The Problem With Jokes

There’s a fundamental problem with jokes.

Think of music. There’s no “getting” a song. No nice, that’s that, move on. You can hear a song that moves you thousands of times before you need to give it a rest.

When you love a piece of music, the affair goes on and on until one of you changes. The song’s permanent, so the relationship only changes when you change. Even then, you’re probably still wed for life.

That old Adam And The Ants song doesn’t move you in the same way as when you were eight, but it’s a touchstone. You’ve got history. It’s a family member that knows you better than your own family.

Think of jokes. A vital element of a joke is surprise (see here about that). Once you’ve heard the punchline, that vital element is gone. You can still enjoy introducing someone else to that feeling you got when you first heard the joke, but for you, the thrill is gone. As a thing that’s supposed to do a thing, it’s stopped doing that thing.

Tom Stade and Rich Hall got around this problem with two routines. And I think it’s because they’re like music. In case you haven’t got time to click, I’ll outline them.

One of them is Tom Stade’s “Meat Van” routine. Tom talks about being in Bilston (it’s already funny) and a man shows up to sell meat from the back of a van. The salesman has a style half-way between carnival barker and Martin Luther King, Jr.

If this routine was a song, the verses would be the meat van guy introducing each cut of meat (verse one: “I got a rump roast…”, verse two: “I got eighteen pork chops…”).

The choruses would be: “Do you know what I’m going to do with this [insert name of cut of meat]..? I’m gonna put it on the scale!”

In songs, after the second chorus, people get used to the pattern. Time for a guitar solo. The guitar solo in this routine is when Tom says: “I got a bag full of faggots”. He moves away from the main theme tune to riff on the bag of faggots. It’s a blistering guitar solo.

Rich Hall’s Tom Cruise Bit is equally beautiful. He describes the formula for making a Tom Cruise film (“He’s a cocktail maker. Pretty good cocktail maker, too. Then he has a crisis of confidence. Can’t make cocktails anymore. Then he meets a good-looking woman, talks him into being a better cocktail maker. End of film!”).

Then he says the whole thing again, but substitutes “cocktail maker” for “race car driver”, then he does it with “jet pilot” – On and on, each time funnier than the last, as the predictability of Tom Cruise films is roasted.

This one’s more like a ballad. We’re thinking: “Where’s he going to go in the next verse?” Rich finally pulls out a surprise ending to make it work as a joke joke.

My guess is, because these routines are such beautiful creations, Rich and Tom didn’t set out to solve the problem of how to make a replayable joke. They just showed up to work, beavered away, and one day were proud parents.

Maybe it’s because these jokes are like music, I’ve actually enjoyed listening to them just now with the same intensity as I did when I first heard them.

It’s just a pet theory of mine, I don’t know what it means, but I thought I’d share it with you.

Ps. If you’re having a crisis of confidence, just check out the thumbs down on these YouTube clips. They’re both about as good as art can possibly get, but there’s still someone out there not smiling. Trying to please everyone is just not a worthwhile mission.


Rich Hall Knows How To Throw (A Party)

It’s throwback Thursday! Here’s a picture of me with Rich Hall in the year 2000, backstage at the studios of Late Night With Conan O’Brien in New York City. I forget who the lady in the middle is – as you can tell by my appearance, I was pretty out of it in those days.

Other guests on the show included William Shatner, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and (I think) Jason Statham. Well, we’ve all gone on to do pretty well for ourselves. Especially William Shatner. The Conan show was a real launchpad for us all!

It’s possible to get really nervous before gigs like this, but Rich always knew how to lighten the tone. As we were waiting to go on, Sarah Michelle Gellar was on the couch, earnestly saying to Conan: “I think it’s a bad idea to get a bunch of actors together in room to talk about themselves”, I distinctly remember Rich muttering, “You’re in a room…” at the offstage monitor.

Rich still knows how to party backstage. Last night at the Hoedown, before he went on, he threw a roll of gaffer tape from one side of the dressing room to the other, the idea being to make it sound like there was a commotion going on just before he walked out. The gaffer tape bounced, and smashed a pint glass. It was loud. I hadn’t been paying attention (I’m pretty out of it these days), so when the Soho Theatre folks came in to clear up, I told them that he must’ve lost the plot and started trashing the place. That’s what it looked like to me.

My thanks to Rich for the guest spot on his fabulous show last night and thanks to the ace band headed up by Rob Childs, for rocking, as usual. Here’s a recording of me playing with the Hoedown Band from the Edinburgh Festival.

I’ll be doing my show, Lost In Music, at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Valentine’s Day. I don’t know if William Shatner’s doing a show there this year.



I’ve Been Shot! And I’m Gigging With Rich Hall!

I was shot yesterday… By a great photographer!


Here’s a pic that we liked. The rest are for my 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show and have a different look – but I guess I’ve got to pay the talented Mr Andy Hollingworth before I show them off!

My Edinburgh Fringe show this year will be about creating songs with utility that serve humankind. Really.

…And this just in: I’m guesting on Rich Hall’s Hoedown this Wednesday, which will be ace, not least because Rob Childs and the band can’t half play.

Don’t forget, if you want my new album for free, just email me at with the word “Ebeneezer” and I’ll send you the link.

I’m also Tweeting, YouTubing and Facebooking , and would love to hear from you.