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regarding surrealism in comedy – of course it is a matter of personal taste, but for me some of the best humour, especially in your writing is in the surrealist, or perhaps more accurately ‘absurdist’. The episode of ted with the BBC sound FX record (chirpy sheep…) is perhaps one of the funniest episodes of any program I have watched – and it was largely because it got more and more absurd and confusing as to what was real and what wasn’t, which totally twisted the viewer’s mind into confusion which escalated the funny. Then of course the whole ‘king of the sheep’ bit was quite off kilter as well.
Surrealist comedy is often the funniest, but I think your right about it needing to retain some kind of internal logic. It can be awful when a sitcom or comedy gradually gets more surreal to make up for the lack of ideas. The Simpsons is the best example, it started hitting its stride when it became a bit more surreal and out-there, but then it started going crazy and now its just silly.
That would be an ecumenical matter.
This is quite a serious discussion. Can’t we just all bash Family Guy?
I think you’re right though that it being surreal has to be earned. You still have to care about the characters or its a bit pointless. I think Kids in the Hall is a good example (anyone see that?). That seemed to pull of some of the most surreal moments while still feeling genuine.
Hang on a second… This woman found an injured lion and …what?
“Darling, pull over, there’s something by the side of the road, there – in that ditch. Goodness, its a lion. And its hurt. Lets get it home as quickly as possible and nurse it back to full strength. That’s it, pull him onto the back seat. Look at the big old sad thing. It can stay in Lucy’s old room for the time being. Stop being so jittery and keep your eyes on the road. He must be awfully hungry poor thing. I think we’ve got some polos in the glove compartment – I wonder if lions like polos.”
I went to see ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’in the cinema yesterday. I’m still shook up and pulling myself together after experiencing one hell of an emotional roller coaster. I cried hysterically (and I’m a bloke) and laughed out loud. I challenge folk to go and see this extraordinary unique film.
Interesting points about surreal comedy – I’d agree completely. The best surreal comedy has impeccable internal logic, which is why I think that, for example, Buñuel’s later and more thoroughly bonkers films like The Phantom Of Liberty and The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie still hold up so magnificently. There are bits in The Phantom Of Liberty in particular that never fail to make me laugh out loud.
In fact, to suck up to our host for a moment, Big Train has always reminded me very strongly of Buñuel.
And Harold And Maude rocks, I was lucky enough to catch it on a BBC2 late showing when I was about eleven and have been in love with it ever since.
I remember Frank Kelly sitting in for a Radio Scotland morning chat-style presenter for a few weeks (on the back of them interviewing him about the 2nd series). He was brilliant. Every person on the show just shut up and let him ramble on with his reminiscences and anecdotes.
I have my suspicions he was never brought back because he was too popular.
However, your post made me panic that he had shuffled. Don’t do that again! Careful now.
Your post about Frank Kelly did make me think he’d shuffled. You need to watch out for these things. Careful now.
I remember him being so funny being interviewed on a Radio Scotland morning-chat type show that when the usual host went on holiday they got him to sit in. He brilliantly took over every conversation filling it with anecdote and reminiscence.
I still maintain to this day that he was never brought back because he was too good/popular and the regular host worried for his position.
“In fact, to suck up to our host for a moment, Big Train has always reminded me very strongly of Buñuel.” Funny you mention that; I always loved Bunuel and I did feel we were treading on similar ground.
Harold and Maude is also possibly the best film about the shift from childhood into adulthood there is. I was gob-smacked at a screening of new film Charlie Bartlett last week when it transpired the main character is a lonesome, wealthy teenage boy, living with his pill-popping mother in a big, posh house. But he’s misunderstood by school piers and feels no affinity with children his own age. He actually sits down at a piano in one scene and plays If You Want To Sing Out by Cat Stephens.
Harold and Maude – my favourite ever film. I’d not seen that poster before. Consider it yoinked and made my wallpaper.
I have a cassette tape at home with loads of outtakes from Frank Kelly radio ads from the 70s / 80s on it.
