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The Christmas season is upon us and it's time to drag the kids to the usual round of dire pantos. Here's an idea. Don't. Instead, go to see a comedy show being recorded. It isn't just inexpensive, it's absolutely free. Have I Got News for You, Clive Anderson Talks Back and comedy radio shows like I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and The News Quiz use studio audiences. Not only do you have the fun of seeing the show, you can also look for yourself if it's on TV, or listen for your laugh if it's on the radio.

If the show is boring the laughing will sound disappointed and strained. Sometimes the laughter is quite subdued apart from a madman in the audience who sounds like Sybil Fawlty. If the show is dull, the best way to keep yourself amused is to laugh in a strange and subversive manner so that you can hear yourself when the show goes out on TV.

Watching comedy being filmed is hardly ever dull, though. If the show is awful, the warm-up is usually brilliant. If you're in the front row at Have I Got News for You, you can see whether or not Angus Deayton wears mascara. You can pick up devious glances between contestants that the camera may miss. Don't sit close enough to have to look at Paul Merton's T-shirt or you could be visually impaired for life.

Shows are often over-subscribed - almost everyone who's turned away from Have I Got News for You turns out to be a close personal friend of Ian Hislop. One show in need of a studio audience at the moment is Clive Anderson's Christmas Special, with Peter Cook (071- 287 1598/1599).

By the way, the man who laughed like Sybil Fawlty was my dad. He wore a large hat so that the cameras could pick him up. Don't sit next to him. Emma Forrest

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