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Laughs out of court

Comedy's a funny thing. To be funny, you have to linger on the edge of tastelessness, but if you tip over that edge, you're rewarded with resounding silence. If you're lucky.

The OJ Simpson trial is providing us with much opportunity to study this phenomenon: because of the drawn-out nature of the proceedings, media that we don't usually associate with reactivity are able to get in on the act, too. PCR Records, for instance, has released Harry Shearer's OJ on Trial: the Early Years in the States, and it's due to come here soon. Shearer, veteran of the seminal rock-doc spoof This is Spinal Tap, in which he played Lemmy lookalike, Derek Smalls (right), and more recently the voice of the (other) Simpsons, has studied the cupidity surrounding the case and come up with a series of takes on it. Some are pretty funny: ads for "OJ Line Tours" of the LA freeway, TJ Dershowitz's Sports Trial bar with satellite courtroom coverage and a fabulous spoof of cross-questioning procedures, "F Lee Bailey buys orange juice". Some of the gags, of course, are so steeped in American culture that they'll barely raise a chuckle over here, in the same way that Egyptians wouldn't laugh at lampoons of the South Bank Show. Still and all, a sophisticated satirical round-up of the worst of American society.

And then there's OJ Simpson's Legal Pad, which is supposed to be the doodles of the accused and has sold 300,000 copies Stateside. Page two contains this: "Johnnie: How Nicole abused ME!! Hair in sink. Lipstick smootches on nice towels. Wore annoying jangly bracelets..." Oh, right, so she had it coming to her, then. This sort of thing isn't funny. The law is funny. The dance of the vultures is funny. Judge Ito is completely laughable. But two people dying very slowly in extreme pain and fear? Where are the laughs in that?

'OJ on Trial: the Early Years', $15 from Century of Progress Productions, 15250 Vebtura Blvd, Suite 1215, Sherman Oaks, California 91043, USA (001 818 906 1779); 'OJ's Legal Pad', published 10 Jul by HarperCollins, pounds 5.99