Wednesday Week

Today I would like you to go and read Wednesday Week, my friend Sweeney’s blog. He is the funniest writer I know, which is why I have enlisted him to help me with my Super Secret Project. We have been working on the Super Secret Project for quite a long time, but that’s OK because neither of us is the dynamic go-getter type, really. We’ll finish it one day, and then – well, then we’ll probably leave it sitting in a metaphorical drawer for six months.

Anyway, Wednesday Week is quietly brilliant, just like its author. Start at the beginning and read it all, it’s worth it.

QI

I like QI. I like Stephen Fry, and I like Alan Davies – or at least, I like the version of Alan Davies that appears in QI – and I like the format. I like most of the guests, with honourable exceptions for Jeremy Clarkson and Rory McGrath. I especially like Rich Hall. And I like it when they get slightly unexpected people in for a one-off. After all, the only qualifications for being on QI are that you are (a) fairly well-known and (b) not stupid. Right?

Well, sort of. The problem is that using those criteria you might expect to end up with a roughly equal gender split, and QI has never had that. I have just, because I am a serious and dedicated blogger, had a look at the complete guest list for every episode ever of QI, and I have discovered, to my disappointment but not to my surprise, that there has only ever been one episode broadcast which featured more than one female guest, and that that episode was one in series D whose subject matter was “Domesticity”. Ahem.

I know all the arguments about why there are more male than female comics. I even agree with some of them, like the one about the level of competitive blokery prevalent on the club circuit, which is where most comics start from. But QI isn’t limited to comedians. It has featured DJs:

danny baker

composers:

Howard Goodall

politicians:

Gyles Brandreth

and writers:

Mark Gatiss

…as well as countless actors and presenters. You could describe these people as wits, but they’re not comedians. And there are plenty of bright, witty women around. Some of them are even comedians. I’m pleased to see Sandi Toksvig and Sue Perkins cropping up more frequently in recent series, and I would happily watch Jo Brand every week, but if Daniel Radcliffe can be invited on, where are Josie Long, Victoria Coren, Mariella Frostrup, Shappi Khorsandi, Miranda Hart, Sally Phillips, Lucy Porter, Sarah Millican, Julia Davis and Tamsin Greig? Where, for that matter (if you’re going to have John Sessions and Rory Bremner), are Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Victoria Wood, Alison Steadman, Caroline Quentin and Patricia Routledge?

I can only assume that they’re scared that an all-female panel, or even a mostly-female panel, will be cleverer and funnier than the men-only shows. I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re right.

Comic fiction

I am irrepressibly, unforgivably drawn to books written by comedians. I know they’re mostly awful, but I can’t seem to help myself. I think it all started when I read Ben Elton’s Stark, which I will still staunchly defend even though I’m slightly embarrassed about having enjoyed it so much. The law of diminishing returns applies to an almost painful degree to the subsequent follow-ups, but Stark was good.

I have also read:

Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen (Charlie Higson)

It’s Not A Runner Bean, Reasons To Be Cheerful and What’s Going On? (Mark Steel)

The Fountain At The Centre Of The World (Rob Newman)

Time For Bed, Whatever Love Means and The Secret Purposes (David Baddiel)

Paperweight, The Liar, The Hippopotamus, Making History, The Stars’ Tennis Balls and Moab Is My Washpot (Stephen Fry)

The Gun Seller (Hugh Laurie)

Frank Skinner (Frank Skinner)

Without Feathers (Woody Allen)

No Cure For Cancer (Dennis Leary)

Are You Dave Gorman? (Dave Gorman)

Billy Connolly (Pamela Stephenson)

I’m sure there are more; that’s off the top of my head. As you will know if you’ve read them all too, this list is a mixture of fiction, biography, scripts and other collected writings. As you will further know, quite a lot of them are not very good, and some of them aren’t even funny. But that somehow never puts me off, so when I went to see Jeremy Hardy and Jack Dee talking as part of Lambeth Readers’ and Writers’ festival a couple of weeks ago I should have known I’d end up buying moreĀ  books by comedians.

