September 29, 2008

The Prompt

By Fiona Leith

A GOOD gag is worth telling again, isn't it. I'm not talking about when a punchline is in the hands of one of those pub bores who is only really entertained by the sound of their own voice, and, in fact, when the joke finally hits its crescendo, the only one really entertained. Rather I'm talking about when a gag is so perfectly honed and crafted that not a squeak of air can escape from its delivery.

Someone telling a duff joke, repeatedly, is almost as bad as someone saying that they're leaving/exiting the stage, repeatedly. It has the effect of a boy crying wolf. You risk your audience not giving a diddly damn.

And so it was I balked when reading an interview with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders last week, as, more than six months after kicking off their 'final' tour, they spoke about how hard it is to say an absolute goodbye.

They almost had me onside when Saunders confessed her worry that "taking the piss out of people is a young person's thing. It gets to be unseemly. It can start to look a bit tragic and bitter". I was sympathetically giving her discouraging frowns over my morning newspaper. That was until Frenchie came away with this clanger: "We haven't been very businesslike along the way. So if you see a place (house) you want to move to, you think: 'Oh God, I haven't got any money. Hey, do you want to do a tour and earn a bit of money and we could end it there?' "

Beg pardon? If a comedian who has been at the top of the British funny tree for the last 30 years fancies a new house, we, the credit- crunched public should get out our wallets and pay a ticket price for the privilege of helping fund a few bricks? Since when did the entertainer/audience barter become so transparently cynical, I wonder.

French & Saunders are finding it really hard to say goodbye, my foot. They've only got as far as the deposit and are panicking, more like.

Which brings me back to the regurgitating of old material, something which the duo are doing as part of this swansong. Yes, folks, you pay your money and you get your old rope, but Dawn there gets a new house.

I was thrown into a similar rage when I went to see the Australian comedian Tim Minchin earlier this year. I was with friends who had never seen him before and I was happy to see the same comedian a second time. What I wasn't happy to do, however, was to see hard-earned cash go on old material. Minchin offered nothing new. Laugh? They almost asked for a refund.

Like in music, surely a good comedian is only ever as good as their last punchline, and it saddens me that French & Saunders' parting shot ended up being quite so bitter. v

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