Thursday, March 27, 2008

DYing art of joke telling

Joke-telling may be a dying art, but we can take a lesson from our comic geniuses.

If we're to believe a new survey, some 40 per cent of adults today would rather share gags via email than swap one-liners face-to-face.

Ricky Gervais
The art of timing: Ricky Gervais

Would-be comedians these days dispatch shaggy dog stories or visual gags - and in so doing have lost the art of timing and delivery. Joke tellers wander about the stage and delivers gags. We don't learn much about his life and times we aren't given a sermon on the ills of the world and he doesn't try to touch our souls or make us think deeply about society

Lenny Henry, on his recent quest for the British sense of humour, worried about the damage to social cohesion as a consequence of joke-telling's decline. Struggling to find any fresh "Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman" patter, he asked whether political correctness hadn't put paid to our willingness to risk a joke to break the ice.

Another survey two years ago suggested in all seriousness that the amount of time we spend laughing every day had fallen from an average of 18 minutes in the 1950s to just six minutes today.

The truth is that there never was a golden age for telling jokes; most people have always been pretty rubbish at it. That's why comedians tend to earn rather a lot if they get it right. And while we should be worrying if comics themselves had given up, we're actually living through a boom time in good, old-fashioned one-liners.

  • "I'd just like to say to the old man who was wearing camouflage gear and using crutches, who stole my wallet earlier - you can hide, but you can't run." Milton Jones
  • "I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me 'Can you give me a lift?' I said, 'Sure, you look great, the world's your oyster, go for it.'" Tim Vine
  • "Where there's a will, there's a relative." Ricky Gervais
  • "They say that guns don't kill people, people kill people. But I think the guns help." Eddie Izzard
  • "I like to go into the Body Shop and shout out, 'I've already got one!'" Norman Lovett
  • "I've often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can't get my wife to go swimming." Peter Kay
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