A tribute to Rik Mayall

There isn’t much I can say about the passing of Rik Mayall yesterday that hasn’t already been said. It is a huge loss – his unique brand of anarchic comedy, from The Young Ones through to Bottom, Blackadder and movies like Drop Dead Fred, inspired a whole generation of comedians. At 56 it feels he was taken far too early, and as many other comedians have noted on social media (especially Twitter), he was a whirlwind of creative energy that has left a bit of a void all of a sudden.

So, rather than ramble on any more, I’m going to include some of my favourite clips of his here. In order, there is the shop keeping scene from Bottom, then his first appearance as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder, then a scene from Drop Dead Fred (where he plays an invisible friend) and finally a compilation of some of his funniest moments from The Young Ones because it was too hard to pick one scene.

Just a word of warning, some of this stuff might be offensive. Otherwise, enjoy!

R.I.P. Rik Mayall! You’ll be missed.

My Ten Favourite TV Comedy Shows Ever

It occurred to me recently that while I have written blog posts covering some of my favourite comedians, I haven’t written any such list of my favourite TV comedies. By TV comedies I don’t mean stand-up or sketch comedy, I mean shows with storylines (however vague those storylines might seem at times). I choose not to use the word sitcom because some people associate that negatively with comedy, which is silly because every comedy with a storyline, no matter where in the world its made or set, is a sitcom. But I digress.

This list will feature a mixture of British, Australian, NZ and American comedy, so it varies in style quite a lot. Here goes, in no particular order.

30 Rock30 Rock – One of my favourite shows from the last decade, this award-winning show deserves all the praise it gets. Based on Tina Fey’s experiences as a writer for Saturday Night Live, the idea of a show focused on the behind-the-scenes of such comedy and entertainment shows is simple but effective. What really makes the show is the wide array of personalities in the characters, brought to life by some (surprisingly) great acting from the likes of Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and others. Definitely one of the more intelligent comedies to come from America this last decade. It takes a few episodes to get into but it’s worth it ultimately.

Black BooksBlack Books – One of the biggest cult comedy classics to come out of Britain recently (well, a decade ago but that’s still fairly recent), Black Books introduced us to Bernard Black, the grumpy drunk Irish bookstore owner on the outskirts of London, as well as his best friend Fran and bumbling assistant Manny. Only eighteen episodes across three series, every episode is amazing in its own way and even more so if you watch it in a marathon with a few bottles of wine and some good friends. Unsurprisingly, both Dylan Moran (Bernard) and Bill Bailey (Manny) have enjoyed growing success in their stand-up comedy careers since this show. One for book-lovers (and wine-lovers) everywhere.

BlackadderBlackadder – Rowan Atkinson’s other famous comedy series (Mr Bean being perhaps the slightly better known one), this showed off the man’s more sarcastic side of his humour. Each series was set in a different historical period, my two favourites being the Elizabethan England era and World War I. There was even a telemovie involving time travel made as a sort of reunion one-off back in 2000, and there’s a great parody of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (and a very clever parody, I might add). Atkinson was brilliant as the ever scheming Blackadder, but Tony Robinson as his dimwitted sidekick Baldrick was just as funny – it really does take a genius to play a total idiot well. Other notable regulars included a very young Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, as well as Miranda Richardson, Tim McInnerny and in the first series Brian Blessed.

The Mighty BooshThe Mighty Boosh – This unusual British comedy is one of those shows that I first saw in Australia about ten years ago late one night. After a single episode, I was both utterly confused and totally entranced and wanting more. With each series, the storylines became increasingly twisting and daring, not to mention more and more surreal, as the settings change from a dysfunctional zoo, to an apartment above a shaman’s shop, to the shop itself. But, despite this, the characters grow and develop as time goes on and you’ll soon find yourself warming to them as you sing along to some of the ridiculous songs in each episode. If you haven’t seen this, watch it in order from the first series – the second is the best but it takes a while to get used to, I think.

The IT CrowdThe IT Crowd – While many people think of The Big Bang Theory when it comes to sitcoms about nerds, for me I’ll always prefer The IT Crowd. This recent British classic comedy wrapped up last year with a one-off episode that follows from four very successful series, and centres around two young computer geeks who work in the basement of the giant building for Reynholm Industries. It also centres around their boss, Jen, who knows nothing about computers, and the big boss of Reynholm (the boss changes from season two onwards to the “son” of the boss from the first season) who is constantly trying to sleep with Jen. The storylines are sometimes absurd, but that only adds to the charm of the show in my opinion. A must-see comedy from recent years, it was created by the same person who created Black Books, Graham Linehan, for a bit of extra trivia.

Danger 5Danger 5 – This bizarre Australian comedy parodies the 70s spy genre in the most unusual way – Hitler is alive in the 70s, for no explicable reason, and the show centres around a group of spies who try to stop his various plans and fail to assassinate him at the end of each episode. Some of his plans include things like, you know, bringing dinosaurs back or kidnapping an entire country – normal stuff, basically. Despite seeming over the top, this series was actually really hilarious and a pleasant surprise. I’m hoping there’s a second series coming sometime soon.

Flight Of The ConchordsFlight Of The Conchords – In real life, Flight Of The Conchords are a NZ music duo who write comedy and parody songs, and who are both immensely talented. In the television show named after their band, they play fictionalised versions of themselves as they pretend to try and make it in New York, with little success apart from one super creepy but hilarious stalker. The first series of this is much better than the second, as the first series was written after the songs, but the second series they had to write the songs and episodes simultaneously which loses some of the magic. Still, both series are well worth watching – this show is very cool, very awkward and very funny. One for music fans everywhere, and also for both Aussies and New Zealanders (as there are so many jokes in there about the relationship between people from the two countries).

The SimpsonsThe Simpsons – This might be stating the obvious, but really I couldn’t not put The Simpsons on this list. I have grown up with this show (I am barely older than it), and despite its low points I also think it has bounced back in recent years (but everybody is too jaded from when it got bad ten years ago to try it again – seriously, watch some new episodes, they’re pretty good again now). Some of the highlights of my day on Twitter are the quotes of the day from this show (with accompanying pictures). When a show has been around this long, it’s alarming how much you can relate to it – “it’s like on that episode of The Simpsons” is a phrase I probably use too much, but I don’t care. I will always love this show, end of story. (And no, I’m not comparing it to Family Guy which I also love because that is like comparing apples and oranges).

Fawlty TowersFawlty Towers – In Monty Python (which, due to its sketch show nature I cannot include here) John Cleese became famous for his enormous height and lanky body which he could use to great effect in sketches such as the Ministry of Silly Walks and so on. He also became known for his anger (he actually had genuine anger problems back in the 1970s mind you), and so he managed to bring hotel owner Basil Fawlty to life in a mix of rage and slapstick silliness across the twelve (yep, there’s only twelve) episodes of this classic comedy.  First shown on television in 1975, the same year Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in cinemas, this show helped take Cleese’s fame to all new levels, and for good reason. If you haven’t watched this in a while, watch it again. Trust me.

Harvey Birdman and FredHarvey Birdman: Attorney At Law –  This show features Harvey Birdman, once hero of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 1960s, as a laywer who fights cases often with his old enemies as the other attorneys. The clients also come from other characters from those old cartoons (one of my favourites is The Jetsons, who inform Harvey they’re from the future, from the year 2002, as he looks at his 2004 calendar on his desk in confusion). A very clever and witty reinterpretation of old characters, this show stayed interesting and hilarious across all three series and thirty-nine episodes, and I would consider it the best of all the Adult Swim cartoons by a long shot.

And there we have it! My ten favourite sitcoms of all time, and many of these have ranked among my favourites for a very long time already so this isn’t the sort of list that is likely to change easily, either.

So, what are some of your favourites? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Book Review: The Last Girlfriend On Earth

The Last Girlfriend On EarthWriting a lot of short stories last month reminded me of one thing – I need to read more short stories. I mentioned the hilarious collection of short stories by Simon Rich, called The Last Girlfriend On Earth And Other Love Stories, back in this post when I was only 40 pages in, and when I sat down to read more of it two days ago I ended up reading the entire remains of the book in one sitting. I also laughed. A lot.

Up until recently, Rich worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live (he now works for Pixar), so really you would expect him to be able to induce a few laughs with his writing. However I didn’t realise this when I read this book, and was taken quite by surprise just how funny it was. Often funny books make me smile, or sometimes laugh once or twice, but I was laughing repeatedly as I read this and I am now very curious about his other books.

The stories, about 30 in total over 200 odd pages, are divided into three sections – Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl. Despite this, there is a strong cynicism about love and relationships and how people act in relationships through all three parts of the book. For example, in the Boy Gets Girl section is a short story called “Girlfriend Repair Shop”, in which a guy and girl are sitting in a relationship counselling office and it becomes clear that the guy is to blame for the issues the couple are experiencing. But then, instead of dealing with it properly, the guy takes the girl to a repair shop so she’ll stop complaining and return to the blissful person she was at the start of the relationship. While it is quite funny it also makes a good point, as a lot of people seem to be disappointed when relationships don’t retain that honeymoon feeling forever and they realise they have to work hard to keep both people happy. A lot of this social commentary lurks underneath the surface of almost every story in this book, but it by no means takes away from the humour, thankfully.

