Tag Archives: comedy

Most podcasts suck. But some are okay.

Podcasts are very in right now. But they’ve been a long time coming.

Remember when podcasts came out? It was 2004. The same year as Usher’s ‘Yeah’,  Shrek 2, and Jeremy Clarkson punching Piers Morgan at the British Press Awards. It’s only been 14 years, but it feels like forever.

And for some reason we still all use the word ‘podcast’. Even though it’s etymologically linked to the iPod and we’re all listening to them on our phones. But whatever, languages evolves I guess.

Podcasts were different back in those days. They were usually extensions of things that already existed beyond the podcast world. Here’s a typical UK podcast chart from 2009:

  1. Frankie Boyle: Mock The Week Musings
  2. Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4
  3. The Ricky Gervais Podcast
  4. Jimmy Carr’s Video Podcast
  5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
  6. Best of Chris Moyles Enhanced
  7. Jack Dee
  8. Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know
  9. Stephen Fry’s PODGRAMS (Audio & Visual)
  10. Rhod Gilbert’s Best Bits

So yeah, almost entirely (male) comedians generating extra content around some thing that’s already popular. And one of the Twilight Books for some reason.

That Ricky Gervais one is one of the first ones I remember becoming famous in its own right. Even that was basically just a spin-off of Gervais and Merchant’s radio show on XFM. But it very much set a precedent for how a podcast could be its own ‘thing’ beyond just supporting something else.

And now, podcasts are prolific. Apple Podcasts hosts over 550,000 podcasts alone. And hundreds more are springing up every day.

That’s because there’s a very low barrier to entry for podcasts. To create music, you need to have some talent. To create video, you need some

You can find a podcast for literally any subject you’re interested in. Even Shrek.

But of that 550,000 how many are actually good? The answer is about 50. So 0.01%.

Is that harsh? Not really. The majority of podcasts are soulless productions, made to fill some niche with non-content supported by adverts for a variety of inessential millennial products. They’re usually one of the following:

  • Two friends (usually men) sit behind a mic and ‘just ramble!’ The content is their oddball take on current events and unnecessary opinions on things.
  • Entrepreneur-porn. Anything to do with success in business.
  • Bland technology news reporting. Often laser-focussed on a particular niche like Apple.
  • Storytelling podcasts, which are now 100% of the gruesome ‘true crime’ genre.
  • Boring sports/politics/gaming chat.
  • D&D podcasts that aren’t anywhere near as fun to listen to as D&D is to play.
  • Culturally parasitic podcasts that exist to comment on the most recent episode of a television show.
  • Harry Potter.

I’m not saying that the secrets to success in life can’t be found in a podcast. But no, they can’t be. Podcasts exist to be mildly entertaining distractions from our monotonous lives. They’re something to listen to in order to make your commute feel quicker, to make household chores less painful, or give your brain something to do while you’re having a bath.

Here’s a few of the podcasts I actually like –

The Adam Buxton Podcast

One of the categories I could have mentioned above but didn’t was ‘comedy interview podcasts’ – which I actually like. Other podcasts in this category include Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, Brian Gittins & Friends, and things like Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces.

These podcasts are actually good because there’s no expectations. They don’t have to be funny, or even interesting – though they often are both. They’re typically just two people having a chat about things.

But wait! Didn’t I say in my list that two people having a chat is the worst kind of content possible? Yes, I did! But when the people in it are famous, or more importantly: people I like, it’s ok. Their opinions are actually insightful and I learn things. So it’s a valuable use of my time to listen to them. Or at least, a non-negative value contribution to my life.

Buzzfeed’s Internet Explorer

A really entertaining podcast that takes on internet culture and memes. This should be my dream podcast, but sadly it comes out pretty infrequently

Other internet-y podcasts that are ok are Reply All and Why’d You Push That Button? And a special recommendation for Trends Like These, which recaps the week in Twitter trends and news. Trends Like These is co-hosted by a chap called Travis McElroy, which brings us to…

Any McElroy Brothers podcast

The McElroys are three brothers (Justin, Griffin, & Travis) who primarily make podcasts. Although their podcasts often fit the template for the kind of podcasts I hate, for some reason they are immune to my typical objections. Chalk it up to them being so inherently adorable and glorious.

