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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘comedy’

In-Flight Entertainment

In which we have a jaunt off to Birmingham to see Flight Of The Conchords

Off to Birmingham yesterday, to see Flight of the Conchords at the National Indoor Arena, the great hulking ostrich egg sat in a nest of redeveloped Birmingham canalside next to a clutch of restaurant chains. Despite their radio series and their sitcom, I still think that FotC have the feel of a cult hit to them, one of those acts* who nobody apart from us has heard about. It’s slightly surprising, then, to find that they can head out on an arena tour which – in the UK, at least – seemed to sell out within a morning. I wonder if the other thousands of people in the audience all entered to the same thought: “what, there really are other people who have heard of them?”

There was one big clue as to the type of people who like Flight of the Conchords. The merchandise stall. We arrived at the gig almost as soon as the doors opened, and we queued up for the merchandise stall, at the sight of their rather attractive playing-card-style tea towels. “I know this is sad, but I really want a tea towel” said a woman behind us. But when we reached the desk: nope. No tea towels. All sold out. The people who go to Flight of the Conchords gigs – or, at least, arrive early at them – are the sort of people who like an attractive tea towel in their kitchen.

Disappointment of the night: Flight of the Conchords are touring supported by other comedians who have appeared on their TV series, such as Arj Barker and Kristin Schall. Our tickets told us to expect Schall; but the support who appeared was Eugene Mirman. It’s not that he’s a dull chap, it’s just that we’d already seen most of his material, recently, on TV. We’d have liked it more if we hadn’t heard almost all the jokes before.

You could say I’m being slightly hypocritical there, given that I know Flight of the Conchords’ songs from watching their TV series. Their TV series, though, is distinctly different from their show, and their TV characters are subtlely different to their stage personas. “Where’s Murray?” shouted a heckler at one point. “Murray couldn’t make it tonight,” replied one of the duo, “because … he’s a fictional character.” The songs, though, all worked very well on stage, even ones which previously seemed to be very specific to a TV episode plot.

In some ways I’m not a great fan of big arena shows, partly because you can end up watching the performers on-screen, because the performers themselves are too hard to see. With Flight of the Conchords, though, there was a sense of warmth between audience and performers that really isn’t something you can experience watching a DVD. We were, apparently, a very polite audience. I wasn’t very surprised that the band thought so, to tell you the truth. After all, what sort of behaviour do you expect, from an audience that likes tea towels so much?

* Do you describe them as a band, or a comedy double-act? I’m not entirely sure.

Voiceover

In which we make better documentaries

We sat down last night to watch one of the Christmas present DVDs: Arrested Development Season 3. It got me thinking, after yesterday’s post, about pseudo-archaeological documentaries.

I don’t mean Professor Parfitt’s documentary described yesterday, so much as the far wilder theories produced by, say, Graham Hancock, or the many who have followed on from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. You know the sort: the sort who will tell you, straight-faced, that the Bavarian Illuminati knew the secrets of the Knights Templar, who had found ancient Jewish documents containing the mystical secrets of Egypt and the bloodline of Jesus, whose descendants formed the Priory of Sion, founded the Freemasons, who preserve the secret that Atlantis was in Antartica, and who hope to return to the French throne as predicted by Nostradamus. And that you would already know all this, if it wasn’t being kept secret by a global conspiracy involving the Pope, the British royal family, and the Bilderberg group. That sort of documentary. The sort which is bound, somewhere, to contain the line: “if the documents we had found in the obscure archive were true, it would mean rewriting the history books.”

Anyway, if you didn’t watch Arrested Development – and not many people did – one of its constant features was a narrator’s voiceover, performed by Ron Howard.* A rather sarcastic narrator’s voiceover, pointing out every moment where the characters lie or make a mistake.** And that’s exactly what all those documentaries need.

Presenter: If the documents we had found in the obscure archive were true, it would mean rewriting the history books.

Ron Howard: But they’re not.

A thousandfold improvement, I think you have to agree.

* who has lately been directing a movie based on a Dan Brown book, so will know exactly what I’m talking about

** which is rather frequently.

Leeds Is A State Of Mind

In which we go and see The Mighty Boosh

A long day on Friday: a day out to Manchester, to see The Mighty Boosh Live. When the tickets for the tour went on sale, of course, we had to buy them straight away before they sold out; and back then, over a year ago, we had no idea that we’d have moved to an entirely different part of the country within a few months. So, back up to Manchester, to the MEN Arena.

