Hit & Run: It's the way he tells them

So 81-year-old Ken Dodd has been axed from his annual show at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall, after being handed the ultimate put-down for any comedian – he was told he’s “not funny”. It’s a tightrope that all figures in the public eye have to walk – one man’s wisecrack is another’s gaffe – and one poorly-timed punchline can mean the difference between bringing the house down and going down in flames. So what’s the secret?

Barack Obama’s performance at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner on Saturday is a useful case study. How did it all go right? Step one: the element of surprise. We often find unexpected juxtapositions amusing, and Obama’s visual gag where he screwed up his notes to “talk from the heart” surprised the audience – not least because two teleprompters then rose up noisily (the loud whirring sound they made was delightfully surreal). Step two:

his supreme confidence. Even when the first joke did not split sides, Obama continued on regardless, safe in the knowledge that his later gags would (everyone has cringed at stand-ups losing their bottle). Step three: self-awareness. “I believe that my next hundred days will be so successful I will be able to complete them in 72 days,” he said, in a nod to his own “God-like” reputation. “And on the 73rd day I will rest.”

Last weekend, Justin Timberlake’s guest-hosting of US comedy show Saturday Night Live was similarly well-received. What Timberlake lacked in clever material, he made up for in slickness. Halfway through his opening number, an audience member screamed, “I love you.” Timberlake replied, “I love you too,” before seamlessly launching into song. It’s enough to make you weep.

What Obama and Timberlake also have in their favour, of course, is being fashionable. “It shows that successful politicians are actors of a sort,” says comedy scriptwriter and author John O’Farrell. “Obama is very good at delivering lines and is riding on the back of a lot of goodwill at the moment. No matter how good John Major was at giving speeches in 1997, people were so irritated with him they just didn’t want to laugh. Obama will find it much easier to make people laugh now than in three years’ time.” In February, Timberlake was voted “most stylish man” by American GQ. Laugh at him, not with him, at your peril. Needless to say, while stand-

ups hone their material through hundreds of appearances, Obama and Timberlake have had a helping hand. White House adviser David Axelrod and Obama’s speechwriter, Jon Favreau, wrote most of the president’s material for the correspondents’ speech, while SNL is known to have a crack team of gag-makers penning material. Either way, it looks like comics like Dodd are a dying breed. “My act is an education,” Dodd famously says, in one of his notoriously long routines. “I heard a man leaving saying, ‘Well that taught me a lesson’.” Rob Sharp

Spain goes back to black

Formula One fans watching the Grand Prix at the weekend may have spotted a fellow enthusiast enjoying the race. It wasn’t his wraparound shades that made him stand out – it was the Spanish motor racing fan’s blacked-up face. It’s not the first time that racism and racing have collided in Spain when Lewis Hamilton is on the track. 15 months ago, some Spanish spectators attended a race with black-painted faces and T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Hamilton’s family”. Spanish fans’ animosity was linked to a falling out between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Spanish fans are brutal in their treatment of rivals. In October, England footballers refused to play against Spain after their players were subjected to racist chanting by thousands of Spanish fans back in 2004. Spain’s prime minister described the taunts as “intolerable”. If only more of his countrymen agreed. Elizabeth Nash

Eyes wide shut? You’ll miss the best bits

It was Alfred Hitchcock who declared that the length of a decent movie should be linked to the endurance of the human bladder. Uppermost in the mind of the old master of suspense, no doubt, was his concern that audiences might miss a vital scene should they be forced |to fumble, cross-legged, along the darkened aisle, and with it miss some of |his painstakingly realised cinematic genius.

But as the great and the good of the movie world prepare to totter down the red carpets on the sun-kissed Croisette in Cannes this week, cinemagoers are finding their personal habits under the microscope like never |before.

New research has revealed how much of a film is missed by an audience during the act of blinking – and, crucially, how much this inadvertent shut-eye time is worth to the studio. Findings show that Shrek 2, which grossed $919m worldwide, works out as the most expensive movie ever for the public to have blinked their way through, |generating roughly $164,845 in |“unseen” income for its maker, DreamWorks. Titanic, Finding Nemo and |Jurassic Park also appear in the top five, |according to the analysis on web-sharing site Sharenator.com

The average adult blinks some four times a minute while looking at a screen, which works out at roughly 372 blinks during the 93-minute Shrek 2. With the average blink lasting up to 400 milliseconds, this means that the typical |Shrek fan will have sat through 148.8 seconds of the film with their eyes shut – nearly two and half minutes worth of action which, as they say, adds up to a |blinking lot of money for someone. Jonathan Brown

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