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

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

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Turner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established manufactu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Caitlyn Jenner's first shoot is a victory - but is this really best version of femininity we can aspire to?

Sirena Bergman
The sun balances next to St Albans Church in Earsdon, North Tyneside.  

The world’s nations have one last chance to slow climate change

Michael McCarthy
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral