Analysing humour, it has been said, is a bit like dissecting a frog. You can do it – but the frog dies in the process. So it is probably not wise to try to explain exactly why a one-liner by Tim Vine has been named as the best joke at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
The comedian, who is the younger brother of the BBC presenter Jeremy Vine, won the gong, now in its third year, for the following quip: "I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what – never again." Of course, it may all be in the delivery.
The crack was chosen by a panel of judges made up of leading comedy critics on behalf of the television channel Dave. After each judge watched 60 performances by stars including John Bishop, Emo Philips and Sean Hughes, chuckling (or groaning) their way through 7,200 gags each, a shortlist of 24 was put to the public vote, with Vine coming out the winner. He said: "I'm going to celebrate by going to Sooty's barbecue and having a 'sweepsteak'."
The gag was taken from his show The Joke-amotive at the Pleasance Courtyard. One critic said of his act: "The jokes have power because of the sheer audacity of the wordplay, and a surprisingly high proportion of them are inspired, in a warped sort of way. A few are pure genius."
Vine, 43, began his career at the Comedy Café in London and was named Perrier Best Newcomer at the Fringe in 1995 for his show The Tim Vine Fiasco. He also stars alongside Lee Mack in the BBC sitcom Not Going Out. But perhaps his greatest claim to fame came in 2004, when he briefly held the world record by telling 499 jokes in an hour – shattering the previous record, held by the Estonian stand-up Erkki Kolu.
His style is heavily reminiscent of Tommy Cooper, bludgeoning his audience into submission with a rapid stream of clean but consciously laboured one-liners. Typical examples are: "Velcro. What a rip-off", and "I ordered dessert at the Pizza Hut and they gave me tiramisu and a blindfolded horse. I said, 'No – mascarpone'."
The ten best
*1. Tim Vine
"I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what – never again."
*2. David Gibson (as Ray Green)
"I'm currently dating a couple of anorexics. Two birds, one stone."
*3. Emo Philips
"I picked up a hitch-hiker. You gotta when you hit them."
*4. Jack Whitehall
"I bought one of those anti-bullying wristbands ... I say 'bought' – I actually stole it off a short, fat ginger kid."
*5. Gary Delaney
"As a kid I was made to walk the plank. We couldn't afford a dog."
*6. John Bishop
"Being an England supporter is like being the over-optimistic parents of the fat kid on sports day."
*7. Bo Burnham
"What do you call a kid with no arms and an eyepatch? Names."
*8. Gary Delaney:
"Dave drowned. So at the funeral we got him a wreath in the shape of a lifebelt. Well, it's what he would have wanted."
*9. Robert White:
"For Vanessa Feltz, life is like a box of chocolates - empty."
*10. Gareth Richards
"Wooden spoons are great. You can either use them to prepare food, or if you can't be bothered with that, just write a number on one and walk into a pub."
. ..and the worst
"Why did the chicken commit suicide? To get to the other side."
"You know city-centre beat officers... Well, are they police who rap?"
"I've got nothing against lesbians. I mean, that's the point, isn't it?"
"I was born into the music industry. My dad worked in Our Price."
"I made a Battenberg where the two colours ran alongside each other. I called it apartheid sponge."
"I bought a cross-trainer to keep fit. I suppose that it's not enough to just buy it."
"Some of my best friends are vegan. They were going to come today but they didn't have the energy to climb up the stairs."
"How many Spaniards does it take to change a lightbulb? Juan."
* Andi Osho
"Floella Benjamin is in the House of Lords. How did she get in, through the round window?"
"My mother is always taking photographs of me - she said if you disappear tomorrow I want you to look good on the news."
"I like to play chess with bald men in the park although it's hard to find 32 of them."