Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

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Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:33 am

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Fri May 27, 2011 1:37 pm

Rudolph Herzog: Punchlines from the abyss

Rudolph Herzog, son of Werner, tells Geoffrey Macnab what the Nazis did for joke-telling

Rudolph Herzog guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 May 2011 21.59 BST


Defiant … a detail from a 1930s cartoon by EO Plauen, who killed himself rather than be tried by the Nazis.

Hitler and Goering are on the radio tower in Berlin, looking at the crowds below. Hitler wants to do something to put a smile on Berliners' faces. So Goering says: "Why don't you jump?"


Dead Funny by Rudolph Herzog

It is not the funniest joke, but a German woman, Marianne K, who told it at her workplace during the war was reported to the authorities, and executed as a result. Film-maker and author Rudolph Herzog, son of the German director Werner Herzog, includes the anecdote in his book Dead Funny: Humour in Hitler's Germany, as well as the court documents relating to her death. Published in the UK next month, the book originated with Herzog's documentary on the same subject, Ve Have Vays of Making You Laugh.

Herzog's thesis is that, during the Third Reich, Germans relished jokes about their leaders. Throughout Hitler's 12 years in power, there were plenty of caustic gags doing the rounds – about Dr Goebbels's club foot, or Hitler's limp Nazi salute, which made him look like a waiter carrying a tray, or the widely held suspicion that Goering wore his medals in the bath. "These jokes were mass phenomena," Herzog says, "partly because political humour for some reason thrives under dictatorship."

It was also Herzog's own way of addressing the family history. "Except for my grandfather on my mother's side, all of my grandparents were staunch Nazis," he says. "On my father's side, [they were] even active in a way. The book is my way of breaking it down." He says that many were sceptical about the project, worrying that it would trivialise its subject matter: "I wasn't sure if the Germans would stomach it, but they did . . . I think every generation of Germans has to break it down for themselves in some way."

Seen at a distance of 70 years, these jokes can appear tasteless and feeble. Herzog argues that they offer a telling insight into "what preoccupied and moved Hitler's 'racial community'." They also reveal a tension. One of the most commonplace defences offered on behalf of the German people during the Hitler years was that they didn't know what their leaders were doing. But, as Herzog points out, the humour was often very pointed and very informed.

"One thing they [the Germans] knew – and they were in denial about it after the war, the whole generation – was the camps. There are numerous jokes about the camps," he says. "If they knew what was going on, why didn't they act? That's a very loaded question."

The German people were aware that the authorities would arrest and even execute anyone who ridiculed them too openly. Herzog tells the cautionary tale of Joseph Müller, a Catholic priest in a small parish in northern Germany, who, late in the war, recounted a shaggy dog story about a wounded soldier to an ailing old man. "He [the soldier] is dying and they ask him: 'Do you have a last wish?' He says: 'Well, I'd like to see the people I am dying for.' They bring a picture of Hitler and put it on his right and one of Goebbels and put it on his left. The man says, 'Now I am dying like Jesus Christ, between two criminals.'"

The old man's son, a staunch Nazi, reported the priest's joke to the party. Eventually, the priest was condemned to death by the People's Court for "undermining defensive strength". "In a way, it's not the joke that kills you. It's who you are," Herzog says. "The priest had already said things against the regime, and they didn't like priests in the first place."

Herzog's own interest in the subject was sparked by his love of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator and Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be. Then, when his relatives were clearing out his great-aunt's apartment after she moved to the US, they discovered collections of typewritten German jokes from the early 1940s. Herzog was puzzled and fascinated.

Ask him whether he shares his father's ferocious, drag-a-ship-over-a-mountain drive, and Herzog parries the question. But writing Dead Funny was clearly a great challenge. "The film and the book – that's the better part of more than two years of my life. You need a certain amount of drive to do that to yourself, because it's not fun. It involves a certain amount of humour, but also digging into the nastiest things you could imagine. The Third Reich was just so horrendous. Having that in your head day after day is awful."

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011


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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:33 pm

How David Baddiel nearly became a scientist instead of a comedian:

soon became clear that science was never going to be a winning formula for the comedian

David Baddiel The Observer, Sunday 27 February 2011


David Baddiel: "Part of me will always think that devoting yourself to anything but science is a waste of time." Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Observer

I should have been a scientist. My dad was a scientist. More than that: my dad grew up in a tiny terraced house in Swansea, the only child of a second-generation immigrant family – his father sold cloth, zips and buttons from door to door – and so science – biochemistry at Swansea University, followed by a PhD at Imperial College – was his way out, his way up.


The Death of Eli Gold by David Baddiel

And thus it loomed large in our house, science. My father worked for Unilever, running a mass-spectrometry lab – mass spectrometry is a process for elucidating the chemical structures of molecules, which means that he presided over a legal form of corporate espionage, breaking down the component parts of competitors' products in order to copy them. We never had any shop-bought shampoos or deodorants – we just had a series of slightly sinister blue and white canisters marked Project 54 or Sample 8, although some of the deodorants would also have on them a, by my 13-year-old standards, quite erotic line drawing of a flowing-haired woman administering the spray under her arms.

In a sideboard drawer my father kept a pack of cards – a periodic table set, in which every card showed a different element, its atomic structure set out in the old-style, a neutron planet orbited by electron moons. This pack was given to me and my two brothers to learn. Every so often my dad would get it out, hold up a card, and say, maybe: "Lead…?" and first one to answer "Pb" would get – well, nothing – there was no reward system, no, as there would be now, star chart – the first one to answer would just get the question right. And then there would be a series of supplementary questions about, y'know, the number of protons and neutrons in the lead nucleus, lead's covalent radius, that kind of thing.

I should add we played football and stuff with my dad as well, but it would still be fair to say that, intellectually, science ruled the roost at 43 Kendal Road, Dollis Hill, London NW10 in the 1970s. So much so that it never really occurred to anyone that the children who lived there might be more inclined, academically, towards any another discipline. My older brother, who would have showed prowess in various arts subjects, just took this for granted, choosing chemistry, physics and maths A Levels, and getting, frankly, much worse results than he might have done. Up until the age of 15, despite getting As for English and history, and Cs and Ds for all science subjects, I was just blindly going to choose the same subjects as my brother until, in a moment that generally happens only in Robin Williams films, I was saved by a teacher¹. This teacher pointed at my reports and said, essentially: "What the f**k are you doing?" And the scientific scales fell from my eyes.

I chose English, history and economics (the last a sop, chosen because it's a pseudo-science). But there was still the issue of telling my father. My father is not a bookish, nerdy scientist like Professor Frink in The Simpsons. He's basically a sweary Welsh lad, a kind of Jewish, bald version of Richard Harris in This Sporting Life. Much as I loved him, and much as he could be really funny, I was also, for the majority of my childhood, terrified of him. The word he used most in the years 1969-83 was "aggravation": everything – his job, his car, his wife and, of course, his children – caused him aggravation.

And so I can still feel the fear with which, on a spring evening in 1979, I approached him – I left it until after supper, as my dad was always slightly more benign then – "almost human" is how he would describe himself after a good meal, and when we would ask him, in a little family postprandial regularly performed bit, why he wasn't feeling completely human, he would say: "Cos then you bastards would be asking me for money" – to tell him about my A Level choices. He didn't rage or shout or say how much aggravation the idea of me not doing science caused him. He just said: "Well. I think it's a waste of a brain." And turned back to his plate of late-70s – edam, most likely, wensleydale and far too much Branston pickle – cheese.

It's a small moment – but big-life stuff hinges mainly on small moments. And its legacy, for me, is large and complex. The more complex part is the psychological one: even though I went on to do well academically in arts subjects, and have enjoyed a successful career in the arts, and am able to write this column only because that teacher was right and that whatever natural instinct I have is for language and not for numbers, or atoms, a part of me will always agree with my dad. A part of me will always think that devoting yourself intellectually to anything but science is a bit of a waste of time. Obviously everyone who works in the poncy old arts suffers from this inferiority complex – all pretence of intellectual supremacy vanishes when confronted by the reality of what is required, cerebrally, to understand say, the Dirac equation – but I think I have it worse than most. Recently, perhaps part of a midlife crisis, I notice there's has been a violent return of the repressed: I now voraciously read popular science books.

It may also be a motivating force behind the writing of my new novel, which is about the death of a great man, a father. Among other things, the book explores my conviction that the time of Great Men is over – that when Lucian Freud, Nelson Mandela and Philip Roth go, that'll be that. At least for writers and artists, greatness, now, is too contested: James Joyce only needed Ezra Pound and TS Eliot to proclaim him a great writer, but if he wrote Ulysses today, millions of dissenters would argue that greatness into nothing. So the only hope for greatness (outside, perhaps, of sport) lies in science, where one would hope that endless discussion must be curtailed by the hard actuality of research and results. If you cure cancer, you must be a Great Man/Woman, right?

Well, no – even that cure would be disputed by many who would proclaim it part of some drug-company conspiracy, and that coffee enemas were still the true way forward with metastatic tumours. Science is under just as much attack – in the area of climate change, more so – as the knackered old arts. There is no straightforward narrative here. Even though, as it turned out, I couldn't do science, I was brought up to trust in it – and I do trust in it – but more and more, the world seems not to.

In a straightforward narrative, I should be able to say, in conclusion, something like: if it weren't for that moment when I challenged my father, if it wasn't for that small piece of domestic bravery, I might have ended up working my life unhappily away in a laboratory, but that of course is not true either: my brother did do science subjects, and he's now the writer on the X Factor, which makes no narrative sense whatsoever.

Similarly, despite my dad's rock-hard certainty about scientific qualification giving you a career basis like no other, he was himself, about a year after telling me that I was wasting my brain, made redundant by Unilever, which meant far fewer canisters of Project 54, and a second career spent selling Dinky Toys in a covered antique market in London, an employment choice I would say led him to greater personal happiness and slightly – slightly – less aggravation. Truly, the observable universe, whose structure, progress and destiny is controlled only by science, moves in mysterious ways.

1 In the mythic version of this kind of thing, that teacher's name would ring like a golden bell in my memory forever. Unfortunately I can't actually remember it. If you're reading this, and it's you – Mr Keenleyside? Lemprière? – do get in touch, and you shall go to the biopic.

2 Well, I say that. What I mean is I voraciously read popular science books about quantum physics, which is the sexy heart of modern science, the one artsy types want most to understand, as it seems to aspire to the condition of philosophy and even fiction; the one that, like those disciplines, tunes into wonder.

David Baddiel's novel The Death of Eli Gold (4th Estate, £18.99) is out 3 March

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011



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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:35 pm

Baddiel is not the first British comedian to have turned to fiction:


Stark- Ben Elton.



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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:37 pm


The Hippopatamus- Stephan Fry.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:38 pm


Barcelona Plates- Alexei Sayle.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:40 pm

...or, indeed to autobiography:


My Booky Wook- Russell Brand.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:42 pm


Stalin Ate My Homework- Alexei Sayle.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:43 pm


My Name is Daphne Fairfax- Arthur Smith.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:44 pm


My Shit Life So Far- Frankie Boyle.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:46 pm

The Death of Eli Gold by David Baddiel – review

Steven Poole finds no cruel brilliance of style to justify David Baddiel's caricatures

Steven Poole The Guardian, Saturday 5 March 2011

This novel may have been written by someone best known as a comedian, but it is a proper novel because it deals with big themes such as literature, love and illness. What's more, it is narrated from the point of view of several characters, one of whom is a child. Some bits of it are supposed to be funny; but others, I'm pretty sure, aren't.

