Standing Up For Sitcom: The Inaugural Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture

The phrase ‘comedy lecture’ sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but when you name it after Ronnie Barker and have it delivered by Ben Elton, how can anyone resist?  It’s oxymoronically appropriate too, as Ben Elton and Ronnie B did not get off to the best start.  They met at a BBC Light Entertainment dinner some time in the ’80’s, when the Two Ronnies were at the height of their fame.  Ronnie C and Ronnie B held, as it were, separate orbits; Ronnie C’s being relaxed and full of laughter and Ronnie B’s being full of intent, nodding BBC executives listening to the great man pronounce.  Excellent comic actor (and writer) he may have been; self-deprecating he undoubtedly was, but it seems Ronnie Barker could be a tad pompous.  Anyway, as Ben Elton, Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson hovered at his shoulder like the three wise monkeys, Ronnie swivelled round and, pointing to each in turn, said to Atkinson ‘I like you,’ to Fry ‘I quite like you,’ and to Elton, ‘don’t like you’ – before turning his back on them. This was a rude beginning but as time went on they got to know each other better and became friends.

If anyone can reconcile the oxymoron comedy lecture, it is Ben Elton: after all, he started off making people laugh with a combination of savage political satire and plain silliness – much in the style of ‘Not the Nine o’clock News’ – before going on to co-write ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Blackadder’ and to author the police series ‘Thin Blue Line.’  He has mellowed with age and was even a tad Bob Monkhouse-ish towards the end of this lecture (can this be the same guy who once spat at an audience?  Whose mile-a-minute delivery seemed to come from a mouth glued to the microphone while his head span round and round?  It can and it is.)

It’s about time somebody stood up for sit-com and he is the one to do it.  He makes a plea for critics to be less scathing in their reviews: I felt a little sheepish at this as I’ve posted a few scathing comments in my time: however I have consistently stood up for the sitcom form which I, along with Elton, consider to be underrated.  He spoke about the ability of comedy to generate strong emotion and the often destructive power of criticism (I can testify to this myself, having had some blistering reviews of my work).  Even Shakespeare was lambasted by critics, the most famous comment being ‘upstart crow’ which Elton took as the title for a sitcom starring David Mitchell as a rather hapless and put-upon Bard.  Some of his insights were revelatory: I knew that there is a huge difference between recorded laughter and canned laughter (one is recorded live and is a genuine reaction; the other is fake) but I didn’t know that there is a difference between comedy recorded with one camera and one recorded with several.   It’s the difference between seeing the actors’ original timing and seeing an edited version, apparently.

Since the nineties there has been a tendency not to use live studio audiences; it started with ‘The Royle Family’ and followed on with ‘The Office’, but whereas it was entirely appropriate for these sitcoms, they seem to have started a fashion in which it is now practically de rigueur to dispense with a studio audience.  (I just want to mention ‘Detectorists’ here, which is unique in my experience being a sitcom which is set largely outdoors.)

Anyway, as all good lectures should be, the inaugural Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture was both informative and entertaining.  So go watch:

Kirk out







































You Cannot Be Siri!

I think I must be channelling the spirit of Ronnie Corbett: I keep wanting to make corny jokes.  Incidentally I was very touched by the image of four large candles standing solemnly on the altar at his funeral last year:

RC was much loved, perhaps more so than Barker of that ilk who, though more talented, could be a tad pompous.  It was crystal clear to anyone watching Ronnie C in the BBC armchair in his trademark sweater and lacking only a cup of cocoa to resemble a parent going to bed (my parents drank Bournvita which I found disgusting, though I used it once mixed with water to paint my face) that he did not take himself remotely seriously.

But I digress – which, now that I think about it, is further proof that I am channelling the little Ron, since his whole routine was nothing more than a long digression followed by a short punchline.  Lots of foreplay, you might say.  Anyway, somebody on Facebook suggested that I should tap Siri on my i-phone and say ‘I see a little silhouetto of a man’.  I didn’t even know who or what Siri was (I guess it’s a sort of speaking Google) but I did so and it spoke the lyrics of Bo Rap, as Queen fans call it, in a gravelly electronic voice.  Which was amusing.  And which brings me to today’s joke:

What did John McEnroe say to Harry Potter’s grandfather?

You cannot be Sirius!

Kirk out

No Ronnies at All…

I’ve just caught the news that the one remaining Ronnie, Corbett of that ilk, has died aged 85.  He reminded me of my Dad a little, in that they were both short (though my Dad was not quite as short as Ronnie), both dark-haired and both with a self-deprecating demeanour.  I liked Ronnie Corbett a lot – in fact he was pretty impossible to dislike – and admired his ability to spin out a bad joke into a good monologue by the incessant use of asides.  I shall miss him: it was only the other day that I posted the video of his brilliant ‘Orange’ sketch which he executed quite as well as anything he’d done earlier in life.

Here’s a quick BBC tribute in the form of a whistle-stop tour of his career.  Prepare for more tributes, plus a repeat of 25 years of The Two Ronnies…

Kirk out