You’re Having A Laugh…

George Cheyne: Glasgow, February 2022

Getting a laugh out of TV audiences has always been a serious business for comedians.

But some of them were taking the Mick in the Seventies with their stereotypical gags about the brainless Irish, the tight-wad Scots and the sheep-loving Welsh.

Back then, a comic could even throw in a close-to-the-bone racist joke if they were looking for a cheap laugh.

Sometimes they got one. But more often than not the stand-up routines on TV shows like The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club were rank.

We’re talking comedy mould here rather than comedy gold.

I say this without the benefit of hindsight or nigh-on 50 years of enlightenment because I remember not finding these shows funny at the time.

God knows I wanted to. I’d suffered through sitcoms like Till Death Us Do Part, On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and Bless This House and could have done with some cheering up.

But The Comedians and Wheeltappers didn’t do it for me.

Maybe it was the crushed velvet suits, frilly shirts and big ties of the former and the annoying fire bell used for announcements by host Colin Crompton in the fake social club of the latter.

Whatever it was, there was no danger of me forming any laughter lines on my face.

There seemed to be a pool of comedians who put in a stint on both shows including such, ahem, luminaries as Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Mike Reid, Russ Abbot, Charlie Williams, Jim Bowen, Duggie Brown, Ken Goodwin and Crompton himself.

The format was to stand up there in front of the TV cameras, rattle off as many quickfire gags as possible and then giggle inanely in case the audience didn’t get the punchline.

The jokes leaned heavily towards the sexist, racist and downright offensive variety – and if you were a black, Irish mother-in-law you’d have been well advised to duck behind the sofa.

I came across a trailer for The Best of the Comedians on You Tube recently which goes a long way to proving my point about the programme being well short of quality humour.

It lasts just one minute 19 seconds yet manages to squeeze in four Irish jokes along with a Red Indian reference.

Now before I give you some examples from the trailer for the “Best Of” – their words, not mine – I think it’s only fair to warn you to hang on tight to your sides in case they split. 

Bernard Manning:

“The Irish have just invented a new parachute…opens on impact!” 
…. Badum tish!

Jimmy Marshall:

“This fella goes to a palmist in Blackpool and says, ‘I want my hands read’…so she hit him with a hammer!” 
…. Badum tish!

George Roper:

“Two Irish fellas walking along and Mick says, ‘Me feet are killing me, I just bought a new pair of wellies’…so leave them off till you get used to them!” 
…. Badum tish!

Duggie Brown:

“Kids are funny, aren’t they? My little girl said to me, ‘Dad, what would you get if you crossed Larry Grayson with a Red Indian and Tommy Cooper?’ and I said I don’t know. She said, ‘You get somebody who says Shut that door…How?…Just like that!’ ” 
…. Badum tish!

Colin Crompton:

“There’s this Irish fella goes into a hospital A&E department with blisters all over his feet and his legs and the doctor asked, ‘How did you do that?’ and he says it was opening a tin of soup…it says stand in boiling water for 10 minutes!” 
…. Badum tish!

Now, I totally get that this sort of guff was of its time, a reminder of a bygone era.

But to get some perspective, you only need to recall what else was happening on the comedy scene back then.

At the same time The Comedians and Wheeltappers were churning out their dodgy gags, there was a certain Mr Billy Connolly making a name for himself.

He’d brought out his Live album in 1972 – a mixture of songs and funny stories – and followed it up two years later with the hilarious Cop Yer Whack For This.

Here was a comedian who could give you a proper belly-laugh with observational and physical comedy – and no need to bang out questionable gags one after the other.

Timing, they say, is everything in comedy and the Big Yin proved to be a master of his craft by taking his time to get it right.

While the established Seventies TV comics were firing out their 15-second jokes, he would happily take 15 minutes to showcase his talent with something like the legendary Crucifixion sketch.

You can just imagine that work of genius in the hands of someone like Bernard Manning…

“This Jewish fella walks into a bar in the Gallowgate and tells the barman to get everyone a drink. Two old guys sitting in the corner turn to each other and Jimmy says, ‘That’s amazing, I’ve never bought a drink for anyone in my life because I’m Scottish, yet that Jesus guy’s getting a round in. What do you make of that?’…It’s a miracle!” 
…. Badum tish!

Some of the establishment comics had the temerity to have a go at Connolly’s routine but he had the last laugh as he left them eating dust on his way to the top.

He was propelled on that journey, of course, after his ground-breaking 1975 appearance on the Michael Parkinson show…and that joke. You know the one…

“How’s the wife?
Oh, she’s deid..oot the game. I murdered her. I’ll show you if you want.
So he went away up to his tenement building, through the close – that’s the entrance to the tenement. And sure enough there’s a big mound of earth…but there’s a bum sticking out of it.
He says, ‘Is that her?’
Aye, I says.
‘Why did you leave her bum sticking out?’
Well, I needed somewhere tae park my bike!”

Irreverent? Probably.
Risky? Undoubtedly.
Funny? You bet your ass!

One thought on “You’re Having A Laugh…”

  1. Bang on, George! I must say, given that it was all on offer at the time, and not knowing any better as a kid I did enjoy some of The Comedians stuff. But soon a Billy Connolly arrived on my radar in 1973(?) with the double Live album recorded in Airdrie, then it was a true game-changer. I remember loads of us walking round school with this … goodness knows why as we couldn’t play it during school hours.

    The Big Yin changed comedy (certainly stand-up) for good (& the better) with hie observational humour. Likes of Peter Kay, Edie Izzard, Michael MacIntyre et al have a lot to be thankful for. 🙂

    Like

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