Is It Funny?
By Kate Laity
Is It Funny?Dec 31, 2021
Episode 14 -- Muriel Spark
Staggering up to the finish line just before 2021 ends is another episode of the languishing series Is It Funny? This time we turn to the Scots style icon Muriel Spark, whose books never fail to cheer me. She is both vicious and economical, as well as laugh out loud funny when she turns to the truly surreal and sublime. She also has great advice for writers, which may involve letters and cats. If all you know is Miss Jean Brodie, let me introduce you to the flashing scalpel of her mind.
Episode 13 -- Fran Lebowitz and Cool
I manage to get all the way through this episode referring only to 'the Scorsese show' which of course is Pretend It's A City, which is on Netflix and has the director following around his pal Fran Lebowitz and chatting with her in various places, as a follow up to his HBO documentary Public Speaking. I cogitate on what cool is and why and how Lebowitz defined a certain NYC/art world/film world cool for me as a kid in the sticks reading Interview Magazine along side my various music mags. I may or may not have invented an entirely spurious term, the 'weirdo ceiling' (cf glass) and am definitely uncool.
Episode 12 - The Taill of Rauf Coilyear
It's Yuletide so I'm getting medieval on you! Yes, it's the medieval Scots tale of the coal-maker who meets King Charlemagne and despite making some questionable choices due to his testy temper, things turn out pretty well. Bonus of me reading the opening lines in genuine medieval Scots (no comment on the veracity of my pronunciation though). I'm glad to share this charming Yuletide tale with you and I think you'll agree it's delightful. The Taill of Rauf Coilyear may surprise you with its appeal for modern audiences. Hmmm, maybe I should work on that screenplay...
Episode 11 - Anita Loos & Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
You have probably heard of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, though odds are you know the film and not its pioneering author. Anita Loos was the first contracted female writer in Hollywood and her scripts made Douglas Fairbanks the first swashbuckling star, as well as making the Talmadge sisters the toast of the town in witty comedies. She wrote one of the first handbooks for screenwriting, too!
She hung out with the luminaries of Hollywood, but also the heavyweight intellectuals of New York during the wildest times of the Prohibition era. In addition to Blondes, she of course wrote the script for The Women (1939), turned Colette's Gigi into a play that of course led to the musical film, but it was the play that made Colette's discovery -- a young Audrey Hepburn -- into a superstar.
Episode 10 - The Women (1939)
Today's episode focuses on the 1939 filmed based on Clare Boothe Luce's smash Broadway success, THE WOMEN. The script by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin features an all-women cast and some of the biggest stars in Hollywood at the time: Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Norma Sheerer, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard and an amazing array of character actors in one of the wittiest scripts ever, directed with impeccable timing by George Cukor. I try to resist quoting all my favourite lines (because there are so many!!) and instead enthuse about why everybody needs to revel in this movie. Watch it tonight with friends!
Episode 9 -- Eddie Braben
This is the podcast what I wrote about the man who gave Ernie Wise the plays what he wrote and even wrote a book that he called The Book What I Wrote about his life as a writer of comedy for everyone from Eric Morecambe and Ern to Kenn Dodd, The Two Ronnies, Spike Milligan and more. Eddie Braben was born October 31st, 1930, so he would have been 90 this Saturday if he had held on that long. A genius behind the scenes, his praises are never sung loudly enough but I give it a go (NB: I do not literally sing this episode.
Here's the Graham McCann article I mention. Here's (possibly) the funniest one liner ever. Here's poor André Preview (neé Previn) and here is Glenda Jackson as famed historical beauty Cleopatra.
Here's the man himself Eddie Braben talking to Miranda Hart.
Episode 8 - More Dagenham Dialogues
Because I can't just stop at one? Because they're so much fun? Because I can't help rhyming? Or my faulty sense of timing?
