Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Reg D Hunter at the Brighton Dome; review

Posted 19 Feb 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

As a young teenager I careered from obsession to obsession; football, music, books, and at one point – when I was about twelve or thirteen, I think, stand-up and TV comedy. In reality, the latter was all I could actually access, being far too young to head into London to go to comedy clubs, so I watched everything from dire dross like Birds of A Feather to slightly less dire VHSs of Lenny Henry live. Stand up comics certainly never came to play at the local Arts centre – or at least, they didn’t until Eddie Izzard announced that he was playing the Barnet Old Bull. The Old Bull was a small, scruffy place, way off the comedy circuit – but in those days Eddie Izzard was perhaps six months to a year off being celebrated as the next big thing in comedy.

Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, but I had read something about him in the paper and thus knew that he would be worth watching.

So I tried – increasingly desperately – to persuade my mother to take me to see him… and failed, because she, perhaps understandably, concluded that the difference between the content of TV comedy and live stand-up was rather greater than I appreciated. My request was turned down because, she said, the comedy would likely be ‘blue’.

It strikes me as odd in retrospect that this concerned her greatly (there were no restrictions on swearwords in our house and in fact I have a happy memory of her playing me her vinyl copy of New Boots and Panties by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, in order to each me some new ones), and it’s funny to think that in those pre-internet days I had no way of persuading her of the truth – that Izzard, in fact, never, even in those early days, really strayed into ‘blue’ comedy.

So, I missed the gig and, after a while, pretty much lost my interest in comedy as I turned my attentions elsewhere. But for one reason or another I’ve always remembered the conversation we had and wondered who else from the world of cuddly TV is a foul-mouthed animal when transported to the stage of the local arts centre.

This week we went to see Reginald D Hunter at the Brighton Dome, and my expectations were actually pretty high; both in terms of expecting it to be funny, and expecting it to be blue. In the event, it was certainly incredibly funny, and Reg went to some lengths to explain to his very white, very middle class audience that he had no qualms about using words like ‘nigga’ or ‘faggotry’ (“I’m not that cuddly TV nigga”, he warned us). His set though, was far more thoughtful and nuanced than I was expecting, and although the performance was laced with the odd crude joke, it generally served the purpose of his broader point, even if it almost certainly (inevitably) honed in on cheap laughter.

For the most part, the set was preoccupied with exploring the things we claim to know about ourselves, and the tension between that and the many things we refuse to acknowledge. Key to his thesis is that we’ve become complacent and unable to exercise self-restraint in our lives, whether by refusing to control our lazy desire to watch and consume crap or to resist facing self-examination or honest self-assessment. Key to all this is his reassurance, ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’. This simplistic assertion is not borne of unsympathetic cruelty or withering disdain, but instead an earnest notion that we choose not to look at ugly truths because we’re ‘waiting for something prettier to come along’. Using the age-old technique of audience ridicule, he even provides some graphic (if not particularly insightful) examples. It’s clever, rude stuff.

That said, his show is broadly without structure; anecdotes come and go, not always explicable until later on. This isn’t the result of careful foreshadowing, but rather evidence that, as of yet, Reggie isn’t as disciplined as he might be about constructing his theme. He relies, I think, on his immediate and engaging manner to waltz through complex ideas which could do with a bit of further explanation. But the general tone of his set is both ruminative and ribald, here troubling and there smoothly easy-going. It’s a nice combination of the natural comic instinct which Reg possesses and the semi-urgent discoveries of his own ascent into middle age. Having never seen him before, I don’t know if he is growing up, but his set is a nice mixture of the fast maturing, the puerile, and the naturally charming.

adam buxton reads his press

Posted 02 Feb 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Video

Well, I’d like to say that the relentless kicking which The Persuasionists has attracted from the media over recent weeks wasn’t deserved, but sadly I think it probably was. Nevertheless, I still love Adam Buxton unreservedly. Here he is reading through the reviews.

out of proportion

Posted 26 Oct 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Wonderful first episode of the new series of The Thick Of It this weekend; just watched it on iPlayer – super stuff. Still not sure what the best line was, though. Omnishambles, perhaps. Actually no, I think it’s the following exchange:

Nicola Murray: “You set this up didn’t you?”
Malcolm Tucker: “What?”
Nicola Murray: “To put me in my place, or get back at me for ignoring your advice, or some other weird perceived slight that doesn’t in any way merit this massive fucking out of proportion Israeli-style response?

the real nick griffin

Posted 10 Jun 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

There are lots of ‘fake’ twitter accounts on the internet, and most are either deliberately misleading or blunt, unfunny attempts at satire. Since it was created a couple of days ago, however, the @realnickgriffin account has been consistently hilarious. No idea who’s behind it, but the tweets are much more than isolated gags – instead the timeline of posts works as a kind of absurd, hilarious soap opera, purporting to present the BNP leader’s fatuous racism and daily trials at the hands of the PC liberal media and the European Parliament which he is now compelled to attend. It is there that he is forced to interact with the Parliament’s other resident thug, Jean Marie Le Pen.

The gags are often crass and a bit childish – but it works, and has a tremendous amount of fun with the idiotic figure that is the BNP leader. Incidentally, there are a host of anti-BNP tags being used regularly on twitter, but my favourite so far is the tag people tend to use when talking of Griffin: #fathitler.

Anyway – here’s a selection of the @realnickgriffin tweets posted so far.

arrived in Brussels. guess what? it’s only full of bloody foreigners. i can see i’ll have a right job on.

moved into my new office. guess which way it faces? east! that’s right. someone thinks this is funny, no doubt

that idiot Le Pen left a whoopie cushion on my office chair. there was a note: “I’m sure you’ll find Europe’s a GAS! haha” – cretin

awful biscuits here at the Euro Parliament, too. not a custard cream in sight: just sneering, cosmopolitan macaroons

SO bored in my first day of the new job. sat at my desk drawing the golliwogs back onto jars of (politically correct) jam.

policy ideas: a golliwog for every child. dynamite the Channel Tunnel. some sort of phrenology initiative. more coastguards.

stupid European vending machines. tried to ram in my BRITISH pound coin anyway. hurt hand. lost coin. no Twix. fuck Europe.

off to hit up that sniveling little bollock Le Pen for some lunch money.

snuck into Le Pen’s office and wiped my glans around the rim of all his cups. haha!

just had a pathetic, tearful phonecall from J M Le Pen, saying he wants to “mend bridges”. suppose i’d better go and see what he wants.

someone snitched to Le Pen about the cups! the “meeting” was a trap. i was held down by his advisors and forcibly teabagged by JMLP himself.

furious. i will REPATRIATE the fucking french and anyone who talks french or likes french fucking food.

i can’t wait for my tea. i’m having an Indian. just kidding! i’m having a Chinese. just kidding! i’m having moussaka. just kidding!

i’m having sausages

reading Brick Lane. kidding! reading The Buddha Of Suburbia. kidding! reading The Kite Runner. kidding!

reading nothing

all those astronauts up there, different races, all rubbing up against each other in a solar powered tin can. it makes me sick to my stomach

still not happy about my new easterly-facing office. perhaps a nice rug would jolly it up a bit.

sending my secretary out to shop for a rug

bloody hell. sent my secretary out to buy a rug for the office, she came back with THIS. it will have to do. http://twitpic.com/6ypya

and now in my fury i’ve dropped a contact lens. i’ll just kneel down to pick it up….

Le Pen walked in while i was on all fours searching for the contact lens i dropped on that gaudily-patterned mat in my east-facing office.

obviously now Le Pen is laughing his head off telling all the other fringe MEPs that i’ve “gone Cat Stevens”. fuck fuck fuck. i hate him.

Here’s the link to the twitter feed. Genius. It’s like a racist Adrian Mole.

corden and horden

Posted 01 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read an absolute mountain of sniping articles about Horne and Corden (the stars of BBC3′s Gavin and Stacey, who have recently launched a very poorly-received sketch show), and I find myself getting quite annoyed by the relentless critism. I don’t doubt for a moment that their new show is poor (most TV sketch shows and sitcoms are) but there’s something off-putting in the way that TV reviewers have gone for them so aggressively. I’d much rather read a review of a programme that the critic rates, so that I might find something new to watch – especially in the days of iPlayer when catching up on last night’s TV is a realistic possibility for an evening’s entertainment.

Everyone seems to have back-dated their criticism, too, deciding that Gavin and Stacey was over-rated, too; that it was sentimental, cloying, unfunny. It certainly was a gentle comedy, a million miles from, say, Stewart Lee, but I thought it was beautifully judged – charming and good-natured, witty, silly and believable by turn. I know I am a renowned wimp, but it regularly used to make me cry, too. It may well be fashionable to decry such family fodder – but I don’t like the trend.

Over at the Guardian, Mark Lawson is wondering how the pair will revive their nosediving careers. It’s a ridiculous article. Cordon is perhaps a bit full of himself, but he’s funny and a talented writer, and Matthew Horne is a promising actor. They’ll never be conventional comics, perhaps – but writing off their careers at this very early stage is plain daft.

stewart lee on bbc2

Posted 17 Mar 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Just watched the first episode of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which aired on BBC2 last night. It’s a sign of how poor a lot of television comedy is that, although I knew already that Lee was my favourite stand-up, I was genuinely taken aback by the gulf of glass between him and pretty much everyone else I’ve seen telling jokes on TV in the last five or six years. One thirty minute episode devoted to books, which took in wonderful linguistic jokes, high-brow cultural references, a sustained, pitiless attack on Chris Moyles and an energy and curiosity absent in most of his peers. Best of all was a long, rambling skit on “rap singers” which was, I think, the most satisfyingly slow-paced and uncompromising joke I’ve seen on the BBC; not because it was awfully funny (it wasn’t), but because Lee insisted on telling it his way and not dumbing down for television. The whole show was a masterclass in intelligence.

So happy there are five more episodes to come. Bringing Stewart Lee back to terrestrial television is probably the best decision that the comedy folk at the BBC have made in recent history. Make sure you catch up with it on iPlayer.

no brand awareness

Posted 30 Oct 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Obviously this whole furore about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross is unbelievably overblown, and the news that the head of Radio 2 has now had to resign is just utterly ridiculous. The comments were in bad taste and an apology should have sufficed, and would have had it not been for the tabloid press and the large percentage of the 30,000 people who complained despite not even listening to the show. The eagerness of public figures to damn the two presenters is yet further evidence of Chris Morris’s ‘Brass Eye’ thesis; that celebrities and politicians are only too happy to speak up over issues of which they have zero knowledge. Gordon Brown’s latest comments demonstrate this ably; they are utterly fatuous. He said:

“I simply wanted to express the views of the general public that this was inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour on the part of leading personalities to whom many people look to as role models. I leave it at that.”

To whom many people look to as role models!!?! What the fuck is he talking about? Brand and Ross aren’t role models, they are comedians. This whole debacle has been massively disappointing.

That Mitchell and Webb Conundrum

Posted 14 Mar 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

I can’t be the only person who, as a massive fan of Peep Show, tuned in eagerly to the second series of ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ only to find it utterly unfunny. Admittedly series one was no belter either, but it was at least stronger than most BBC comedy fare of late.

I like Mitchell and Webb. I first became aware of them on Radio 4 in ‘That Mitchell and Webb Sound’, which worked well on the older medium. It just doesn’t on TV. Much of the sketches are lifted from the radio show and they have already become tiresome. The lazy script writers sketch, for example, might’ve have seemed a good idea but in series two it’s just too drawn out and badly written.

They were assisted in the writing of ‘Sound’, the radio show, by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, and, together, the four proved quite strong, although the list of writers at the end of ‘Sound’ was often very long. Later, with ‘Peep Show’, I have come to realise that they are more consistently at their strongest when they take a back seat with the writing duties. Perhaps Armstrong and Bain, who provide the majority of material for their C4 hit, have more of a talent for writing serialised comedy with strong established characters that the viewer cares for? I don’t know quite how much input Mitchell and Webb have in writing ‘Peep Show’, but it seems it’s limited to the nuances that the characters of Mark and Jez add to each scene.

So why is ‘Peep Show’ brilliant, but ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ rubbish?

Here’s my suggestion (using a simple equation);

[surprisingly mathematical guest blogging by Dan]

eels and the mighty boosh

Posted 16 Nov 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

My fellow Brighton blogger Anna Pickard writes for the Guardian today and sticks her neck out to say that she is only mildly impressed with Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt’s BBC3 comedy ‘The Mighty Boosh’, a fairly unusual position to take on a show that really does tend to polarise opinion. I can kind of see why people might find it too knowing and faux-quirky to get along with, but, oh, I love it regardless, and although I was mildly disappointed with series two (apart from its maginificent final episode) I’ve been very excited about the fact that it’s back for a third run.

Unfortunately I was out last night failing to win the Brighton Web Awards, so I missed it but set the video, and this evening I sat down to watch it. First impressions… well, it’s hard to see how hardcore Boosh fans could be disappointed, although it must all be faintly mystifying for a newcomer, much less massively annoying for Booshophobes.

The best aspect of the new series, which is now set in a shop in Shoreditch, is that Fielding and Barratt seem to be concentrating more on the two-handers which made the first series such a joy, giving Howard and Vince ample time to trade lines and riff off each other. Their obvious delight with language is fundamental, and a run of jokes concerning Howard’s small eyes work a treat, as do some super jokes which play on the contrast between the ultra-vivid Vince and the relatively conservative Howard, who proposes to make a fortune with his camoflage elbow patches.

Their world is endlessly inventive, lacking all continuity and led by whichever flights of narrative fancy they choose to spin. Vince’s ‘celebradar’ is a hilarious idea, a machine which allows him to track the activities of indie musicians via tagging devices. There’s one wonderful illustration of Vince’s charming and childlike worldview, where he describes his target market as ‘cool people [and] 15 year old girls’. Vince’s appeal lies in the fact that he sees no difference between the two.

After all the verbal gags, the duo also attempt to retain the bizarre saturated look and feel of the second series. So the show, having started gently, soon gives way to a psychedelic and colourful carnival of a plot which takes in eels, stag dos, prostitution and, er, a popstar named Pete Neon who is part indie kid and part flamingo. It’s all utterly absurd, a bit ruder than usual, and great fun, particularly as the Boosh include colourful cameos for many of their stranger past creations.

The whole thing is rather uneven and hardly densely plotted, but the sheer fun of it, plus some amazing jokes, sees the show through. The pinnacle arrives in a bizarre musical hallucination which sees Howard shrunk and made to dance with a Burlesque dancer inside a hat belonging to ‘The Hitcher’, one of Noel Fielding’s more outrageous characters. As ever the set design and music is singular and engaging, and the whole thing reverberates with enthusiasm – which makes it a pleasure to watch.

Looking forward to episode two.

boosh is back

Posted 10 Nov 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

Mighty Boosh, how I have missed you.

It’s back on Thursday, and I can’t wait. Here’s Noel Fielding in today’s Guardian, rueing the lack of glamour on British telly:

“I hate EastEnders. I call it Glass Smash Face Aids. I cannot bear it. It’s all egg sandwiches, council tax bills and heroin needles. It’s grotesque. Why are people fascinated by that? It’s shit for your eyes. Whatever happened to fantasy and escape and colours and beauty?”

