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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory