Should D.E.A.T.H. be a taboo subject in comedy?


APRIL 30TH 2013


I haven’t got a lot of time because I’ve got a plumber coming around in a minute to sort out a leaky pipe. I just can’t get it to light, even using good quality tobacco and Swan Vestas matches. So let me crack on right away. A comedian’s act can cover a wide range of subjects. Some of them are palatable to most of the audience, but some joke/quips or comedic observations can cause offence and at times outrage. One subject with the potential to get a negative reaction from an audience is D.E.A.T.H.


D.E.A.T.H. comes to us all eventually. But as Woody Allen said “I know death is inevitable, but I don’t want to be there when it happens”. There are plenty of great jokes about D.E.A.T.H. that couldn’t really be described as offensive, mainly because they’re so damn funny. Here’s one of my favourites.


There’s an old man, 95, lying in his bed, dying, with his family surrounding him, all of them hushed, respectful and tearful. Suddenly the old man opens his eyes, sniffs the air and says, in a dry, croaking voice, “Is that a baked ham I can smell?“ and his wife, who’s sat by the bed holding his hand, says “ Yes, darling. I put it in the oven a little while ago”. He gently squeezes her hand, looks into her moistened eyes and says “I’m not long for this world, but that ham smells so delicious, my last wish is to enjoy a slice of it between two pieces of warm, crusty bread.” And his wife says “I’m sorry, honey, that’s just not possible. It’s for the funeral!”…


There’ve been many sitcoms, plays, farces and films that were based around dead bodies (ones that go missing, usually), funerals & funeral directors, greedy people wanting to bump off elderly relatives for their fortunes, eccentric ghosts returning from the grave to wreak comic vengeance…and so on. They amuse and no one takes offence. So how long should we leave it before we look for humour in a tragic situation? Well, someone far cleverer than me once said….”Tragedy plus time equals comedy”. Not that it gives us carte blanche to make crass, badly-judged jokes about the Holocaust, African famines,‘plane crashes, horrific crimes and natural disasters that claim thousands of lives. But some comedians aren’t prepared to wait for tragic events to become history.


They write and perform jokes, entire routines maybe, about these appalling things while they’re still part of ‘The Zeitgiest’, knowing that most audience members will laugh. Which is always their ’Get out of jail’ card. I’m not making any judgement here – just observing.


When a comedian does badly on stage, he is said to have ‘died’. Which means his jokes fell flat or the audience didn’t take to him or he was just not on the top of his game. Whatever the cause, to spend even five minutes on a stage, desperately trying to wring laughter out of a stony-faced audience can be soul-destroying. You do ‘die’ a little inside for the rest of the evening. But the next night could be entirely different and you’ll have the entire room rocking with laughter. That’s comedy for you.


When a well-known comedy actor or comedian really dies, it seems to affect us more than when a famous ‘straight’ actor passes on, because we hold funny men and women in real affection and recall the times we’ve laughed at them. I’m talking about the greats like Eric and Ernie, Benny Hill, Ronnie Barker, Eric Sykes, Spike Milligan, Les Dawson, Bob Monkhouse, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd – and more recently Richard Briers. In time, the big comedy names of today will pass on, but will they be mourned as much as the previous generations of comedians? In 2013, stand-up comedy can be far stronger and crueller than the silly, often lightweight and whimsical material of previous decades, which the public at the time had found endearing. So when say, Alexei Sayle or Frankie Boyle pop their clogs, their passing might not touch the public in the same way the performers from a gentler age did. I may be wrong about this. Please feel free to disagree if you think that when Russell Brand shuffles off this mortal coil, thousands, nay millions, will shed a nostalgic tear and queue-up for days to sign a ‘Bookie Wookie’ of remembrance.


There is an upside to D.E.A.T.H. and you don’t have to be an undertaker or florist to appreciate it. We humans are quite robust. We may take an emotional battering and be inconsolable for weeks and months in our grief for a parent, grandparent, partner, relative or good friend who’s passed. But gradually, our minds and bodies somehow manage to recover so that we can carry on. It’s quite astounding how that happens.


We’ve been through the mill, survived one of Life’s great traumas and it’s strengthened our character so we’re ready to take on the next big problem that bunch of bullies The Fates have in store for us.


Having a sense of humour and being able to enjoy a joke and a laugh can be therapeutic in times of grief. There’s scientific evidence to prove it – not that many scientists are a barrel of laughs.


So until the next time, remember to live every day as if it’s your last – and one day you’ll be proved right.


Damn, my pipe is still leaking.


Thanks for reading 😉

Last of the Winter Whine

APRIL 2013

Last of the Winter Whine

Hello! Hasn’t it been a long, dark miserable Winter and a pretty dismal Spring so far? That was a rhetorical question, so don’t rush to your keyboards/ ipads / tablets to respond. There’s no point. I’m not in. This blog was written days ago and I’m now ensconced in the Ritz hotel, London, in a sumptuous room which for some reason the management has let me have for a ridiculous knock-down price of fifty quid a night. I don’t know who the last person was to occupy the room, but I have an idea it must have been a very well-thought-of park warden, because I keep getting deliveries of flowers every five minutes. All very charming, but also annoying when you’re trying to cut your toenails in the bath. While I was in the bath I read in the medical section of my newspaper that new research (who pays any attention to old research?) revealed that eating one packet of crisps a day is like drinking five litres of cooking oil a year. This shocked me so much, I made a life-changing decision. Never again will I read the medical section of any newspaper.

Some poor sod of a scientist must have volunteered to swallow five litres of cooking oil to prove the theory correct, while his lucky co-worker only had to munch his way through a packet of cheese and onion crisps every lunchtime for 12 months. For that you don’t need a University degree. You need 42”- waist trousers and to start going on long healthy walks. Not that I find long walks healthy. After traipsing through the woods, muddying my new Hush Puppies (£5.99, Macarthur Glen Outlet) and catching my mustard-yellow & cerise, suedette-style zip-up Primark cardigan ( a Christmas present from a friend with a slight visual impairment and absolutely no fashion sense ) on brambles, I’m creased. As is my mustard-yellow & cerise, suedette-style zip-up Primark cardigan. Mind you, years ago I was an enthusiastic weekend walker. In fact I considered joining the Ramblers Society. So I ‘phoned them and they went on …and on…and on! That was around the time when I played in a local rugby team and as we were travelling along the M4 to play a match somewhere near Bridgend, the coach suddenly broke down. Without warning, the poor man just started sobbing uncontrollably, because we were such a crap team.

Talking of unexpected things happening while you’re travelling, there was a time, many moons ago, long before reality TV became a terrible reality, when it was common for comedians to start their act by saying “ Ladies and gentlemen, a funny thing happened on the way to the theatre tonight!”. Sometimes, if the audience were in a mischievous mood, a wag in the cheap seats might immediately shout back at him “Well there’s nothing very funny happening in here!” The performer would then go into his first joke which would be something along the lines of…‘As I was driving here, I ran over a chicken. A great big cockerel he was. Well, I could see a light on in a farmhouse just off the road, so I went up and knocked on the front door. This big, burly farmer opened it and said “What do you want?” and I said “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve just run over your cockerel and to make amends I’d like to replace it”. The farmer looked me up and down and said “Suit yourself. The hens are round the back!”

Obviously that hadn’t really happened to the comedian on the way to the theatre. The odds on him running over an escaped farm animal six nights a week and just before his Wednesday and Saturday matinees would mean he was having a fantastically stupefying amount of chicken-related bad luck. No, it was merely a device to get into his first joke.

I was thinking about this the other night as I was driving to a gig, and realised that not once in all my years as a working comedian had anything remotely funny happened on the way to a club, theatre, hotel or conference centre where I’ve been due to perform. And I just know that, if I walked on stage and pretended that something funny had happened on the way, they’d all know I was lying. Imagine that. A comedian, making things up, purely to amuse the audience! The idea’s just laughable.

But on several occasions, annoying, irritating and downright uncomfortable things have happened to me on the way to a gig….and when I’ve arrived there…and during the performance. Some of which I will share with you next time around.

In the meantime, enjoy the Spring weather when it arrives (I think it’s due late August) and do some healthy walking. In which case, you might be interested in a nice mustard-yellow & cerise, suedette-style zip-up Primark cardigan going at a reasonable price…