This is Noel Fielding dressed as a panda.

Ace.

coogan on tony wilson

Posted 21 Aug 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

As you might expect, Steve Coogan’s article on the passing of Tony Wilson is affectionate, funny and touching. The full text is on the Guardian website, and here, at the Manchester Evening News.

Writing about playing Wilson in 24 Hour Party People, Coogan writes:

“Tony was nervous for the same reasons I was and we talked before filming began. As an artisan, he understood perfectly that it would be an impressionistic interpretation of him and events. He disputed aspects of the script but quoted John Ford when he said “If it’s a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend”. Throughout filming, he visited the set. On one occasion he walked in whilst we were filming a scene which was un-sympathetic to put it mildly. “That never happened” he pronounced, “but its your interpretation and I believe in artistic freedom”, before leaving in flourish. I love him for that. On another occasion, at the production office, which now seems almost surreal, I was standing at the end of a corridor dressed at Tony in a Yohjiyamanoto suit and white tennis shoes, (a distinct Tony look). When Tony arrived at the other end of the corridor dressed identically, he was on the phone “oh this is too weird” he said “can I call you back?”

“The writer, Paul Morley, later mused that if we’d touched we would have ended up in the fifth dimension. Peter Hook said at the time with robust affection “the biggest twat in Manchester being played by the second biggest twat in Manchester”. It was the biggest compliment I ever received.”

munnery’s world

Posted 25 Jul 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Snorting and giggling at my desk today, sifting through some of Simon Munnery’s recent blog posts. Take your pick from the one-liners below – they’re all funny.

There is advice in sayings, and the law is a form of advice, backed up by truncheons.

“Never a borrower or a lender be” my Uncle used to say, and perhaps inevitably the bank sacked him.

The announcement runs ‘Please be aware that professional beggars are operating in this station’. But how are they operating? Are they operating normally – or is there a restricted service? More information please.

I should be more grateful to my parents. That I’m not is their fault: they should have raised me to be more grateful.

“I didn’t ask to be born,” she eventually said. “Yes you did,” I replied. She couldn’t argue – she knew as little about that time as I did.

more on blair

Posted 20 May 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Everyone seems to be agreed on how brilliant Peep Show is this series, and I’m just watching, wide-eyed, the last one in the series, which I taped the other night. My favourite line so far crops up when Mark and Jez are arguing in the car on the way to Mark’s wedding. At one point they start wrestling over the steering wheel in the middle of the road. The car judders to a halt as they shout at each other.

“I am not going to be known as Mark the jilter for the rest of my life!”, Mark cries.
“Mark, we’re in the middle of the road”, Jez says, “you’re going to get us killed for the sake of your legacy!!! Stop it, you’re not fucking Blair!”.

Genius.

no shortage of sand

Posted 16 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

Two extracts from the latest, typically brilliant, post on Simon Munnery’s blog. As funny as you’d expect, and thought provoking too.

1) “There’s something about the recycling symbol; those three green arrows chasing each others tails; I had a vision of a vast rally, with thousands saluting and huge banners sporting the symbol and a word by each of the arrows – Create! Destroy! Transport! The insanity of it. Take the recycling of bottles for example; these must be left in special baskets outside your house from where they are collected by a van – using fuel – driven to a central location – perhaps Peru, if the whims of the economy so dictate – where they are smashed and melted – using more fuel – before being recast into bottles and then transported again – using fuel – and then they burn some extra fuel just for a laugh. And why recycle glass anyway? There’s no shortage of sand. Recycle? Reuse surely, like we used to a hundred years ago. The symbol itself is a lie; it implies some perfect cycle; infinitely repeatable – but every stage of the process uses fuel; a spiral would be more accurate; but that would attract few followers.”

2) “Countries such as North Korea are oft condemned for being ‘one party states’. But is that so much worse than the USA which as far as I can see is a two party state – with those two parties more or less exactly the same; large corporations funding both. Still at least you get the illusion of choice, which is better than nothing I suppose.”

stuff in the paper

Posted 21 Jan 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Quite a few interesting articles in the Observer, all worth a read.

Firstly, this is the best article I’ve read on the Big Brother racism issue (certainly light years ahead of Germaine Greer’s idiotic piece in the week) – good stuff from Anushka Asthana:

‘This programme has made me question what is racism,’ said Roisin yesterday. ‘At first I thought this was not it, but the more I thought about it I changed my mind. It is racist to bully someone because they are culturally different.

‘But comments like those are made every day, in every town and every city across Britain. It is amazing that people saying them on television has created a global frenzy but I am glad that people are talking about it.’

And so, in the end, am I.

I read somewhere, incidentally, that Teddy Sheringham has called it quits with Danielle Lloyd (whose look of sudden terror when called up on her behaviour, panic glistening in her black evil eyes, was my favourite bit of big brother) – which brings us to football, and a very incisive article about excessive transfer fees, by Amy Lawrence.

“In many ways English players, as well as clubs, are penalised by football’s Anglo tax. An inflated price tag can be a hefty millstone to carry around. It was refreshing to see Richards come out last week and speak of his desire to stay at Manchester City, but it cannot be easy to reject a potentially enormous pay rise while in your teens. On the one hand the Shaun Wright-Phillips example looms large, on the other agents and advisers push for big-money moves and remind you that these opportunities are not guaranteed to come along frequently in a career as short and vulnerable as football.”

Lastly, a long and bewilderingly bonkers article by Nick Cohen, unamibiguously titled ‘How The Left Lost Their Way’. Cohen continues to devote his time to savaging ‘the left’, something he seems to believe is a coherent, quasi-fascistic and anti-American mass movement. Utterly ludicrous, which is a shame, because he does make good points along the way. I’m tempted to quote the recent ‘The Thick Of It’ christmas special:

“He looked like that little guy on the green that shouts ‘You’re an Arab’ at everyone”.

the thick and the thin

Posted 09 Jan 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

The Thick of It is unrivalled – the best and most accurate political programme on TV in living memory.

I loved the exchange between the beleaguered and rather old fashioned one nation tory and his savile-row suited spin doctor:

Stewart Pearson: Just wondering whether you’re fully conversant with the new line, whether you’re really up to speed?
Peter Manion: I don’t know. Am I? Because I get people stopping me in the street and asking “are you still for locking up yobbos”, and I say, “yeah, of course we are”, and then I think, ‘or are we?’, because maybe I missed a memo from you. Maybe I should understand yobbos now. Or not even call them yobbos. Call them ‘young men with issues around stabbing’.
(pause while PM gestures towards his shirt)
PM: No tie, you say?
SP: No tie.
PM: Quite a nice suit actually.
SP: So we were thinking… shirt outside the trousers.
PM: Outside? Not tuck my shirt in? I always tuck my shirt in. It’s part of getting dressed.

Genius.

how to tell when a relationship is over

Posted 04 Jan 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Video

This isn’t really funny funny, but it does star a youthful Julian Barrett (from the Mighty Boosh) and I’ve been feeling guilty about liking so much Noel Fielding’s burgeoning double act with Russell Brand, so this gives me an opportunity to redress the balance. (via Gromblog)

write a comedy next time

Posted 19 Oct 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

it’s a sign of how bloody woeful ‘extras’ is that when the final episode of the second series ends and they announce that next week they’ll be screening the new series of the Catherine Tate show, you think, ‘Ooh! Catherine Tate’. Jesus.

more on linda smith

Posted 02 Mar 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

“I do sympathise with Bush and Blair trying to find WMDs. I’m like that with my scissors. I put them down, then I search all over the house, and I never find them. Of course, I do know that my scissors exist.”

Ordinarily, I’d just link to Mark Steel’s obituary of Linda Smith from yesterday’s Independent, but I’ve got a feeling that the online edition of the Independent swiftly updates itself in order to make archived articles subscription only, so instead I’m reproducing it in full – not out of love for Linda Smith, although her death is incredibly sad, but because it is so beautifully written and such a wonderful testament of friendship. It goes without saying that it’s quite something to have lived a life which can be summed up with such warmth. Thanks to Vic for pointing this article out to me.

“In 2002, Radio 4 held a poll to see who their listeners felt was the “wittiest person on the planet”. The overwhelming winner was Linda Smith – a regular on such programmes as I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and The News Quiz.

The voters made a fine choice. For example, a group of us were watching the Euro 2004 final, which was won by Greece. As the Greek captain received the trophy, Linda said, “We’ll have that in the British Museum by the end of the week claiming it’s ours.” Linda Smith’s everyday conversation contained more jokes than most comedy scripts and more social comment than most dramas.

She was brought up in Erith, a town by the Thames where Kent edges towards London, which she said “isn’t twinned with anywhere, but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham”. This was a comment that attracted the wrath of her local paper, but she defended herself by pointing out that the same paper ran a competition the following week to come up with the best name for the new Erith leisure centre, which was won by the entry “The Erith Leisure Centre”.

Perhaps it was the tower blocks that lined the river from Erith upwards, peering down on her 1960s childhood, that framed her outlook. Because, just as 19th-century Romantics opposed the functional grime of the Industrial Revolution by praising art and imagination, Linda Smith developed a contempt for all that was soulless and concrete, and a passion for what could be appreciated purely for embodying beauty or enthusiasm.

She read novels at an alarming rate, retaining huge passages which she could quote with flair even when drunk. She seemed to have watched every film ever made, and could recite entire episodes of The Simpsons. And she retained a deep affection for the language and nuances of all she encountered, employing an Alan Bennett-ish attention to detail in her anecdotes.

With one simple tale, she summarised the process whereby people at work feel no connection with whatever they’re producing. She was working on an assembly line, on which apple pies would emerge from an oven, then Smith and her colleagues would pick them up as they passed and place them in their boxes. Every single time, she said, as the pies approached, one worker who’d been there 20 years would flare his nostrils, look menacingly at them and snarl, “Here come the little fuckers.”

In 1978 Smith went to Sheffield University to study English and Drama, and in 1983 joined a professional touring company. Then, in a short period, came what were probably the three defining events of her life. She was attracted by the growth of a new comedy circuit, in which comics would write material about their own experiences rather than rely on standard jokes. She met Warren Lakin, also part of the theatre group, who became her devoted partner. And there was the miners’ strike, for which she performed and arranged countless fund-raising benefits, winning her vast affection amongst Yorkshire mining families.

Following the strike, she was confirmed as a very English radical. She adored Blake and Keats and jazz and rambling and cricket, would travel across Britain to raise money for a strike or anti-racist campaign, then hurry back to spend a day gardening or scouring east London for a red- and-white tea-set. Hers was an Englishness with no English nationalism. After she moved to London, her favourite walk was across Wanstead Common, absorbing the twinkling lake, then back down Newham High Street to embrace the chaos of the Indian and Pakistani markets.

While she befriended and assisted all sections of the left, she would join none of them. She often said, “The last thing I joined was the Tufty Club.” And there was even a point, long after becoming President of the British Humanist Association, when she realised she had forgotten to fill the form in and so was technically not a member of the thing she was President of.

Throughout the 1980s, Smith became one of the few women to conquer the male-dominated world of stand-up in clubs and universities. When a student yelled, “Show us yer tits”, she retorted sweetly, “Ah, is it time for a breast feed” – resulting in a deservedly humiliated student. She was similarly biting about authority. When many people were refusing to pay the poll tax, the Labour Party would not back them, so Smith described the Labour Party campaign as being “Pay the poll tax – but while you’re doing so – oo you give that clerk SUCH a look”.
From the early 1990s onwards, Linda Smith performed for seven years at the Edinburgh Festival, by herself and with Hattie Hayridge and Henry Normal. But she was often at her funniest in conversation, which is why her national prominence began after she was heard chatting on radio shows, at first, from 1998, on Radio Five Live’s The Treatment, then on Radio 4, on Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and, conspicuously, The News Quiz.

There was the odd dissenting voice, in the form of letters complaining that someone with such an accent was “lowering the tone” of the BBC, but their isolation made her success all the more delightful. As well as disarmingly savage routines about the week’s news Smith was wonderfully playful with the other guests. For example, if Alan Coren looked in any way puzzled, she would say endearingly, “It’s all right, Alan, the nurse will be round this afternoon. No she HASN’T been stealing your flowers.”

In 2001, she wrote and presented the first series of her radio show A Brief History of Timewasting (with a second series the following year), and on television was one of the most popular guests on Have I Got News For You, appearing on six occasions. Once she tied together her political outlook and passion for film by describing the privatised rail service as a series of scenes from Doctor Zhivago, with parents desperately passing their children on to crowded trains in the hope the odd one might make it.

On Room 101 in 2003, she won acclaim for including adults reading Harry Potter in public amongst her pet hates, and her love of language resulted in appearances on Call My Bluff, Countdown and the 2003 Test the Nation, of which she was the “celebrity winner”.

It was around the time she was diagnosed with cancer, three and a half years ago, that her popularity became most apparent. For the two years that followed, she toured her live show, selling out large theatres with embarrassing ease, and through an honest humility barely acknowledged this was anything to do with her. “Oo, I went up to Norwich on Tuesday and there was 800 people there,” she would drop into conversation, slightly bemused, as if them and her turning up on the same night was a complete coincidence.

Maybe that was because there was something else unique about Linda Smith, which is she was the only comic of any renown I’ve ever come across who wasn’t an egomaniac. When she won the vote as wittiest person, she didn’t even tell anyone, and, if it was brought up, she’d comment, “Oh yes, that was nice because it was presented by Stephen Fry.”

A common cliché when a comic of Linda Smith’s popularity dies is that, despite their jokes, they bore no one any malice. But this isn’t a cliché when it comes to Smith, because it isn’t true. She was funny partly because, while she oozed and overflowed with compassion for the vast number she befriended, entertained and assisted, she had plenty of malice for the soulless corporate world, of which she was proud to be an enemy. What annoyed her most was when that creed seeped its way into the world of entertainment. Even a few days before she died, as she lay motionless and apparently oblivious to visitors, when someone mentioned a new television show starring Davina McCall, Linda suddenly looked up, glared and beamed, “It’s shite.”

Linda Smith will be remembered for her charm, her wit, her subtle destruction of pomposity, her subdued but burning English rage; and for her familiarity. Even those who only know her as a voice on the radio will feel they have lost not just a splendid comic, but a wonderful and brilliant friend.”

If the link still works, Jeremy Hardy’s Guardian obituary is here. (Oh, god, I don’t mean that Jeremy Hardy has died too! The one he wrote about Linda, obviously…)

And there’s lots more nice stuff about Linda in today’s paper.

RIP Linda Smith

Posted 28 Feb 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Really shocked and saddened to just hear that Linda Smith, easily one of the funniest and cleverest English comics, died today. What awful news. There’s going to be a special episode of the News Quiz on Radio 4 dedicated to her on Friday. Jeremy Hardy, who appeared on a lot of R4 shows with her, noted that she was “the wittiest and brightest person working on TV or radio panel games”.

“Working with someone so funny always reminded me of what comedy is all about. Her banter and flights of fancy were amazing,” Hardy added. “In a second, she could summon up the perfect word, the daftest English expression, the most appropriate literary quotation or line of movie dialogue, or the most savage put-down of any fraud, bully or tyrant in the news.”