laurel and hardy 1

Probably the best time to write is in the early morning where, as Grace Slick would have sung, the mind is moving raw. Imagery and dreamy sleep are still feeding into the brain as the body struggles, remembering, groggily  how to breathe deeply and the  sting in the tea is heating the belly furnace down below.

Humour is a “funny” thing.If you think about it at all.It struck me while watching a video of my little grandchild Mabel , barely a year old, that she already has a stong grasp on the basics of “craic”. she knows already what “funny” is. That’s an odd abstract thing for a toddler to grasp, but she can laugh uproariously and we can all join in .Amazing!! What the hell is that all about. Sometimes I’ll catch that TV show written by Harry’s an update of similar sketch shows where viewers sends in videos of mad mishaps that have happened to their loved ones and Harry stitches them all together with his  surreal patter.We are usually being made to laugh at mishaps that in any other context are awful bloody home accidents .{They do say that the home is where most mishaps and hospital visits begin}. The “funny” thing is , I sometimes find these accidents excruciating to watch and often turn away. What’s so funny about possibly  breaking your neck, indeed?Humans, and possibly animals,  like to laugh though. My daughter’s partner and I were talking about this recently .Apparently scientists have somehow figured out that rats laugh!!Yes, I know , what old comedy shows did they show then to get that reaction?  He reckoned , they just got a pretty girl to tickle their bellies.You might think your dog or cat is having a laugh at you or that dolphins maybe look like they are  actually guffawing out loud , but how can you be sure? Chimpanzees certainly look like they’d be up for a little slapstick humour  at the drop of a banana  skin…..

 On the other hand, the first reaction when someone slips on that banana skin, is to guffaw, before we call the ambulance…..I know Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton did it all the time and with consummate grace ….but still….

A phrase was sticking in my unconscious…”Shiny floor comedy” . I think it was something  either Alexie Sayle, Rik Mayall, Ben Elton  or one of the “alternative ” comedy writers  referred to while describing “overground” television shows like “The Mike Yarwood Show” or the “Morecambe  and Wise” Show . The idea that some shiny, slappy-happy chappie in a tuxedo and  mirror-gleaming patents and dickie bow…a too neat, spray plastered hair-do ..would wallop onto the stage and barrel through his “Tarby” Tarbuck routine of quickfire gags and snappy one -liners . Everyone would roar their approval and laugh uproariously at the comic’s antics …..or same “laughter” would later be supplied by a “canned” laughter track in post -production. You hear that “laughter” all the time on television shows like “Friends”, so we’re used to it .

 The old ladies and gents in the audience would wet themselves with glee and in sitting rooms throughout TV  Land everyone would have a “nice cup of tea”, while children gamboled on the carpet and everyone would join the conspiracy to  crash the National Electricity Grid……..

The Television Generation grew up with that “shiny floor comedy”since  the TV box’s  home debut as a large piece of wooden corner furniture in the 1950’s,  and then throughout the 1960’s , 1970’s and then on until the present day of flat screen  electronics,  when The Simon Cowell  Era of “celebrity ”  arrived,  with Ant and Dec ,among others, inciting many in the nation  to struggle and become “shiny floor” entertainers themselves. Supermarket magazines have made an industry based on these shallow dreams .

History , of course,is bunkum. As in the political world and social world, there has always been an “underground”, alternative vision and somewhere between these two worlds there’s also been a “limbo” where the two worlds bleed into each other like gas mixing.

The nether region of the sub cultural underground world , eventually became “Alternative Comedy”. Many strands and singular visions wove this  other form of comedy. Bits and pieces of mainstream humour broke off and cuddled up to some singular eccentric minds to spawn this slightly  unclean bastard child. I suppose it all began for our modern era with Music Hall theatre and Burlesque theatre .A few denizens of that world escaped into the new film medium and in doing so spread their humour worldwide. Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello  Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin created comedy revolutions in their heyday .They all came from stage beginnings.

In the 1950’s there was the American Phil Silvers’ “Bilko” show whose quick -fire patter had it’s origins in burlesque theatres, where he had to entertain men more interested in the strippers than any tired  old jokes a comedian could tell. ;just as the Marx Brothers found their metier there too.Their ragged , immigrant Jewish quickfire took root in those same rooms.At this side of the Atlantic there was also the “Goon Show” on radio and later television ,in  Britain  with the iconacastic Spike Milligan at the writing helm. Spike’s  surrealist  take on life was in direct relation to the absurdities he encountered while serving as a  soldier during World War 2. His was a surrealist worldview , a coping mechanism for his damaged mind. He tapped into the absurd and tweaked it .In America Lenny Bruce , another kind of socially concious performer  used humour of the blackest hue to attack the absurdities of American bigotry. As well as this, in America, and later the UK and Ireland, there was “Mad” comic/magazine which lampooned everything in popular culture. It’s writers and artists were to be the instigators of the whole “underground comix” revolution of the 1960’s. An assosciated artist was Terry Gilliam ,who become part of the “Python” team and later a film maker. His career began in the satirical  “Help” magazine which Harvey Kurtzman began after leaving EC comics’ “Mad” magazine. He shared a similar origin story with Mr.Underground Comix himself, Robert Crumb. There was also “Private Eye”, which lampooned the Establishment,a magazine  which Peter Cook championed .

  In the 1960’s and early 1970’s we used to talk about the “straights” and the “freeks”. The straights were in their element with “Shiny Floor” artistes such as   Bernard Manning, Benny Hill and  vaguely racist/misogynist sitcoms  like  “On the Buses”. These shows always featured lewd jokes at the expense of some woman’s breasts  or some immigrant’s awkward use of English. It was what people were expected to laugh at .That kind of easy misogny and near racism seemed to go down well in working clubs and on prime -time television .Not an eye was batted. No one thought it was the least bit odd.The freeks on the other hand were more at ease with the pompositity pricking surrealism of  “Monty Python’s Flying Circus , Spike Milligan and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore . There was also some middle ground for those  that could appreciate the  drollery, delivery and timing of Tony Handcock, Eric Morecambe, Ken Dodd  and Ronnie Barker. There was also the totally anodyne “Hugh and I ” and “Harry Worth”  too, of course but those other three were to become “National Treasures” and admired across the board for their skill even though they still danced on that “Shiny Floor”.

“So there are many evolutionary branches growing from the trunk of that comedy tree”, as  Mr. Vic Reeves might say ,po-facedly, to Mr.Bob  Mortimer.We apparently are practically born laughing , which might be a help considering the absurdities of human existence we are all about to confront in our convoluted lives.That said , there will always be critical choices to be made.There will always be a choice to be made in what is considered “funny”.

I know which branch of the  tree I will always fix my swing to.

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