One key feature of the stories in this book is the use of surrealism – I mean, the book begins with a story about a sentient condom who ends up in a wallet and talks to the other contents of the wallet over time as he slowly tries to figure out what his purpose in life might be. There’s countless references to mythology, such as “Sirens of Gowanus” in which a man is lured by a several thousand year old Siren in modern times, “Cupid”, which features an alcoholic Cupid who isn’t doing his job of making people fall in love, and “Children of the Dirt” which explores the origins of sexual orientations. Then there’s the short but sweet stories – “Dog Missed Connections” is just a couple of pages of what appear to be ads on a Dog Dating site (and this one I absolutely howled in laughter at), “Celebrity Sexceptions” which reads almost like a long joke with a very good punchline, and “Ludlow Lounge” which is a futuristic look at relationships. There is “I Love Girl”, about love in the time of cavemen, the slightly disturbing but very clever “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and so much more than I have time to go into here.

The writing itself is sharp and witty, but very varied in style to suit all the different scenarios. Somehow though it never feels forced at any point – you get the feeling that Rich thoroughly enjoyed writing a lot of these tales. Through the constantly changing settings and the alternating between longer and shorter stories, it’s hard to lose interest as you read this book (part of how I read it mostly in one sitting).

If you feel like reading something that will actually make you laugh, and some short stories that are clever, thought provoking and actually quite short, you should pick up this book. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books If You Like Monty Python

Monty PythonTop Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke And The Bookish, in which a lot of book bloggers around the world join in by writing a top ten list based on the topic corresponding to that week. This week the topic is recommending the top ten books based on a particular other book, TV show, movie, etc – for example, if you like this book, you’ll like this other book here. That sort of thing. Feel free to join in and do it on your own blog, just make sure you link back to the blog that started it all (and tell me so I can come and check it out)!

As you may have guessed, I’m recommending all my books on if you have a fondness for the ridiculous British comedy troupe known as Monty Python. In the 1960s and 1970s Monty Python shot to fame around the world, helping redefine comedy with their surreal brand of humour through 4 TV series (45 episodes in total), 4 movies, a live show, and a bunch of albums. Although Graham Chapman is no longer with us, sadly, the other 5 members have been working on a reunion live show that will be broadcast in cinemas around the world – this show, they have admitted, is also to be a final farewell to the group, most of whom are in their 70s now.

So it seemed appropriate to me to base my list on Monty Python. If you like Monty Python’s whacky, surreal, intelligent and most of all hilarious comedy, you’ll probably like these books:

  1. The Murphy by Spike Milligan: Spike Milligan became famous in the 50s as part of The Goon Show, a radio series with the same type of surreal humour that Monty Python became known for. Milligan went on to make sketch shows on television, write a lot of books including several novels and a seven part war memoir, and even write children’s poetry. He was clearly a big influence on Monty Python, so really I could have put any of his books on this list. I chose this one because he published it in 2000, at the age 0f 81, and I loved how funny he still was even as an old man. He attempts to write a lot of the accents through the spelling of words, and that alone makes this short novel a worthy read for Monty Python fans.
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Douglas Adams openly admitted that Monty Python were a huge influence on him, and it shows in all of his novels. There’s a complete randomness to these stories, courtesy of the fact that he blows up the Earth early in the first book of the series and really makes anything possible. But underneath, there is some intelligent social commentary going on as well. Very funny books by a very funny man.
  3. The Road To Mars by Eric Idle: Yes, Eric Idle is one of the members of Monty Python, so this book is almost a given for this list. Written a bit over a decade ago, it focuses on a topic he knows well – comedy. The main characters are stand up comedians who travel the galaxy, but the character who most interested me was a robot who didn’t understand the distinctly human concept of humour, and spent his time trying to analyse it to figure out what makes something funny. Very thought provoking while still being as hilarious as you’d expect.
  4. The Last Girlfriend On Earth by Simon Rich: I’ve only just started reading this book today (my girlfriend is reading it right now while I write this) and I bought it after reading this review on the fabulous blog Books Speak Volumes. Just skimming through it and reading the odd page, I am already finding it hilarious and a lot of it is just totally absurd but in a brilliant way. While Monty Python might not be the first type of humour that this reminds me of, I definitely think fans of one would enjoy the other! Excited to sit down and properly read this later.
  5. Preincarnate by Shaun Micallef: Shaun Micallef is a much loved Australian comedian, and he snuck this little novel out a couple of years ago. I was quite impressed by it, for the plot was very complex and totally ridiculous, revolving around time travel and suspended animation. What made it extra funny, though, was the footnotes that Micallef added that sometimes interrupted the narrative flow on purpose – in much the same way that sketches are interrupted by other sketches in Monty Python. Very funny and one of the most insane novels I have ever read. I’d like to reread this one soon, actually.
  6. Calcium Made Interesting: Sketches, Essays, Letters and Gondolas by Graham Chapman: Graham Chapman was also one of the Monty Python troupe, but sadly he died back in 1989. This book is a collection of essays and other various writings by Graham, all of which is hilarious. Often with these sort of books I tend to skim through looking for the more interesting parts, but this one I quite happily read all of – it was just too good! Some of his best work is in here, I think.
  7. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson:  This is one of the most popular Swedish books of recent years both in Sweden (where it was the best-selling novel the year it came out) and around the world, and recently was turned into a film (which is a reason I need to hurry up with my Swedish language learning). Basically about what the title says, a man who on his hundredth birthday decides to jump out the window and run away, and all the crazy things that happen as a result, interspersed with tales from his youth. Another absurd story, I think it’s the surrealism and unlikeliness of it that makes me think of Monty Python.
  8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: I know some of you are thinking “what? He’s clutching at straws now!” But I’m not, nor am I including this just because it’s my favourite ever book, so hear me out. Catch-22 was a hilarious book which ultimately served to expose the real lunacy of war through situations and scenarios which seem too absurd to be possible, but which clearly are quite possible and probable (many of which Heller drew from experience). Likewise, Monty Python often tried to expose the lunacy behind a lot of things, from blind belief and religious fanaticism in “Life of Brian” to politics and media in their TV series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Besides, both this book and Monty Python reside among my favourite ever things, so, you know. It’s got to mean something, right?
  9. Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry: Monty Python had a bit of an obsession with dressing up as women for sketches (as the main six members were men, although they did have women who often worked on their films and shows as extras too), and the results were often hilarious. Stephen Fry, the much loved host of intelligent quiz show QI, documentary person, novel writer and all round word-wizard, sometimes writes as Mrs Stephen Fry, playing his apparent wife as his alter-ego. This book is a year’s worth of diary entries, and it is very rude, crude and absolutely hilarious. Fry really knows how to twist words to get every last bit of humour out of them.
  10. An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge by John O’Farrell: This last one is my favourite ever history book. So why am I recommending it if you like Monty Python? Because it is also the funniest history book I have ever read, poking fun at just about every bit of Britain’s past over the last couple of millennia. The humour is often quite absurd and more often just downright silly, just like the comedy in both of Monty Python’s single-story films (the other two were sketch compilations) which were set in the past. Unlike those films though, this book is fairly accurate (and obvious when its not). A must-read for comedy fans of any kind, and of course history buffs.

I actually could have come up with a few more books, but this post is long enough already. I’d love to hear from you, Monty Python fan or not, on whether you have read any of these books and what your thoughts are on them or the Pythons!

A limerick about a dog

Today is a writing catch-up day of epic proportions. Ten days into the month, I started today a full week behind schedule on both Camp NaNoWriMo (where I’m writing 30000 words worth of short stories) and NaPoWriMo (where I’m writing 30 poems).

Anyway, amidst all the writing lunacy a silly limerick tiptoed out of my whirling mind and onto the page, and while some forms of poetry I’d be more nervous about showing people, limericks are meant to be silly. So here goes:

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In case you can’t read my awful handwriting (bad writing is a sign of being intelligent right? Right? Oh come on…pleeeease can it be?), I’ll type up the poem here for you:

There once was a dog called Stinker
He pooped too much and was a drinker
But one day he drank mead
While drunk he learned to read
Now he’s called Stinker the Thinker

As I write this blog post, I am now three days behind on the poetry front but still six behind with the short stories, so it’s time to return to the world of talking animals (which is mostly what my short stories have become).

Until next time…unless I lose my mind in a storm of caffeine induced panic.