If I’d been alert and awake ten years ago, I could have gone to see the Boosh at Edinburgh, in a cosy and intimate venue. Not cosy and intimate by Edinburgh Fringe standards, really, but cosy and intimate by anyone else’s. As I wasn’t, and didn’t, I end up not seeing them until they’re already famous enough to fill stadium-sized venues, alongside an over-excited audience who were still in primary school when the Boosh first put a show on.

It was, despite our distance from the stage,* rather good. Very slickly done, considering the number of rapid costume changes. Backstage must, I’d imagine, have been frantic with people coming off and on. It did lead to Tony Harrison having a slight costume problem, at one point, with Noel slipping slightly out of character; which went to show how well they could extemporise when needed. For the rest of the show, improvisation wasn’t really needed other than to deal with people shouting “I love you Vince/Noel/Howard/Julian”.**

Structually, in some ways, comic theatre hasn’t changed much since, ooh, the comedy of Ancient Greece. People come along with a grand plan to make the world a better place; various characters are introduced to disrupt their plans, and the various disruptions get dispatched. Roughly, that’s that – I know I’m simplifying hugely, but it’s a long time since I last looked at any Ancient Greek comedy. My point is: the Boosh aren’t exactly groundbreaking in what they do, but they do it well. Certainly, they know how to entertain an audience, and how to make the scripted sound unscripted.

We poured out of the arena and into Victoria Station, slowly, with smiles on our faces. It was a long trip; but worth it. Never mind the limitations of the theatre; it’s definitely worth seeing the Mighty Boosh in their original habitat again.

* at least we weren’t way up by the roof – we were only about 6ft or so above stage level, enough height to get a good view but not too much so we were looking down on it all.

** To be honest, I can’t remember hearing that last one at any point, but the other three all cropped up regularly. Why people skipped the last I couldn’t say.

Ovines

In which we become scared of fields

“That’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back,” said one of the women in front of us, as we left the cinema* I thought she was being slightly unfair. The film had only been 87 minutes long, after all.

Besides, I’d rather liked it. We’d been to see Black Sheep; it was, like me, rather silly; but played very straight all the way through, which is always the best sort of silliness. The implausible B-movie science was glossed over, and the actors put on their Most Serious Faces as they fought to defend themselves against mutant killer zombie sheep.** Some of the characters were caricatures, and some of the foreshadowing was very obvious indeed, but sometimes, in this film, that’s the sort of thing you want to happen.***

One thing did puzzle me: why, when all the sheep in all the fields started to become blood-crazed man-eating carnivores, did noone really seem very surprised? Now, for the hero, it’s explained: he suffers from a fear that one day sheep will do exactly that. But all the other characters also behave as if it’s a normal, everyday crisis, something they’ve been expecting all along. Maybe everyone in New Zealand is like that. Maybe everywhere though the islands, at the back of people’s minds, is the thought: one day, the sheep will start fighting back.

* “We” being, of course, me and Mystery Filmgoer as usual.

** These were Modern Biological Zombies – not dead, just rather ill; which does make them rather easier to despatch, with none of this “you must remove the head or destroy the brain” trickiness.

*** When you see a big, round, deep hole, with a sign next to it that says: “Warning: Offal Pit”, you know what’s going to happen later on.

A Big Splash (Or, Films I’ve Never Seen, Part One)

In which we wonder what the filmmakers were thinking

Every time I’ve been to the cinema recently, I’ve had to sit through a trailer for newly-released film Evan Almighty. And it makes me slightly uneasy. Because – if you’re lucky enough to have managed to avoid the thing – it’s a lighthearted family comedy based on the story of Noah And The Flood, from Genesis. God comes down to Earth, visits an innocent politician, and tells him to build an ark because he’s decided to do the whole flood thing again.