The two dialogues in question from Pete & Dud are 'On Music' and 'On Sex' and are not available in recorded form which leaves some aspects a mystery only to be imagined -- which is more or less how they think about Sex. Music is a conduit to sex but also a way to conjure the imagination if you have the capability (they do not) and if you also have the title of the piece correct (this also they do not).
Yes, I do at one point say Beowulf when I mean Beethoven. In my defence they begin the same way and the medieval came up a couple times in the course of discussing these dialogues so my subconscious took over. Apologies. A more exacting host than I would have re-recorded it. I am pressed for time so the handful of you who list will be asked to forgive me.
Episode 7 -- Dagenham Dialogues
This week a deep dive into my favourite of the Dagenham Dialogues, 'At the Art Gallery' in which Pete & Dud visit the National Gallery and experience art, much to their disappointment for not only is there a lot of rubbish, but there is a lot of muck, too. Includes titbits about famous (or infamous) paintings you may know.
You may be able to find the video of the original performance on a certain 'tube.
Episode 6 -- Not Only But Also
This episode mostly talks about what led up to Not Only But Also and how it became a success. Originally meant to be Not Only Dudley Moore But Also some guests like Dihanne Carroll and utility player Norm Rossington, it became also Peter Cook and then turned around to be Peter Cook but also Dudley Moore. And there was that John Lennon fellow, too. The theme song 'Goodbye-ee' was actually a hit.
Episode 5 -- Boring
We spend our lives trying to avoid boredom but isn't it true that some of the funniest moments in comedy come from boring people? Or are they really boring? What makes a boring person funny? What makes a boring person boring? What has Henri Bergson to do with all this? Warning contains: Uncle Colm, Arthur Grole, Eric Olthwaite and more boring people.
With your host Dr Kate Laity
Episode 4 -- Beyond the Fringe
This 1962 Edinburgh festival show kicked off the 'satire boom' of the 60s and made stars of Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore. I trace it all back to hearing that first LP. A mix of individual performances and group theatrics, much of it hold up even today.
Episode 3 -- The Goons Especially Spike
This episode deals with the influence of the Goon Show, especially Spike Milligan. The anarchic spirit of the radio programme ironically arose from the experiences of the cast in the military during World War II. The show broke many of the rules of comedy that were thought iron-clad and the surreal scripts -- mostly by Milligan -- influenced a whole generation of comedy performers and writers as well as musicians. Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe -- and for one series, Michael Bentine -- brought a new kind of comedy to the airwaves, along with a unique approach to sound, and the lively jazz music performed by Ray Ellington, himself a Black Jewish son of a musical hall comedian.
[Two rude words is the total sum of the 'explicit content']
Episode 2 -- The British Invasion
What is the first thing you can remember being funny? While we tend to remember things better as we age (until a certain age when it all begins to drop away again) in the early experiences of our lives many of the patterns are set for the rest of our lives. The weird mix of comedy coincidences in my childhood led to an explosion of interest in comedy at a very geeky level in adolescence. From P. L. Travers and Lewis Carroll to Monty Python and the Goons isn't as big a jump as it might seem at first.
Episode 1 – What is Comedy Anyway?
What is Comedy Anyway? Does anybody really know?
Why start a podcast? Why on this topic? I’m Kate Laity and while I am a Doctor of Philosophy I don’t really have any expertise on comedy. No one is begging me to do a podcast. It seems quite pointless given that everyone and their brothers are starting a podcast in the midst of this pandemic.
So why? The truth is I have had an almost life-long love for comedy. But not all comedy. I realise I have a deep love for very particular kinds of comedy and that many people do not share it. Almost for as long as I have loved comedy I have been aware of this discrepancy.
How do we form a sense of humour? Is my belief that I formed my sense of humour in early childhood just a fanciful notion? Or is there something to it? Why do our senses of humour vary so? Is it a cultural phenomenon or is there something innate in us as humans that needs comedy?
Annotated transcript available at kalaity.com.