What, apart from Mick McCarthy's nose ("like a Dairylea Triangle just about hanging on to his face", as I read it described on one fansite), is the connection between sport and comedy? When I did Fantasy Football, I discovered that football's status as a subculture allows for a particular kind of comedy, a particular kind of laugh: the laughter of those who are laughing more because they know that not everyone gets the reference. It's a laugh that is enhanced by the associated feeling of being part of a club; a club that consists of those who did not just have to google Images: Mick McCarthy.
But beyond that – beyond jokes about sports people speaking directly to sports fans – there is something else. Comedy, unlike any other art form, generates a direct, quantifiable response: laughter. And thus the success or failure of comedy is not, as it is in drama, or painting, or opera, an abstract thing, something that can only be evaluated, woollily, through opinion. You can hear it. If it gets laughs, it's working; if it doesn't, it isn't. The only other cultural arena where success or failure is so cut and dried is sport; where, incidentally, you can also hear it.
That is maybe why every comedian I've ever met is a sports fan of some sort (the exception that proves the rule being today's editor; but he has got over that by becoming his own type of sporting hero). I think they see a parallel universe in the muscularity of sport, in the no nonsense-ness of it. In sport, if you're good – if you score goals, or runs, or tries – you win. In comedy, if you get laughs, you win.
Except, of course, awards. Comedies, as we have always known, and have recently had confirmed again, rarely do well at the Oscars or the Baftas. The best film comedy of last year – Bridesmaids – got a couple of nominations but won nothing. Other very good (and very successful) comedies – Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits – got, as expected, nowhere near the starting posts (Yes, Midnight In Paris was nominated, but that's because there's a special allowance for Woody Allen because, post-Annie Hall, his comedy is seen as "weightier" than most, something clearly not true in the case of this particular confection). In Britain, the most successful domestic film comedy of all time –The Inbetweeners Movie – was nominated for zilch at the Baftas.
There is a weird showbiz contradiction here: "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," said Peter O' Toole in the 1982 film My Favourite Year, and it's a showbusiness adage generally accepted in principle, but ignored once the tuxedos are on. It's so, so much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh, and yet still, the voters of the various academies cannot see the wood for the gravitas. By the way: by comedies, I mean stuff that makes people laugh. Out loud. The Artist, for all its charm, is not a comedy. And the critic who called Roman Polanski's Carnage "howlingly funny" needs to be shown Airplane!, and quickly.
In this respect, comedy contains the seeds of its own downfall. Comedy is a deeply serious business, but it must not take itself seriously: it is the art of the inconsequential. As such, it almost demands to be ignored: Seinfeld is a show about nothing. The fact that making something out of nothing is an extraordinary achievement – only God normally manages it – is irrelevant to critics and academies who will always crave Big Old Somethings: Cancers, or Holocausts, or Mental Illnesses, or... you know the drill.
Sport, in general, doesn't have this issue. Yes, there is the occasional sports journalist who will say that this team or that team – normally managed by Jose Mourinho – isn't playing the right way, scoring the right goals – but really: no one cares.
No one hears them above the roar of the crowd. So this, I think, is what comedians crave: a playing field as level as a football pitch: and that – as well as wanting to do the right thing, give something back etc, and, obviously, hog the limelight – is why so many of them pitch up on Sport Relief.
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