An insight into what influenced some of the nation's best-loved comedians, and what made them belly laugh. With Lenny Henry, Andi Osho, Ronni Ancona, Jon Culshaw and Julian Clary.
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This programme contains some strong language.
Coming up, Britain's best-loved comedians reveal
who gets their chuckle muscles working overtime.
I remember my mum almost wetting her pants watching this.
You ever write your name in the snow?
Richard Pryor, couldn't touch him.
From stand-up routines to favourite scenes.
They're letting us in on their all-time favourite jokes, and their love, envy
and sheer admiration for the star performers behind them!
Someone must have died watching that, laughing.
I shot a moose once.
I'd never seen a man like that before!
What a gay day! Do you know? The muck on here...
So dust off your laughing gear, hold onto your armchairs
and buckle up for a ride into the land of comedy!
It's just comedy gold, really.
I think Richard Pryor is one of the funniest people who ever breathed air.
We talk in the comedy industry about people having funny bones.
Every single piece of Richard Pryor was funny.
Not many black people get bitten by snakes,
because black people stroll too cool in the woods.
Richard Pryor is probably the greatest comedian
that we've seen in modern comedy.
They'll be walking...
A guy whose own personal life might have been out of control
but on stage was the moment where he truly held sway
and knew exactly what he was doing.
White people get bit all the time cos they have a different rhythm. They be in the woods like...
Richard Pryor, couldn't touch him, nobody could touch him,
nobody could touch him.
He was on another field, he was on another plane,
he was an actor, it wasn't even jokes.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
I mean, you would just look at him, and you'd go, why bother?
Why bother? Why bother to go out on stage?
Brave and uncompromising, Richard Pryor had a finely tuned nose
for life's funny moments.
Anything was game, including his own dark past.
Brought up in a whorehouse, his mother was a madam,
he was mainly brought up by his grandparents,
his father was a lorry driver/pimp! He had an ability to document his life
in a way that some comedians flinch away from,
cos "I'm not sure I can make that funny." Well, Pryor made it funny.
First time I heard Richard Pryor was in 1978 in a record shop
called Tapes Galore on the Edgware Road,
and I use to go in there and buy soul records and R'n'B records
and they were very hip, they were quite a hip record shop.
All vinyl and cassettes. I went in there,
and there was this guy wearing headphones, doubled up on the floor.
He was sort of leaning like this and he was doing this laugh,
where he was kind of like a cat with a fur ball.
He was laughing like that!
And I thought, as a young comedian, I need to know what's THAT funny.
My father taught me about the great outdoors,
you know, he loved like the woods and shit and nature.
I still dig it today. You know, I use to love to go.
My father'd take me fishing and hunting.
I liked to go hunting with him but I hated being the dog.
No, because my father didn't have no patience, you know,
he'd just lose his temper. "Goddamn it, chase the rabbit this way!
"What the fuck you chasing the rabbit back that way for?! Get your ass in the car! Shit!"
Richard Pryor Live in Concert, this was the peak of his comedic powers.
He was talking about doing drugs in front of his gran,
he talks about being beaten by both his parents,
he talks about boxing, he talks about having a heart attack.
The honesty that came off him in waves is what puts him above
a lot of the comedians that are around, I think.
When you'd be hunting deer and shit, you'd be in the woods
and you'd hear all... crshk, crshk, crshk...
The hunting in the woods is like a cathedral of comedy,
the way he paints the picture of the sound of the woods
and being out in nature and, of course, he sets it up
and there's a moment where he imitates a deer.
The deer will be drinking water, right?
And he does the...
and it takes quite a long time to show you the deer, sort of...
And I don't know how deer ever drink water, scared as they are, right?
He has a great ability, he emphasises almost everyone
and everything in his life. So, he can start talking through...
He can bring voices into absolutely everything.
He does a lot of stuff where he kind of,
I think the word is, anthropomorphises animals
giving them kind of human voices and human emotions.
Which, not only is really charming and an absolute pleasure to watch,
but it's just so spot-on and funny.
Get off my goddamn foot!
And then the key moment is, "Pass me the rifle," and his stupid mate.
"Give me the rifle."
"The one I gave you at the car."
"The rifle I gave you back at the car."
"Oh, shit, I didn't know you wanted ME to carry the rifle."
"If you ain't got the rifle we're in trouble!"
How you figure that? Ain't nothing but a deer.
"I know that but there's a bear behind you."
He talks about being the woods with his girlfriend
and his girlfriend wanting to have a pee but not wanting to pee
because she's in the woods.
"OK, I'm going to pull my panties down just a little bit, OK?
"Now, don't you do nothing. Don't you be funny.
"Now, if you see something, you let me know."
He mimes a woman taking her knickers down, having a pee in the woods...
-It's so brilliantly done because...
in that moment, you're not thinking,
"Oh, that's Richard Pryor
"pretending to be a woman." It's like, "That's a woman!"
I like to wait till they get into it and go, "SOMEBODY'S COMING!"
That's it. That's as good as it gets. That style,
that slickness, that genuine sense of fun.
Cool as well - he just had it all!
You watch Richard Pryor perform, it's just effortless.
There's no feeling of stress or strain or pressure on him.
It's just a joy to watch him.
What I really liked about Jack Dee back then
and still now is just that sarcasm
and that sort of put-on misery.
I met Jack very early on when I started doing stand-up,
so that would have been in the mid '80s.
And he doesn't really look like he does now.
He was the worst scruffbag student you've ever seen.
In fact, I think the first gig I ever did with him,
he actually had a duffle coat on.
People come up to me in the street now.
They say, "You're not as big as you are on telly, are ya?
"You're not as big as you are on telly, are ya?"
I don't know, how big's your fucking television?
I feel like Jack Dee occupies a little bit of all our psyches
that just wakes up in the morning and just thinks, "Am I still alive?"
I was very pleased with the West-End-run suit.
£600, this thing cost me and I was really chuffed with it.
For the whole run, I'd worn it for six weeks
and then, about two minutes before I came on stage just now,
I looked in a full-length mirror and I suddenly clicked.
I thought, "Oh...Sainsbury's manager."
Jack Dee, famous for his deadpan delivery and sardonic wit
has turned grumpiness into an art form in a career spanning 20 years.
It's all delivered in quite a world-weary fashion,
as if the world is just too much for him to take, and people love that.
I have got a bit of a headache, I have to say
cos I was out celebrating my wife's birthday, last night.
I didn't get in until 3am...
Christ, she was livid! Oh, my God!
One of my favourite routines of his
is the one that he talks about where he goes to a craft fair.
It felt like just perfect stand-up.
The sign said, "Craft Fayre - 20p."
I thought, "That's bound to be good.
"Look round the best shops in the world for nothing,
"20p - this is going to be..."
So I walk in...
What I liked about Jack's craft fair routine
was it just took the piss out of those events that you go to,
like church fetes
but you arrive and you realise that every single stall
is attended by some saddo who's made something that's a bit rubbish.
This guy had a wicker stall, this bastard...
Oh, he'd been busy. He had everything you could ever want in wicker.
Everything in your house, he had a container for it.
A container for your washing machine, a big wicker thing like that.
He was standing there. He had a wicker jumper on,
standing like that.
He had wicker contact lenses.
Frightening all the kids and everything.
Oh, and the seashell wizard was there.
The seashell section, I particularly like
because he points out - which is absolutely true -
that some people think if you just get a normal object
and stick a load of seashells on, that makes it attractive.
Well, it doesn't.
It makes it look like something your four-year-old child made at nursery
that you go, "Oh, isn't that lovely,"
and when they're not looking, you put it in the bin.
No-one yet has been kind enough to say, "You know what, Alf, Alf, Alf,
"these are crap, OK? Just stop doing it, OK?
"You're a grown man now..."
Jack's stand-up is quite silly as well, in a way,
even though he's got that morose persona, he's actually really...
-Some really silly things in what he says.
