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Right, with PMQs coming up tomorrow – here’s a look at last week’s jokes, what they got right, and what they got wrong…
“Not so much the iron lady as the irony lady” (3:41)
This one’s just a disaster from start to finish. Badly written, badly delivered, and vague enough that it sounds like it might be a compliment.
- There’s no link between setup and punchline, Delivered separately it’s quite difficult to remember what the irony is that Jeremy mentioned in the setup. It might even have been worth mentioning the word irony before, because there’s quite a conceptual leap to be made.
- This is a laboured pun. Not impossible, but more difficult than some kinds of jokes to deliver well. It requires getting the audience on board and acknowledging that the joke is weak and that you’re enjoying its weakness. Jeremy does none of this. He doesn’t make eye contact with anyone except the Speaker, and delivers it like he thinks it’s a good line. It’s not a good line.
- The inflection is wrong. I’d advise using a rising, incredulous inflection or putting a huge pause after “Not so much the iron lady…” and seeing if the audience will do some of the work for you. Again, acknowledging the weakness of the gag is the key to pulling something like this off.
- However, there’s no such thing as an “irony lady”. It fundamentally doesn’t make sense as a statement. That hobbles this joke as it’s always going somewhere that isn’t going to make sense when you arrive.
- It’s hugely context-specific, and isn’t going to stick in anyone’s memory unless you’ve done a lot more work to establish that Theresa May is full of irony somehow. Maybe at the end of something like: “She wants to represent the will of the people, but has never won an election to anything; she wants to being back parliamentary sovereignty but sideline parliament; she wants Britain to be a global power, but seems determined to annoy large chunks of the globe! She’s not so much the iron lady…”
- Eye contact. Throughout this exchange, Theresa May, as ineffective a speaker as she largely is, makes eye contact with the Opposition benches, and is unafraid to turn and gesture to her own. She makes a point of closing her notes as she’s getting up (with a finger in so she can find what she might need to later). Jeremy Corbyn only makes eye contact with his notes or, occasionally, the Speaker. This does him no favours at all.
“I’ve got a plan. He doesn’t have a clue.” (4:55)
This is solid, but so confident is Theresa of her delivery here that she veers into actual caricature of a disapproving gossip serving tea at a jumble sale.
- Much better written than her jokes usually are. This is a simple balancing statement with a contrast between its two halves. Here is one statement (“We have a plan”). Here is another (“He doesn’t have a clue”).
- The lengthy petard-hoisting quotation works better for her than it does to Jeremy, although he tries in at least three question to do the same to her. Partly because she’s quoting his own words at him, whereas he’s trying to tie her to other ministers, and partly because it’s simply a better-selected quotation. It ends with its killer line.
- The quotation – of course – isn’t saying what she’s saying it is, but it doesn’t matter because the look of incredulous despair and change it tone sell it utterly and distract you from the fact that the quotation is entirely reasonable.
- This is the best performance I’ve seen from her. Withering contempt seems to be effective as a stance from her, and she seems to actually relish it, as opposed to the concerned statesman she’s tried to pull off before.
Not many jokes this week. Theresa had the much easier job, in that hers was better written and easier to deliver, but she also did a better job with what she was given.
If you are intending to use humour in a speech it’s essential that it look like it’s coming organically from you. Very little is more awkward than someone trying to do a joke they’re not happy with. Corbyn’s pun seemed forced on him, May’s scorn seemed real.
Full disclosure: I’m part of TTW, a company that teaches this sort of thing to people who have to talk in public. If you’d like more of this sort of thing, do get in touch.
(Politicians Telling Jokes is an occasional series devoted to politicians telling jokes. The first is here.)
Jeremy Corbyn opened with a gag. After a fractious conference, an attempt to unseat him, and the publication of a book the central comic premise of which is that Jeremy Corbyn can’t tell jokes (The Little Red Book Of Corbyn Jokes which is very, very good and something you should definitely go and buy), he opened with a gag.
Let’s see how he did.
The answer is surprisingly well.
The first thing that works about the joke is the context. After a year of seeming awkward, earnest and humourless, the challenge was to change that perception.
It’s was also a self-deprecating joke about one of his most notable recent cock-ups, and having the confidence to do it so soon after a leadership election is a good move. By making a joke of it, he’s deprived Theresa May of the opportunity to do a similar in her speech next week, as well as defusing the issue. It was a good joke made at the right time.
In terms of delivery, he’s improved hugely since last year. He genuinely seems to understand the structure of the joke and is prepared to give a long pause before he trundles on to the punchline. Again, it seems hugely confident.
Which is where the writing lets him down.
We all know what the joke’s going to be at 00:09. He knows it, the audience know it, they’re laughing. He could quite easily have stopped there and let a gesture do the rest.
Instead, however, he gives a punchline that neither raises the stakes or changes the imagery to get a bigger laugh, nor flips it to make a political point.
For me, the biggest disappointment is the repetition of the word “hall”. First, it’s a terrible word to try and get a laugh from, an echoing, empty syllable that’s all aspirated and labialised without any nice, crunchy consonants to cling onto.
It’s also displeasingly vague. “Foyer,” “narthex,” “vestibule”. None of these work contextually, but all are funnier words for “part of a hall”. Picking a specific place would have worked, especially if it reinforced some of the facts from the story. Even “They’ve told me there are 800 seats in first class” would have worked. It would have added a surreal element, but the idea of a Labour conference having a first class section is a nice one and gives you room to play.
So, can we get more specific or just more funny? The simplest fix, I think, would be just to make it “They’ve told me there are 800 seats up the back.”
It’s a nice final consonant to end on, avoids the repetition, gives you a nice rhythm to attack at the end, and is slightly more conversational.
Leave your suggestions for better punchlines in the comments below.
(Natt Tapley teaches this stuff with TTW Training)
We’ve got a show coming up. Ahem.
It’s traditional at this point to write a thing about how it’s going to be the best show in town that night, and you should drop everything to go and see it. But I can’t write that. Because we’re not the best show in town that night.
We’re not even the best show at the Leicester Square Theatre that night.
Playing in the main house, when we’re in the Lounge is Barry Crimmins. If you haven’t heard of Barry, go and watch Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary about him right now. It’s on Netflix. you have no excuse.
He’s going to be amazing. If I weren’t in a show approximately thirty feet below him at the time, I’d definitely be going to see his show. Because it’s going to be brilliant, and angry, and a life-affirming experience.
So, we’re definitely not the best thing on there that night.
And then Bridget Christie’s on. She’s almost guaranteed to be better and more thoughtful and more worth telling your friends you’ve seen than us.
Oh, and Will bloody Franken’s on. One of the most naturally-gifted character comics you’ll ever see will be on a stage close enough for you to touch his mad brilliance.
So we’re possibly the fourth best show at the Leicester Square Theatre this weekend.
Except that Aatif is excellent, too…
God, this is depressing.
Not that ours isn’t brilliant. It is. It’s a life-affirming hour of Wombles, Rumbelowses, ruminations on the philosophy of lookaliking, OHP shadow theatre, and a lots and lots of jokes.
It’s also short enough that you can see it and then go on and do something else.
Like seeing one of those other shows.
Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word!
Mrs Thatcher said that at the beginning of the Falklands War. Which was brave, because in most situations, as you’re going into a war, you’d at least want a leader who knew the meaning of basic military terminology.
We can only imagine her wild confusion on learning the Argentinians had suffered huge defeats.
She’s been dead for years now, and yet – here I am – still yammering on about Thatcher, uselessly thrashing at her corpse with the pathetic fronds of what passes for wit in this benighted ago.
I’m doing another show about her at the end of the month.
I told a friend and they asked me why I was doing another show about Thatcher. I said I didn’t think I did that many shows about Thatcher. They pointed out that every show I’ve done since 2009 has featured Margaret Thatcher in some form or another.
I even did a seance for her.
They wondered if it wasn’t a bit creepy, if I wasn’t just making money out of the misery of a demented, helpless, vulnerable old lady. I think that’s what she would have wanted.
But yes, from The Thatcher Seance to the recounting of her final minutes in The Bowler Debates, she’s always been there, hovering, like a vulture. Like a vulture with less compassion than other vultures.
In everything I write, in everything I do, it seems like the big problem we’re addressing is Thatcher. A dead woman who hasn’t been in power for a quarter of a century.
And yet we’ve got someone trying out their best Thatcherisms at PMQs. We’ve got a Labour Party ready to split, ready to be led by a Welsh nonentity that no-one really cares for…
It’s like she’s reaching out from beyond the grave, demanding we pay her theatrical tribute, refusing to die until we’ve exorcised her from ourselves.
But it’s not like anyone even comes. Last time we did this show we had six people at one performance at The Hen & Chickens.
It’s enough to make you want to stop flogging that dead person.
It’s enough to make you give up.
But then I remember.
Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word…
Book your tickets for Margaret Thatcher & The Buster Merryfield Resemblance here.
At the end of June, I wrote a passive-aggressive poem about Southern Rail and put it on the internet. Then BBC South made a video of it, which got more than 2 million views and it’s been on Radio 4’s You And Yours, and all sorts of local news programmes. People keep coming here looking for it, and I’ve just realised that they won’t find it if they do.
In case you haven’t heard it, here’s The Ballad Of Southern Rail…
In the intro to this, Ian McMillan says: “In ten years’ time we’ll remember this play.”
I’d forgotten about it until I turned up an old CD when clearing out the shed. So, for Natt completists, here it is…
So, The Thatcher Seance is happening, and it’s ruffling a few feathers. Here’s the trailer:
The show is already part of history, as I previewed it as part of the record-breaking attempt to perform the world’s longest comedy gig. Ha! Take that, Norris Macwhirter, and your other friends on the creepy far right…
If I were you I’d book tickets now. See you there. And maybe her, too.
I’m a disaster at keeping this blog up to date. Partly, of course, because I don’t know what it is. Some days, it’s a place for blistering think-pieces on political hot-topics. Other days, it’s a receptacle for Bowler videos. And on other, shameful days, it’s a self-promotional wankbag.
This is one of those days.
If you didn’t come to The Bowler Debates last week (and you may have missed them because I never mentioned them on my own blog for fear of seeming too pushy), then all is not lost. A reviewer came, and made notes, and wrote those notes up afterwards into this lovely review. Thank you, Kat Pope.
The structure of this new show is simple but works perfectly… While it’s difficult to tell how much of the show is scripted and how much off the cuff, it doesn’t really matter as this is genuinely funny stuff… Tapley is always nicely in control of his character and material, but can’t quite hide a smile when he knows he’s nailed it, which is a good 80% of the time – not a bad comedy hit rate at all… It’s a shocker, but then you’ll just have to go to see this marvellous hour of comedy to find out exactly what did happen between the two old chums.
Yeah. 80%. Boom!
Also, on Sunday The Revolution Will Be Televised – on which I wrote – won a BAFTA. No, I have no idea whether or not this means I can call myself a “BAFTA-winning writer” but, until I am absolutely and explicitly told not to, I intend to heavily imply it in all conversations.
So, that was my week. How was yours?
Hello, there. How are you? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe some sort of cream would help…
I’ve got a present for you. It’s right here. See? You weren’t expecting that were you? Some friends and I made half-hour, full-cast audio horror-comedy shows just for you.
So that’s four presents for you. I’d also like to buy you a drink. We haven’t seen each other in ages. If only there was some way…
Hey! Here’s a thing! We’re performing live versions of those award-winning podcasts at the Leicester Square Theatre on Thursday (25th) at 21:00, and on Sunday (28th) at 20:30. We’re even doing a brand new episode, which has never been seen before by humans!
So, if you were to come along to that, I could get you that drink. Just hang around afterwards and work the work ‘ghoulies’ into conversation and I’ll get you one! Brill!
What’s that? You’re not sure you’ll enjoy it? Well, as someone with the good taste to have enjoyed my comedy in the past, I’m sure you’ll find it almost criminally hilarious.
After all, the West Sussex Gazette said: “IF YOU like your comedy as dark and bitter as the purest black chocolate then In The Gloaming will be just to your taste… Rich with black humour… Mr Tapley is an extraordinarily skilled actor and polished writer with a gimlet wit – but unlike many comedians there is nothing reassuringly safe about his material. Michael McIntyre he is not.” So you’re bound to like it. Unless you’re Michael McIntyre.
Impromptyou said: “Alarming , yet hilarious… I am pretty confident that Nat is a fan of The League of Gentlemen as there was a lot of material that would not be out of place in that series. It was a great show – just the right level of terrifying for a coward like myself.”
And in this month’s Starburst magazine, which only came out yesterday, they called it “Great – good horrific stories realised with superb writing, production values and performances.” And they also say our shows on Thursday & Sunday are “going to be really rather good.”
Not forgetting the fact that we, you know, WON AN AWARD. *cough* 2010 Parsec Award for Best New Podcaster. *cough*
And the fact that the podcasts have featured the vocal talents of Michael Greco (Eastenders), Lizzie Roper (Dead Boss), Darren Strange (Parents), Ruth Bratt (Mongrels), John Voce (pretty much everything, ever), Sally Chattaway, Zoe S Battley, Rachel Stubbings, John Hopkins, Emma Powell and MORE.
So you probably will like it.
And we won’t be preforming this again. And you’ll get to see the first (and only) live performance of the brand new episode, written specifically for 2012.
So please do pop along. and hang around afterwards for that drink…
See you soon!
- Award-winning horror-comedy returns to the West End for Hallowe’en (inthegloamingpodcasts.wordpress.com)
- New In The Gloaming! Live at the Leicester Square Theatre! (inthegloamingpodcasts.wordpress.com)
Good news for fans of the horror-comedy anthology series this month: Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are working on a new series for BBC2, and In The Gloaming is returning with a new episode to the Leicester Square Theatre at the end of October. Admittedly, those two pieces of news might not have quite the same impact, but with the success of last year’s Black Mirror, it’s a hopeful sign that the horror-comedy anthology series might be on the way back.
It’s a format that, just a couple of years ago, seemed irretrievably lost. In the arc-heavy, densely-plotted world of television of the 2000s, the idea that you wouldn’t continue a story from week to week seemed like a quaint anachronism, one of things you were able to do in television’s infancy, but that had been superseded, like a clock to count you down to the programme’s start or actors who hadn’t eaten worms in a jungle.
Shows that were held up as the epitome of the new storytelling – 24, Lost, Heroes – had taken the twist ending to beloved of anthology shows, but used it to drive you into next week’s episode, rather than nastily rounding things off for the audience and trusting they’d come back for more. The showrunner who seemed to be the most direct descendant of Rod Serling – J.J. Abrams – was held up as an example of why shows like The Twilight Zone just weren’t feasible any more.
The 1990s saw revivals of The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, and the creation of Tales From The Crypt in the US. In Britain we had Murder Most Horrid, which ran for four series and won a British Comedy Award, but it pretty much stood alone*. Hammer House Of Horror and Tales Of The Unexpected had given up the ghost, and there was nothing to fill their shoes.
There were a couple of attempts to revive the format in the early 2000s. It’s diffiocult to know whether or not to count Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible as a proper horror-comedy anthology series because it’s a spoof. The jokes come mainly from the way in which they parody actual anthology series (and lots of knob gags), rather than from the stories themselves.
It’s difficult not to drift into spoof sometimes, though. Particularly in its titles, Murder Most Horrid often made fun of the conventions of the murder-mystery. The League Of Gentlemen Christmas Special (much like The Simpsons‘ Treehouse Of Horror series) are all the more effective for having a stock bag of horror cliches to play with.
In In The Gloaming we made a conscious effort to avoid spoof, but sometimes the comedy relies on your awareness of the genre, and your audience’s awareness of the genre. Even so, listening back, there’s one joke in ‘Dead Skinny’ that only works as a take on the old ‘disappearing shop’ bit (and which, in retrospect, The Simpsons also mocked in their ‘Monkey’s Paw’ episode.)
The third series of The League of Gentlemen was a comedy-horror anthology series, tied together with the motif of the crashing van, and it was an interesting development from the more sketchy format of the first two series. BBC Three also had a go at the format with Spine Chillers, which I never saw (2003 was something of a ‘lost year’ for me. I am reasonably reliably informed that it was much like 2002 and 2004).
And that was pretty much it for a decade. Not only was it not attempted, but it was thought of as impossible.
I first developed In the Gloaming as a series of shorts for Comedybox in 2007/8. When that inevitably went the way of all sites that were producing internet comedy (and not allowing you to embed the videos) during 2008 that was one of the projects that sank with it.
After doing Tonightly I reworked it as a television pitch, and took it to a few TV production companies in the autumn of 2008. Everyone thought it would be far too expensive (which may well have been a nice way of saying, “We saw Tonightly. No thank you.”) and it wasn’t the sort of thing anyone was looking for.
At around the same time I went to a BAFTA screening of Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, which had a Q&A after it. At that, he mentioned that he was working in something like Tales Of The Unexpected. I gave a grim chuckle. Horror anthology series seemed dead in the water. (Which would be an episode where a businessman in a yacht rescues a drowning man far out at sea, only to discover that he’s his exact doppleganger…)
There was a place, of course, for the anthology series. On the radio. BBC Radio Seven (what is now Four Extra) had revived The Man In Black with none other than Mark Gatiss in the titular role. So, in 2009, we decided to do In The Gloaming as a series of audio podcasts. We had great casts (Michael Greco, Lizzie Roper, Darren Strange, Ruth Bratt, John Voce, Rachel Stubbings), and we won some awards, but, for too many reasons to list here, we only managed to do four episodes.
Fast forward two years: Black Mirror is filming its second series, Happy Endings will be coming out next year, and there are brand new episode of In The Gloaming live in London.
It’s a great time to be a horror-comedy fan.
And I can finally use the sign-off line I never dared use on any of the podcasts:
“You won’t know whether to piss yourself or shit yourself.”
Good night. Mhwah ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaa!
* Incidentally, my father-in-law played a Chinnery-esque butcher in an episode of Murder Most Horrid. You can see him here:
- Halloween Season For Horror Writers: The List Of Who’s Accepting (aknifeandaquill.wordpress.com)
- Matt Reeves Passes on Directing ‘The Twilight Zone’ (screenrant.com)
- New In The Gloaming! Live at the Leicester Square Theatre! (inthegloamingpodcasts.wordpress.com)