After hearing some of the frankly shocking and disgusting language on it, it’s no wonder he wasn’t asked back to that radio show.
I may try to transfer it to MP3 and whack it on my blog.
The writer of sitcom or sketch show seems to be the only person in the world not to enjoy it, speaking for the 99.9% of us who dont write them, If I laugh, I laugh, whether its at an awkward silence or an barking circle. Dont be so hard on yourselves!
This may be met with some hostility but I see the ‘Mighty Boosh’ as a show that often eschews ‘internal logic’ for all out surrealism. A bit like the Family Guy Manatees, I think the boosh could quite easily be randomly placed together. Don’t get me wrong, I think Fielding and Barratt are really talented guys and the boosh has its moments but i don’t think surrealism is enough to make something funny, it needs some grounding in the real world to make me laugh.
speaking of surreal….
I’ve just found myself on a rather long Charlie Brooker youtube tangent and I have ended up at these sites
they may be known to you already, but they rather made me laugh
highlights of the evening include the hit new reality show ‘sick on a widow’ and Mick Hucknall squeezing testicles through doll house windows.
lol – utterly bizarre
‘Harold and Maude’ is an enduring work all right, but the Hal Ashby masterpieces must be ‘The Last Detail’ and ‘Being There’
Such a strange series of movies as well…Granted, the Seventies threw some odd ones out there, but whenever I see Peter Sellers walking on water after convincing most of America’s Business, Political and Cultural Elite that he is indeed The Chosen One, I can’t help but think Michel Gondry (for example) is trying too hard…
Also, LOVED the Galactus link this week. Been reading Kirby’s ‘Eternals’ again (like I need an excuse) and was reminded of Alan Moore’s fine tribute to The King in ‘Supreme; The Return’. It’s respectful, experimental and grateful at the same time, in stark contrast to some of the Fantagraphics boys who, it seems to me, are quite dismissive of Kirby. Sure, Marvel has produced acres of trash but Jack is a genius. Maybe his influence is felt more in Europe, for some reason…
What a delightful week! **Dude, I was just reading “Escape from Victory” in the Father Ted scripts yesterday when you posted that picture of Frank. It was a nice, coincidental visual (see, people did buy the book) **Thanks for the ridiculously sweet lion story, from my own backyard in Orlando, no less (do you get Central Florida news feeds, or what?) **Surreal comedy is the closest thing to Godliness there is. It’s an absurd universe, after all. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this:
Frank’s version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ used to make me wee myself when I was a small boy.
Now I just wee myself for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Don’t scare me about Frank Kelly again!!
I remember my GCSE English teacher spending a whole lesson telling our class about Frank Kelly at Edinburgh and the fact he’d singled him out for mockery for the entire show. He still loved it. I can’t think of many people who could please and entertain whilst being personally abusive. He’ll be truly missed. Oh wait, he’s not dead it just seemed that way from the scary as hell blog post. Jeez Graham.
Hey, let’s keep those hands in sight, Mrs. Lion Lady.
I only mention it because many years ago I knew a woman who claimed that she would occasionally need to, let’s just say… manually relieve her sexually frustrated male Doberman. Apparently the poor dog was unable to make friends on his own.
The day she shared her story was one of the best days I’ve ever spent in a tavern. She just went on and on with her detailed description of the process, as casually and as cheerfully as if she were describing her technique for selecting fresh produce. She really couldn’t seem to understand why her story was being met with such horror and disbelief. The way her no-nonsense solution to a simple biological problem caused the sentimentalists in the group to squirm would have made Larry David proud.
Not sure why the lion story reminded me of this after all these years. Maybe it’s because I watched it with the sound turned off. Sorry if I ruined it for anyone.
How nice to see work sponsored by the Basque government! For once not known just for the Guggenheim & Bombs. Oh, perhaps not then!