-When I was a kid,
I had an aunt who used to knit jumpers for me, right?
Every Christmas we'd get that squidgy packet.
It would arrive and I'd be thinking, "Oh, I wonder what that can be."
He goes on to talk about the fact that, one Christmas,
all he wanted was a Sweep toy.
I happened to like Sweep very, very much.
I wasn't so keen on Sooty. I didn't like Sooty so much.
In fact, I hated Sooty if you want to know.
I don't like people who whisper all the time, you know what I mean?
And then he says he wants this Sweep toy and there's this lovely bit
where his aunt goes to his mum, "Oh, no, don't BUY one for him."
And my aunt finds out.
I don't know how she found out. She had little antennae on her head or something.
And she's talking to my mum and she goes, "Oh, no, don't BUY one for him.
No, no, no, no.
No, don't BUY it.
I'll make it for him!
He was so new and so fresh.
He was in a sense the descendant of Hancock.
I think the way Hancock
had this view of the world of, you know, why me?
"Why is it me that suffers?"
Jack was the stand-up version of that.
He was very much an everyman figure. A smart everyman figure but...
"Yeah, why is that and why do they do that?
-"It's ridiculous! Why? Why? Why?"
-The old wizard with those needles.
Maybe, I'll get you enough wool, you can knit me a train set next year!
He just somehow sums up the dark, fed up-ness of the British, really.
We're not all cheery like the Americans
going, "What a great day it is. We love everyone," and,
"I've known you for two minutes, come and stay at my house for a month."
Jack is the polar opposite to that. "Don't come near me,
"I don't want to talk to you. I've had a bad day. Piss off, everyone."
And I love that.
I liked Woody Allen's style
because it was unusually relaxed, really. He could just ramble on
but I think to a great extent that influenced a lot of comics that came after him
because it gave them licence to be that relaxed too
and to actually not feel the pressure to do one-liner after one-liner.
Woody Allen hit the stand-up scene in 1961 at the age of 26
and soon became the undisputed master of the comedy monologue.
I shot a moose once!
The moose sketch is a classic.
I think it's quite perfect in so many ways.
"I shot a moose once!"
That alone is one of those lines that every comic knows.
"I shot a moose once!"
In his early years as a stand-up comic,
he'd paint these visual imageries with such clarity and precision.
I tied the moose onto the fender of my car
and I drove back home.
He drives off but the bullet hasn't killed the moose.
I'm going through a tunnel... the moose woke up.
So I'm driving with a live moose on my fender.
The moose is signalling for a turn.
He tells it so slowly
and he draws you in and one of the things I love about Woody Allen
is that he credits his audience with a lot of intelligence.
We're all going on this ridiculous trip with him.
The moose routine just has everything.
It's a brilliant piece of storytelling, which is rare.
Not many stand-ups can do that well.
And there's a law in New York State
against driving with a conscious moose, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
So, this story goes on and gets more ridiculous
and he ends up going to a fancy dress party with this moose.
We go in.
The moose starts to mingle.
He goes to the buffet table. Some guy tries to sell him insurance.
He takes the moose to the fancy dress party and the moose comes in second.
That in itself - you could end it right there.
They judge who's got the best costume of the night.
First prize goes to the Berkowitzes...
..a married couple dressed in a moose suit.
The moose comes in second.
The moose is furious.
He and the Berkowitzes lock antlers in the living room.
Being able to give you the visual imagery
of the moose who he had stunned locking horns with the Berkowitzes.
They knock each other unconscious.
Now, I figure, I'll get rid of him for good. I pile him on the fender and speed up to the woods
but I got the Berkowitzes!
I'm driving along with two Jewish people on my fender!
There's a law in New York State...
Basically, Mr Berkowitz is shot and mounted.
At the end, with the punchline and the satire within this...
It's three minutes of utter brilliance.
Mr Berkowitz is shot,
stuffed and mounted at the New York City Golf Club.
And the joke is on them cos they don't allow Jews.
