The comedian and writer on her fear of flying, Adrian Mole and sniffing her cats’ pawsBorn in Glasgow, Susan Calman, 44, was a lawyer before becoming a standup in 2006. She was in the Channel 4 sketch show, Blowout, which won a Scottish Bafta in 2007, …Continue Reading
It is Britain’s favourite type of humour, the go-to gag for everyone from Carry On stars to Bake Off hosts. But are fnarr fnarr jokes just another example of male sexual entitlement?
If you want a double entendre, I’ll give you one. They pop up all over the place: on risque chat shows hosted by Graham Norton and Alan Carr, on the Radio 1 mainstay Innuendo Bingo and on Mrs Brown’s Boys, the hit BBC sitcom saturated in smut that attracts seven million viewers.
You can’t watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off without having soggy bottoms, moist ladyfingers and manhandled dough balls shoved down your throat. Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins may have gone, taking with them such exclamations as “Time to reveal your cracks!”, but Noel Fielding has cheerfully filled their hole. “If there’s an opportunity for exposed bottoms, we should embrace it,” he said during his debut season. With 11 million viewers, he certainly enjoyed a big opening.
On a horse-riding holiday in Morocco, Mr Gimlet ‘paid £10 for the privilege of being tossed off by a frisky young Arab’Continue Reading
Comedian with an endless desire to make people laugh known for his tickling sticks, Diddymen and marathon stage performances
The last great “front-cloth” comic of our times, and the last standing true vaudevillian, Ken Dodd, who has died aged 90, was even more than that – a force of nature, a whirlwind, an ambulant torrent of surreal invention, physical and verbal, whose Liverpudlian cheek masked the melancholy of an authentic clown. “This isn’t television, missus,” he’d say to the front stalls, “you can’t turn me off.” And then he would embark on an odyssey of gag-spinning that, over five hours, would beat an audience into submission, often literally, banging a huge drum and declaring that if we did not like the jokes he would follow us home and shout them through the letter-box.
He entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1974 with a marathon mirth-quake at the Royal Court Liverpool lasting three hours, 30 minutes and six seconds. But his solo shows, in which he would perform three 90-minute-plus sets between magic acts, or a female trumpeter (the formidable Joan Hinde), or a pianist playing country music (his partner Anne Jones), frequently lasted much longer. One good thing, he would say, was that you always went home in the daylight. “And the sooner you laugh at the jokes,” he would say, “the sooner you can go home,” as if we were in school. He admitted that his was an educational show – when you did get home you would think: “That taught me a lesson!”Continue Reading
One act offers Badults-style sketches, the other does mindbending meta-gags. Both bring new shows to a station that specialises in self-satisfied comedy
The Pin and Daphne were part of a wave of creative, self-reflexive new sketch comedy that peaked at the Edinburgh festival two or three years ago. Now, both acts have shows on BBC Radio 4. I was interested to hear how their respective shticks transferred to the airwaves, and whether they could resist the tone of self-satisfaction that often afflicts comedy on the nation’s most urbane station.
The Pin’s show is entering its third series, and claims fans ranging from Ben Stiller to David Walliams. Daphne Sounds Expensive – starring the trio George Fouracres, Phil Wang and Jason Forbes – is returning for its second run. I hadn’t listened to either outfit on the radio before, although I know both from the Edinburgh fringe. In neither case can Radio 4 be said to be striking out into bold new territory – both companies are graduates of UK comedy’s most privileged finishing school, the Cambridge Footlights.Continue Reading
The dry-witted US essayist talks about how he went from working as an elf in Macy’s to becoming ‘the American Alan Bennett’
David Sedaris’s partner of 25 years, Hugh Hamrick, calls the first chunk of the essayist’s diaries, published under the title Theft By Finding, “David Copperfield Sedaris”. And it’s true, Sedaris concedes, the book – which covers the years from 1977, when he scribbled his first entries on the backs of coffee shop placemats while travelling around, to 2002 – has a certain rags-to-riches quality. In the second volume, on the other hand, “I just go from shopping at Paul Smith to shopping at Comme des Garçons, and I’m on airplanes all the time”. The thought prompts a memory of a recent plane trip, first class from Hawaii to Portland, Oregon. “This woman said, you are so lucky to be seated up front, it’s a great spot for people-watching. And I said, hmm, it could be, but we don’t really count you as people.” He bursts out laughing, and so do I, even though I know I oughtn’t. What on earth did she say? “She laughed, she knew I was kidding. Hugh was horrified. Horrified.”
There’s something about that one-liner that characterises Sedaris’s writing: a flash of directness, even brutality, that threatens the social veneer (especially in first class); the reassuring feeling that of course he’s kidding, with the faint background feeling, “but not entirely”; the spreading realisation that he’s getting at something far more complex about human nature, absurdity and awkwardness. “He’s like an American Alan Bennett,” says the quote (from this newspaper) on the back cover of Theft By Finding. Both writers occupy that space in which their subversiveness and caustic records of daily life run up against the foam blanket of “humour”, as if we can maximise the cuddliness and minimise the edge by focusing on the laughs.
And I said, could you close the door, please? And he shut the door in her face and I never saw her again
In the lanes of Sussex, he is known as the American who picks up the litter, for which he has a passionate hatredContinue Reading
The Stables, Milton Keynes
The standup reveals she’s taken up boxing on her Calman Before the Storm tour, and the show swipes energetically at a formidable array of targets
“No one says, ‘Hicks. Pryor. Calman’,” says Susan Calman, ruefully. “I’m not a dangerous comedian.” By her own admission, Calman is considered precisely the opposite, a “Radio 4 favourite”: chirpy, erudite, unlikely to alarm the livestock. Now 10 years a comic, her touring show locks horns with that reputation, and asks: is she the comedian audiences suppose her to be? If that sounds self-reflexive, I can only report that the navel gaze has done no harm to the comedy. This is a good-time standup set, more assertive and upbeat – and at ease with itself – than the shows I’ve seen her perform in the past.
The most recent was 2015’s Lady Like, in which Calman recounted a nervous breakdown she experienced as she adjusted to newfound celebrity. No such shadows cloud this set, which is conspicuous for its energy and ebullience. Itemising the expectations others have of her (left-wing, intellectual, lesbian) – endorsing some, scorning others – there’s a real attack to Calman’s comedy here. She’s taken up boxing, she tells us – and this feels like 90 minutes delivered by a contender always on the balls of her feet.Continue Reading
City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
The broadcaster’s first standup tour, Cradle to the Stage, is a lucky-dip of nostalgic childhood stories and showbiz anecdotes
You’ve read the autobiography. You’ve seen the sitcom. Now here’s the solo stage show of Danny Baker’s life – or at least, the bits of it he can squeeze into its two-hour duration. It’s billed as a “first ever standup tour” but really, it’s just one story after another from a man with an inexhaustible capacity for gossip and anecdotage. “There’s no script,” he says, then later: “I’m pretty good company, but that’s all this is.”
I’m not about to contradict him: Cradle to the Stage is less a show than a lucky dip into the grab-bag of Baker’s storied past. Having spurned his mate Jimmy Carr’s suggestion to preview it, he now jokes with his off-stage technician that he hasn’t rehearsed the show either. Act One ends abruptly at the behest of a downstage stopwatch, when – to Baker’s dismay – we’re only 15 years into his life story. From then on, he keeps alluding to all the great material he failed to cover in the first half.Continue Reading