Monday's book; Because I Tell a Joke or Two Stephen Wagg (editor) Routledge, pounds 12.99

In general, academic studies of humour are about as hilarious as The Divine Comedy. Though this rag-bag of 15 essays on "comedy, politics and social difference" doesn't avoid the jargon-laden opacities of cultural studies ("Sid James and Barbara Windsor

Two highlights are the contributions by C P Lee, formerly of the band Alberto y Los Trios Paranoios, now a star turn in the media department at Salford University. One is an exploration of the "empowering" verbal fireworks of the Marx Brothers, the other an appreciation of Frank Randall, regarded by many (including George Melly) as the great forgotten comic genius of this century. Wonderfully vulgar, Randall revelled in dangerously anarchic mayhem, continually alarming the authorities. He burned down a hotel where he received bad service, fired a revolver at an annoying extra on a film set and bombarded Blackpool with toilet rolls from a hired plane after a conviction for obscenity. (The patter that caused such grave offence included the line: "There's a flea loose in the harem and the favourite will have to be scratched.")

Not all contributions are as celebratory. Laraine Porter sets the tone for her angry investigation into female comic stereotypes with its unfortunate title: "Tarts, Tampons and Tyrants". However, there is no denying her perception that the stereotypical "giggly, busty blonde" of British comedy conforms to "rigid, male-defined images of gravity-defying physical perfection". Meanwhile, the likes of Sid James "can sport a face like a bag of spanners and still represent male desirability".

Frances Williams offers a feisty exploration of lesbian comics, though her attempt to conscript Absolutely Fabulous to the gay cause is unpersuasive. Similarly, Mark Simpson's insistence that "Morecambe and Wise exhibited more signifiers of homosexuality than a Soho queer pub" fails to recognise the duo's child-like otherworldliness.

It is unfortunate that the editor ascribes the cliched axiom "No one can ever be too thin or too rich" to the Duchess of Windsor. It was coined by the New York style queen Diana Vreeland.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence