A penny for your thoughts*

November 19, 2007


Hey, how about this? A little corner for those of you feeling neglected since I turned the comments off. Any thoughts on recent posts should go here!

Normal rules apply–anything obnoxious or abusive gets deleted, although to be honest I think I’ve weeded the Comic-Shop-Guy-from-The-Simpsons-types out.

* Just a phrase–you don’t have to give me a penny.

(Comments now closed. I’ll  put the next one up on Friday).


  1. Graham, I’m thinking about writing a sitcom! Any tips for a wet behind the ears, first timer?

  2. I have loads of tips, and maybe I’ll do a post sometime, but I’m pretty busy at the moment. In the meantime, read ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. Best book on writing out there.

  3. Larson vs Not Larson

    Bestie mixed it up as well with equally mixed results, as many a greeting card shelf at WH Smiths will testify.

    I think a lot has got to do with the lack of subtley in the speech bubble or message box, regardless of which is the adopted method. Larson made you absorb the picture thoroughly before you even knew where he was taking it. You then went back to the picture to enjoy it once more.

    Too many one-panel artists adopt stuff like too thick a panel line or too bold a font and it makes me feel less inclined to pyhsically respond with a laugh. It’s like I am having the joke shouted at me, like all third rate stand-ups.

  4. Oh, have a penny anyway! :D Sorry, I’ve got nothing sensible to say, except the “You gonna light that pipe” thing made me laugh A LOT xx

  5. Sorry, forgot to say, the vending machine disguise doodah – I saw another picture of that somewhere and you could see the woman’s feets sticking out underneath!

  6. So it’s NOT the perfect disguise! :)

  7. Having just had the WORST theatre experience in my life due to a crap audience, I will simply applaud your comments that the symbiosis between audience and cast can work wonderful magic that neither could have attained alone. This is, of course, with the understanding that the lack of a good script makes the whole exercise pointless. The reason people don’t trust the audience response is because so often it’s faked. How many dead people’s laughs still haunt the soundtracks of mediocre shows? Kudos to you for doing the tough work of making people laugh in real time. It’s the anxious sweat that makes you reach for the better line.

  8. The ‘Ceci n’est pas un pipe’ post really confused me at first, because that picture is on my mousemat and I’m so used to seeing it as that that I forgot it was a piece of art. I wondered how you got a picture of my mousemat.

    Keep up the goodness.

  9. Oh, sorry, one more thing.

    About that vending machine disguise…what if the would-be attacker was thirsty? Man, that’d be awkward.

  10. Anyone know who did the “Pipe” comic? I’ve found it on Digg, Reddit etc. but no sign of a “createur” as the French might say. It is brilliant and I want, nay, need more.

  11. Hello.

    I enjoyed the Neon stuff a great deal; you’ve every reason to be proud of the Titanic stuff.

    That’s enough smoke up arses.

    How’s your writing of series three going? As a lazy-bastard author of no repute (due to the lazy-bastardness) I’m always interested in how others self-motivate and work. Do you find it hard-work to apply the backside to the chair?


  12. This is a bit good, thought you might like:


  13. “The reason people don’t trust the audience response is because so often it’s faked.”


  14. man thanks so much for the blog mention got some nice comments from others with fond Neon memories, the Alfred Hitchcock one gets mentioned a lot too, may scan than in at some future date.

    I was shitting myself a bit, fearing a might get a cease and desist style note from yourself so the mention was the highlight of my week, probably month even, and has garnered kudos from my geek friends. Thanks again.

  15. Here’s the Straight Dope on laugh tracks and the Wall Street Journal write up on the father of canned laughter. Here’s a Slate story as well. It’s a common practice on American television.

    I remember vividly Tony Roberts in Annie Hall (I think it was anyhoo, not trusting memory completely) cuing his sitcom with specific laughs (“okay, just a chuckle here”). A spoof or observed practice? I dunno. I’m just a poor writer who occasionally gets the thrill of a live audience for my words. I don’t watch much tv in real time because I can’t bear to sit through commercials. You can feel canned laughter though.

  16. Hi Graham, no urgent comments. Great posts recently, especially the Golden Watch post. Saw you and Arthur Matthews on a greatest comedy character show recently having a go at Bo Selecta. Very funny. Hope series 3 is firing along.

    Theswissjob, with regards to sitcom books, I like a book by Ronald Wolfe. Short but packed with interesting advice (although some of it is a bit dated).


  17. Hello
    I got a DVD of AD-BC – A Rock Opera in the post today, loved your bit, you always do the same accent in your cameos! What’s that all about then.
    Very funny stuff though, Matt Berry makes me wee myself laughing and Julian Barratt was a powerful character. Those legs!
    They need to do more of these, Berry and Ayoade.

  18. For some reason, I think you might enjoy this (if you haven’t seen it already)
    I can’t stop watching it…

  19. Yes, Ayoade and Barrat are always good. As is Noel. And I’m glad the Mighty Boosh is once again back on our screens until series 3 of the IT Crowd returns. A little something to keep us going..

    But as an IT/systems administrator working in the film and television industry, I do wish somebody would make a parallel-universe version of the IT Crowd set in the film and broadcast world because dealing with producers and those in digital post-production who are supposed to know how to use computers is often *much* funnier than an ordinary office.

    Every day in this industry feels like licking Douglas’ used polo mints. And you just *can’t* escape.

  20. If I don’t reply to all your comments, you’ll understand, I hope. Work has to win out over the next few months. In answer to Jasper’s question, I’m trying to write a hundred ideas a day for a few weeks. Out of that hundred will come one or two useable things.

  21. I should say ‘trying and failing’. But the attempt’s the thing.

  22. Saw you on Channel4’s “50 Greatest Comedy Sketches” on Friday night (well, actually, on Sunday afternoon – ah, I love Sky+!). Interested in what you thought of the winning sketch, Little Britain’s Swimming Pool Sketch with Lou and Andy? I mean, I *do* like LB, it makes me laugh just as much as it makes me cringe and shudder, but *best*ever* sketch??? Not at all sure about that.

  23. You may have seen this already, but it’s making me laugh alot. Makes me wish for a new series of Garth Marenghi… it’s ‘The Italian Spiderman.’

    Actione! Velocita! Terrore! Goblin!

  24. Sky+? Sky+?! *Some* of us still use an ancient video camera pointed at the TV because the missus decides that “there’s enough repeats on the box anyway and it’ll usually be around again during the week – so you’re not having that fancy Sky+ box ‘contraception'”. Needless to say my wife’s not technical.

  25. Kate, I still don’t know which shows you’re referring to when you talk about canned laughter. The Straight Dope mentions an example from the fifties and the Wall Street Journal accuses ‘Watching Ellie’ of using it,even though it too was filmed in front of a studio audience.

    And when you say you can ‘feel’ which shows are using canned laughter, I’d love to know which ones you mean. I met a guy recently who assumed that the laughter in ‘Father Ted’ was canned. Even when I explained the process to him, he still couldn’t get his head around it. I’m hoping to bring him to a studio record of series 3 of ‘The It Crowd’, just to see whether his brain explodes.

  26. Re your ‘Attack of the Sub-Ed’ post: it isn’t always the sub-editor who has the final say on an article’s headline. In many cases, an editor insists on a certain headline or might change whatever one the sub-ed had come up with. Having said that, the one that’s on it isn’t accurate and I think it’s good to see someone pressing for higher standards when it comes to the just-as-important but oft-neglected details. I’d be interested to know what headline you’d have liked to see on it, taking possible time constraints into account. ‘IT’s often funnier playing to a Crowd’, perhaps?

  27. My favourite story of a sub-editor changing a headline was a football reporter sending in his coverage of a much hyped match that ended 0-0 with the clever headline ‘Much Ado About Nothing-Nothing’ only to have it changed to ‘Much Ado About Nil-Nil’.

  28. Tom, No offence, but I think ‘Much Ado About Nothing-Nothing’ is a desperate headline altogether. Plus, I suspect the reason it got changed was in order to make it fit the space available on the page. And at least ‘Nil-Ni’ relates to sport. Proof indeed that the sub-ed’s lot is one of the most thankless of all. Graham, I’d suggest trying to write a sit-com around such a character, but I fear the world is nowhere near ready…

  29. “My favourite story of a sub-editor changing a headline was a football reporter sending in his coverage of a much hyped match that ended 0-0 with the clever headline ‘Much Ado About Nothing-Nothing’ only to have it changed to ‘Much Ado About Nil-Nil’.”


