I’m still sorting out my virtual drawers, as it were, so here’s another recycled blog from my old website. This one was originally published on March 7th 2011…
Are you one of those people like me who know the odd mix of pleasure, pain and social embarrassment that comes from uncontrollable laughter, or are you a miserable bastard? (NB: that ‘miserable bastard’ is just there for comic effect. I don’t really think people who don’t laugh uncontrollably are necessarily miserable bastards, but I do think they’re missing out.) I can’t remember what it was, but I was watching something a couple of weeks ago that had me rolling on the floor clutching my sides in a place somewhere between agony and ecstasy , and in between my gasps and prayers for oxygen I found myself thinking it had been too long, and I’d missed it.
I’m not 100% sure about my first experience of UL (uncontrollable laughter), but I’m fairly sure it would have had something to do with Pete and Dud, Monty Python or Spike Milligan. Spike is certainly at the forefront of my comedy memories – I can remember scenes from an old B&W puppet show called the Telegoons I watched when I was little more than a babe in arms. The only other TV memory I have from that period is of an Oliver Postgate stop-frame animation called The Pingwings, who were a family of little knitted penguins who lived on a farm. As they weren’t particularly funny, I guess they appealed on a more fundamental level, but the Telegoons were definitely a sign of my emerging funny-bone.
Other things I used to laugh at as a child were the short ‘plays’ my dad used to record on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. He would fart into the microphone with the recorder set on high speed and then play it back at normal speed to provide the sound effect for ‘Mr Popper’s motorbike’. Mr Popper had a helicopter too – an electric Philishave razor – which dad would slowly move back and forth around the mic to provide Doppler effects and a 3D soundstage. I’m making my dad sound like a really good bloke here, but in fact he did it more for his own amusement than mine. He was actually quite a miserable old git, but then with seven kids, a nagging wife and an endless stream of bits-on-the-side to support probably had good reason to be. I used to laugh at Mr Popper’s motorbike mostly, I think, because dad sulked and hit me if I didn’t*, but it wasn’t the genuine laughter brought forth by the likes of Eccles, Bluebottle and Neddy Seagoon.
If Spike was the cause of my first UL incident, it wouldn’t have been with the Telegoons. They made me laugh but they weren’t that funny. ‘Q’ came along a few years later, though, and I definitely remember a squeaky bun sketch (not that funny watching now) that really did have me rolling on the floor, as did any sketch featuring Spike as an idiot boy scout being fed sugar lumps by John Bluthal. I was a bit too young to ‘get’ the Pete & Dud stuff properly, but I do remember laughing at Bouncing Nuns and The Glid of Glood and Dud’s terrible bouts of corpsing during the Dagenham Dialogues. Those corpsing clips can still make me weep today, proving conclusively that laughter is infectious.
Another thing I definitely remember crying real painful tears too was a sketch by Tommy Cooper; sadly, as far as I can tell (I’ve searched for it on YouTube etc), lost forever. I wasn’t (ain’t) a big Tommy Cooper fan, but his comic timing and mugging to camera could be devastatingly funny at times. The sketch was about a sleep clinic, supposedly filmed with a stop-frame camera throughout the night, each photo taken at two-minute intervals. The first frame shows an empty room and bed. The second shows Tommy coming through the door in ‘Wee Willy Winky’ nightdress and cap. Then he’s yawning and stretching/pulling back bed covers/getting in etc etc. Then there’s a couple where he’s just asleep, and then he starts moving in his sleep…
By the time it got to the photos where he’s on top of the wardrobe, under the bed, outside the window etc I was in agony… I swear if I ever get a chance to write on a TV sketch show I will reproduce that sketch and give Tommy a credit at the end. It probably doesn’t sound much – I guess you had to be there and it is a very visual gag – and it may just be that it wouldn’t work with anyone else, but I’d like to give it a go. Part of the humour lay in the physical incongruity of it; that giant of a man on a tiny single bed, and on top of a wardrobe etc. Thanks for that, Tommy.
Anyhoo. I’ve probably waffled on enough about UL, but for any You-Ellers out there (the new official term) I hope you find something to set you off soon. If alone, and in the comfort of your own home all well and good, but if you happen to find your next fit coming upon you in public I hope you can relax and enjoy it. It is Fecking embarrassing, I know (I walked straight out of a potential girlfriend’s house during an episode of Monty Python [Any THING goeeeees… fish bananas, old pyjamas] after her entire family had watched po-faced while I convulsed on the floor. As any You-Eller will tell you that kind of response is only going to exacerbate the situation), but I have absolutely no doubt it’s good for the soul too.
Oh – final thought. Laughing until milk comes out of your nose is one thing, but hot coffee is a different matter. Hot vegetable soup is the worst of all; peas aren’t too bad but the sharp corners on diced carrot hurt like hell.
* I am lying about the beatings – he was pretty lousy as dads go but was too cowardly for violence. When I asked him what he’d done in the war and whether he’d ever killed a man my mum rolled on the floor laughing, so I guess I got my sense of humour – and most of my beatings – from her.