The talk took place at West Norwood library, which turns out to have a fully functional theatre tucked away in the back room. After the interviews the floor was opened up to questions, and as I wavered Englishly in the back row, wondering whether I had the balls to raise my hand, someone else got in with the question I was going to ask.

“Is it easier to write a book if you already know how to write stand-up, or are they two completely different skills?”

Jack said that it wasn’t very different for him, because he deliberately wrote his book in the style of his stand-up. Having read it, I can now confirm that this is entirely true. Reading it is more or less exactly like reading a Jack Dee stand-up script, except that occasionally he says something very earnest, usually about god, and you anxiously wait for the punchline before realising he means it. There are some good jokes in between, though, and a cheering photo of Jack aged four wearing exactly the expression he always has.

I found Jeremy Hardy’s book more engaging. For a start, it isn’t a straight piece of autobiography but a family history, so it’s not really very much about him. I know comedians like to talk about themselves, but it’s refreshing when they talk about other people too.

But then, Jeremy Hardy has always struck me as unusually humble for a comedian. Another question someone asked was “which other comedians do you admire the most?”. Jack Dee gave the usual answer, which is always some combination of Monty Python, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Morecambe and Wise. This is a popular answer because it says “I only admire the very best, and nobody of my generation is better than me.” So I was completely charmed when Jeremy Hardy chose Mark Steel, Daniel Kitson and Jo Brand. Not only are they his contemporaries, they also all live round the corner from him. He didn’t pick unassailable icons; he picked his mates.

The book is likeable and well-written, and also moral and thoughtful. In the end he decides that it doesn’t really matter who you’re descended from, or where they lived, but that there is real human joy in meeting people and forming relationships with them, whether they’re distant relations you haven’t seen in forty years, children who aren’t biologically related to you but whom you love none the less for it, or just the friendly folk at Arundel Castle who help you look up some records on a rainy day.

I also got both books signed. Well, I was there. I can report that Jeremy wrote “To Laura, love Jeremy Hardy”, but that Jack slightly trumped him by adding a little kiss underneath.

In other news

Apologies for the long silence. I have been getting to grips with my new job; which doesn’t give me much time for thinking, let alone writing. I’ve got a nerdy-obsessive Michael Jackson post fermenting, but in the meantime here are a couple of my highlights of the last few weeks, presented in the style of a tabloid newspaper.

SPOOK

Last night I went to a Ghostbusters-themed comedy night, to celebrate 25 years since the original film’s release. I know what you’re thinking – and, well OK, you’re right; but it was still lots of fun. The highlight was a passionate, witty and informative set from Paul Gannon, who is a bigger fan than I have ever been, and from whom I learned the following new facts:

  • The follow-up cartoon was called “The Real Ghostbusters” because a company called Filmation (makers of Masters of the Universe, among other things) had sometime in the 1970s produced eight episodes of a truly awful live action TV show with the name “Ghostbusters”. When the film was being made they threatened to sue, but they agreed in the end to allow the film-makers to use the name so long as they (Filmation) retained the rights to use the title for any future animated series. So when the film was turned into a cartoon, they had to give it a new name.
  • The scenes between Pete Venkman and Dana Barrett in Dana’s apartment were all improvised by Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver.
  • There is Ghostbusters porn. It isn’t very sexy, but it’s fabulously funny (he had a selection of clips for our viewing pleasure).

UKE

I am now a world record-holder (along with 850 others).

DUKE (grant me literal poetic license on that one, please)

We went to see Bobby McFerrin at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown. I am devoutly atheist, but the closest I’ve come to believing in something higher than humankind is when I watch him perform. It’s just insanely brilliant:

PUKE

I have seen Jeremy Clarkson twice in the last fortnight.