In New York, family members congregate around the hospital bed of Eli Gold, an elderly novelist to whom everyone refers as "the world's greatest living writer", and the last "great man". Eli Gold is obviously meant to be a version of Philip Roth (hairy; likes sex; titles such as Solomon's Testament), from which no careful reader will be distracted by the brief apparition of a character called "Philip Roth". It's odd for a novelist to be imagining the death of another novelist who is still alive, or at least to be doing so publicly.

Let's meet some of the characters who are waiting for Roth-Gold to die. Colette is the eight-year-old daughter of Gold and his last wife (here the Roth is adulterated with a tinge of the safely dead Saul Bellow). You can tell she is a literary child-token because she is forced to misunderstand things cutely: "coma" as "comma"; "latter" as "latte". Colette is also our wide-eyed witness to the arch walk-on parts of the aforementioned Philip Roth ("Uncle Philip") and Bill Clinton ("Bill Clinton").

Violet is Gold's first wife, long abandoned and now living in a nursing home, which furnishes the opportunity for an entirely gratuitous mention of Auschwitz. That's enough about her.

Harvey is Gold's son from another marriage, in his mid-40s and the vehicle for the book's laddish comedy: about fancying younger women, hotels, urination, confectionery, masturbation, etc. The stuff about iPhones could not have been performed as part of a standup routine in the early 1990s, but everything else could, and sounds like it: there is the signature profane adjective ("one last throw of this shit dice"), and even a threadbare reference to the habits of "Japanese salarymen".

In keeping with the big themes, the novel also tries hard to lend Harvey some authentic suffering: not only episodes of "depression" but also "OCD" (glibly so labelled), which may or may not be the "anxiety disorder" from which he is elsewhere said to be suffering, and must make for an uncomfortable combination with his "sexual psychosis", though this last might be meant as some kind of joke. No help can be expected from therapists, whom the novel portrays as money-grubbing idiots. Oh, and did I mention that Harvey also has a son with Asperger's? It's really serious.

Excuse me, I nearly forgot – making his way to the hospital, too, is a Mormon man who "has never been out of Utah" but is now bent on murderous revenge, because his sister killed herself in a suicide pact with Gold, which the latter messily survived. The novel punishes the Mormon for what it presents as his cartoonish beliefs by turning him into a transvestite.

Caricature can sometimes be justified by a cruel brilliance of style. It isn't here. In the midst of a passage from Harvey's point of view, the perspective changes abruptly so as to deliver what presumably aims to be a writerly flourish: "If he had looked closely, which he does not, the businessman might have noticed that Harvey's smile is not pure, that it contains within it a lingering frond of bitterness." There is certainly something weird going on with Harvey's mouth. Elsewhere, he is pictured thus: "A sentimental smile sat on his face like a meniscus of untroubled mercury." The reader's hope that, at this point, Harvey will open his mouth and succumb to rapid mercury poisoning is, unfortunately, forlorn.

Daringly, the novel even provides a few brief extracts from the novels of the great writer Eli Gold. "But every morning, he awoke with a palate so dry it felt like he'd been sleeping open-mouthed on the dead soil of the Great Plains at the height of the Dust Bowl." And so, it turns out, "the world's greatest living writer" has spent his career solemnly trying to ape the elaborate comic similes of Blackadder. It probably is time for him to go after all.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Tue May 31, 2011 6:48 pm

and yet another comedian spills the beans:

Rory McGrath: 'Look away now, Mum!'

Rory McGrath was brought up in a staunchly Catholic family, but at the age of 16, he turned his back on it all, refusing to get out of bed to go to church. He tells Simon Hattenstone he has never shaken off the guilt, or squared it with his mother

Simon Hattenstone The Guardian, Saturday 5 March 2011


Rory McGrath in Cambridge. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Rory McGrath was too young to understand the concept of sin. So his mother prepared him for his first confession. She said, tell the priest about the times you have fought with your brothers or have been disobedient or have lied. Little Rory went in, regurgitated these "sins", and came out feeling as sullied as a four-year-old could. The very act of creating sins to satisfy the man in the box seemed rather sinful itself. And so began the comic's troubled relationship with the Catholic church.

It went on to inform just about every major decision he made, from being altar boy, to telling his parents that he wanted out at 16, marrying Catholic Mary O'Leary even though he considered himself lapsed, sending his children to Catholic school ditto, burning with guilt when he and Mary divorced, right up until a couple of weeks ago when he buried his father in a Catholic church and read from the Epistles for the first time since childhood.

The Father, The Son, and The Ghostly Hole is a comic memoir about growing up Catholic. McGrath is both father and son, and the ghostly hole is the void that replaced the early certainties of faith. At the heart of the book is an exploration of sin – from the desperately embellished ones of his childhood confession to those he considers caused him and others real pain.

We meet by the river in Cambridge where McGrath dossed his way to a third-class degree and returned to live with his second wife, Nicola. He says the book had a difficult gestation – its publication was delayed for legal reasons. He admits he is not used to dealing with stories about real people, and is not quite sure how you go about it. Before long the interview itself takes on an air of the confessional. "Now my sins are so huge there's no confession session long enough to take them all in. But as you get older, you think, lying – how can that be a sin? That's day to day. That's survival. But when you're four or five, lying is a very serious sin."

Is he a good liar? "If I said yes, I could be lying couldn't I?" He smiles. "I think I am quite a good liar. I mean writing is lying isn't it? Except in this book unfortunately there wasn't enough lying."

I'm not sure how to respond. Journalists are not allowed to lie, I mutter. But he doesn't seem to hear. "So lying, yeah. I always think writing is lying basically." How? "Well it's making things up isn't it – I mean based on truth." It begins to make a kind of sense. The memoir feels like two books – at times, it could pass as lads' lit with transparently made-up dialogue heading straight for the punchline; at other times it feels painfully true.