I thought I’d share with you a band I saw last night in Edinburgh. Six Swedes with six analogue synths. Sorta Hot Chippy but they often stray into blip-blop bitcore (game boy muzik). http://www.myspace.com/slagsmalsklubben
I have always thought that the thing that keeps ‘Harold and Maude’ (and ‘Being There’, too for that matter) timeless are the way the themes of love and death are handled so accurately. Both are incredibly positive films – somehow putting all cynicism and pain aside, and accepting life and love exactly as it is (or could be). It’s rare that films have such a realistic take on love. I guess by realistic, I mean that love and death are actually extremely surreal. The feelings they create bring about madness in us. H & M is so honestly about people’s need for love and most lovely of all – the movie explores love’s fullest potential like no other. The makers were brave, and really went for it, fully committing to a positive (I’m sorry I’m going to write this) “message” (shudder). It’s such a special film. I almost feel like a movement could be founded on it.
A lion and little tree saving movement.
Hey, I want a lion to bond with me!
If you want to scratch out all that happy, lovey goodness from your mind, watch Bud Cort’s “Ted and Venus”. It’s the Anti-Harold-and-Maude.
Talk about a mind-f*ck double feature. Messy messy messy. And painful and sad. And probably also honest.
Thanks for the Jack Chick link on monday – that man is seriously nuts. i like the way he insists that dinosaurs were alive at the time of Noah …
…and *were actually taken onto the ark* (!!??) Can you imagine being trapped on a boat with a coule of t.rex on the loose? hey – that would make a great film – Jurrassic Ark! (sorry)
I knew your blog was a good’un but mentioning Harold & Maude is the deal clincher…amazing comedy where the emotional generated by the collision of two lost souls is literally half the fun.
If you want something daft to watch, here’s a few of my faves from weebl & co:
About surrealism. Reaching for ‘surreal’ is often a lazy critic’s choice. With most comedy, I prefer things like ‘absurd’ or ‘silly’, even ‘zany’ or ‘wacky’. The surrealist movement was quite subversive and generally at least dark-tinged. Reaching for ‘surreal’ too quickly is like saying show Y is like show X…On acid. Don’t get me started.
Quote from Craig: “The episode of ted with the BBC sound FX record (chirpy sheep…) is perhaps one of the funniest episodes of any program I have watched”
-And Graham’s performance in said episode is a tour de force! I know, I know, what a brown-noser, but every time I watch it I know it’s coming yet it still delights me.
That lion video is incomplete until she turns around with a missing face.
now this here is…erm…surreal? I love this bizarre world we live in….
Harold & Maude is one of those movies that I’ve always wanted to see but have never gotten around to. But now I have more of an initiative to do so. Thanks Graham.
Very interesting discussion indeed. Harold & Maude and Bunuel’s movies are as good as things get in the film world as far as I’m concerned. As for surrealism, I’m not sure that it’s fair to call it a lazy way of making comedy: The absurd isn’t necessarily funny; something else is required to make the surreal funny, and that something has to do, I think, with the comment that the surreal joke makes about reality itself: The surreal joke works by highlighting the ridiculousness of the real world. Think of Monty Python, for instance, which constantly parodied uptight puritanical English mores simply by putting a judge in suspenders. That image doesn’t have an impact unless you get the underlying point about judges’ moralizing and hypocrisy. Doing something else with the judge, such as, say, dressing him up as a banana, would be silly and absurd, but it wouldn’t be as funny and therefore to my mind wouldn’t count as comedy.
That said, it’s difficult NOT to make judges seem ridiculous. Jokes about judges – THAT’S lazy comedy. ;-)
Your post about Frank Kelly did make me think he’d shuffled. You need to
watch out for these things. Careful now.
I remember him being so funny being interviewed on a Radio Scotland
morning-chat type show that when the usual host went on holiday they got
him to sit in. He brilliantly took over every conversation filling it
with anecdote and reminiscence.
I still maintain to this day that he was never brought back because he was
too good/popular and the regular host worried for his position.
Hello, first time posting.
Been an avid follower of all things Ted and IT-C… ever thought of running a course on sitcom writing or comedy writing in general? Maybe you already have and I’m just too lazy to Google it.
Oh, forgot to say cool website too.
Back in the day when I worked in Bewleys Café, Frank Kelly would sometimes come in for a coffee. He always had a smile and a kind word, an absolute gentleman and a scholar. Hope you’re well, Frank!
Sorry Prenderghast, I may not have been clear. I didn’t mean being absurd / silly was lazy comedy at all at all. I meant critics / commentators using the label ‘surreal’ every time something off kilter is shown is lazy and derivitave.
But I do think BIG TRAIN is some of the only modern comedy that can justifiably be called surreal. Meanwhile, lazy critics probably called it ‘fast show on acid’.
These techniques are rarely used lazily in comedy. The aim is to get laughs (and that’s quarry work). They are used lazily in modern art cinema to alienate the unpretentious.
Finally, when you have a strong idea like your JUDGE BANANA, you really shouldn’t throw it away on a comments board.
Music related linkage:
And this is a clip of a guy, Kenta (aka Otofuke) who I saw busking in Tokyo in 2006. In addition to being a really nice guy, he does amazing stuff with guitars.
Hows series 3 of the IT crowd going?
My mistake really, for conflating what you said with Graham’s comment that using surreal jokes feels like cheating. I took umbrage. Khmer Rouge Strippergram is nothing but surreal jokes. Rest assured, the banana judge will be apeaqring there shortly. ;-)
Love the blog…
Sometimes I stumble upon things that raise my spirits – Just came upon this today…
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is a trade body which seeks to protect its members who plop and wee into our letterboxes…
There’s a picture of them on this post…
Anyway, back to the “find”:-
I don’t know who Mike Blanche is, but he is GOD on my laptop right now, and the page is here.
Love your blog almost as much as I loved Father Ted and your appearance in the second Alan Partridge series. Rock on.
Harold and Maude fans might want to check out the slightly hard-to-see The Landlord, which is (A) a very strong, disconcerting film about race in America, (B) Hal Ashby’s first film as director and (C) a sort of rough sketch for H&M, with Beau Bridges as a rich kid living with his overbearing mother who breaks away into a taboo relationship…
Love the lion! So human…the way he cocks his head to the side before kissing her!
And I’m oddly pleased to have had a hand in inspiring the “Frank Kelly Death Scare” post.
My sketch troupe occasionally is referred to as ‘surreal’ and I’m never sure I like the tag. It seems quite easy and potentially off-putting for some audiences. Plus I don’t really think that we are surreal. Whenever anyone asked I always said our influences were Kids in the Hall, Big Train and Armstrong & Miller.
For me The Mighty Boosh hits the mark perfectly creating a world with surrealism and just enough reality that it doesn’t take you out of it.
A few years ago I snapped up Harold and Maude for 99p. I was surprised when everyone I bragged to about my purchase had never heard of it.
Hi Graham, I tried to contact you in several ways to show you this project I’m doing: an IT CROWD deconstruction… It would be nice to contact you somehow…
Check this out:
You have my email right here, it would be SO GREAT an e-mail interview or something….
Next episode 29th Feb. :-)
I always enjoyed reeves and mortimer, which was surreal without ever trying. Is was childlike in it’s innocence, just as vic n’ bob would hold hands for no particular reason.
for any fans of such childlike whimsy, I suggest this deelightful nickelodoen pilot episode. Voiced by john Dimaggio of bender(futurama) fame, it always guarantees
to please even the most hardened soul . Mathamathical!!!
It’s always a joy to see ‘Harold and Maude’ getting checked and talked about…a neglected masterpiece (although I’d agree with whoever it was said ‘The Last Detail’ is Hal Ashby’s best – if you haven’t seen it, it’s also Jack Nicholson’s).
My youngest daughter is 6 months old next week, and her middle name is Maude, in honour of the film and Ruth Gordon’s delightful, incredibly rich performance. I was wondering the other day, that character – the spirited, sparky old lady – is now almost a cliche, but was Maude the original?
Has Mr. Linehan had a chance to see the Big Bang Theory yet? I remember it getting mentioned on here around US IT Crowd talks.
What are some other British comedies of the quality of the IT Crowd. We are hurting for entertainment in the United States.
Congratulations to Ireland tonight at the Oscars.
Greetings from America! You are my hero because you have created two of the best sitcoms I have ever seen–Ted and IT Crowd. Thanks for being so nice on your blog and giving your fans an opportunity to correspond with you! Your blog is wonderful; I always have a laugh every time I come here. Thought you’d like to know that I post a lot of your videos on the forums for my university satire newspaper: http://themq.com.
Best wishes for the future–can’t wait for the third season (series) of the IT Crowd!
~This is gonna sound really geeky, but in relation to the father jack post. On the Rome Total War Game in the coding for character traits four traits are listed as Girls Drink Feck and Arse, I think a little plagarism has been employed here.
What do you think of Dustin representing Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest (well nearly)? I don’t particularly care myself but I find it funny the amount of people opposed to the idea.
I loved Harold and Maude but I have to say I was very disapointed with the sequel, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. Just because Ruth Gordon’s dead that’s no reason to replace her with a young asian man and litter the film with poo, fart, bum and willy jokes with a fair dose of drug references thrown in for good measure.
“Kids In The Hall” – wow, blast from the past – would like to see that again, how it’s aged etc., remember loving it first time round. Mental note to self to get around to watching Harold & Maude…
word into image: writers on screenwriting
a selection of youtube links. William Goldman, Robert Towne et al.
I have a lot of respect for this guy: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/
Not because I think he’s particularly right (he seems to be mistaking ‘white’ for ‘middle class’), but because he has an axe to grind and has thrown himself into his task with a passion – 77 posts in about 30 days? Has he slept at all?
Oh yeh, Harold and Maude – great film. Not mentioned nearly often enough.
so funny. samuel beckett would be proud of this.
All 5 series of Kids in the Hall are available on region 1 DVD. Plus there’s a best of out on region 2. Series one is the best for me, cos that’s where they did all the sketches they had honed over years of live performance. But every series has several moments of pure comedy gold.
Wait, I see a bunch of bad halloween costumes, and Posh and Becks.
The erotic costumes were fantastic! Haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Thanks for sharing!
Completely agree about the erotic costumes post. I try to stay away from l33t speak as much as possible, but LOL!
Those garfield cartoons are hilarious and heartbreaking. If Jim Davis had more Harvey Pekar in him he might have come up with them himself.
I’m off to slip into something a little more comfortable. Perhaps a pair of underpants with a big glittery penis sewn on to them.
Just bought ‘My War with Brian’ off Amazon for £1.62, it looks good.
Just out of interest, did you ever pick up ‘Preacher’? I recommended it to you on here a while back.
Can’t remember if the Matt Damon/Silverman vid was posted by your good self Graham or not, but this is the Kimmel response:
Wait for the Harrison Ford cameo!
Just checking to see if this comment appears. My last couple didn’t appear to.
Ah. It did.
a touching and deeply personal journey into the depths of mental illness, i feel
oh rats cocks, someone already posted it. oh well that’s procrastination for you
I think you hit the nail on the penguin, so to speak, when you say that surrealism can feel like a cheat. I’ve midway through watching ‘My Name Is Earl’ after exhausting all the series of ‘Arrested Development’ and I’ve been struck by how well American comedy retains a sense of the real while being seriously oddball. The way I think it’s done is providing an answer to any surreal element. When surreal comedy fails, I think it’s usually because it’s left as incongruity in the writing, existing in and for itself.
I’m sorry, I did the Garfield remix first. FIRST!!!
Yeh, that’s right, 2004!
Does anyone here visit Ian Martin’s satirical website martian.fm regularly?
Here’s his very funny parody of teenage slang…
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