'Avin A Laugh?

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Warren Bell | 16:55 UK time, Friday, 16 January 2009

As you may or may not be aware, we like to have a bit of a laugh and a jape in the ATL office. It's not all about listening to serious indie music while stroking our chins and muttering under our breath. I mean don't get me wrong, none of us are Colin Hunt (thank the lord), but we all appreciate a good giggle. Music might be the main focus round these parts, but comedy is an essential cultural companion. For my part, Bill Hicks was a big influence on me in my early teens, Rigsy's hero is Graham Linehan, as declared in a previous post in this blog, and Paul McClean supports Liverpool Football Club, whose attempts to win the English league title provide an ongoing comedy entering its nineteenth season.

Of course, the links between music and comedy go back way beyond the widespread claims of comedy being the new rock 'n' roll that accompanied Newman and Baddiel packing out Wembley Arena back in the early 90s, but are comedy and music comfortable bedfellows or are the two best left to their own devices?

The whole "comedy is the new rock 'n' roll" thing never really got off the ground. Chris Morris and Lee & Herring had comedy shows on Radio 1, and the target audiences may have been the same, but there was nothing particularly musical about any of the comedy around at the time. Recently, however, a few acts who use music as an integral part of their performance have broken through to the mainstream and the whole debate has been kick-started. Some say yes, others emphatically no.

Whatever your opinion, it seems clear that acts such as The Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords have shifted the goalposts of comedy performance a bit. The comedy song has a long tradition, and performers such as Billy Connolly, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill and Adam & Joe (to name but a few) often use music to great comic effect, but these two acts have taken it up a notch or two in terms of integrating music into their work. Flight of the Conchords' live shows consist almost entirely of their songs, which in turn provide the base element that each sketch in their radio series and subsequent sitcom is woven around. Without the songs, there wouldn't really be a show.

The Mighty Boosh use music in a slightly different way. In their one radio and three television series (so far), songs pop up as the denouement to scenes and in the odd crimp (an a cappella form quickly ripped off by none other than the Honey Monster), but while the show would suffer without the songs, it's not entirely dependent on them. Interestingly though, their live show now incorporates full band performances of many of the songs, featuring Noel Fielding (Vince Noir) on vocals, Julian Barratt (Howard Moon) on guitar, Dave Brown (Bollo) on bongos and Rich Fulcher (Bob Fossil) on keys.

In fact, the Boosh's live show could be a sign of music and comedy finally crossing over in a meaningful fashion. In a way it was like a variety show performed by a single collective, or a self-contained cabaret featuring a touch of stand-up, some sketches, live music and elements of performance art. It was the theatrical equivalent of a mash-up, and judging by the fairly packed Odyssey Arena I enjoyed it in, it's pretty popular too.

The success of these acts alone prove that comedy and music can mix in new and interesting ways, but it's a difficult trick to pull off. As for comedy being the new rock 'n' roll, it would be nice if music could produce a new rock 'n' roll itself and just leave comedy out of it - it seems to be doing ok by itself thanks very much.

My favourite human

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Rigsy | 19:57 UK time, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

I remember being asked once who had influenced me most, outside family members and friends. It was expected I'd go on about some musician, but I couldn't think of a single one who had properly changed me or influenced me to the point I'd be any different than I am today. The Chemical Brothers, for originally turning me on to dance music, encouraging me to listen to music that hadn't been made by guitars and eventually make me want to become a DJ? Nah, if it hadn't been them, Daft Punk would have done it a year later. Or someone after that.

Then I realized that I'd spent more of my life in the company of one man's work than anyone else and he wasn't even a musician. This guy's output had influence me and tweaked my personality much more than music ever could. I realised I spend about an hour every week, at the very least, enjoying his material - much more than I'd ever listen to one specific band or CD.

I've never been in the guy's company and have only seen what he looks like a handful of times. I don't know much about him and I couldn't tell you for sure in what city he grew up in (it's Dublin - I just checked).

His name? Graham Linehan.

If it wasn't for Linehan, my life up to this point would not have been just as much fun. I certainly wouldn't have laughed as much and I definitely would have spent less time chatting to my friends about a mutual love of certain TV shows, characters and punchlines. I am absolutely certain I'd be a slightly different person - not as content, and lumbered with a less developed sense of humour. I reckon I'd have spent about 5% less of my life to date smiling, which is quite a big chunk.

From this point on, this blog is going to be nothing other than a celebration of Graham Linehan's work, via some clips. It's slightly unfair on Arthur Matthews, his co-writer on many projects, but let's not get too worked up about that. There are laughs to be had.

Linehan and Matthews first struck gold on the incredible Fast Show - a ridiculous, random sketch show from the 1990s.

The funniest characters in the Fast Show were Ted and Ralph - an old man and his younger employer. They made a full length feature out of these two once and I remember I weeped a wee bit. As the Fast Show went on, their relationship got more and more poignant -incredible characters, invented by Linehan and Matthews.

I guess he'll be remember most for Father Ted. What gets me about Father Ted, apart from it being (on some days) the funniest TV show ever, are the characters. So many incredible priests played by actors you'd maybe never see again. The best casting in any show, ever.

I picked that clip cause it reminded me that Graham Linehan is also the man who pretty much informed the world about The Divine Comedy, as the first person to write about them in any great detail, both for Hot Press and Select Magazine. So yeah, he 'broke' one of my favourite bands. But that's a whole other blog.

Big Train!!!! What a show. The stupidest programme TV has ever broadcast and the finest sketch show in the history of comedy. Linehan and Matthews work once again - or at least the (superior) first season - Arthur Matthews would write the second season on his own. Linehan's voice is actually in the above clip - 'he would consider himself the office prankster....'.

Linehan also wrote a lot for Steve Coogan. In fact, Steve Coogan's output wouldn't be nearly as great, had Linehan not been so involved.

After Partridge, Coogan's finest character was the (very similar) Gareth Cheeseman. He featured in the episode of 'Coogan's Run' called 'Dearth of a Salesman' written by....well you get it by now. The clips have a little swearing in them so I won't put them up here, but Cheeseman is a legend.

As if writing for Coogan isn't enough, Linehan has actually appeared alongside of 'I'm Alan Partridge'.

He was one of the Irish guys that Alan meets to discuss ideas for presenting on RTE. Linehan on the right, Matthews on the left. I reckon I've mentioned or discussed this scene with friends maybe 150 times in my life.

If you like Coogan, you probably like Chris Morris.

Linehan wrote for Brass Eye....(again hard to find a clean clip)

And the insane, occasionally upsetting and always creepy Blue Jam, which turned into Jam for the TV.

Then, Black Books. I never gave it much of a chance, but have it to look forward to having just bought the box set.

Also, without doubt the most underrated show ever, a show so rarely discussed it's not even mentioned in Linehan's Wikipedia entry, which is very odd. Matthews may have been the main guy behind this show, I guess.

It's called Hippies. I'm always going on to people about it - I don't understand why it's not considered a classic.

I've just watched the above clip and am laughing like an idiot in the ATL office - I think Cherrie McIllwaine is a bit concerned. Simon Pegg's finest hour - and that comes from a massive fan of Spaced.

He also worked on and appeared in The Day Today (not this clip, it just came into my head for some reason).

And Garth Marenghi's Dark Place and Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Little Britain and other shows that have made every one of you reading giggle at some, if not several thousand points in your life, have all had the Linehan touch at some point.

I could go on, but I'm actually worn out, having laughed so hard finding clips for this blog (given they had to be clean, it wasn't easy, but it certainly was fun).

Graham Linehan - my favourite human, for sure.

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