There's something disarmingly ingenuous about McGrath. Perhaps the book could be called Confessions of a Compulsive Catholic Liar. McGrath painstakingly chronicles his untruths: when he meets Mary for the first time she tells him she runs past his house every day, and he should join her one day. "'I will,' I'd replied. I like running. I do it about three or four times a week. This had been such a stupid and pointless lie." He lies to each one of a succession of one-night stands over a testosterone-charged weekend. "Why didn't this feel like the best weekend of my life? I had lied to and mistreated everybody I had come into contact with." Perhaps it's not surprising that fibbing came so easily – after all, he felt, the edifice of his childhood had been built on the great lie of Father Christmas.

McGrath grew up in Cornwall. Both his parents were practising Catholics. They had four children, and as far as McGrath knows neither Mum nor Dad questioned their faith.

But he did. In the early years he loved the rituals and the order but before long he had his doubts – if they could tell that massive porky about Father Christmas, what else were they trying to get away with? By age 13, the doubts had grown into a gnawing hostility to all things godly. He was studying Darwin at school, and nothing much seemed to make sense.

For three years he continued as an altar boy and said nothing for fear of upsetting his parents. Then one day when he was 16, and he was told to get out of bed because it was time for church, he said he wasn't going. And that was it. He was terrified, expecting an emotional armageddon. But all he got was silence. He knew his mother was upset, and his easier-going father wasn't best pleased – but they never put it into words. Have they talked about it since? "No. I think it would have been too painful for everybody. There's a lot of things not discussed – there are so many elephants in the room when you're Catholic."

He never returned to the church, and he never quite shook it off. He was expecting to embark on a binge of guilt-free hedonism at university, but it didn't quite work out like that. He felt rootless rather than liberated. "You think, 'What do I do now, where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to be doing?' It had an effect on my first years at university because I didn't know what to do. I don't know if this is to do with religion or just my character, but I had a total lack of self-discipline."

Nor did the sense of guilt disappear with his divorce from the church. In fact it grew, and he started to feel responsible for anything and everything. "I think guilt grows inside you. I'm still discovering it now, aged well whatever age I am. I'm over 40 and now discovering it's all guilt."

Over 40, I say – and some! (He'll be 55 in a couple of weeks.) "Exactly," he says. "Well over 40."

At so many crunch moments in his life, he is encouraged or stymied by the Catholicism he thought he'd long cast off. So when he attempts to embark on an adulterous affair (she is married, not him) he can't manage an erection. "Performance anxiety, nerves," he says. Were they just nerve nerves or Catholic nerves? "That is a very good question and one that goes through the book. What is Catholic, what is 'my parents', what is me? I think that was partly down to Catholicism."

When he and Mary have children, it's almost inevitable that they pretend to be regular churchgoers to get them into Catholic school – despite both being lapsed. Did he not feel bad forcing his children to go through everything he had rebelled against? He ums and ahs, and says, they didn't, they only put them through it for the sake of a good school, and that both of them (now at university) have found their way to agnosticism if not atheism.

When he and Mary separated, the church returned to haunt him. He talks about the time that access to the children was an issue and he was watching his daughter through the school fence – one of his lowest points. "I felt I'd let down my children, Mary, my parents, the holy Roman Catholic Church of St Peter. Even though it was essentially a mutual split, even though it wasn't my fault there was some voice in me saying it was and I was the worst ..." He trails off.

Has his mum read the book? "No. She said: 'What's your new book about?', and I said: 'Oh it's a memoir of my Catholic upbringing. Hello, Mum? Did you hear?' 'Will I find it offensive?' she said. 'It's possible.' Then when she read the publicity about it, she said: 'Rory, I'm really pleased you've written a book, and I think it's really good you've got two books published, but can I just say I don't like the title because it seems wrong to me.' She'll be keeping very quiet about it. She'll probably be quite frightened about it."

Does he feel guilty about that? "Of course, yeah. I felt I upset her. But I'm over 40 now ... Well over 40. My first reaction, though, is to placate her."

It's only a few weeks since McGrath's father died, and it still feels raw. Reading in church, the rights and the liturgy, the Latin, the graveside hymns, reminded him how comforting religion can be. He almost wishes the book had not yet gone to print so he could have added it as a postscript.

I keep thinking back to him saying writing is lying. Truth is at the heart of this book, but at times he embellishes just for the hell or humour of it. Strangely, one of the most revealing sections is when he makes an imaginary confession to his priest. "In short, I'm a lazy, selfish, drunken, overweight waste of space, with a gaping emptiness in my soul that I ty to fill with self-indulgence and cheap thrills." The imaginary priest tells him it is a sad macho excuse for a confession: "You were trying to be funny and that's what I find most sad. Being funny is your way of protecting yourself."

More disturbingly, some of the most "real" elements of the book turn out to be not quite what they seem. At his nadir, after splitting up from Mary and being sacked from Hat Trick, the TV production company he co-founded, he contemplates suicide, and is dissuaded by the voice of his mother inside his head. I tell McGrath I find this one of the most powerful bits in the book. "Because I lived near Archway at the time I often found myself wandering near suicide bridge, and on that morning I ended there. And it just makes you think, fucking hell, here I am at the lowest point in my life and it's as if God has said, 'Where are you standing?'"

And he was seriously thinking of suicide? "Oh no," he says, quickly. "I'd feel too guilty about killing myself. Another sin. I don't think suicide had ever crossed my mind because that would be letting my children down in an even bigger way wouldn't it?"

As it happens, everything worked out well. Just after this incident, he heard from his teenage sweetheart, who wrote to say she had just got divorced and asked what he was up to. Today, they are married. In the book, after walking away from suicide bridge he retires to a church to contemplate life and death, and the priest hands him an envelope he has dropped – containing the letter from his old girlfriend. McGrath admits this was another dramatic device and that in real life it didn't happen quite so neatly.

Does he have any worries about the book? No, he says, not now – his mum will get over it, he's been nice about most of the people, the lawyers are happy. And what about the bits that are made up? No, he says – that's just writing, and exaggeration or telling the odd fib is hardly the worst sin in the world is it? And if anybody challenges him on his version of events? "I'll say that's exactly what happened. You were pissed, you don't remember."


The Father, the Son and the Ghostly Hole: Confessions From a Guilt-Edged Life is published by Ebury Press, £11.99. To order a copy for £9.59 with free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011



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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Sat Jul 23, 2011 3:42 pm

eddie wrote:
Stalin Ate My Homework- Alexei Sayle.

Guardian review:

********************************************************************************

Stalin Ate My Homework by Alexei Sayle – review

By Aimee Shalan

Aimee Shalan guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 July 2011 22.55 BST


Stalin Ate My Homework by Alexei Sayle

Alexei Sayle, the only son of a genial railway worker and an irascible redhead from a Latvian Jewish family, was born in Liverpool on the day egg rationing came to an end. It dawned on him at an early age that he wasn't like other kids. They got to see Bambi at the local cinema while his parents, explaining to their six-year-old son that Walt Disney was a supporter of McCarthyism, took him instead to see Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky – a film containing several scenes of ritual child sacrifice. Still, having staunch communists for parents did have some advantages: with his father's free rail travel they headed not to Blackpool on holiday but straight for the Soviet bloc. Touching on the enormous changes affecting his family, his city, Britain and eastern Europe, this book leaves you with a sense that Sayle has something serious to say about his parent's unshakeable faith in an ideology based on the elimination of nuance – but that something is sadly stifled by his own commitment to punctuating everything with a joke.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Thu Nov 24, 2011 7:39 am

I, Partridge by Alan Partridge - review

The latest batch of comedians' memoirs is a yawn – with one exception

Edmund Gordon
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 November 2011 09.00 GMT


The voice of Norwich: Partridge. Photograph: Brian Ritchie/BBC

Comedians have long been a prominent part of British cultural life, but it's only recently that they've acquired real glamour. Until the mid-1980s they tended either to be working-class heroes, wheezing into the microphone between sips of a pint, or Oxbridge graduates performing smart-alec revue sketches with their pals. Now, like rock stars, they wear outrageous clothes, hint at excitingly louche lifestyles (Eddie Izzard, Russell Brand) and play sell-out gigs at Wembley and the O2. Where once MTV was everything, now there is Dave ("the home of witty banter").


I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan
by Alan Partridge

Publishers have been slow to cash in on this phenomenon, but they're making up for lost time. In the past year, memoirs have appeared from a gala of popular comics including Frankie Boyle, Jo Brand, Dawn French, Michael McIntyre and Johnny Vegas – and now there are books from Rob Brydon (Small Man in a Book, Michael Joseph), James Corden (May I Have Your Attention Please?, Century) and Lee Evans (The Life of Lee, Michael Joseph), too. The path was cleared for this stampede into print by Peter Kay's The Sound of Laughter and Russell Brand's My Booky Wook. Whether or not you go for Brand's bestseller will depend on your tolerance for his flamboyant and oversexed urchin persona, but it is intelligently structured, and written with vivacity and nerve, which is more than can be said for many of its successors.

Readers are likely to approach this latest batch of memoirs with high expectations – their authors are all gifted and experienced entertainers. Evans has an extraordinary on-stage energy and a unique way with physical comedy; Corden's great strength is his affability, his apparent lack of pretension, his knack of always being first to laugh at himself; Brydon (perhaps the most talented of them all) has in abundance the traditional gifts of timing and mimicry, as well as his own brand of slightly peevish deadpan delivery. But pressed into service as memoirists, all three of them jettison their particular strengths.

A genre has solidified, and with it comes an inevitable loss of originality. These books might have been written with help from a How To guide. Each author begins either with a description of his birth, or with a suspiciously vivid and instructive "earliest memory", then this opening spiel is rounded off with an upwards glance at the towering success he has become. Then an unswervingly chronological account is provided of the journey from A to B.

Childhoods were difficult (Brydon was forced to move schools; Corden was a disruptive student; Evans was poor) even though parents were terrific (Brydon: "Mum and Dad made those early Christmases truly magical"; Corden: "I never realised the sacrifices Mum and Dad made for us growing up"; Evans: "Mum cared deeply about us"). During or shortly before the teenage years, there is the first intoxicating taste of showbusiness, and although each career has a bumpy start, riches and fame are eventually achieved – none of which would have been possible without an amazing wife (or in Corden's case, fiancée).

Along the way, the comedians own up to some forgivable faults – Brydon talks of his "desire for attention", Corden of his "lust for people to pay me attention", Evans of how "a lifetime of feeling like an outsider had made me pathetically grateful for … attention" – and indulge in a bit of cod self-analysis. What makes Evans want to tell jokes all the time? "Insecurity on a giant scale." What has been Brydon's most significant obstacle? "Fear of rejection." Looking back over it all, they're astonished that they've come so far – because "the truth is", they're still uncertain of themselves. Corden: "I'm thankful for all of it really … The truth is, often I'm not sure what I've done to deserve all this". Evans: "I have hurdled quite a few barriers and undergone an amazing journey … But the truth is, all I have ever been looking for is peace and acceptance."

So far, so Katie Price. But the comedian's memoir differs from the traditional celebrity autobiography in two significant respects. First, it is not usually ghostwritten – comedians work with words, after all, and seem admirably (if sometimes unwisely) loath to relinquish control of them. Second, these books have the additional job of making us laugh: the stuff about overcoming hardship and finding love must be spruced up with plenty of (self-deprecating) humour.

On stage, most comedians proceed by exaggerating a couple of character traits until they can support a caricature, through whose eyes the world is interpreted – thus James Corden is a Lazy Fat Bloke, Rob Brydon is an Anally Retentive Welshman and Lee Evans is a Freak. Over the course of a book other notes must be played. So here we get jokes freed from any comic perspective or effective delivery, jokes that don't warrant being spoken out loud, let alone set down in prose – jokes about babies peeing on doctors, about old men spilling tea on their laps, about schoolboys misbehaving in class. The really galling thing about these squibs is not how comprehensively they fail to amuse, but how half-heartedly the authors appear to be trying. If any single element of these books exposes their cynicism, it is the complacency with which they treat the job of making us laugh.

