David Lister: One thing we can all agree on is that we can't agree on comedy

Share
Related Topics

I've mentioned before that I have been wary of writing about comedy since I once said that the state of women's stand-up wasn't very good that particular year, and the comedy editor of the magazine Time Out wrote with a straight face: "David Lister should expose himself to more female comedians."

Both he and I suffered some jibes for that little phrase.

But this week I was thinking about comedy again as the Edinburgh Fringe drew to a close, and with it an unusually high standard of jokes. Stand-ups seem to be bringing one-liners back into their acts, and some of them seem to be quite original. I rather liked the one from John-Luke Roberts who said he was named after his father – about 30 years after his father.

But does the fact that I like it make it a good joke? I wondered this when looking at a survey of Fringe-goers this week on what were the best and worst jokes at the festival. The best joke on the Fringe was voted to be Tim Vine's "I've just been on a once in a lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again". For me that's all right, but not actually as good as Vine's response on being told that he had won. He said: "I'm going to celebrate by going to Sooty's barbecue and having a Sweepsteak."

OK, maybe you had to be there. But what puzzled me more was the list of jokes voted in the same survey the worst on the Fringe. I didn't think Emo Philips's gag "I like to play chess with bald men in the park, although it's hard to find 32 of them" was at all bad. And top of the worst list was a joke by Sara Pascoe: "Why did the chicken commit suicide? To get to the other side."

Now I think that little humdinger from Ms Pascoe is one of the better gags to emerge from three weeks of the Fringe. Analysis of comedy is one of the more ludicrous and time-wasting activities in life, but I reckon that she took the oldest one-liner of them all and surprised the audience by giving it a slightly surreal spin, with a playful use of language. So why was it voted the worst of the festival? Did the voters turn up their communal nose as soon as they heard the words "Why did the chicken", thinking, "Oh, can't she do better than that?" Did they bother to listen to the rest of the joke?

Who knows? And maybe, who cares? You can't in any critical sense vote on jokes, you can't even in any critical sense recommend them, even though we all do. Comedy, more than anything else across the arts, is a matter of personal taste. Theatre, cinema, opera, dance, music – they are subject to personal taste too, but there are also objective criteria by which they can be judged. Where are the objective criteria for judging a joke? The next survey should ask voters to explain why they liked or disliked a joke, though there might not be many answers.

They just didn't see hard rain coming

How much cultural knowledge should the brightest students have? I have been wondering this during the current series of University Challenge. As Christ's College Cambridge knocked up a massive score, the four young geniuses failed only when they were asked to identify a particular song. None of them could. It was Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall".

The track was quite well known in its day, and actually beyond its day. They were then asked to identify other singers who had recorded the song. The first voice was one of the most recognisable in pop history, Joan Baez. Blank looks all round. The next was another pretty well-known singer, albeit not in the first flush of youth – Bryan Ferry. The four brilliant students looked at each other nonplussed. At this point, even quizmaster Jeremy Paxman was forced to exclaim: "This is amazing." He then mused: "How quickly these people disappear."

Personally, I'd have docked them 50 points and sent them on a course of lectures in 20th-century music.

A new twist to the children's matinee

A small but significant cultural initiative is shortly to take place for small but significant people. The English National Opera is to provide crèches at matinee performances so that opera-goers can leave their children with trained staff while they see the show. Musical entertainment will sometimes be provided for the little ones, I gather. Indeed, it will be singalongs and narratives based around the opera that their parents are seeing, so that the family can have a chat about it on the way home.

Does this mark the end for that essential cultural accessory, the babysitter? Will we one day see crèches at all arts venues? The ENO has made very little of its new initiative, but I suspect that if it is successful, it will be widely imitated and may prove to be one of the most pioneering ventures that this company has ever undertaken. It's a laudable move. And "I'm just going to check on the children" will also prove a good excuse for parents anxious to escape one of ENO's more maverick productions.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home