From Robert Burns to Billy Connolly, Scottish comedians have held up a mirror and reflected the ludicrous landscape of tartan mufflers, daft patter, canny fowk and incomprehensible dialects. But is than a jumble of stereotypes and a championing of heroic failure?
there more to :39 Allan Radcliffe
BBC Scotland's new comedy unit further boosted comedy broadcasting. Sketch shows Sum-Ii ck“ li'ry and Naked Radio/Video introduced Robbie
(‘oltrane. Ian Pattison. (iregor liisher
and lilaine (’. Smith. The blood was new. the concerns time-honoured. In ('in Lights. (ierard Kelly played a hapless bank teller while Jonathan \Valson’s Only All liri'us‘t’ football satire celebrated the most determined of Scotland‘s heroic failures.
While most of the nation appeared to reyel in underdog status. a thin strand insisted there was horror to be had in defeat. Jerry Sadowit/ was. and still is. that strand. l'ndoubtedly. the nastiest comic this country has eyer produced (and by extension probably the funniest). we cringed and roared at his material about Dundonians and Nelson Mandela. And then we weren‘t quite sure where to look when he insisted he would rather be dead.
So. while Sadowitz ploughed his lonely furrow. west coast worthies
Patter Merchants From left to right' Rhona Cameron Andy Cameron, Billy Connolly, Phil Kay, Andy Stewart, Robbie Coltrane, Elaine C Smith, Chewin' The Fat, Francie 8: Josie, and Groundkeeper
continued to dominate the sketch and character formulas (liluim'. ('liewin' The I’m. Victor (S; Barry. The Alexander Sisters. Dorothy Paul). The upsurge of cheap comedy clubs has allowed cross-fertilisation. but the offbeat ()hset‘yalions of ('hic Murray are echoed in the stand-up of Fred MacAulay. Phil Kay and Bruce Morton.
Scots humour is contradictions reflecting our most enduring cultural myths. Scots comedy persistently implies the mythical collective Scottish consciousness. downtrodden but proud (accounting for the dominance of the canny (ilasgow working class in TV comedy).
linglish comedy arguably represents its class structure more honestly. from The Likely Lads to
in Burma there are
a clutter of
easier to criticise. You
We cringed and roared at Jerry Sadowitz's material about Dundonians and Nelson Mandela. And then we weren't quite sure where to look when he insisted he would rather be dead.
()\bridge-educated. RP—speaking Beyond The l’i‘ingt'. Scots are allegedly suspicious of 'smartypants‘ L‘Ullictl}. but \\ e [H'Utlllcctl .-\rnold Brown. Rory Bremner and .-\rmando lannucci: all leaders in absurdism. improyisation and political satire.
:\s a small nation w e're supposedly suspicious of the brash. self-aware American comedy stage to which Billy (‘onnolly's style has become suited. preferring our comedy earthy. familiar and localised. Yet current comics (Rhona ('ameron. ('raig liergusoni draw on American popular culture for their inspiration and many of our most Venerated natiye comedians cashed in on the international popularity of Scottish entertainment.
These contradictions. if anything. define our rich and tenacious comedy heritage. llaye you heard the one about the Scotsman . . . '.’
to have any material a?
entertainment. Morecambe and Wise could reach 50% of the country's population with a Christmas show in the 705, but British broadcasting has been atomised now. They’ve cut budgets, so you don't get superstars anymore, you get a lot of mini-stars.
KK: You never know, maybe Phil Kay will be the next Billy Connolly. The list: Can comedy still be subversive?
TS: Suddenly there
was this big, long- haired working class guy on the stage . . . KK: Who talked about jobbies!
TS: . . . or anything he wanted to; that was a kind of mini-revolution. KK: There was nobody else who broke down those sort of barriers. BB: What about Lenny Bruce?
KK: That was a case of the same thing in the States.
TS: Comedy ought to be attacking the big institutions of society.
comics in jail now for criticising the government.
KK: It’s interesting to see Spitting Image isn't there anymore. it was attacking Thatcher all the way through the 805. There's Mark Thomas, of course, but there isn’t as much of that kind of thing now. BB: I'm not sure Spitting Image really did anything, though. Wasn't it really a safety valve where people blew off steam but didn't act?
TS: But Thatcher was
can attack New Labour, but it's harder.
BB: Well, Thatcher was an obvious monster, whereas Tony Blair is just a hypocrite. (They all laugh)
KK: Are you trying out new material?
BB: I don’t have any material. (More laughter)
The List: Which brings us on to the idea of the difference between comics who go on with material, and those who improvise. Frankie Howerd never seemed
BB: Well, it was actually all carefully choreographed down to the last 'ooh, ah missus'.
TS: You need to look for good stand-ups, who look as if they’ve got no material, as if they’re playing it all to that audience, on that night.
KK: For the first five years, Jo Brand did the same material, but she could still make it fresh on the night. She's brilliant.
TS: You’ve got to
nurture some acts. Phil
Kay is one case, another is Alan Miller. I watched him die on his arse forsix months, but now he’s a rising young cult comedian. The list: Final words? TS: if you’ve only seen comedy on telly, see it live, it's far better.
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