Sometimes a programme you used to love can still inspire affection: I’ve been watching compilation episodes of the great Morecambe and Wise
and pondering exactly what it was that made them so funny. It wasn’t only the ease and perfect pitch of their performances, nor was it the effortless, natural humour of Eric Morecambe and his range of bizarre tics like looking at the camera and saying ‘the boy’s a fool!’ saying ‘Ern!’ in strangled tones; pulling his co-star aside and saying ‘can I have a word with you please?’, though these are undoubtedly funny. But what struck me watching these shows was the combination of two distinct styles: the classic double act of music hall, coupled with the surreal comedy of the scripts. They don’t just do routines to camera; they do them with, from, by and outside the camera. They break the fourth wall regularly by talking to the audience at home; they talk about ‘doing the show’ as though the whole programme is a rehearsal for the programme – and don’t even get me started on the ‘two men in bed’ routine. It’s impossible to put your finger on why it’s funny – but it is. It’s rare that comedy from that long ago would stand the test of time, but it so does. It’s as if M&W are the fount – the fons et origo, you might say – of all modern comedy. (See what I did there?)*
Something that has not stood that test is the American sitcom ‘Happy Days.’ I used to like this partly for the warm, fuzzy feeling it gave me – but mostly because I liked looking at the Fonz in his leather jacket astride that huge bike.
But now, looking at Henry Winkler in that pose makes me shudder. I can’t believe I ever thought the guy was cool; or that I actually wanted to be him (yeah, I know, I was a girl so I was supposed to just want to date him). He’s creepy – and nowadays the whole series is famous just for the phrase ‘jumping the shark’:
Morecambe and Wise were never cool; so I think maybe that’s the key to survival – not, ever, to be cool. And certainly to resist any temptation to jump a marine mammal on water-skis.