Central to the McElroy podcast empire is My Brother, My Brother, and Me – which may well be the world’s greatest podcast. It’s an “advice show for the modern era” but is basically a platform for their surreal improv-esque forays into popular culture. And they talk about Shrek a lot. So it’s more than just “three brothers round a mic”.

Likewise, they have the only good D&D podcast – The Adventure Zone. There’s another in which they chronicle their attempts to get cast in Trolls 2. And they have one in which they’re committed to watching the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 every year until they die.

And there’s a variety of good spin-offs that the brothers have with their partners: Sawbones (a podcast about medical history), Schmanners (a manners and etiquette podcast, which I saw live at the London Podcast Festival this year!), and Wonderful – a podcast about lovely things.

The McElroy’s are part of the Maximum Fun podcast network, which also hosts the Judge John Hodgman podcast, that I quite like. In this, comedian John Hodgman plays a judge, passing judgement on everyday arguments between couples. It’s good!

The H3 Podcast

h3h3 is a bit of a controversial figure. The youtuber-turned-podcaster has a devoted cult following online in places like Reddit. But his frank manner and habit of picking fights with other popular youtubers (he has an ongoing feud with Jake and Logan Paul) means it can sometimes be a little toxic.

But I enjoy the podcast, mostly for the ‘goofs’ – his commentaries on stupid youtube videos. It’s what made his YouTube channel popular and is always entertaining, especially when his wife Hila pipes up with a dry comment. She’s the greatest.

No Such Thing As A Fish

Currently the 3rd most popular podcast in the UK on Spotify. NSTAAF is a spin-off podcast from the researchers behind QI. Every week they gather to share and discuss the most interesting facts they’ve found out. And it’s pretty good!

This is exactly the kind of thing that could be very annoying. There’s space for exactly one ‘fun facts’ podcast in the world, so I’m glad this has been the one to break out. It’s become a bit of a brand in itself, perhaps superseding QI itself (they have a book out every year now), but ignore all that and it’s an entertaining listen.

Under the Skin

Russell Brand’s podcast! Wait, where are you going?

No seriously, I like this. People write off Brand as being a figure of ridicule, who just uses big words and does irresponsible things like telling young people not to vote. But listen to the podcast, and you can’t argue that he’s unintelligent.

Under the Skin covers all kinds of big sociological topics. From things he’s written about himself such as politics and addiction, to more abstract things like metaphysics. His interview with Adam Curtis in particular is really fascinating – and it’s kinda adorable how he tries to pierce Curtis’ hard outer shell with boyish charm.

Special shoutouts

Quickfire time. Here’s some more podcasts to check out if you’re hungry for more:

  • 99% Invisible. The design podcast that everyone recommends. I’m no exception.
  • Fintech Insider. Probably only relevant if you work in or know about Fintech. But I’ve been on it twice so I recommend it for that reason!
  • Four Finger Discount. A very solid Simpsons podcast (which I prefer to the more-widely celebrated Everything’s Coming Up Simpsons).
  • Harmontown. Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon melts down on mic in this podcast which is as much a portrait of a man in crisis as it is an entertaining listen.
  • Household Name. A podcast about things we take for granted, but with interesting stories. “Wait, that’s exactly the same premise as 99% invisible!” you say. And yes, you’re right. But they have some interesting content of their own, like their recent episode on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Check it out.
  • My Dad Wrote A Porno. Everyone’s favourite podcast. Does what it says on the tin. Now a worldwide sensation. I have mixed feelings about it but overall think it’s pretty decent.
  • Worst Idea of All Time Podcast. Australians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt watch the same film every week for a year and talk about it. So far they’ve done Grown Ups 2, Sex and the City 2, and We Are Your Friends. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they also co-host Till Death Do Us Blart, the aforementioned McElroy production, known to its fans as #DEATHBLART.

See, podcasts ain’t all bad. It’s just that about 549,950 of them are.

Got some good podcasts pick of your own? Great! Keep them to yourself. There’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone else’s podcast recommendations.

An appreciation of Andy Kaufman’s SNL Screen Test

The subject of Andy Kaufman is one which it’s pretty trendy to be into these days. As Neutral Milk Hotel are to music, or Infinite Jest is to literature, Kaufman is the go-to mainstream obscurity of comedy.

But, as with those other two things, I can’t help but be fascinated by him. So I voraciously devour any and all content to do with him. Just this year I’ve watched Man on the Moon twice (and adored the Jim Carey doc about its production – “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”), watched countless interviews with him, that legendary Carnegie Hall show, and read Bill Zehme’s comprehensive biography: Lost in the Funhouse.

But this post isn’t about Andy Kaufman’s life, or why he’s so amazing. ((Of course, it is really)). Instead, I want to focus on one short piece of video that to me is the pinnacle of what he was about, and just an incredible performance in itself. Not necessarily of performance comedy per se, but of a performer doing something and getting a reaction from the audience. It’s that relationship between the two that is fascinating to me, and something I think Andy had complete mastery of.


The title of the video claims that it’s Andy Kaufman’s SNL audition tape, but I don’t think that’s 100% accurate. From what I can gather it’s more of a screen test – just checking how you look and come across on camera. In any case, it’s a chance to perform something on camera like a monologue, which is what Andy does here.

Well, I say ‘monologue’. But technically he’s reciting a song. Specifically, MacArthur Park – a song by Jimmy Webb, and most famously performed by Richard Harris (aka FIRST DUMBLEDORE). And what you’ll probably notice is how incredible mad the lyrics are.

Like, it’s a song about leaving a cake out in the rain? Listening to the Richard Harris version you can easily gloss over the lyrics, and come away with the impression that it’s a pretty standard love song or something. But really focussing on the lyrics – as Andy forces us to do in this clip – reveals how asburd they are.

According to Wikipedia: ‘The Jimmy Webb-penned “MacArthur Park” is popularly held as the worst song ever written‘ [source]. The lyrics are patently nonsense, even by the standards of the 1960s. So is Andy just picking a deliberately awful song and doing a dramatic reading of it? Is that the joke here?

Sure, dramatic readings of songs are a staple of comedy. It’s pretty much standard fare for American Late Night Talk Show content. And it’s usually pretty fun.

But there’s something extra about Kaufman deliberately picking an unpopular song. A song that’s widely ridiculed and disregarded. Taking that and treating it with the upmost seriousness. So the joke isn’t just “ha ha these lyrics are dumb lol” but “what if this song was actually amazing?”. It’s the classic Kaufman manoeuvre, to not only subvert your expectations, but to make you question them in the first place. As I’ve seen other writers say: Kaufman knew how to make you wonder.

And it’s that sense of wonder that shines through in this piece. It literally radiates out from his eyes – those bright beacons of child-like excitement. Look at him at the start, hands-on-the-table looking around the room like a toddler sitting in front of a birthday cake. How he never breaks character throughout, flashes a ‘dumb’ grin to the people around him, seems to have an alien-like fascination with what everyone is finding so funny. It’s so far removed from “I am comedian and here is a joke”, it’s a fully realised and expertly-delivered performance. And the performance itself is a performance, if that makes sense.

Diving a bit deeper into the details, watch the actual delivery of the monologue – which he goes through twice. Watching the first pass, it appears awkward and unprepared. He fumbles the very first word (“s… spring was..”), and mispronounces “striped”. But then they ask him to do it again.

And the second time is exactly the same as the first. The ‘s’ is fumbled again, ‘striped’ is tackled in the same way. We have to conclude that these are deliberate parts of the performance, expertly rehearsed and included. Why fumble the first word? Maybe to start the whole thing off badly, or to create awkward tension for the rest of the rendition to inhabit. Only Andy knows for sure. And it’s the idea of him knowing these secrets that I find compelling. Again, he make you wonder.

And then there’s the weird Superman bit at the end. It kinda comes out of nowhere, which I like. We go from two tenderly performed monologues, to a completely random piece with the weirdest southern accent. It shows Andy’s range, and his ability to make comedy out of just about anything. And again, afterwards he smiles and looks around at the reaction, seemingly oblivious to what we’re all finding so incredible – like a dog happily looking up as strangers fawn over it.

Is it comedy? Sure. If we take something, hang it up in an art gallery, and critics respond to it, that seems to be enough to call it “art”. Likewise, a performance for SNL that makes its audience laugh, seems to fulfil the sufficient conditions to be considered “comedy”. Call it anti-comedy or surrealist humour if you want. But there’s more to it than just the absence of traditional comedic elements like punchlines or even jokes.

Kaufman himself often rejected the title of comedian and would sometimes refer to himself as a “song and dance man” (or was that, too, just part of the bit?). A lot of his stuff was just him singing songs, or doing other traditional performances – like his bongo drumming. But at a fundamental level, it’s the same: establishing a relationship between performer and audience.

Andy didn’t care what the nature of that relationship was. If they liked him, fine. If they hated him, fine too. His Tony Clifton persona was deliberately obnoxious. His wrestling career (where he did things like fight women live on TV) was an exercise in garnering hatred. SNL audiences eventually voted him off the show, such was the level of vitriol he ended up generating. In a sense these were all successes: the audience were feeling something.

And that’s what we get from this tape. We feel confused, amused, entertained, full of wonder. We want to see more, but we also don’t really know what we’re seeing. Even taking a step back and viewing it ‘as a performance’ doesn’t help, as for Andy the lines between performance and reality were so blurred.

His whole life a performance, and we’re still his audience. And we’re still wondering.

This water bottle flip video is a work of art

I wanted to write about something today. But I didn’t want to write about Shrek again. So I thought to myself ‘what can I write about instead?’ What else do I know? Then I rewatched a particular video for like the ten thousandth time and realised…. THIS. This is what I know.


It’s thirty seconds, but very good. Go ahead, watch it a few more times. Really soak it in.

REMEMBER BOTTLE FLIPPING? The hottest craze of 2016? The bane of parents and schoolteachers world wide? Remember the viral talent show clip that started it all?

It’s weird how even a year later this can seem like ancient history. Bottle flipping videos are now cultural relics of historical importance. And the video I shared at the top of this post is just such a relic.

The clip itself is from a longer piece taken from kingvader‘s Instagram page –

But I think the cut-down video in the tweet works better. It feels tighter, cutting right to the chase, and eliminating what you might describe as the unnecessary world-building at the start. I much prefer the bottle flipper as an anonymous stranger, just busting a door down and doing his thing.

Here are my favourite bits of the video:

  1. Just slamming that door right down, or at least trying to. I’m guessing they filmed this in a school or something so didn’t want to damage anything. So his foot doesn’t quite connect with the door fully, but it’s a high kick that looks really badass anyway.
  2. The way the interviewers immediately look shocked and intimidated.
  3. “Do you have any special talents?” just right off the bat, just like in a real interview.
  4. How he goes straight into the bottle flip, as if he was gonna be doing that regardless of what they asked him.
  5. The way they kinda sit up as the bottle is in the air.
  6. Obviously, the bit when the bottle lands and the drop comes in. And how heavy and horrible the bass is there.
  7. The commitment each of the actors puts into their performance for the rest of the video. There’s the guy who just throws himself back in his chair, the guy just chucking his notes, the chap with the keyboard, and of course…
  8. Mr Milkshake Shaker. The true hero. Absolutely drenching himself in the stuff. Immersing himself in the role like some kind of Daniel Day Lewis method actor, with no regard for the mess he’s making.

Just look at the concentration:

I wish I could be that committed to literally anything. The man is an inspiration to us all.

It’s also just really funny and stupid and fun. Basically, it’s a perfect 30 second internet video and I’m glad that it exists.

Aaaand, I think that’s all I had to say about this one.

What IS the deal with airplane food?

I know this gets brought up a lot. But seriously, what is the deal with airplane food?

It’s always horrible, and tasteless, and features some frankly bizarre choices.

Like the butter you get is always a frozen solid block. Wanna try warming it up by placing it on the cover of the hot section? Congratulations, you now have a a pool of grease over your lap.

And why are there always so many ‘bits?’ Do I really need a starter, main, pudding, AND a bread roll AND fruit juice AND a cup of tea? I’ve been on flights before where this is all followed an hour or two later by a wrap, a bag of crisps, and a Gü yoghurt. Why? Why does that happen? Just gimme a sandwich; I’ll live.

It’s always nice when the airline tries to make an effort and offer something exotic – like a curry. But it still ends up being all bland and horrible. But wait, is there a good reason for this?


So apparently your taste buds are less, erm, good at tasting things at higher altitudes? And this means that airlines have to adapt their meals. Which is why they taste weird.

But that’s not all! It’s not just the altitude. The dryness of the cabin has an effect too, which makes you feel all thirsty. Your nose also gets all dried out, which has a negative effect on your olfactory senses.

I’ve also read that the noise on planes can have an impact too. Basically, the idea is that it’s so noisy that you enjoy your food less. Cool, huh?

So, to answer the question of what the deal of airplane food is…

  1. Altitude affects your taste buds.
  2. You get all dried out.
  3. It’s noisy.
  4. Airlines try to counteract the above by changing the recipes. And it all ends up kind of weird.


Still doesn’t explain the bizarre portion sizes though…

The rhino scene in ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’ deserves to win every single Oscar

Ok, here’s the scene.

Back story: Ace is trying to find out what the bad guys are up to blah blah blah. It’s basically a contrivance to allow this scene to happen. And what a scene it is.

43 seconds in and Ace is already fully nude. The remaining two minutes are simply the funniest acts ever recorded on film. Yes, I really do think this.

Go on. Watch it again now.

I think we can all agree that this deserves to win every single Oscar going. And let’s go over the reasons why.

(Note: I’m using the current award categories, rather than those of the time, because we’re judging the scene by today’s standards and also this is my blog so shut up).

Best Picture

This one goes without seeing. There’s nothing better than this piece of film.

Best Director

The film, and so presumably this scene, was directed by Steve Oedekerk. Steve’s had a mixed career of directing, producing, and acting in a whole load of films – including the criminally underrated Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. But you probably haven’t heard of him.

Surely Ace Ventura 2 was the height of his directing career. And this scene is the height of the movie. Therefore, this scene deserves the best director award.

(As an aside, surely the best director award should go to whoever directed best picture? Otherwise, you’re basically saying “Great job on making that film! It’s the best film. But… we’re giving the best film-maker award to someone who made another film instead LOL!”)

Sure, Spielberg could make us weep for Neeson’s Oskar Schindler. And yeah, Scorsese drew a monster of a performance out of Dicaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. But has either of those directors ever forced an actor through a rhino’s bottom? NO. And that is their failing.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

It just has to be Carrey, right? Jim gives the performance of his life, while fully nude. We feel his sweat. We believe his agony. He makes us feel something real and true.

The only performance I’ve seen that even comes close is Danny Devito’s Frank Reynolds squeezing out of a sofa in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And that’s only because it’s basically the same scene anyway.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The dad! Just because….. look at him!

That subtle transformation from delight to realisation to horror displays a range of emotion that’s tragically missing from the majority of today’s blockbuster movies. Bravo, sir!

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Excuse me, Oscars? Did you just use ‘actress’? How insulting.

But if we’re talking about the best actor in this scene that is female, it’s gotta be either the mother or the daughter – by virtue of being the only two present. I’ll go with the mum, because she has a great reaction.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Ok, the daughter can have this one.

Best Animated Feature

Animated (adjective)
1. full of life or excitement; lively.


Best Animated Short Film

Consider this scene not as part of a larger whole, but as a standalone short film in its own right. Maybe some kind of weird experimental art piece. It’s not so much of a leap.

Best Cinematography

Best Costume Design

Sure, Ace is nude for most the scene. But he starts out wearing his iconic open Hawaiian shirt. Is there a more memorable costume in comedy movie history?

No. The answer is no, there is not.

Best Documentary Feature

A challenge this.

BUT, the scene documents a very funny occurrence. Sure, a human has never actually passed through the anus of a robot rhinoceros. But I believe the scene faithfully depicts what that would be like. It’s at least close enough to be judged for and win this category, in my opinion.

Best Documentary Short Feature

See above.

Best Film Editing

The editing is legitimately spectacular.

The cuts between the family and the rhino. The way the ‘birth’ goes on for way too long. The way he finally flops out onto the ground as a kind of punchline for the scene.

It’s all very beautiful, in it’s own way.

Best Foreign Language Film

Eh, I guess you can watch the film in a foreign language. In fact, you can do that right here –

Like, if this was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival, maybe in black and white, with these voices over it, and with the title ‘bébé rhino’ it would win every award going.

Best Live Action Short Film

Goes without saying.

Best Makeup and Styling

Makeup: Ace’s sweaty, sticky body at the end.

Styling: Ace’s hair at the start.

Best Original Score

The use of sound in the scene is pretty minimal. But that doesn’t matter so much when it’s this good. IT GETS THE OSCAR.

Best Original Song


It’s not a song. But it expresses something about ourselves that we can all relate to.

Don’t we all need air, after all?

Best Production Design

I’m not 100% sure what ‘production design’ even is. I mean, the rhino looks pretty good? I fully buy into the conceit that he is squeezing out of a rhino’s behind.

Best Sound Editing

Yeah, sure?

Best Sound Mixing

How is this a different category to sound editing? You guys have too many awards.

Best Visual Effects


And I believe they didn’t use any CGI for the scene, either. Carrey delivers the real deal.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) / Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Combined because they’re the same.

Kind of hot in these rhinos‘ is a truly fantastic line. Just think about how good it is.

Think about how good it is, then join me in awarding it the Oscar.

And that’s the lot!

Congratulations Jim & Co, you’ve swept the board!

Steamed Hams is the Greatest Comedy Scene Ever

Let’s start by rewatching this.

I believe this is the greatest scene of all time in any comedy. And I’m going to tell you why.

1. The Script

This scene comes in at about 340 words, and 67 sentences. Every line serves a purpose – either as a joke, or as character building.

The very first exchange, for example, goes as follows:

Well, Seymour, I made it- despite your directions.

Ah.  Superintendent Chalmers. Welcome.
I hope you’re prepared for an unforgettable luncheon.

Chalmer’s opening line does so much work. It demonstrates that Chalmers is already somewhat annoyed at Skinner, for giving him wrong directions, and that he has an incredibly dry and sarcastic sense of humour. It also implies that Skinner is unreliable and prone to errors. Chalmer’s resignatory tone may also suggest that he’s used to Skinner’s bumbling idiocy, setting up the dynamic for the rest of the scene.

Indeed the very first thing that Chalmers says is “Well”. Starting a sentence with “well” is a casual way of speaking. He’s not saying “Hello Skinner, I’m here” – he’s saying “Things are already off to a bad start, and I’m a bit annoyed.”

Skinner on the other hand is oblivious. He misses Chalmers’ veiled insult, and seems surprised to see him at all. The very first thing he says is just “Ah” – a kind of surprised noise. He’s either too dumb to get the joke, or he’s so engrossed in his own little world that he doesn’t notice. The line “I hope you’re prepared for an unforgettable luncheon!” is both intelligent (it uses long, intellectual-sounding words) and stupid (people don’t talk like that) – giving the line an airy feel contrasted with the grounded, sarcastic opening from Chalmers. