Category Archives: Humour

Follow the Funny

Those of you who attended the YLG national conference in Manchester last month will remember the panel discussion about funny books for children and writing comedy. In response to an audience question about judging the quality of comedy, one of the panellists, Dave Shelton, recommended some podcasts about the mechanics of writing comedy. Afterwards I asked if he’d be able to share them for the blog and, after a gentle prod, he has!

Barry Cryer is fond of saying that analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog: nobody laughs, and the frog dies. And Barry Cryer has been extremely funny for about three centuries now, so he knows a thing or two. But personally, possibly because I don’t have funny bones like Mr Cryer’s, and because I’m naturally a bit nerdy, I quite enjoy taking a scalpel to a joke and figuring out how it works. I wouldn’t want to do it all the while: I’d hate to lose the pure joy of laughing at a great gag, or a sketch, or a bit of slapstick, and not worrying about the craft that went into it. But some of the writing I do is meant to be funny, and I want to be good at my job, so I do like sometimes (to switch metaphors) to open the bonnet and take a look at the engine. And happily, in the Age of the Internet, there are some pretty good comedy Haynes manuals available for those of us who take an interest in the mechanics. So here, for anyone similarly interested in poking about in the inner workings of all things funny, are my favourite podcasts on the subject.

The Comedian’s Comedian podcast, with Stuart Goldsmith

Stand up comedian Stuart Goldsmith interviews (mostly) other stand up comedians and nerdily analyse their craft. Goldsmith (not a comedian I was aware of previously) is a knowledgable, enthusiastic and thoughtful host and (at time of writing) there are 265 shows to choose from, including an excellent two-parter with the aforementioned Mr Cryer. Well worth a dig through his archives. http://www.comedianscomedian.com/podcasts/ 

The Adam Buxton Podcast

Adam Buxton (of former Adam and Joe fame) casts his net a little
wider, occasionally interviewing film directors, actors and other creative
types, but the majority of his interviews (or “ramblechats”) are with comedy
types (comedians, writers, comedic actors) and Buxton’s personable interviewing
style often takes an idiosyncratic approach that gains insights that a more
straightforward approach would fail to reveal, especially when the interviewee
already knows him (as is sometimes the case). Less analytical and technical
than Stuart Goldsmith’s show, but more likely to be funny in itself. http://www.adam-buxton.co.uk/podcasts 

Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP)

Another interview podcast (the guestlist of which overlaps
somewhat with that of Adam Buxton’s) in which Richard Herring (also formerly
half of a double act – Herring used to work with Stewart Lee in the ‘90s)
interviews mostly fellow comedians for about an hour in front of a live
audience at the Leicester Square Theatre (as you had perhaps already guessed
from the title). Gloriously wayward, sometimes gleefully childish, and
occasionally stomping over the boundaries of good taste, Herring won’t be to
everyone’s taste, but he knows his stuff and he’s an insightful interviewer,
especially when the chemistry really clicks with his interviewee. http://www.comedy.co.uk/podcasts/richard_herring_lst_podcast/ …

Sitcom Geeks

Hosts James Cary and Dave Cohen discuss the art of sitcom
writing for TV and Radio, either between themselves or with a guest. I
personally find this one a little more hit and miss than those above, but
there’s plenty of gold amongst their (so far) 90 episodes, not least the two
part interview with my particular current radio comedy writing hero, John
Finnemore. http://www.comedy.co.uk/podcasts/sitcom_geeks/ …

Rule of Three

I’ve saved the best till last: this one is the baby of these
choices, having only begun in April 2018, but it’s my particular favourite.
Hosts Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley (creators of those irritatingly successful
and hilarious spoof Ladybird books, and jobbing writers for all kinds of folk
across radio, TV and film) take a different, more focussed, approach to the
other four shows. To quote Joel’s introduction to the show: “We’re joined by
someone who makes comedy to talk about something funny that they love. By
taking it apart maybe we’ll learn something about how comedy works. Or we’ll
just quote bits from it and giggle till we’re finished. Both approaches are
valid.” Subjects chosen range from Armando Iannucci’s groundbreaking On the
Hour (the radio forerunner of The Day Today) to Father Ted, via a Monty Python
LP and cartoonist Leo Baxendale (creator of The Bash Street Kids). All great,
hugely entertaining, and deeply interesting. http://www.ruleofthreepod.com

Dave writes and illustrates books and comics, including the unsettling ‘Thirteen Chairs’, ‘Good Dog Bad Dog’, and contributing to The Phoenix. His latest offering, ‘The Book Case‘, is a gloriously madcap tale beginning the adventures of a trainee Assistant Assistant Librarian (there are more to come, hooray!). Honestly, one of my favourite books since ‘A Boy and a Bear in a Boat’.

 

 

Mondays are Murder

 They really are!  That is why crime takes pride of place here at Books… and stuff.  The inaugural crime review post is Plugged by the vastly talented Eoin Colfer.  Better known for his YA books including the brilliant Artemis Fowl series, Plugged is his first foray into the adult crime market.  While the age and location of the protagonist may have changed, Plugged is still full of the trademark wit and brilliant repartee that makes his books so brilliant!
Once I have hair I’ll be happy
At least that’s what Irish ex-army sergeant Daniel McEvoy tells himself
I really know how he feels…
Dan McEvoy has problems; his part-time girlfriend lies dead in the parking lot of the sleazy strip-club where he is the doorman, his best (and only) friend is missing, his crazy neighbour lady starts fixating on him and a chance encounter lands him a dangerous enemy in the form of a local Irish gangster. It starts looking as if his hair plugs are the least of his worries.
 I felt my scalp itch sympathetically with Dan’s throughout the novel, phantom itching is bad and I could also identify with his hair-related worries. Plugged is a crime novel laced with humour and humanity throughout. Dan is no emotionless hero blasting his way through faceless goons who exist only to be shot down in a hail of bullets, the bit players are real people even if they were generally unpleasant.
It would be cliché to say that the action never let up (it didn’t), the very human interactions between Dan and the other characters in this tale lifted it above many of the humourless wrong side of the tracks crime tales that pervade the crime shelves these days. Every death is keenly felt (if not mourned) by Dan and as events spiral out of his control, we learn as he does that not everything he knows is as he thought it to be. Through the novel we learn via flashbacks to his youth and military days who he is, where he comes from and why he is driven to do what he does.
Plugged is a thoroughly engrossing novel, there was not an ounce of wasted prose. The humour, violence and old fashioned whodunnit mystery mesh together seamlessly to provide a quick but completely engrossing read!
It is a testament to Eoin Colfer’s skill as a writer that I got drawn in so deeply that I only noticed that I was reading in a mental Irish accent a third of the way through the novel. I must admit that I have not an ounce of Irishness within me, I cannot even fake a convincing accent, but my mind threw up Dara O’Briain’s voice and I ended up seeing him as Dan on the movie screen in my head.

I think he would make a convincing Dan McEvoy… feel free to disagree!