  30. i couldn’t find it anywhere (well, i didn’t look too hard, either)but my favorite dana carvey sketch was “waiters who are nauseated by food”. good stuff.

  31. Re: canned — the reason you can tell canned laughter is when wild raucous laughter results from terribly unfunny stuff, as in the average episode of “According to Jim,” an inexplicably popular American sitcom that is painfully unfunny. The huge laugh doesn’t trail off, it ends abruptly. I suppose it might be that the audience is hanging on their every word with bated breath, but I suspect not.

    You can feel the life in the laughs with “Father Ted” (not that I paid much attention to them because I was always laughing so hard myself). I would be more than willing to risk head explosion to watch a taping of “The IT Crowd,” but it would be a long drive at present (and my vehicle is not submersible).

    And now I really ought to get back to work…

  32. The best audience laughter is in a lot of 70’s sitcoms. Listen to Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, and you hear the obligatory ‘OooooOOOOOO!!!!’ of some old lady laughing at the risqué joke she knows she normally wouldn’t (or at least, not in front of the vicar). There’s nothing wrong with audience laughter IMHO.

  33. The reason the laugh ends abruptly is because it’s being cut for time reasons. If the laughter wasn’t edited down, the average sitcom would be forty five minutes long.

  34. If the laughter wasn’t edited down, the average sitcom would be forty five minutes long.

    Not the average ones — only the funny ones. There are precious few enough of those. I really can’t believe that anyone is laughing uproariously at “According to Jim” (that would make me weep copiously and lose the will to live). But yes, you’re right and I will retreat with my tail between my legs to whimper in the corner, wait for the next season of “The IT Crowd” and be very quiet.

  35. Sorry, Kate! You just caught me on my hobby horse.

  36. Give your horse an apple for me.

    I used to live in Los Angeles and attend tapings (when I was young and idle), and watching them repeat a bit several times to get all the technical details in sync could really suck the life out of it. But it was also interesting to see how the audience reacted to the cue for laughter they knew they were supposed to provide. There’s as much acting in the audience at times as on the soundstage.

  37. I’m getting the Orange Box for Christmas after watching a clip of Portal, it sounds funny and original (plus, y’know Half-Life and that…)
    Right now, I’m playing Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction and it’s like playing a Pixar movie– brilliant. Feels a lot more back-to-basics and exploratory. Funny script too.
    You played it?

  38. Permit me to bore people for a moment or five …

    Re: The shiny, shiny Golden Watch
    I love it when people use this argument in an attempt to prove that evolution is wrong or even to prove that the very thought of evolution is stupid. I love it because it shows that not only do they know nothing about science but also that they know nothing about the way the world works today or even about their own beliefs.

    They know nothing about science because although it’s trivial to prove that evolution is wrong by finding the fossilised remains of a dolphin in the Jurassic sedimentary layer for instance, the easiest ways of disproving evolution are always given a wide berth by the credulous. They instead try to use Bible-style story-telling to argue science.

    They know nothing about their own beliefs because the Bible sets out a vague form of evolution in the 6 days of creation and even realises that God made a bit of a boo-boo in making just a man (a mistake unless of course God expected men alone to procreate (who says God hates fags? Fred Phelps, that’s who, lets hope he dies soon)) and so improved things by making a woman.

    And lastly they know nothing of the world because they imagine that a man (never a woman) sat down at some point in the past and said aloud “I can never tell what the fuck the time is, God may have invented it but gave me no way of measuring its passing. I know, I’ll single-handedly develop a 400 part mechanically cantilevered, automatic wrist watch apparatus with a lap button, fish eye lense for the date and rotating bezel so that SCUBA divers in the future can use it to work out how long they have to live (although I think it will more often be used by students to time their pizzas).” The creation of the modern wristwatch is an example of evolution. It may not be organic, but the thoughts and information that developed over time to produce it were.