It is a great relief to turn from these pages to the memoir of a fictional celebrity, whose shallowness and egotism are all part of the joke. I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan (HarperCollins) is the autobiography of the former BBC, former Radio Norwich, current North Norfolk Digital presenter Alan Partridge – "TV Quick 'Man of the Moment' 1994" – written "with help from" his creators: Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Rob Gibbons and Neil Gibbons. It delightedly skewers the conventions of the form. Here are the difficult beginnings, the steady rise towards showbiz success and the whistle-stop tour of career highlights, complete with sentimentality ("we stood at the window, me and my son … I looked up at the starry night"), score-settling ("Phil Wiley … In all honesty? I don't give the guy a second thought"), clumsy attempts to appear plugged-in ("I'm a firm friend of Dale Winton … one of the gayest men in Europe") and cut-price wisdom ("Wikipedia has made university education all but pointless").

Partridge is a magnificent comic creation: a monster of egotism and tastelessness, a mischievous idea of a Daily Mail reader's pin-up (the latter paper "really is a rock-solid daily"). Part of his appeal is that he allows liberal audiences to laugh at politically incorrect humour (as when he comments that on The Day Today his beat was "sport, plus the Paralympics") – every loathsome comment is sold to us not as a gag, but as a gaffe.

There are moments here when that voice wobbles a bit, when the comedy of awkwardness is clumsily transplanted on to the page. But his creators have been wise to deflect any doubts about their motives on to their appallingly wonderful character, rather than draw attention to themselves. They must be laughing – they may well be the only people laughing – at the latest books by their comedy peers.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:55 pm

Frankie Boyle: 'Have I Got News For You is everything that's wrong'

… and don't get him started on Mock the Week. In a rare interview, the caustic Scots comic turns his fire on the BBC, Charlie Brooker and reaction to that Jordan joke

Iain Aitch
The Guardian, Saturday 26 November 2011


No regrets: controversial Scots comic Frankie Boyle

I meet Frankie Boyle on a damp Glasgow morning. We head towards his caffeine pit-stop of choice, where the famously offensive comic proceeds to hold forth on everything from northern soul to HP Lovecraft. He does all of this gently; not once does he spit "shit hat, you old hag" at passing Glaswegian grandmothers.

With some coffee inside him, Boyle does start to unleash a little bile, his invective directed against what he sees as safe middle-class comedy. It's been two years since Boyle left Mock The Week, the show that made his name, and a year since his solo programme Tramadol Nights caused tabloid uproar and was investigated by Ofcom over its material. Next year he will return to the live circuit, taking his show The Last Days Of Sodom on tour around the UK. The one thing notably absent from our chat is an ounce of regret about the offence he's caused and outrage he's inspired. There is a sense that, for Boyle, regret or apology would be like editing a novel once it was published or turning up at the cinema to make some fresh cuts. Offence is far from the sole intent of his work, but is a part of it. He's not one to make it easy for those who enjoy his satirical barbs, as they also have to put up with the disability gags and low digs. Whether you call that challenging or childish is up to you, but one thing's for certain: Boyle couldn't give a fuck either way.



Tramadol Nights got a bumpy ride from some critics, did that surprise you?

I was really happy with it. It was supposed to be complete nihilism. If you can accept that, you will like it; if you don't, you'll really hate it. I was always doing a cult thing and I happened to get a mainstream audience. The expectation was high, but comedy doesn't rate like Strictly Come Dancing. We did a show that was like: alternative comedy did happen; for people who'd watched The Young Ones. There was plenty of politics and satire in there.


Frankie Boyle onstage. Photograph: Graeme Hunter

Was it the wrong kind of satire for some reviewers?

If you're from Oxbridge and upper middle class you're going to get a different reception, as people think you are doing things deliberately. I could do a show that's exactly what they [reviewers] want – that form of satire – but for me that involves taking things too seriously.

Are you talking about Have I Got News For You?

That is everything that's wrong. It brings people on and humanises them. They say, "This is intelligent satire" but it's people laughing at "John Prescott is fat" jokes long after he's retired. They should do what they do in any other emergency and that's form an emergency committee, get some people who are still alive, and work out how to resolve things. The riots were probably a culture thing. Twelve weeks of Show Me The Funny, that would be enough to make you kick a window in.

Do you like anything, comedy-wise at the moment? Stewart Lee, perhaps?

It seems to me [he's] irrelevant and flabby. OK, you don't like Russell Howard; that's fine. But don't put on your posters "a new kind of political comedy". Yeah, without any politics. Crisps? What the fuck is that about? People internalise marketing. You sell yourself and people sell stuff to you. He ends up going, "Michael McIntyre, Russell Howard, not like me." What the fuck is that? Sick of that old washing powder?

Tramadol Nights prompted comments from the chairman of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee about your use of racial language. What did you make of the row?


Frankie Boyle on Tramadol Nights.

There is the public culture and the real culture; the public culture has to be a pantomime. People have to be horrified, no one can have indifference and ennui. The thing that really got me was me doing anti-war jokes and it being dismissed as racist. That department of war thing was from Lloyd George. Black people and Asian people come up to me and say they love that joke, they want to talk about it. I am a comic, that is my job. I am not serving you gammon in a supermarket. My job is to take those words and use them in a way that makes them a bit more worthwhile. It's a joke that says we have always been intensely racist and our department of defence underlines that. You would think politicians would have better things to discuss in the middle of three wars and an economic collapse.

Do people miss the fact that you often play an exaggerated version of yourself?

Yes, it's not me. It is not me at all. Fuck them. That Harvey and Jordan thing is funny or horribly offensive depending on whether you're Scottish or English. There is a much broader sense of dark humour up here but also that sense of being able to say things in different voices. In Glasgow that's a standard thing: "Imagine this guy saying that, or this guy would say that." You can do "My dog's got no nose?" and people might call the RSPCA. It's a joke! You can't treat people like idiots. To be honest, 90% of the people get it, the rest are Daily Mail-ers or something.