The Hyperbole and a Half book – when great blogs make great books

Hyperbole and a Half Book CoverIf you don’t know what Hyperbole and a Half is, you probably should go there right now by clicking on the link half a sentence ago. It’s an amazing blog by Allie Brosh in which she tells tales from her life in a hilarious fashion accompanied by drawings done on Microsoft Paint and done badly on purpose because it’s kind of funny. Her blog is award-winning, and her depictions of her own experiences with depression have been greatly praised by many experts for conveying it so accurately (part two of this blog, which appeared after over a year’s absence, had more than a million hits on the first day apparently).

Upon her return she announced she was working on a book, which would comprise of some of her funniest stories from her blog while also including several new ones (which aren’t on her website). Sometimes when bloggers or cartoonists make books, they don’t have much new content, or at least nothing  really enticing to make it warrant actually buying the book. But this case is an exception – if you like the blog you must buy this book. Please. Just do it. You won’t regret it.

The stories she has chosen from her blog to include in this collection include two of my favourites, The God Of Cake and Party, as well as both parts of the Depression posts (which you should go read on her website if you haven’t already). Some of her new tales include more stories from her childhood, more stories about her frighteningly simple dogs including one that is addressed to them in the hope of helping them survive normal situations in life (with a hilarious Q&A section with questions from the dogs themselves), and more reflections on her own identity as an adult. The new material is just as good as her best work, and just as funny and insightful, and it’s clear she put a lot of effort into this book and didn’t just rush it to try and get it out on the shelves already.

What I particularly love about a lot of Brosh’s writing, apart from how funny it is, is the fact that so much of it is relatable. Sure, not everybody has dogs quite so lacking in the brain department as hers, but dogs are odd creatures who do bizarre things for no reason and she explores that phenomenon so well. Not everybody has experienced what she has, but a lot of people have, and those who haven’t have at the very least probably shared some of the thought processes she explains in this, despite how seemingly ridiculous they are. And everybody can relate to the insane childhood stories – we all probably have similar memories of our childhoods whether we remember them or not. There is something impressive though about the way that she can make these stories seem so much like something all of us have been through and at the same time clearly unique and personal, with her own distinct voice shining through both the words and the drawings.

If you have ever read this blog you must buy this book, as you will love it. If you have never read her blog, go read it first, then buy the book, as you too will love it. If I ever wrote a book half as funny as this one, I would be over the moon!

What are your thoughts on the blog Hyperbole And A Half?

What other blogs turned into books have you read that you would recommend?

Political quotes from The Simpsons

It’s election night here in Australia. The results are coming to an end, the government has officially changed, we have a new Prime Minister and approximately half the country are absolutely outraged by it, as is often the way. But I’m not interested in blogging about politics, and never really have been.

So I’ve decided we all need a really good laugh, and after struggling to find enough funny quotes from real politicians, I thought I’d look elsewhere…enjoy!

  • Bart Simpson: “Didn’t you wonder why you were getting checks for doing absolutely nothing?”
    Grampa Simpson: “I figured because the democrats were in power again.”
  • “Ironic, isn’t it Smithers? This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That’s democracy for you.” –Mr. Burns
  • “An election!? That’s one of those deals where they close the bars isn’t it?” –Barney Gumble
  • “Lisa, if you don’t like your job, you don’t strike: you just go in every day and do it really half assed. That’s the American way.” –Homer Simpson
  • Krusty the Clown, announcing his candidacy for Congress: “Gentlemen, I am your candidate. There’s just one thing. Are you guys any good at covering up youthful, middle aged indiscretions?”
    Mr. Burns: “Are these indiscretions romantic, financial or treasonous?”
    Krusty: “Russian hooker, you tell me.”
    Burns: “We’ll say you were on a fact finding mission.”
  • Grampa: “Dear Mr. President, there are too many states nowadays. Please eliminate three. P.S. I am not a crackpot.”

By the way, yes, I am aware these are to do with American politics, but they’re still funny. Probably the best place to laugh at Australian politics specifically (apart from just watching it all) is the likes of television shows Gruen Nation, The Hamster Decides, and Mad As Hell (all of which I imagine are online somewhere – the Mad As Hell clip on the different broadband schemes is hilarious).

Also, I might just add now that I’m not going to have any real political discussion on my blog, because I’ve been doing enough of that on Twitter and that’s not really what my blog is about, hence some funny quotes (as my blog is about, among other things, comedy). So feel free to comment as always, but just keep in mind I’m not really planning on talking about politics much more (but of course I will reply to comments as I always do).

Hope all my fellow Australians are managing to enjoy their evening one way or another, and hope everyone else around the world is having a good weekend!