Richard Herring Me1 Vs Me2 Snooker Podcast

A stroke of innovative comedy genius, or a desperate cry for help? Richard Herring’s new snooker podcast has divided opinion since it began in December last year. Is it even a comedy podcast? Herring says not, insisting that it is a serious sports podcast and should be treated as such. He also says the podcast is an attempt to whittle down his listenership to zero, at which point he will have won. And redefined the very concept of art. Should we be concerned?

The setup is simple. Herring records himself (Me1) playing himself (Me2) at snooker on a mini table in a cramped basement then publishes the results on the British Comedy Guide website. As well as the two players, Herring also inhabits the roles of two commentators who interview the two players and comment on the match, and the referee. It can get confusing but then great art is sometimes challenging.

Whether this is great art, a scathing satire on ‘challenging’ comedians, or a meta-comedic takedown of postmodernism (it’s definitely one of those things) remains to be seen. But the show is not just coldly intellectual, there is a distinct strain of melancholy here too. Born Phoenix-like from the ashes of the Collings and Herrin Podcast, which ended last year due to a ‘lack of enthusiasm’ on the part of Andrew Collins, Herring’s new podcast is haunted by the spectre of Collings. Like a spurned lover prostrating himself at the feet of the object of his affections and wailing ‘this is what you’ve done to me!’ every missed ball and foul shot seems to sigh ‘come back, Andrew, come back.’

Snooker loopy nuts are we
Me and him and them and me
We’ll show you what we can do
With a load of balls and a snooker cue
         (Chas and Dave. Snooker Loopy)

Louis CK

2

Louis CK and Frog

The only major disadvantage of living abroad is the lack of exposure to exciting new comedy. Oh sure, there’s Radio 4, and the BBC Iplayer if you can persuade it to work overseas. But you try persuading a touring comic to come and play a few shows in Seoul and you’ll be wasting your time, my friend, you’ll be wasting your time. Fortunately, one of the advantages is that you can come across comedy that you might not otherwise encounter, and such is the case with Louis CK. When an American friend said to me ‘Yo Tom, ya oughtta check this dude out, he rocks!’, I was initially sceptical. I’ve had my eyes burned by too many Farrelly Brothers, Adam Sandler or Robin Williams films that I’ve watched on the recommendation of American friends. However, when I borrowed his DVD of the first series (season?) of Louis CK’s sitcom, Louie, I was moved to steal it and have since recommended it to friends of every nationality.

The series is based around the everyday life of a newly divorced father of two young children, living in New York. The character inhabits a similar persona to the character CK adopts for his live shows. While not quite the self-loathing, bitter and hilarious misanthrope that he is on stage, he still cuts a pathetic figure: romantically rejected, tormented by his daughters, humiliated by teenagers, all familiar scenarios for fans of Woody Allen and Curb your Enthusiasm.

I can understand the comparison with Larry David’s show, both explore similar themes, are semi-improvised and made on a tiny budget, but they are quite different. After eight seasons (it’s American so I should say seasons), Curb has settled into a comforting groove of : situation –> insensitivity –> misunderstanding –> insane screaming and swearing, all conducted at a steadily increasing volume. It’s a brilliant formula but it can start to feel a little contrived. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal, once the ‘Waddya mean!”s start and the comedy trumpet noise starts bubbling away we know where the scene is going to go. In Louie the scenes develop in a more organic, unpredictable and sometimes quite unfunny way. Take this scene, a macho round of poker playing backslapping turns into a tragic history of gay persecution. For comparison, here’s a similar scene from Curb. Both scenes are rather vulgar so be warned!

Louie has been a critical success in the states so there’s a fair chance that FX can sell the show to a British station. A third series has already been commisioned and the first is available on DVD, though mysteriously the swearing has been bleeped out. Try and get hold of it if you can, when this comes to the UK it will be massive, you heard it here first.

Last Post on The Bugle?

Regular readers to this long running and venerable blog will notice that I have a great affection for podcasts. The world of puerile, transatlantic, satirical comedy podcasts was rocked a couple of weeks ago by the news that TimeOnline, the internet arm of The Times branch of the mighty Murdoch Empire, was dropping The Bugle Podcast. Like any remote colony The Bugle had grown rebellious and unruly (are you listening, America?) prone to, not simply biting the hand that feeds, but ripping that handm off at the wrist, chewing it up and spitting it out in a little ball of satire. Their unrestrained coverage of the News International hacking scandal was apparently unrelated to their cancellation, but it can’t have helped.

Andy Zaltzman

For four years The Bugle has brought light to the world in many forms; The Hotties from History section, where listeners were invited to nominate their favourite historical pin-ups (must be dead), was a fan favourite.  The Fuck-eulogy, a moving dedication to tyrants that are no longer with us (lucky recipients so far being Bin Laden, Ghadaffi and Kim Jong Il) was another popular segment. As was ‘Ask An American’, where listeners are invited to pose questions such as ‘How do you know the existence of Canada?’, ‘US army or Navy, which is more American?’ and ‘What kind of gun is best to fire from a jet ski?’, to a real live American. Less popular were host Andy Zaltzman’s torturous pun-runs; a chain of convoluted wordplay on a common theme. Past examples being; North Korean placenames and the various produce of Greece.

It’s a mystery why Timesonline would choose to let all this go but, rest assured, this will not be the end of The Bugle. The hosts, John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman have vowed to continue the podcast independently. Given that it is not cheap to produce and host a podcast, they have introduced a voluntary donation system to try and cover their costs. It remains to be seen how successful this model of monetizing online content can be, but the pair have built up a large and dedicated fanbase who seem willing to pay for new episodes.

John Oliver

In these days of comedy podcasts falling like toppled Arab leaders (Collings & Herrin, Adam & Joe, Pete & Dud), the tenacity of John and Andy may seem remarkable. Especially considering the logistics of recording a show where John is in New York and Andy is in London. Yet this should not come as a surprise considering the history of this pair. After a working as a double act for 3 years, including a stint presenting the Radio 4 political comedy showcase, Political animal, John moved to New York to join the massively successful American news parody, The Daily Show. He is now one of the most recognised British comedians in America and has even made faltering, if slightly embarrassing, steps into Hollywood with the films The Love Guru and The Smurfs. That The Bugle exists is a testament to the joy of two old mates making each other laugh, setting the world to rights and giggling uncontrollably at a chalk penis drawn on a roof.

The Bugle archive from Times online is available here.

Post Murdoch Bugles will be posted here.

Ricky Gervais. Where is he now?

You remember Ricky Gervais, don’t you? Yes you do. The little bloke off The 11 O’clock show, that ropey satire on Channel 4 in the late 90s.  No, no, not Ali G. Yes, I know, Ali G was brilliant and I do remember the time he asked the UK education official about getting ‘caned‘. Ricky Gervais was the short, fat geezer who used to come on and play the character of a tactless bigot, in between all the hilarious Ali G bits. Still nothing? Come on, he had his own chat-show, Meet Ricky Gervais. Alright, so nobody watched it and it has been widely derided, even by its creator, but that’s still pretty impressive, isn’t it?

Multiple award winning, chum of the superstars, Hollywood writer/director/producer/actor, international commercial and critical phenomenon and kingmaker to the comic genius Karl Pilkington, it’s amazing how far Ricky Gervais has come in the last decade. He’s succeeded in America where the, arguably more talented, Steve Coogan has failed. Don’t get me wrong, The Office was brilliant and I did have a bit of a man-cry at his Celebrity Big Brother rant in the Extras Christmas special, but his all-conquering success is still incredible. This year he participated in a discussion about comedy with the 3, in my opinion, greatest stand-up comedians alive. Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK and… Ricky Gervais? Though an atheist myself, I fail to see how Gervais can maintain his disbelief in God.

With British comedy swamped by pretty men called Russell, it’s encouraging to see that someone like Gervais, short, fat, 20s long gone, can make it.  Talent is still appreciated, even if it is partly the talent of his lanky collaborator Stephen Merchant. And yet the vultures circle. His latest sitcom, Life’s Too Short, was relatively poorly received, as was his latest stand-up show. The mong-gate debacle has also done him no favours and his performance at the 2012 Golden Globes was more respectful than cutting. In Britain, many seem to be willing him to fail.

I don’t want him to fail and I don’t think he will. But my favourite bit of Gervais material, more than the groundbreaking sitcoms, podcasts, stand-up and films, remains this clip -  Gervais and Merchant, two old mates desperately cold-calling agents in America in the hope of contacting Leonardo Di Caprio, questioning their own sanity, amazed they’d been allowed to get this far.

Dark Comedy

Dark comedy is like riding a tricycle the wrong way down a motorway…                    
Fun while it lasts.

Your face. While listening to Blue Jam.

I have been accused of having a rather twisted sense of humour. On one occasion I played a close friend an episode of Blue Jam, Chris Morris’ twisted radio sketch show from the late nineties. She fixed me with eyes of genuine concern and asked ‘are you sure you’re ok?’ A couple of months ago I participated in the creation of a sketch show set in a supermarket. We brainstormed comedic ideas including; wonky trolley wheels, flirty assistants, self-service checkout machines and bargains – all comedy gold. A similar session for ‘Blue Jam’ might have featured; symptomless coma, acupuncture with nails, going feral and a TV full of lizards. The radio series, broadcast in an early morning witching hour of night terrors and obsessive thoughts, was a hallucinogenic joy but the TV incarnation only ran for one series. Perhaps after all the dead babies it had nowhere else to go.

More than happy.

Another dark series that only birthed six black and blue episodes was Julia Davis and Rob Brydon’s Human Remains. This bleak comedy uses the mockumentary style (predating The Office) to examine the dysfunctional relationships of six couples, including mentally subnormal Diana obsessive and her abusive thug fiance and a pair of middle-aged sex swingers caring for a coma stricken relative. The series features some of their finest acting performances combined with a semi-improvised script that straddles the gash between hilarity and excruciating pain. Davies returned to similar themes in 2004 with Nighty Night, which featured her playing a psychopathic hairdresser with a mission to snare her disabled neighbour’s husband. Nighty Night managed 12 episodes of glorious vulgarity before ending. How could they top Jill’s theft of her love object’s > intimate fluids? Couldn’t find a link for that last one, so you’ll have to make do with this.

Seeing as this has all gone a bit ‘Julia Davis’ I should mention the dark and wonderful Lizzie and Sarah. Co-created with the equally amazing Jessica Hynes, Lizzie and Sarah depicts two victimised housewives taking gory revenge on their husbands. Only the pilot was ever broadcast, the BBC lacking the testies to commission a full series, but it was a painful slice of comedic genius. Enjoy some of these links and try not to let the crying sound coming from your face distract you from the laughs.

My Terror of Live Comedy

I’ve recently returned to the UK after a number of years teaching abroad. Prior to this I loved going out to see live stand up as often as possible. My regular was the Sunday Special night at Up The Creek in Greenwich, a cheap and cheerful venue for new comedians to establish themselves and veterans to try out fresh material. While in Korea I sustained myself on a meagre diet of podcasts, The Bugle and Collings and Herrin being particular favourites. But it was no substitute for real live comedy, or so I thought.

Once back I immediately booked two tickets for the last of Richard Herring’s Lyric Hammersmith gigs – Richard Herring, Andy Zaltzman, Isy Suttie, Pappy’s. It was like a podcast supergroup, the voices in my head for the last four years made flesh. The problems started in the foyer before the gig. As my girlfriend and I were picking up our tickets, Isy Suttie (Dobbie from Peep Show- how long before she escapes those parentheses perennially following her name) sidled up to the desk beside us, just like some sort of normal person. My girlfriend, possibly the most freakishly devout Peep Show fan in Korea, began an urgent oscillation between wanting to ask for an autograph/photo and being utterly starstruck. While I mocked her enthusiasm and reached for my camera, we were joined at the desk by Richard Herring. I’ve been a huge fan of Herring’s comedy since I was about 16, and his puerile, offensive and pedantic podcasts have had me cackling in the public places of various foreign cities for the last three years. Did I ask for a photo? Offer a nearly complete Café Nero card? Or at least say ‘Thank you’ for hundreds of hours of free laughs? No, I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and ran to the pub like a big cowardly custard.

Things did not improve inside the gig. Suddenly the voices in my head, once enjoyed in the privacy of my kitchen, classroom or lavatory, were made public to an audience of chuckling strangers. Where once I passively consumed comedy like a huge devouring mouth, I now risked being singled out and potentially ridiculed by the performer (for any number of reasons). It was still funny, but live comedy has the frisson of danger that prophylactically edited stand up shows like Live at the Apollo can’t convey and that I wasn’t used to.

Perhaps this phobia began at a Daniel Kitson gig a few years ago. It was Christmas and I’d given each of my friends a gift from Korea. One of my friends hadn’t turned up and so another friend, who had a supreme crush on Kitson, gave the extra Christmas present to him during the show. Kitson, who as far as I could tell hadn’t prepared any material and was working only on audience banter, opened the gift and extracted the maximum amount of comedy from a set of metal chopsticks and a free Buddhist calender. All the while I shrank behind a pillar, terrified that he would latch on to the ethics of giving away a present intended for someone else. He never did, but the experience still haunts me.

And that’s just the good comics. Let’s not discuss the sympathetic horror of watching fresh-faced compères desperately squeezing the laughs from Brian from Stockport’s funny place of birth, or Linda from IT’s funny job. And finally, there are the brave Christians thrown to the lions of the open mike. My most awkward comedy experience was watching such a brave soul try out his risky ‘differences between Indians and Pakistanis’ material at an open mike night. The air thickened with horrified silence before the mutterings of ‘racist’ developed into jeers of ‘you’re shit!’ and ‘get off!’ While the would-be comic countered his hecklers with the old ‘dickhead says what?’ comeback, which hasn’t been funny since Wayne’s World in 1991, I quietly imploded in a black hole of embarrassment on his behalf.

So there you go. My first comedy blog entry was about my fear of live comedy. What a great way to start.