Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tentative titter

That word still means the same as it always did so stop your, erm, tittering.

The reason I preface so many of my remarks on comedy with a qualification ('I venture' 'I think') is because I'm invading someone else's turf. The comic has enough sorting through which scraps of social observation lend themselves to the comedic treatment, and which are better left to shock, to need further distraction.

[*which would make a good gag and which would make an audience gag]

Moving on, the best way of getting a laugh is by saying or writing something that struck you as funny - would have made you laugh if you'd heard it. That is, unless you have a bad sense of humour. And there are no shortage of first time talents bombing on stage because their idea of what is funny didn't find a broader assent. Perhaps it was in the telling, the harlequin was nervous, or just playing to the wrong crowd. A disciplined comic will do a tally on the rate of jests that fell flat and the context in which they were delivered, and make adjustments. But if you're just not funny, then stick to the dad jokes around the barbie and the friendly jibes in the best man's speech, and leave this area to the professionals.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chuckles, chortles and assorted cheer

People who read my blog or my Facebook will see me as stern if scholarly, or of putting pedantry on a pedestal. What they would not perceive me as is a humourist. At least, if they did, it would not follow from my intention.

In my blog, I've wanted to share knowledge using the simple maxim of building a frame and then letting the hyperlinks create synergies. We are all in a circle learning (for those joining).
On Facebook I've posted anything that took my fancy. A lot of sharing, which I never got into in Myspace, and then personal contributions. I'm trying to ease back on the politics, now that we lost, and concentrate on those other areas of exploration.

I'm not averse to the idea of writing satire or of lampooning ideals, but I think I've set a certain tone - quite naturally - and I don't want to mix those in some conscious fashion.

The simple idea that brought a flea and a nightclub together would not fuel my songwriting and would only have limited usability in a poem. There are ideas that are universal and then there are those that are fit to purpose.

I'd think that too much analysis of what makes something humorous would make it less so. To an extent, it falls apart at the touch.

The one way in which I do participate is in my love for puns. This does serve as a conduit into my reservations about comedy; I can get esoteric in my subject matter or idiosyncratic in my approach to it, but if I'm trying to be funny, or to evoke a guffaw, the audience has to get the joke.

The title of my first post on comedy is a play on comedic and medic but, in order to understand how this works, you have to be familiar with the phrase "laughter is the best medicine"

It's a witticism and it stirs thoughts but it isn't something to inspire a snigger, nor is it meant to be. It isn't really doing anything but being clever. And, such is the range of tastes, it would not inevitably meet that criterion either.

I'd venture to say that comedians don't necessarily set out to please everyone; knowing they can't. We all share that load. Some are just fortunate that they maintain the good will of the populace to generate and keep success. Sheer numbers.

While we need them to pay our bills and feed our egos, the appeal of an audience is in their size. But size isn't always good as we've discovered with the number of voters missing important pieces of information before they made their choice, or those who sit at home knitting kardashians. I'm not saying I'm intolerant to persons of no conceivable talent judging others or of radio and television audiences rewarding media personalities who'd otherwise battle to make Sam the Bald Eagle's guest list. Family is almost designed to make you respectful of people who seem stupid on the outside.

But I would say that there are funnymen who devise their own schtick, who project a patented persona, with little regard to the paying public other than to hope they take to it. The difference between an assembly line of sitcom hacks and a great humourist is not that great when you examine this part of the process; it's writing from experience or expounding on one small thing you've noticed and turning it into an act. Or a column.

I don't think this means that comedy must contain a familiarity - an earthiness. We've enough time on our hands to enjoy cerebral silliness and whimsical whoops. You will see a lot of stand-up comics lighting on the domestic and the workaday, the sexual and the social. Whether this is out of design or simply recounting something that happened, infusing it with a humorous take. It's hard with some clowns to tell where each of them leaves off.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


In the fuss and bluster that always marks an election, for those forced to participate, an old school friend who only recently reconnected on Facebook, fairly asked the question "I thought I was supposed to be the comedian". Now never mind the politics, which played out where it did, I was simultaneously intrigued about this question.

Now I know my raison d'etre and don't find any need to tread on the toes of the very crowded field of stand-up. And my writing will only touch on humour when that happens as part of the process. But, since blogs are the place to ruminate on such things, I did want to scrape against the barnacled belly of  the whale of a time called Comedy.

The first (and only) joke I wrote was an academic exercise - literally. We were asked to write a short piece on one word themes before semester commenced in Writing for the Web, and one of those was Joke.

I think I did better with that than with the other pieces and mainly because I didn't want to deconstruct or dissect the joke. I thought it would work better as a creative writing exercise (and this subject was very firmly writing praxis) to actually write a joke.

I don't know whether this was still the stage where I was getting inspiration for my other writing by wildly juxtaposing imagery and then letting the result speak, but that's how I tackled this task. Now the incongruity could be as stark as a table for two in the fallout shelter (which had less resonance a decade on) but then where's the laughs? As much as I like black humour, that wasn't what I wanted to do here. Perhaps because I had been writing so much about failed meritocracies and bizarre concatenations. I wanted dumb fun to be front and centre.

So a flea and a nightclub.

It still reads as a quality piece of comedy writing and I think that's because there's neither the need nor the desire to lay down any message or interrupt the laughs. Just follow the flea.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Alpha bet

A is for atoms of which we're all made
B is for buttons for every brigade
C is for cast and all their aspersions
D is for derivative as well as diversion
E is for extremities ever uncovered
F is for the adjective most bothered
G is for the gold find you need to keep going
H is the hell you're always overthrowing
I is the first person you turn to at night
J is the jerk who set the place alight
K is the klepto took the other manias' drive
L can rhyme with live as much as with live
M is for the motor that runs the whole mirage
N says no we can't even take it out of the garage
O is such an optimist to think she'd have a turn
P is more practical - the proof we've yet to learn
Q is fair quixotic and querulous by degree
R is far too rarified to face a guilty plea
S is for signature, be it move or careless scrawl
T is the topic and the temper to take out to all
U is the uses to which it can be put
V is the very thing that's under foot
W for wherewithal near the end
X is appending to as 'no longer pretend'
Y is for the yacht you never bought
Z is for zero, a fancy word for nought

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lewis is as us

I should point out at this juncture that Lewis was more active than most of us can imagine, having been state leader a few times. He was also known, though his name in full was Sir Neil Elliott Lewis,  as Elliott Lewis so I was wrong about the Neil.

It's been fun getting so intensely political if in a dispassionate and disciplined manner, but Elliott seems an eloquent part of departure, back to before it began.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Minister Without Portfolio

For our final look at the make-up of the first Australian cabinet, and the ministers who have carried on the tradition to the present day, we strike the oddest category - members who do not hold a portfolio but are still ministers.

I think the rationale for the first Barton ministry to do this was to reward those actively involved in the federation endeavour, or state leaders who required some sort of representation in the first federal parliament.

There were two:

  1. Neil Lewis: 1st January to 23rd April 1901, was never elected to Parliament (!)
  2. Sir Philip Fysh: 26th April 1901 to 10th August 1903 (he became Postmaster-General a month later)
both were premiers of Tasmania and I'm sure there's a story behind that too.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Ex Ex Executive

For someone who likes to think I'm engaged in the political process, I had never heard of the Vice President of the Executive Council. I knew about the postmaster general even if I didn't know all their duties and areas of responsibility. I have a fair idea what the attorney general stands for, even if I'm not aware at what points, and for what reason, the position might seek to intercede in matters that were at a state or local level.
I'm not an expert and it's not my passion, despite the many hours I've wasted.

But, yes, I know about VPs of various denominations, and I've heard of an Executive Council, just not this one. There had been briefly a department but Hawkie got rid of that.

If slipping under the radar of news and current affairs, on account of its ceremonial nature, it is a position of prestige and great responsibility. Deputising for the Governor General - it doesn't go much higher in executive hierarchy than that.

The position, held by my count by five Prime Ministers, one Lord Mayor, a couple of leaders of the Senate, whip, leader of the Opposition, Premiers,  and so forth (throw in a mentor or two), has nonetheless seen a high turnover; 56 ministers in 112 years. That's an average of one every two years.

It has been the role of a husband and wife, Joseph and Dame Enid Lyons. Speaking of which, the knight rate is through the roof. Dame End was the first woman in the House of Representatives and, when she was in the Vice Presidential role, did only that. The usual pattern was to give this ministerial responsibility to someone with a busy portfolio as this would take up less of their time.

Twenty eight members of the Lower House have been selected, and twenty eight Senators. An exact even split.

Early patterns suggested it might have been the Senate that they drew from, with the first four being Senators, one MHR, a further five senators..

Vice-President of the Executive Council

Senator Richard O'Connor
Senator Thomas Playford
Senator Gregor McGregor
Senator James Drake
Thomas Ewing
Senator John Keating
Senator Robert Best
Senator Edward Millen
Senator James McColl
Senator Albert Gardiner
William Spence
Littleton Groom
Senator Edward Russell
Senator John Earle
Llewellyn Atkinson
Senator George Pearce
Senator John Daly
Senator John Barnes
Senator Alexander McLachlan
Billy Hughes
Joseph Lyons
Senator George McLeay
James Fairbairn
Percy Spender
Henry Gullett
Senator Herbert Collett
Senator Richard Keane
Senator Bill Ashley
Jack Beasley
Senator Joe Collings
William Scully
Enid Lyons
Robert Menzies
Eric Harrison
Senator Neil O'Sullivan
Senator Bill Spooner
William McMahon
Alan Hulme
Senator Don Willesee
Frank Stewart
Senator Reg Withers
Senator John Carrick
James Killen
Mick Young
Lionel Bowen
Kim Beazley
Senator Graham Richardson
Ralph Willis
Frank Walker
Gary Johns
John Moore
David Kemp
Senator Nick Minchin
Senator John Faulkner
Robert McClelland
Tony Burke