Read that again. It’s a lighthearted family comedy, where God comes down to visit a politician, because (going on what happened last time) he wants to warn him that everyone else on the planet is going to be killed in the biggest natural disaster you can imagine. Did anyone even think at all about this film before it was made? Did they get beyond “comedy, sequel, some Bible story that everyone vaguely remembers”?* To my mind, the idea of writing a comedy about God breaking the only promise he ever made to the whole of mankind,** and apparently planning to kill everyone on earth apart from an American politician, is a little … well, perverse.***

I assume – not having seen the film – that not everyone (apart from the blessed family) gets killed at the end. Surely no Hollywood studio is going to release a big summer comedy where everyone on earth apart from a handful of people dies at the end? Drama, maybe, but not comedy. All in all, it sounds like a bit of a mess. Does God turn out to be nice in the end? Does he say: “Aw, I was only kidding. I just wanted you to learn how to be a better person.” How many people are killed by the flood that I did spot in the trailer? I really don’t want to find out.

* Although most people forget the bit at the end where Noah gets drunk, and one of his sons is forever cursed for seeing his drunken father’s tadger.

** Because it – the promise that “I’m not going to kill you all ever again” – was made before the Tower of Babel incident, when God scrambles everyone’s brains and makes possible the Tourist Phrasebook – so, as everyone was rather samey, there wasn’t any one Chosen People. And he never does kill everyone all together again – after that, he limits himself to smiting one city at a time.

*** And not in the good way

You have been watching…

In which we stay to the end of the credits

…is a phrase I never really understood.

It’s a sudden flashback I had today, to old sitcoms, particularly Croft-Perry sitcoms like Allo Allo and Hi-de-Hi. They didn’t end with your standard telly credits. They ended with “You have been watching…”, and everybody would suddenly come out of character, break the fourth wall and wave at the camera.

Presumably it’s a stage thing adapted for the telly. Even when young, though, I found it rather disruptive. I didn’t want to be shown these people were actors. I wanted to suspend my disbelief all week until the next episode. Moreover, I wasn’t always sure what the names of all the characters were. I wanted to read the credits and find out!

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

In which things are true to life

New Channel 4 comedy series The IT Crowd starts tonight; being a big geek, of course, I had to watch it. And, overall, it’s rather good.

So far I’ve only seen the first episode, and I think you have to give the first episode of any new series a little leeway. It takes a lot of time to make sure the characters are all properly introduced, after all. Nevertheless, it seems to hold up rather well.

In writing this, I’m trying not to take the easy route and start comparing it to Father Ted. It’s written by one of that show’s writers, it has a similar production style, and it has a central trio of characters. Moreover, both have a small kernel of darkness which is occasionally revealed. It might not be as gloomy and despair-filled as, say, Peep Show, but the darkness is there.

Of course, the main reason I like the show is probably the comedy of recognition. The writing isn’t particularly technical, but they do have a ZX81 lurking in the background,* not to mention the Perl Camel stickers and Flying Spaghetti Monster posters scattered around the set.** I don’t get beaten to a pulp by the non-technical staff on a regular basis, but only because they think I’d probably enjoy it. And, of course, there is that stalwart technical advice of IT staff everywhere. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

* Unlike my own, modern, up-to-date IT office – our last 1980s computer in service was retired last summer, and the last one on the spares shelf was sent off to long-term storage a few weeks ago. Scarily, I’m not joking here – until last summer one department did rely on a mid-80s PC running MS-DOS 3 and with Windows 1.0 installed on it

** Update, 4th February 2006: another thing I’ve noticed in the background of the set: a poster of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa

Things I meant to write about

In which we briefly scoot over things that deserve more space

A couple of things I meant to write about this week, but didn’t get around to:

Far more teenagers self-harm than previously thought. I’d like to say that I’m surprised, but I’m not. It’s puzzling, though, why self-harm is more popular here than anywhere else. For a long time, too, I’ve been thinking about writing an essay on the connection between self-harm and masochism: why do I feel that one is legitimate and the other somehow isn’t?

Little Britain isn’t funny,* and just repeats a list of race and class stereotypes. This is news, apparently. Being an indie-snob, I’d like to point out that I thought Little Britain was rubbish years before anyone else did – before it was ever on the telly, even. I noticed it wasn’t that funny back in the days when it was still a radio show.

* this was originally a link to a Johann Hari article which has now disappeared into the memory-hole following the controversies that hit his career rather badly. However, I originally found it this blogpost from Chris Applegate which still contains a bit of a summary.