The death of Stan Freberg, at the age of 88, has been all but ignored this side of the pond. But there was a time (the 1950s and 60s) when as well as being a leading US comedian, he was also a familiar voice on BBC radio. His great spoof recordings were not intended as political satire, but one at least is as relevant – possibly more relevant – today than when he recorded it in 1957:
H/t Gene at That Place
I thought this was satire at first: specifically, an exercise in reductio ad absurdum directed against identity politics. But, depressingly, it isn’t. This is what lies behind the widely-ridiculed NUS Women’s Conference decision to replace conventional applause after speeches with so-called “jazz hands”:
From Gay Star News :
UK students’ union passes policy to stop white gay men acting like black women
UK’s National Union of Students has passed a policy to stop gay men appropriating black female culture.Delegates at the Women’s Conference today, many of them self-identified feminists, have passed plenty of motions.Just one of them was ensuring everyone at the conference understood that some behaviors were damaging.On Twitter, they announced: ‘Some delegates are requesting that we move to jazz hands rather than clapping as it’s triggering anxiety. Please be mindful!’
A later motion passed was 503: ‘Dear White Gay Men: Stop Approprirating [sic] Black Women’. Put forward by the NUS LGBT Committee, they believe the appropriation of black women by white gay men is prevalent within the LGBTI scene and community. ‘This may be manifested in the emulation of the mannerisms, language (particularly AAVE- African American Vernacular English) and phrases that can be attributed to black women. White gay men may often assert that they are “strong black women” or have an “inner black woman”,’ they said.
‘White gay men are the dominant demographic within the LGBT community, and they benefit from both white privilege and male privilege. ‘They claimed the appropriation is ‘unacceptable and must be addressed’. Passing the motion, they agreed to eradicate the appropriation of black women by white gay men and to raise awareness of the issue.
A second motion passed was the banning of cross-dressing or drag as it could be offensive to trans women: ‘To issue a statement condemning the use of crossdressing as a mode of fancy dress,’ they pledged.
‘To encourage unions to ban clubs and societies from holding events which permit or encourage (cisgender) members to use cross-dressing as a mode of fancy dress’.
This ruling was given an exclusion to queer students who want to use cross-dressing in their everyday lives as a mode of expression and to those who want to cross-play by flipping the gender of a fictional character in fancy dress.
A NUS spokeswoman told Gay Star News: ‘We’re a democratic society, and if members voted for it, these are our policies’.
Several have mocked the policies online, with the New Statesman calling into question the second motion for being ‘remarkably conservative’ for a group ‘otherwise so much at pains to stress the variety and fluidity of gender’.
Others on social media also questioned the first, saying inspiration for the slang like ‘shade’ and ‘spill the T’ was taken from the underground drag culture in the 70s and 80s, Paris is Burning and modern shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The suspension of Cameron’s friend Jeremy Clarkson and the subsequent question-mark over the future of Top Gear (but, I fear money talks, and Clarkson and his show will return), at least gives me an excuse to show you this clip of Stewart Lee (in 2010 I’d guess) on the subject of Top Gear and its presenters. I think Lee’s very, very, funny, but not everyone agrees.
It lasts 14 minutes, and all I’d advise is if you decide to watch it, please watch all the way to the end:
We the people declare our inalienable right to take the piss.
To no person will we deny the right to cock snooks at, give the finger to, take the mickey out of.
(Crying as I post this.)
Above: Hancock (left); McNally (right)
Above: the TV version
Radio 4’s The Missing Hancocks which commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of Hancock’s Half Hour, is a treat for listeners of my generation, who can just about remember the originals. For those who don’t know, the radio show ran for 103 episodes between 1954 and 1959 on the Light Programme and at its height was a national institution. The TV version ran from 1956 to 1961. Twenty of the radio shows have been “lost” (actually, wiped by the BBC in order to re-use the tapes) but the original scripts by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were rediscovered by the actor Neil Pearson and five (chosen by Galton and Simpson themselves) have now been re-recorded in front of a live audience at the BBC Radio Theatre.
It’s become something of a cliché to describe Hancock’s Half Hour as the first modern sitcom, but that description is probably deserved: it was certainly the first British comedy show to revolve around the characters and to dispense with catch-phrases, set-piece sketches and variety acts. And, on the whole, the shows still work today, largely thanks to Galton and Simpson’s brilliant scripts in which Charles Dickens meets Harold Pinter.
The recreations are superb and Kevin McNally does more than simply impersonate Hancock’s intonation and phrasing – he manages to convey all the pent-up frustration, self-righteousness and delusions of grandeur that constituted the Hancock persona. The rest of the cast are nearly as good, though the chap who plays Sid James doesn’t have quite the right voice.
In my humble opinion, this stuff stands up far better than most supposedly “classic” comedy, including shows of twenty or thirty years later, like the grossly over-rated Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the abysmal Only Fools And Horses, the enduring popularity of which remains the source of complete bewilderment to me.
Of course, it’s difficult to listen to these recreations without remembering the real-life Hancock’s sad decline and tragic end. And the scripts make a fascinating comparison with the show Galton and Simpson went on to write after Hancock effectively sacked them – Steptoe And Son.
This isn’t just nostalgia or show-biz archaeology – it’s genuinely “classic” comedy that still works.
Well, I have had one of the worst evenings of my life in the theatre. It’s the Edinburgh Festival, and of course that is to be expected, but a bad night there is usually stumbling into a hopeful group of students doing the Medea on roller skates in a church hall performing to an audience of four. It is not going to the splendid Festival Theatre to see a play that has received pages of press coverage and is sold out.
This was James III: The True Mirror, the third part of a trilogy about the early Stewarts. James was a useless king who irritated his nobles by promoting favourites and neglecting business and was eventually killed- i.e. he was a little like Richard II and Edward II, and though you can’t expect any dramatist to use language like Shakespeare or Marlowe, you would think they could learn a bit about structure and tension and narrative drive. But instead of, say, alternating scenes of a frivolous king with the powerful plotters against him,, there were endless going-nowhere soap opera domesticities of him talking to his wife the Danish Queen Margaret (played by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing, who made her likable) fighting over custody of the children, a whole meandering pointless mass of boneless characters, sweiry words and button pushing jokes that got knowing laughs – eg – James to his missus – “all I got with you was Orkney and Shetland”. James III was presented as an anarchic guy pissing round, like Russell Brand and the play was as intellectually light-weight.
The staging of a high wall with a tier of benches for the meetings of the Three Estates was rather grand and looked promising. Then it began. A red-haired laundry maid tells a bloke that she’s heard James the King is gorgeous. Then discovers she is in fact speaking to James. Squeaks from the maid, and his wife tells James that he’s been doing his man of the people act again. This was the first ten minutes, with dialogue so self-conscious, slack and banal I wanted to leave at that point. At the interval my friends and I discovered that we were all having a bad time, and what the hell was everyone laughing about? But we hung on to the end, and that’s when we got to the worst part of all – cringe-making, boag-inducing awful – a final speech from Queen Margaret who has become regent and tells the Scots lords (who rhubarb aye, aye) that she is a rational Dane from a rational country and they are heaps of manure, but aren’t they a lovable lot, and Scotland could be a nation again, and never fear for the future – in short a party political broadcast for the Yes side of the referendum. Oh how the audience loved it- tell us we are rogues with a bad attitude but lovable and we’ll lap this like Irn Bru.
There are other shows dealing with this matter of Scotland, all pro-independence, which is to be expected as Yesses are full of vision and enthusiasm and poetry, while Noes are grumpy. I did stumble on a comedian, Erich McElroy The British Referendum. He’s an engaging American guy, a naturalised Brit, who is evidently put out and a little puzzled that his newly adopted country could lose one third of its land mass. With some easy laughs comparing British talking head politicking and American raw gun-shooting advertisements, he did get a few digs in the referendum’s vitriol, with pictures of what a nationalistic country looks like (ie an American flag-lined street). And facetiously warned Scotland that the USA could have interesting designs on an oil-rich country with no defences. There were a few Noes in the small audience, relieved that someone was speaking to them.
The late Robin Williams was, by all accounts, a good guy. He was certainly on our side:
Guest post by Robin Carmody
One of the most important aspects of the Yewtree reckoning is this:- during the 2000s decade, a whole style of humour which peaked during the 1970s and had been deprecated as sexist was rehabilitated and sold to a new generation by a questionable set of “refreshingly politically incorrect” (their words, not mine) comedians and comedy writers/performers. A certain set of people could barely control their relief and joy at it. Yewtree denialists on anorak forums almost always revered Lucas & Walliams, Jimmy Carr et al for “bringing back proper comedy and pissing off those Leftie do-gooders”.
It is the main reason for the recent upsurge of blatant, casual, unthinking sexism in universities and colleges. For most of its audience, its supposed inverted commas no more existed than they would have done for most of the Benny Hill or ‘On the Buses’ audience the first time round. But even beyond that, Yewtree must surely mark the end of it, because it makes the original 1970s stuff seem nastier and creepier than ever and thoroughly justifies everything that was felt about it on the broad Left of British humour during the 1980s. It’s as if several key figures of 1960s/70s rock music had been found out just after Britpop, only a lot worse.