Looking for Comedy with a Blogpost

by Jennifer Collins

I’ve been thinking a lot about humour and different kinds of comedy recently, mainly because I took some Irish, German and English friends to see some Irish short films a few weeks ago. I quickly became aware that the humour in the films was really “Irish”– or that was how I perceived it — and I was kind of worried that it might not translate. As one of my English friends pointed out, the comedy in the films was dark — most of it involved animals either exploding or being shot. The Irish people in the audience seemed to find it uproarious and most of the non-Irish found it funny too. (Thank jaysus because there’s nothing worse than dragging a load of people to something only for that something to turn out to be utter rubbish. And then, of course, you’ll never be trusted again to make choices for the group.)

A lot of people talk about how humour and comedy is country-specific: American humour is boisterious and about as subtle as a brick over the head; British humour is dark and understated; German humour is, well, just not very humourous*. Of course, I’m making crude generalisations here and am really referring to the mainstream of humour in all of these countries. And of course one form of humour isn’t necessarily better than the other – it’s just different and a matter of taste …. Sorry! I can’t help but be diplomatic being from a small, neutral country and all that. Humour is certainly a phenomeon that is influenced by culture, context, history and environment, and for those reasons often isn’t universal.

For me comedy is also about dealing with life’s tribulations by looking at the absurdity of it all. It pokes fun at the ridiculousness of life and our neuroses. I suppose that’s why I kind of like surrealist humour (anything satirical – particularly political satire – or that deals with semantics and how we use language too). Anyway, I’m really rambling here. All of this was just a pretext to post a BBC4 documentary about Scottish poet and humourist, Ivor Cutler, but I thought it would look a bit lazy if I just posted the link without writing something substantial.

I’ve always been aware of Ivor Cutler because he plays the wonderfully weird bus conductor, Buster Bloodvessel, in The Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour and  also appeared regularly on John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 shows. I’ve just recently taken the time to seriously read, listen to and watch his comedy. He’s got this interesting, eccentric and mischievous air about him and his dark, surrealist humour seems to be heavily influenced by his Scottish-Jewish heritage. It sometimes reminds me of passages from Joyce novels like Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, which could be another reason why I like it so much. I wish I’d discovered him sooner as he sadly passed away six years ago

The documentary is called Looking for Truth with a Pin (which inspired the terrible title of this here post) and it’s in six parts. Enjoy:

Here he is performing his song Shoplifters on his trademark harmonium on The Old Grey Whistle Test:

And here is some stuff about tea (many of his songs and sketches mention tea, which is great, because I love tea):

*The poor Germans get a really bad rap for this and I don’t think it’s that justified. There’s a lot of good comedy around these parts. Loriot is an obvious example. Rainald Grebe is also great, although, also a bit hit and miss if you ask me. If any readers would like to point me in the direction of some more good German comedy that would be great. But be warned anyone who suggests Mario Barth will be banished from this site for ever. One of my favourite comedians in the world, Stewart Lee, also wrote once in The Guardian that it’s all about the German sentence construction, which rules out the lazy set-ups relied upon by British comedians. Read all about it here.

**The irony of this blogpost is that I’m just not very funny, so sorry if you were expecting to be rofling all around the place. The title is a bit misleading.