Some of Tramadol Nights' sketches were longer than we normally see on television. Was that deliberate?

It is that thing of: four minutes, fuckers. Nobody watched that and thought, "What is wrong with me? I can't even concentrate for four minutes." Monty Python was seven, eight, nine minutes. There are gags every two lines, it's just that you can't handle four minutes. I'd cut other gags off really abruptly.


Tramadol Nights poster

Have you ever tried Tramadol?

I haven't used it. I would like to, but there are a lot of drugs I would try before Tramadol. I would like to try doing more acid and write on that. I have done a little bit, for a story in my book. There's a show called The Game that everybody is watching and I tried to write about what this idea would be like on telly. It's a trippy story about this show. It's about one of the big questions in our society: why nothing is ever enough.

Your book, Work! Consume! Die!, is partly made up of your columns for the Sun, is that paper not an odd match for you?

Sure. That is the whole thing for me: trying to put in jokes and ideas so that people, without noticing, start to adopt those ideas. They are pretty good in terms of what they put in; it's much easier to get a joke in the Sun than on the BBC. It's much easier to mention the war. You expect people reading newspapers to be interested in it, whereas you get Mock The Week in the week of the News Of The World story not mentioning it at all. And [the Jam's] News Of The World is their theme tune!

Has the change of government changed the way you look at things at all?

We are led by the least among us. People are medicated and TV is one of the things that they are medicated with. You are fucking expected to take the degradation you receive as if people are zombies. People are like, "Fuck off I have nothing, I may as well go and nick a plasma." Why wouldn't you? Look at the cultural response to the riots, everyone turns into the Daily Mail. Even Charlie Brooker's column was like "put them in the stocks". He was joking, but that's the general vibe from the Guardian and Observer. Imagine: Tunisia starts with looting and they bring on a Tunisian expert and he says, "It's just arseholes, really." That is what we get here. Get me another expert.

You announced your retirement from stand-up last year. How's that going?


Frankie Boyle on Tramadol Nights.

I have started back. I'm going to record it for a DVD before I tour, before I have to go and make it work in Hull on a Wednesday or something like that. By the time I finish the DVD and write the next book I'll be 41 and I'll have worked for the last 11 years flat-out without holidays. I'll do the odd thing when I have a good idea. I'm not Russell Brand or Ricky Gervais, but I have enough money that I don't have to work. Most people who've done what I do don't have that.

I want to be a part of a vibrant culture and have a more open culture. But I'm not whinging, I have a platform and I like what I do.

Frankie Boyle's book Work! Consume! Die! is out now, published by HarperCollins

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Sat Nov 26, 2011 2:23 pm

Stewart Lee – review

Leicester Square Theatre, London

Brian Logan
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 November 2011 18.11 GMT


More bilious than ever … Stewart Lee. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

Seinfeld was a sitcom about nothing. Stewart Lee now presents a standup show about nothing – or so he wants us to think. He's a middle-aged dad, you see, and "nothing happens to me now". So what can he write about? The answer is the process itself. This is Lee at his most self-referential and metatextual, if not always his most exciting. It's not just his own jokes he deconstructs tonight, but the impulse behind the show, his career, his self. "I don't know who I am any more," he says – and, with a persona composed of this many subversions and quadruple bluffs, that's hardly surprising.

Not that a strong personality doesn't come across. More bilious than ever, Lee gripes at his fellow comics, at his fairweather new audience, at the "feral, Lord of the Flies" online world. There's self-disgust, too: he apologises for the bittiness and badness of this show. But none of this can be taken on trust. It's becoming a tic with Lee to tell a true story then admit he made it all up. It's a trick we now see coming, which can be a wearying feeling. His cerebral pose, and disdain for jokes and convention, is a sort of trick, too: it certainly doesn't stop him defaulting to jokes and convention when he fancies a big laugh. Reading out eccentric or abusive material culled from the internet, as Lee does here, is a standup standby these days; and his routine about Tim Rice, Anneka Rice and basmati rice is as cheap as laughs come (and none the worse for it).

That was part of a piece about celebrity Tories, the opening half hour of the show having ranged from Bin Laden to Dale Farm to the Libyan uprising. Later, Lee puts to bed the claim that comedians never joke about Islam, and seeks comic inspiration as he drives up and down the M4. It's enjoyable to see Lee in this looser format – even if, as he admits, the show lacks cohesion. There are also fewer instances of that highwire skill he has of making us laugh without knowing why. Closest is a riff on political history with reference points culled from his son's Scooby-Doo DVD: an experimental spin on the comedy of new parenthood. At such moments, Lee demonstrates that an uneventful life need be no barrier to provocative comedy.

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 15, 2012 12:21 am

Frankie Boyle attacks new Scottish laws against religious hatred and bigotry

Comedian says offensive behaviour law is 'an attack on freedom of speech', and makes a joke at the expense of the McCanns

Matt Trueman

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 January 2012 12.37 GMT

[
Outspoken ... Frankie Boyle has condemned laws against offensive behaviour, passed by the Scottish Parliament, as 'colonial'. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Outspoken comedian Frankie Boyle has condemned new laws designed to stamp out religious hatred and bigotry in Scotland as "colonial," "laughable" and "an attack on freedom of speech".

In an interview with The List magazine, Boyle described the legislation, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament last month, as "the ruling classes telling the working classes what to say and think".

Describing the behaviour of Rangers and Celtic fans as "a valid culture", he continued: "You can't come in and say that the opinions those people hold, the songs they sing, the language they use is inferior and invalid."

The offensive behaviour law, which carries a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine, introduces two new offences regarding the expression or incitement of "religious, racial or other forms of hatred" in public or online. It specifically targets conduct during football matches, both in and around grounds and among groups of fans watching elsewhere, in pubs or on big screens, as well as serious threats made on social networks and elsewhere online.

