Hi Chortle, I realised today I forgot to include an introductory paragraph to my Perfect Playlist, saying something like “Hello and welcome to my Perfect Playlist!” If it’s not too late, is it OK to interpose this paragraph (including these words I’m typing now) into the article just before the first video to function as a nice introduction? Thanks so much, Joz
Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson: Skate Vegetables
There used to be a 90-minute video somewhere where you could watch all of The Object Lesson in one go (hosted on Sobelle’s own website, not a naughty bootleg) but it appears to have disappeared, which is a shame because it was, quite simply and without a shred of exaggeration, the best piece of creative work I’ve ever seen in any genre – comedy, theatre, film, whatever.
This extract is the show’s standout comedy moment and is just a glorious moment of heartfelt, touching absurdism – a man prepares a salad for his date by tap-dancing on vegetables with ice-skates. But in the broader picture of the show, which is only really categorisable as ‘comedy’ for about ten minutes before shifting across into performance art and into theatre and back again, Sobelle presents a series of ideas in a manner that’s simultaneously fiendishly complex and profoundly simple.
The first time I saw this show it made me roar with laughter, then broke my heart, then filled it again, then absolutely terrified me for its final ten minutes and left me utterly speechless. The pure joy of this five-minute clip are a tiny, tiny part of what this show did for me.
Tom Waits: ‘One Of The Things People Ask Me The Most…’
Tom Waits is probably my favourite comic storyteller, and this is, I think, his best-told story.
As a singer-songwriter who enjoyed telling comic yarns rather than an actual comic in his own right, a lot of Waits’s ‘material’ is drawn together from a bunch of very old rumours, old wives’ tales, bad dad jokes, encyclopaedia facts and tiny snippets of actual insight and personal experience.
This story, about whether or not a woman can become pregnant without having sex, is drawn from a very old urban legend started as a prank in a medical journal in 1874, but Waits makes it totally his own with his weird, hunched-over-the-piano, hands-roaming-the-keys persona, and there are so many wonderful turns of phrase and odd digressions in it.
‘One of the things people ask me the most… I mean, it happens a lot… enough that I would remark on it,’ is one of my favourite story intros ever. The opening minute of this video is a masterclass in how to take a simple story and inhabit that story until your whole personality oozes from it. The song that follows is beautiful as well.
The Trip: ‘Gentlemen, To Bed!’
Honestly, I could fill this list with videos of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (principally from I’m Alan Partridge and the never-bettered Marion & Geoff) because they had such a huge impact on me and my comedy sensibilities growing up, but I’ll combine them and put this here.
I was sort of dabbling in comedy at uni when The Trip came out, and got excited about it because it had two of my comedy heroes in it, and it absolutely blew my mind. That it could reach the comic heights of this scene, where these two just have an amazing time bouncing off each other and enjoying one another’s ideas and escalating them, and in the very next scene hit a moment of incredible honesty or poignancy, just amazed me and this show made me want to work in comedy, maybe with the dream of one day being paid to drive around beautiful countryside being silly with a friend.
The final episode, in which Coogan looks out over the London skyline from his apartment, made me move to London to try to be a comedian. The fact that that scene is played entirely for tragedy and was supposed to make Coogan look desperately lonely was apparently lost on me at the time, but this show still gave me the spur to go and try and do it.
The Muppets: Gonzo vs Trevor The Gross
The scene in particular is at 15:30 of this video, but any lengthy compilation of all of Gonzo’s stupid acts is definitely worth watching all the way through.
I loved the Muppets as a kid, and always strongly identified with Gonzo, who was my favourite Muppet at the time just because he seemed fun and cool and silly and he made me laugh.
I rediscovered them as an adult and had forgotten how much I loved them, and went through and watched all of it and this time found it very amusing that I’d identified so strongly with the weirdo outsider Muppet who derived so much joy and excitement from doing utterly ridiculous things that all the other Muppets thought were stupid and didn’t seem to understand.
In Series 4, Gonzo leaves the Muppets to go and become a movie star in Bombay, and a giant turkey called Trevor the Gross replaces him and tries to steal his act where he sings Top Hat and tap-dances in a vat of oatmeal.
Gonzo, having previously been OK with Trevor the Gross stealing his job and his girlfriend, is absolutely furious that Trevor has tried to steal his stupid idea, and makes a glorious comeback. It’s one of the stupidest things ever, and Gonzo’s righteous anger over it makes me so happy.
Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared: Time
I only discovered Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared last year and I can’t remember the last time I discovered something that had such a profound impact on me (It was probably The Object Lesson, to be fair).
For a long time I stopped seeing the point of ever making anything again unless it had the same level of imagination and breadth of vision and ambition, and that took your mind to such strange, exciting places. Then I realised it’d be impossible to ever make something that came even close, and returned to business as usual.
But this web series is incredible. For the uninitiated, three Muppet-like characters who seem to live in a Sesame Street-esque world are given lessons in basic concepts like time or creativity by anthropomorphic characters, and via music and increasingly weird animation styles, the lessons become nightmarish, delirious, horrible freakouts.
The three central characters are hilarious, the visuals are utterly charming, the songs are incredibly catchy, and the sheer imagination on show is astonishing. Nothing like it will ever be made again.
The Mighty Boosh: Rudy
The third series of The Mighty Boosh, while it wasn’t terrible, did become a sort of self-aware hipster parody of itself, so I sometimes forget how brilliant the first two series were, especially Series 1.
I think the Boosh is lumbered with the legacy of having created a sort of vaguely frustrating, self-consciously surreal, weird-for-the-sake-of-weirdness brand of nonsense, but that unfairly overlooks what made it so great, which was its brilliant characters, its enormous heart, and the fact that it was able to combine such off-the-wall strangeness and delightfully silly visuals with really well-written dialogue and naturally funny conversations and characters you really fell in love with.
This scene, in which Julian Barratt‘s jazz fusion guitarist helps to guide Noel Fielding through a jungle, was always my favourite – there are elements of that outer-space weirdness in there, but it’s actually just two people being very silly together and it’s a wonderful little scene.