    So if I were to be walking through the desert and found a watch I would pick it up, put it on and be thankful that brave men and women long ago turned their backs on the simple- and narrowmindedness of the faithful and sought to expand human knowledge for the good of all mankind.

  39. Loving the last few posts, especially Army Man. Is there anywhere to get a scan of the whole magazine? Also loving the canned laughter debate. Thought you might like to plug Matt Berry playing in Dublin this Thursday. I’ve heard his live show is great. Can’t wait.

    The possible posting of writing tips you mention up top is mouth watering. More glimpses/stories of your work routine, though routine might be the wrong word, would be great too. I think people really enjoy hearing about the creative process.

  40. Really loved seeing the Neon pieces again, especially as I’m giving a lecture on Werner Herzog tomorrow. So it was particularly nice to read the Kinski diaries extract.

  41. The writer’s strike over here in the U.S. is dooming our tv watching for a while. While I support it, of course, I can’t help hoping that there’s some decent UK/Irish tv worth downloading. Any suggestions?

  42. Two words, my friend. ‘Peep Show’.

    Best sitcom since ‘The Office’.

  43. Yesterday’s Jam was just on – who voiced the lift? I think it’s Peter Serafinowicz, my mate thinks it’s Simon Pegg.

  44. Reading your Titanic piece reminded me of something else of yours (I’m almost 100% sure it was you!) which is one of the funniest things I’ve read. It was about King Kong and the wisdom of travelling to Skull Island and bringing back a big ape to New York. Don’t suppose you could reproduce it on your site? Do you even do requests?

  45. Hi Graham, don’t know if your going to be able to respond to this at the moment, but how would I be able to get to see the IT crowd being recorded? Id love to see that!

  46. Maybe Lorcan can track it down?…

  47. I cant perform like this…….I don’t know what to say……some sort of viagra for comments is required…..

  48. Hey Graham, love *that* photo of you – any relation to Brian Cowen by any chance…?

    Kudos to that guy who posted your Neon articles, that Titanic one made me pee myself a little.

    Neon was a great mag, compared to likes of Empire and Total Film nowadays. I always remember a feature called 101 Reasons That James Bond Is Crap (or something to that effect) Very persuasive, nearly turned me off Bond film for good …nearly!

  49. I know you’re looking forward to “There Will Be Blood.” A friend is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and took me to a WGA sponsored screening last week. All I’ll say is that I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

    (Bonus: After, Judd Apatow moderated a Q&A with Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson. Double-bonus: While having dinner later at a nearby deli/bowling alley, Day-Lewis, Anderson and friends came in.)

  50. Big shout out to Jimmy Homunculus for posting some of your Filmgoer’s Companion. What a fine magazine Neon was in it’s prime. Those wonderful posters,(usually b/w film stills) adorned my bachelor pad making me look like a man of taste way before I had any. I forget did you ever get pick your favorite Chevy Chase movie Graham?

  51. I found your article on the studio audience very interesting. It is a fine line between genuine and canned laughter. Unfortunatly the use of canned laughter elsewhere makes people think that the genuine cases are also canned. While I enjoy MASH and find some of their jokes stand the test of time, any time I see it on TV the canned laughter just grates.

    I think there is a risk, and it does happen elsewhere, that due to many takes of a scene, a joke might be funny hysterical first time out of the box, but re-takes can dampen the subsequent (and recorded) response as the initial punch of the joke is lost. Does that happen often? Or is it a case of once someone has gotten the giggles it self perpetuating.

    One of the best examples I thought of a live audience was in Father Ted, in the Song for Europe episode. There is some one in the background with the most unusual guffaw. They were obviously in stitches (it was either the Ted explosive expletive rant or the first rendition of My Lovely Horse to Jack and Mrs Doyle).

  52. You can’t point at ‘Mash’ and use it as an example of the widespread use of canned laughter! One show that came on the air over thirty years ago!

    In answer to your question, the audience are asked by the warm-up to respond to each retake “as if seeing it for the first time”. And God bless ’em, this they often do.

    I think this first comment catch-all worked out very well. Look out for another one soon.

  53. […] A penny for your thoughts* [image] Hey, how about this? A little corner for those of you feeling neglected since I turned the comments off. Any […] […]

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