I'd be surprised if there isn't one comic in the country
who would know this routine and not say, "Yeah, that really is as good as it gets."
All I wanted to do was be a funny person in a Woody Allen film
and, if he continued to make films like he did in the '70s,
I might have been in with a chance cos I'm a genuinely awkward and clumsy-looking girl.
Sadly, it all changed and he uses people like Scarlett Johansson now.
I haven't got a chance in hell, have I?
My favourite performance is Larry Grayson -
his last ever performance at the Royal Variety Show in 1994.
It's very funny but it's also very poignant
and it's a great farewell performance.
I sleep in a hammock, you know.
Well, I always wanted to be in the Navy but I never quite made it.
The nearest I got was an all-male revue called Come Peep Through My Porthole.
The forefather of camp comedy Larry Grayson
launched his career at the age of 14 in working men's clubs.
His popularity peaked in the late '70s when, as host of the Generation Game,
he attracted audiences of 24 million each week.
I had quite a formal upbringing
and we would always have to have dinner at the table but on a Saturday
we were allowed to have tea on our laps
and that would be the highlight of the week, watching the Generation Game.
You first attracted your wife's attention
by making noises at her all day. What sort of noises?
At school, I sat behind her and went... HE CLEARS THROAT
-Oh, did you?
-Do it again.
-HE CLEARS THROAT
-I find it rather attractive.
What I remember about Larry Grayson on Generation Game
is I'd never seen a man like that before in my life.
It's camp. It was very different to Bruce Forsyth, as well,
who's got that sort of hustling comic thing.
Whereas with Larry Grayson, it was sort of warm and open
and absurd and a raised eyebrow
and finding the whole thing all a bit ridiculous, isn't it?
That kind of, "I'm watching this with YOU,"
is the thing that you got from Larry Grayson, rather than
the Brucie thing of, "Here it is. Come on, enjoy it!"
You once took a party of 19 friends and a cat
into a cave and disturbed a bat
-because anything that moves, they fly to.
-You'd be disturbed
if 19 people came through your window and out your front door
whilst you're watching telly.
I've got news for you - they'd be very welcome!
When you see him, you just want to laugh.
He has got something. I don't know what it is
but as soon as he comes out, he just makes you laugh.
He's just got that quality.
I felt very happy for Larry, watching that. As last performances go,
he wasn't at the end of the pier, somewhere grubby.
He was at the Royal Variety Show and he hadn't been around for a while
so people were pleased to see him and he was pleased to be there.
And I think his first words are rather poignant.
They thought I was dead.
What a gay day! Do you know...? Look at the muck on here.
He talked always about himself and his health
and how he wasn't feeling right and his leg was giving him hell.
When I was lying in bed... Listen, don't laugh at me or else I can't do it.
My leg's giving me hell. Anyway...
But while talking about something quite trivial -
this is a comedy technique - he'd constantly distract himself
with there being a draft in here or the place is alive with fleas.
Cos I was in, I was in the very...
I... What's this on me?
Place is alive here.
-What I love about Larry Grayson is...
his act, from when he first started
right up to the Royal Variety Performance
where he last appeared on stage, is exactly the same.
It's never changed but you still laugh out loud at it.
It was how he delivered it, how he did the looks,
"Look at the muck in here," you know, it's just lovely to watch.
I lay there and I thought, "I feel better this morning."
I thought, "My fairy godmother's waved her wand.
"Get out of bed, shave your legs and get out."
There was a thing he used to do on stage about,
"I've had it all down here today. I had it all down here yesterday.
"I can't wait for tomorrow."
And you didn't know what IT was. It could have been anything, really.
I mean, he was so near the mark - Slack Alice and Pop-It-In Pete.
I mean, it's like... But he'd get away with it.
Slack Alice came to the door... The draft in here.
The gay references dropped in to the performance about...
His last performance he was in was Robin Hood and his Merry Men
and he had a lot of trouble with Little John.
I was one of the Merry Men, you see, and it was terrible.
I had terrible trouble with Little John and that was a lie for a start and...
Let's have a change of scenery. So I thought, "Well, I'll come here tonight..."
That bit when he moves the chair to the other side.
"Let's have a scenery change." I mean...!
He, sort of, for old time's sake finishes with his catchphrase.
It's lovely being with you
and before I go, for all you people at home,
I must just say it once - shut that door!
I love you.
Under the applause you hear him saying, "I love you."
It's a lovely way to finish. And then he died a few weeks later...
so, it was very fitting, I was very pleased for him.
I love you.
Laurel and Hardy - I can't state how much I really, really do admire them and love them.
Genuine, genuine geniuses.
It's a word that's used a lot but it's really, really true.
I sort of liked the atmosphere which was created by
watching Laurel and Hardy in the house.
I'd be enjoying it myself and then I'd look over there
and there would be my brother sat laughing and my sister and my dad and my mum
everybody, sort of, laughing and I thought, "This is nice, this."
They came to Liverpool when I was a kid.
I don't think I've ever been more excited in a theatre anywhere in the world
-than when they went...
-HE HUMS LAUREL AND HARDY THEME SONG
and they walked on and I just couldn't believe they were on the stage in the Empire Liverpool.
My favourite joke? Well, it's more of a scene, I think,
that I've been very fond of for many years
for its mix of surreal and slapstick.
There was Ollie in hospital and he was happy to be there
cos it meant he would get some peace.
And then Stan showed up to visit him.
What've you got there?
I brought you some hard boiled eggs and some nuts.
Now, you know I can't eat hard boiled eggs and nuts!
If you wanted to bring me something why didn't you bring me a box of candy?
-It cost too much.
-Well, what has that got to do with it?
You didn't pay me for the last box I brought you.
No, I'd rather not!
Hard boiled eggs and nuts!
"Hard boiled eggs and nuts!"
From that moment onwards you know it's going to go wrong.
"Hard boiled eggs and nuts! Hmm!"
I remember cos we used to watch telly on a Sunday afternoon
and there'd be a double bill
and I remember my mum literally almost wetting her pants watching this.
It used to be on every morning in the school holidays on BBC Two
There'd be Flash Gordon and Laurel and Hardy.
So there's nostalgia in it, in that it's in black and white
but they are so funny. And Stan Laurel doesn't have to do anything,
he just has to, sort of, fidget and scratch and he's funny.
That, sort of, innocent, happy-go-lucky character,
able to create such carnage.
-How long do you think I'll be in here, doctor?
-Oh, at least a couple of months.
Gee, that's great.
This is the first time in my life I've had such a wonderful rest.
I always think when I'm watching it - I'm laughing now -
someone must have died laughing watching that at the time
cos they would never have seen anything like it.
I can imagine a cameraman looking through the lens
and Hardy looking down and sort of giving a look
and the cameraman actually dying of laughter.
It's that funny NOW. THEN it must have just been mind-blowingly funny.
Ah! Let me down! Oh, my legs! Ah! Oh!
Didn't somebody die watching The Goodies in the '70s?
If someone died watching The Goodies,
someone definitely died watching Laurel and Hardy.
What's so great about Laurel and Hardy is they're two comedians.
There isn't a straight man. Usually, it's one comedian, one straight man.
They're two insane buffoons in such different ways and they work so well together
and they both get the chance to be the funny man.
They're just as funny now.
The test of time - there's no problem with that at all.
Time has not dimmed the humour of Laurel and Hardy at all,
it's just made them even more admired.
Hard boiled eggs and nuts!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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A look at what makes the nation's best-loved comedians laugh the most. Contributors share the stories behind each joke, describe how it influenced them, and divulge why it is their favourite joke of all time. From stand-up routines and comedy sketches to classic sitcom moments, they go beyond the joke and provide an exclusive insight into their all-time favourite gags and the star performers who told them. The programme provides a rare chance to see some of the funniest classic comedy moments of all time. Contributors include Lenny Henry, Andi Osho, Ronni Ancona, Jon Culshaw and Julian Clary.