions of bigotry and fear it is because I feel that his doing so is not of malicious intent but is designed in essence to be constructive to prick the bubble of malign acquiescence that that which is harmful.  Of course once again this is my subjective interpretation of constructive so perhaps I should defend Gervais’s right to be shit, he will certainly continue to be so with or without my blessing.

Song Of The Day ~ Echobelly – Dark Therapy

The Undesirable Incumbent

[Based on a true story!]

I walked into the cubicle
to do what I must do,
little did I expect the sight
of someone else’s pooh.

It lay there looking at me
as I stood and looked at it,
I really shouldn’t have to deal
with someone else’s shit.

So flush you say, flush it away
be held not in the trap
of staring blank and helpless
at someone else’s crap.

I tried my friends I pulled the chain
once, twice and then a third,
but could not rid the bloody bowl
of that someone else’s turd.

It hits me should I leave now
I risk looking like a fool,
perceived as perpetrator
of the someone else’s stool.

You can see just how I’m stranded
that the net is truly strung,
caught by the fear of being blamed
for someone else’s dung.

As I pulled myself together
reality hit me with a thump,
I must extricate my presence
From someone’s dump.

Thinking furiously
I came upon the notion
of stuffing in reams of loo roll
to cover someone else’s motion.

On exiting the stall forthwith
I had my first stroke of luck,
there was no-one to connect me
with someone else’s muck.

I ran back to my office
all aquiver I confess,
having dodged the dark brown bullet
of someone else’s mess.

I tell this tale of caution
so it’s not the same for you,
that you find you’re at the mercy
of someone else’s number two.

I hope that those who’re out there
whose toilet habits may be slack,
will realise henceforth the suffering
caused by someone else’s cack.

Forward planning’s all important
now that I’ve seen the light,
to avoid any reoccurrence
of finding someone else’s shite.

Were you to ask for my opinion
I’d say find out the cleaners rota,
so you may be spared the anguish
Caused by someone else’s floater.

Else pay thirty pence of silver
to use a public loo,
where at least you can complain
upon finding someone else’s pooh.

Song Of The Day ~ Toploader – Achilles Heel

Live At Derby Assembly Rooms

Rob Newman & Mark Thomas

Date: 14/11/05   —   £14.50   —   Other

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There isn’t really anything better than laughing a lot and learning at the same time. Besides when 2 boys come up to the frozen North from my part of London it’s only fair to give them some support!

I haven’t seen Rob Newman for a long time, he used to do a double act with David Baddiel who went on to worse things with Frank Skinner. In those days Newman had long hair like mine and wore the clothes of something of a dandy including a rather fine long crimson velvet jacket. These days his hair is shorter and his attire looks as if he is to be appearing in ‘Waiting For Godot’ soon. I hadn’t expected his act to be quite as sharp and satirical and politically to the left as it was. Funny, yes, Newman was always funny, there is a gravitas that comes from the product of a fervent mind for the good and bad things this entails. The modern day Rob Newman is a very astute political activist. A comedic campaigner who is all too aware of the contradictions of the modern world and the ignorance under which we are expected to live. He describes the First World War as being caused by an invasion of Iraq (then Mesopotamia) and not as we are led to believe in the history books the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand.

The historical context is this. Prussia, (most of what constitues modern day Germany) the great emerging military and economic power did not have the oil reserves for the mechanisation it required. It therefore needed the Berlin to Baghdad railway link. Since the Orient Express route already covered the route as far as Istanbul it was only necessary to complete the remaining section. This was of course not the sort of thing the British could allow since there was no way the British could compete with a Prussia running at full tilt. Thus the British mobilised, ironically in Basra, in order to stop German plans. To bring across this sort of information is usually the domain of such investigative heavyweights as Pilger and Chomsky, to make it funny and bring in such gems as the Samarian version of Rock Around The Clock as part of a way to avoid harm when kidnapped in Iraq is first rate.

Newman’s anthropomorphic illustration of the US as the backyard bullyboy with baseball bats mooting out a punishment beating on Iraq for daring to consider changing their oil currency from $ to €, whilst looking up to China saying “I got dis under control, Sur” at the same time Venezuela looks on saying “ey gringo, I think you losin’ your to’ch, years ago you bury this alone, now you got to do it with yo’ beetch” and North Korea drives by in their Hyundai giving the finger out the window and “Fuck you ‘Mericaaaaaaaa” is both very funny and a startlingly good analogy. The dependence on the universal oil currency being $ is rapidly becoming a fragile one for the US and shows all too graphically just how short-term the US’s dominance will be. When Iraq switched to € the value of the € went up by 25% over the following 6 months. Other countries, Iran, North Korea etc. have attempted to follow suit. Miraculously the list of the countries that have sought to make this change is remarkably similar to the ‘Axis of Evil’

Newman is very well-versed on environmental issues and his meticulously researched presentation on the oil situation is tantamount to apocalyptic. Sadly it is all too true if only people can be bothered to research the facts. Someone has done some of the work for you here Figures exist that show we have passed peak production

If I had to some up Rob Newman’s message using his own words it would be that in the light of the impending crisis there is “No Way Out.” The conclusion is clear they might say there is nuclear but the cost and fallout and cycle is not a solution merely another problem. There is hydrogen, but there are no hydrogen reservoirs, hydrogen has to be made and to make almost anything in the mechanised world you require oil.

To be fair Rob Newman was an added bonus, I’d have been happy to see him but I paid my money predominantly being a huge Mark Thomas fan. I have been so for many many years now and every series he does on Channel 4 seems to go from strength to strength and is a far cry from the old Friday Night Live days, when he took to the stage along with another of the then new men of the alternative new left comedy scene Ben Elton. Whilst Elton has gone off to write bestselling novels and musicals with Andrew Lloyd-Weber Thomas has stuck to what he does best and has both retained integrity and developed hugely as a performer into a man approaching the influence and genius of the late great Bill Hicks and that is not an accolade I confer lightly.

Thomas starts his set recounting his gig in Belfast, his opening joke “What’s the difference between Saddam Hussein and the IRA? -Saddam hasn’t got any weapons!” he says went down well after a pause before someone shouted now “we’ll have a joke now about the Unionists for parity so we will!” He duly obliges launching one at Ian Paisley “Preacher of Hate” and how he finds it strange that whilst he refuses to believe that the IRA have given up their weapons he is happy to believe that Jesus was the son of God and the pope is the devil! Paisley, Thomas says, is a scary man who could make anything sound sinister, he proceeds to recount Paisley’s shopping list in barking Belfast tones “2 tins of tomatoes…a packet of oven-ready smily faces.” There is also the fact that Paisley does not believe the IRA has given up its weapons “the man who think Jesus Christ is the son of God and the pope is the devil, we’re only now asking you to believe one little tiny thing here!” Not stopping just with the leader Thomas lambasts the Orange order, a group he describes as “paramilitary homepride men” for marching to almost anything and yet not prepared to fight on the issue of the public right to roam.

Thomas is one of the great do-ers, he researches things and then enacts them much to the chagrin of the establishment. There is without question a lot of serious substance in Mark Thomas’ material, his particular bete-noir at the moment is the arms dealing, Britain is the 2nd biggest arms dealer in the world. There is now a law banning the involvement of any British citizen from any dealings involving stun batons, called the “torturer’s weapon of choice” by Amnesty International. Thomas not only sets up a deal involving British citizens but brokers it in the name of the Minister in charge of arms sales!

Thomas says he likes heckling, (though it would be a foolish person that were to heckle either of the men on this bill) he says how sometimes even if you haven’t thought it through it can be powerful. He regales us of the story of a friend from Newcastle who was supposed to be group heckling the former Secretary for Work and Pensions whilst he was still in office. Upon finding that she was alone on arrival when the Minister arrived she was gripped with passion and bellowed in strong Geordie tones “Blunket, you cunt”. The effect, apparently was that the driver of Blunket’s car was so surprised he reversed into a wall!

Thomas does an encore and then both he and Newman ad lib in a musical poetry slam. This is Newman’s territory and he soon has the audience and Mark Thomas in fits. Not to be overlooked entirely, Thomas shows he is a really quite accomplished harmonica player!

OK, I’ll grant you this was always going to be the ideal comedy gig for me, it has everything I need, it’s very funny, very politically charged and they talk proper like! That being said it will be the yardstick by which all other comedy nights are measured.

You can find the remaining dates on the tour here and because I enjoyed it so much, if you happen to be at one of the Warwick gigs you might just run into me.

Song Of The Day ~ Sky Parade – Losin Control