Tag Archives: Comedy

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!

the big yin and me.

(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)

I’ve always had a strange relationship with Billy Connolly.

Not that we’ve ever met.

I call it Christopher Columbus syndrome – You find an artist, hear a song or read a book that hardly anyone else knows about, you become an early adopter and spread the word, and before you know it everyone loves them – with people even asking you if you’ve heard of them!

It drives you mad because you feel like you’re the one that DISCOVERED THEM, and if it wasn’t for you unearthing their great talent and spreading the word, they’d be nowhere.

You even begin to resent their newfound fame – they’re being greedy or they’re overreaching or they’re forgetting where they come from, or some other daft notion.

Welcome to my relationship with Billy Connolly.

I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Connolly utter a word was on the Pavilion stage in February 1974.

There was a buzz as the relative unknown had sold out several nights at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, something only Sydney Devine (Scotland’s answer to Elvis) could do back then.

Billy promoting his stint at The Pavilion.

My pal Barry suggested we get tickets to see him on a Friday night as we had no school the next day, we were both 15 at the time and part of the plan was to find a pub and go for the full Friday night Glasgow experience.

We duly found a wee working mans pub round the corner from the venue, and foraged for a seat out of view, it was tea-time on a Friday, so the pub was busy with artisans in their work clothes finishing their shifts for the weekend.

We must have stood out like sore thumbs.

I think Barry braved the first approach to the bar and I was amazed but delighted when he came back with 2 halves of lager and 2 vodka and oranges’ (non-diluted orange squash of course).

A half and a half back then was the working mans preferred tipple, so who were we to challenge the established order of things.

The drinks were downed pretty quickly, and we enjoyed a few more bevvy’s before floating off down the road to the Pavilion in good spirits.

Stand-up comedy in the 70’s was dominated by middle aged men who wore suits and bow ties and told corny jokes about their mother in laws or minorities or Germans bombing their chip shops.

This guy Connolly was different though he was younger, he looked like a welder on acid and he spoke our language.

A bit like listening to the opening 4 tracks of Led Zeppelin IV for the first time, Connolly literally took our breath away. I had never laughed so long or so hard before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t since, although Jerry Sadowitz has come close a couple of times.

He was loud, gallus, hilarious and the audience loved him, his stories were relatable, and he was one of us.

I remember hearing the Crucifixion sketch for the first time that night, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, he was irreverent and didn’t give two hoots about poking fun at religion or sectarian taboos or bodily functions or the establishment, no topic was off limits to the Big Yin.

It was a memorable evening; from the nervous bus-journey into town wondering if we’d get served or huckled for being underage, to the journey home, fish supper in hand, trying to recount all the jokes and patter and remembering we had football for the school the following morning.

We were so smitten by Connolly that we spent the next couple of weeks spreading the gospel, telling everyone we knew how great he was, mostly to blank faces however, as no one had heard of him.

Billy takes over The Apollo.

His career really took off after a live album of the Pavilion material was released in May 1974, and the following year he finally came into the general public’s consciousness.

In 1975 Connolly sold out an unprecedented 12 nights at the Glasgow Apollo, as well as appearing on Parkinson for the first of his record breaking 15 appearances.

That year he also showed off his acting chops by appearing in a powerful Peter McDougall TV play called ‘Just Another Saturday’ which was about West of Scotland culture, beliefs, innocence and sectarianism.

If that wasn’t enough, he also headlined a London gig for the first time and even had a number one single, appearing on TOTP with a parody of Tammy Wynette’s Divorce. It was the archetypal rags to riches story; the guy had gone from zero to hero in the space of 18 months.

There’s a picture that was taken in 1975 by Ronnie Anderson, a newspaper colleague of one of our contributors George Cheyne, that is my favourite Connolly portrait.

The occasion was an after-party in The Dorchester for the first of Billy’s sell out shows at the London Palladium in 1975, and it features – Billy, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Reid the shop steward, Hamish Stuart from AWB, Frankie Miller and Jimmy Dewar (a musician from Stone the Crows and Robin Trower Band).

A motley crew of 6 Glaswegians toasting their mate’s success in a foreign land.

The Glasgow Mafia – 1975

If I’m being completely honest, the parody single was the point when I started to think the Big Yin was overreaching.

A parody single? That was for Benny Hill and Rolf Harris but not for the Big Yin!

I’d also noticed that his accent had started to soften a bit and he was definitely losing some of his tough Glasgow brogue.

Of course, I look back now and understand he was just reaching out to a wider audience, the guy was a welder turned folk singer turned comedian, he had no idea how long this gravy train was going to run for.

He was simply making the most of his opportunities

As Connolly got bigger so did his global reach, hanging out with Hollywood celebs and Royalty and appearing in big budget movies and hosting TV specials.

Billy, Robin Wlliams & Dudley Moore.

There was a point where he seemed to be everyone’s favourite comedian, but he probably wasn’t mine anymore.

I had discovered American stand-up, guys like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, and I liked the cut of their jib.

Richard Pryor doing his thing.

I still liked Billy and I would go the odd gig, but for me comparing his newer, more mainstream material to his earlier stuff was like comparing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You to Superstition or Living for the City.

And I guess I’ve just addressed some of my issues right there!

If Stevie can’t maintain unrealistic artistic excellence, who can??

On a subconscious level I also think that for some absurd reason I thought he’d forsaken his Scottish roots, which is illogical, particularly as I moved away from Scotland myself in 1984.

There’s no doubt that Connolly has had a fantastic career, he’s adored by millions and he is and always has been a wonderful ambassador for Scotland.

As he’s got older, I think he’s got back to being a bit more irreverent and a bit more outspoken, and that’s the Billy I adore.

I’ve loved stand-up comedy since I was 15 thanks to the Big Yin, he was my first and he was one of the best.

When all’s said and done, I’m glad I got to discover the Big Yin in February 1974 and share him with the rest of the world.

You’re welcome!

show & tell – colin ‘jackie’ jackson

Today, I’ve brought with me, my Ken Dodd Fun Club Certificate and personalised, signed Ken Dodd photograph.

I was ten years old when in April 1969, my parents, little sister, Rona, and I waited at the stage door of the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow to meet my hero, Ken Dodd.

We didn’t have to wait too long before being invited in.

I vividly remember Doddy sitting behind a sort of counter, wearing a dressing gown, still in full make-up and hair all over the place.

I recall too, he was very gracious, and though offstage only a short while following a long performance, he was still incredibly funny and cracking jokes.

I told him I missed the Diddymen who hadn’t appeared in the show, and Ken took time to explain, more through my parents, that they couldn’t get the necessary permission from the Glasgow authorities for children to perform in the evenings.

He really was just how you hope your hero should be and chatted happily for several minutes, even politely replying to my asking why he had jokes written all over his hands and wrists!

Often referred to as the last of the Music Hall comedians, Ken Dodd appealed to adults and kids in equal measure. I really thought he was tattyfilarious, and laughed till my eyes streamed and my sides were sore.

(When I reminded my ninety-one year old dad of this the other day, his eyes lit up and confirmed what a fantastically funny night it was.)

I had thought I’d lost these two mementos but found them when searching for something else. I’m so glad I did, as they evoke such strong memories of a much more innocent and nonsensical style of humour.