Boyle admitted that sectarianism was "a real problem", but called for an approach that tackled its root causes, rather than its effects. "If we were really serious about this the first step is to end religious segregation in schools. It's a Scottish reaction to think we can get rid of all this with a piece of paper.

"Some of the songs and words contravene laws on racial hatred, and maybe even on inciting violence. But that's a debate that needs to be had. Why aren't we having that? Because it would be really fucking awkward."

The comedian has also drawn criticism for joking about the McCann family in the interview.

Asked whether he had been following the Leveson enquiry, Boyle replied, "Yeah. I saw the McCanns on there and really wanted them to go, 'Could you round it up in the next five minutes, mate? We've left the kids over in Starbucks.' Just to show they can still have a bit of a laugh."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives dismissed the remarks as "the latest in a series of ill-judged comments from this particular comedian – a sure sign he is running out of anything genuinely funny to say".

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 7:21 am

Portrait of the artist: Arthur Smith, comedian

'My worst heckle? In Edinburgh, a bloke poured a pint of urine over me'

Interview by Laura Barnett

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 24 January 2012 22.30 GMT


It'll cost you more than threepence these days … Arthur Smith. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

What got you started?

When I was eight or nine, I wrote a new version of Peter Pan for the school play. They didn't use it – I imagine it was unperformable – but as recompense for not doing my script, I was offered any role, and instinctively went for Captain Hook. I came on trying to be terrifying, but everyone laughed at me.

What was your big breakthrough?

Not long after that, two girls offered me threepence in class to show them my willy. That was certainly my first professional engagement; I didn't have another one for about 10 years.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

Quite a lot of liver cells. There's not many places of work where you arrive and everyone's drinking heavily – but that's what it's like in a comedy club.

You're very attached to your London roots. Do you think it's important for comedy to be rooted in a sense of place?

I think it's often extremely helpful. It's a game you play: a lot of Geordie comics do jokes about being Geordie, and the same for Scousers. To most people, I'm a Cockney, and I'll play that up a bit: they imagine I speak in Cockney rhyming slang, and if need be, I will.

Why has there been such a boom in comedy in the UK recently?

Because comedy is cheap to put on: if you've got a play or an opera, there's a whole load of people and a set, but comedy is just one man or woman. And because TV has learned to love comics – there's so many more around now than when I started out.

What's the worst heckle you've ever had?

A bloke poured a pint of urine over me once. It was in a club in Edinburgh, where the whole audience was completely out of their heads. It sounds bad on paper, but I don't think he really hated me.

Is there anything about your career you regret?

That I've not made myself write more. Performing is easier: you finish, and people clap and want to sleep with you. You finish writing, and no one's even noticed.

Which other artists do you admire?

Leonard Cohen: he's a poet, he has integrity, and I can slightly impersonate him.

What's the most important thing you've learnt from your years as a comedian?

Don't take it too seriously. We'll all be dead tomorrow.

Interview by Laura Barnett

In short

Born: Bermondsey, London, 1954

Career: Best known for standup; other work includes Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen and Excess Baggage. Introduced the Critics' Circle Theatre awards 2011, which took place yesterday at the Prince of Wales theatre in London.

High point: "An outdoor show I did once at the Edinburgh festival."

Low point: "Paramount City, a hopeless TV series I did in the 90s."

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Re: Comedians' Memoirs/Fiction

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 28, 2012 1:15 am

Tough act to follow: the rise of the comedian-turned-compere

Standup legends Frank Skinner and Alexei Sayle are returning to their compering roots. But how do famously funny MCs avoid upstaging the acts they are introducing?


How do I compere? ... Frank Skinner will be hosting variety shows at Noel Coward Theatre, London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

The compere at a comedy gig is not usually the night's highlight, but this week that may be the exception to the rule – twice. Tonight Frank Skinner launches a two-week run of his Frank Skinner and Friends performances at London's Noel Coward Theatre. Until 4 February, Skinner will be hosting variety shows featuring music, juggling and chums such as Al Murray and Richard Herring.

Then, tomorrow, another standup legend pitches up within heckling distance of Skinner. Alexei Sayle made his name as the compere at Soho's original bearpit, the Comedy Store, back in 1979. Now approaching 60, he introduced some acts at a Royal Festival Hall comedy night last year and enjoyed the experience so much that he's doing the same at London's Soho Theatre on the next three Tuesdays.

It is intriguing that these two formidable talents have both chosen to return to the stage without performing the usual extended set that is the norm for headline acts. For Skinner, this harks back to his cut-price Credit Crunch Cabaret shows at the Lyric in 2009 – and heaven knows the economy is also harking back to 2009 – but more significantly it reflects his origins, compering at the XXXX Club in Birmingham in the late 1980s. Then, every gig required new material, in contrast to the touring acts who could rehash the same set all over the country. Facing the same returning audience, Skinner was forced to keep things fresh. It helped him to develop that quickfire quipping survival instinct that he still has today.

Compering is no soft option, though. The best comperes enthuse the audience and amuse them without actually upstaging the acts they introduce – not easy when many fans will be at these gigs precisely to see the compere. When Peter Kay was starting out and compering around Manchester, legend has it that acts had genuine difficulties appearing with him; he was so popular that audiences would drift off to the bar during the turns, and only return when Kay sauntered on.

Of course, MCs don't always help their fellow performers. Kay – again – was the host of a Teenage Cancer Trust benefit in 2005, and after Noel Fielding had been slightly wrongfooted by a heckler, Kay treated the packed Royal Albert Hall as the fictional Phoenix Club and publicly suggested that Fielding was not his cup of tea either. Not much in the way of showbiz solidarity.

Then again, some comperes become famous exactly for doing the latter. When the late, legendary Malcolm Hardee used to front gigs at his Tunnel Club in Greenwich he was quietly supportive of newcomers offstage, but onstage he threw down the gauntlet. "This next act's probably a bit shit," was Hardee's trademark way of introducing the talent. Not a line, one suspects, those kindly old pros Skinner or Sayle will be using.

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