Two videos, and a gripe

Two videos, and a gripe

The gripe first. YouTube have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that videos embedded on other websites (such as this one) should have overlay ads on them. They have further decided (because their wisdom is, after all, infinite) that if a video has overlay ads and closed captions, the closed captions should appear slap bang in the middle of the video. For this reason, and until further notice, I’m just giving text links to my videos.

Anyway. In the past two weeks, I’ve uploaded two videos, one English and one German. It seemed only fair.

The first is Mispronouncers Anonymous, based on a Ronnie Barker monologue. In the original, British actor and comedian Ronnie Barker spoke about a new society “for people who cannot say their worms correctly, or who use the wrong worms entirely, so that other people cannot underhand a dickybird they are spraying”. This isn’t that original, but one inspired by and loosely based on it.

The original, written by Barker himself (although nobody knew it at the time, as he used one of his many pseudonyms and kept it secret even from his closest colleagues), was performed on The Two Ronnies, the BBC’s flagship comedy show throughout the 1970s and 1980s. That show also starred his great friend Ronnie Corbett. The format of my sketch is supposed to echo the show’s format, which always began and ended with Barker and Corbett behind a desk as if presenting a current affairs magazine.

One thing about a Two Ronnies sketch is that the punchline is always pretty lame, or predictable, or both; but the other thing about a Two Ronnies sketch is that the punchline isn’t the important thing — it’s everything that leads up to it that you’re supposed to enjoy. Monty Python’s Flying Circus took that approach one step further by abandoning all pretence at having a punchline at all, and simply segueing straight into the next sketch.

Several people have asked me how many takes I needed. The surprising answer is that I had a couple of false starts, and did the whole thing straight through twice. However, I cheated: if you think I look a bit shifty, it’s because I’m reading off a script I taped up right next to the camera… so I’m not looking directly into the camera. If I had a few thousand euros to throw away, I’d get a bigger camera and an autocue.

If you want to see them in action, here’s a typical sketch, introduced by a much older Barker and Corbett in a retrospective recorded shortly before Barker’s death in 2005. Barker is the one playing the barman, and at one point does what only he can: rattles off at bewildering speed a long, complicated and surreal list.

The other video was borne of my frustration with the state of German comedy and the state of German bureaucracy; its title translates as Joke of the Week.

I’m always amazed at how Germans approach comedy, which is that to be funny, it has to be way over the top. If Ronnie Barker had been German, he’d have had to have worn outsized spectacles and a spotted bow-tie at the very least. Almost every successful German comedian I have ever seen on mainstream TV has had a funny accent, worn ridiculous jackets or pulled hilarious faces.

Once, I was attracted by one show that looked superficially very much closer to what I’m more used to: some comedians sat behind a desk talking about the week’s news. I thought it would be Germany’s answer to Have I Got News for You, which is a panel game; that is, a sort of quiz where the questions are just there to introduce a subject about which the contestants could spontaneously make jokes about. Well, it was anything but: after the first five minutes it was so obvious that the whole thing had been carefully scripted and rehearsed, it just wasn’t any fun. They weren’t making jokes, they were reciting lines, and it was awful.

So this video came into being. There’t not a lot to say about it, except that yes, the joke is supposed to be unfunny. It’s actually a typical German joke.

Indeed, this morning I read in the funnies section of our paper a joke that was even worse. So here it is:

“Our house got broken into last night.”

“Oh, no! Did you catch the burglar?”

“My wife did, and now he’s in hospital.”

Yes, that was the joke in its entirety. But it’s funny, you see, because it was together with a lot of similar offerings in a box headed “JOKES”, so you know you’re supposed to laugh.