Monty Python did a skit on ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl’, which remains, to this day, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen, and it’s based on that American staple, the pie-in-the-face routine. I find that about as funny as the Three Stooges, and I don’t mean Zuma, Mac Maharaj and Radebe. I mean the American ones, the so-called comedy troupe. Which the Americans still regard as classic humour.
In case you haven’t seen it, the Monty Python team did the pie-in-the face skit as a lecture, in all seriousness. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and get hold of it.
Charlie Chaplin was giving David Niven a brief lesson in humour, and he said, ‘This is how you do it. You show a man walking along, reading the newspaper, then you show a banana peel on the pavement. You cut back to the man with the newspaper, then back to the banana peel, then back to the man, still engrossed in his newspaper and show the banana peel one more time. The man then steps over the banana peel and falls down a manhole.’
By and large, it’s not something at which the Americans excel, even though shows like Frasier and Seinfeld are right up there amongst my favourite shows. They never descended to food fights.
We, of course, have our own particular brand of humour and it can be hysterical, and utterly South African. Van and his wife go to the UK on holiday and hire a car while they’re there. They have no idea of self-service, of course, so they pull into a garage and wait. Eventually a mechanic wanders over.
‘Fill it up wif petrol and put some air in the bands,’ says Van.
‘Fill it up wif petrol and put some air in the bands.’
‘Fill it up wif petrol and put some air in the bands.’
‘I can understand the petrol, mate, bu’ wha’ the ‘ell’re bands?’
Van turns to his wife and says, ‘Yinne man, Sannie! Hoe sê ‘n mens tyres in Engels?’
And of course, who can forget our very own Capies, with their wonderful turn of phrase? Poetry of which Wordsworth would have been proud. ‘Hou djou bek in dkou moer in! Ikke klap vi’ djou darrie snot poep!’
It’s completely untranslatable and utterly unique. ‘Djou kop gaa’ lek!’ is a dire threat. If you can’t work it out, you’ll never understand it anyway, as it is so uniquely Capie.
A fisherman gets off a boat in Kalk Bay harbour, naked from the waist down, and completely covered in tattoos. One of the local wits says, ‘Hey, warret met djou gebeur? Het iemand djou met ‘n nat Argus geklap?’
In reply he received a brief history lesson regarding his ancestors, in particular his mother, and certain parts of her which will not be mentioned here. I’ll leave that part to your imagination. Of course he laughed: they all did.
In England they have an even more diverse sense of humour. Two townies are driving through the Somerset countryside when they see a farmer leaning on a fence, straw in mouth, and decide to tease him.
One of them gets out of the car and approaches him. ‘G’day guv, wonderin’ if you can ‘elp. Did you ‘appen t’ see a wagon-load a monkeys come past here?’
The old man looks at him, looks at his friend waiting in the car, takes the straw out of his mouth and scratches his head. ‘Wagon load o’ monkeys, you say?’
They nod enthusiastically and wink at each other.
He looks at them, long and hard, then. ‘Why? Was you fell off?’
And in of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen on a TV show, Taggart, a particularly good Police Procedural show, set in Glasgow in the eighties, had one of the funniest lines ever. What made it funny was that it was unintentional.
Inspector Taggart is investigating this low-life for murder and getting closer to solving the crime, when a reporter catches Wee Jock Poo Pong McPlop, the suspect, in a telephone booth, after just having hung up the phone.
The reporter says to Wee Jock, ‘D’ye have anythin’ tae say t’ th’ Herald, Mr. McPlop?’
Wee Jock turns to him and says, ‘Aye. Go. Away!’
So why do I find that funny and others not? In the old days, I used to work for the now-defunct Rand Daily Mail, and the night-shift foreman was a particularly foul-mouthed Scot. One evening there was a tour group going through the premises, seeing how a working newspaper operated, when he came running down the stairs, saw them and stopped dead.
He looked at them, then at us, and shouted, ‘Stop the presses! There’s been a terrible mistake!’
I’m certain the visiting dignitaries could not understand why we were rolling around on the floor with laughter.
So, is it funny when Mo pokes Curly in the eye? Or when Larry picks up a plank and turns, hitting Mo on the head? Or is that only funny to Americans and/or the French?
On QI, there was a question, ‘What goes woof, woof, boom?’
Quick as a flash, Rich Hall came back: ‘A terriorist.’
Or, ‘What do you get when you cross a bear with a camel?’ These are proper questions with real answers, by the way.
Jo Brand: ‘A fireside rug you can have a hump on.’
And, of course, a piece like this would not be complete without a sports story. I love tennis and, when I was younger, always loved the sight of the victor jumping over the net to shake hands with the vanquished. I thought it looked splendid.
So when I won a game in straight sets, I jumped over the net to shake hands with my opponent and was immediately disqualified on the spurious grounds that it is not the done thing in table tennis.
That’s the problem with sport: if your face don’t fit…
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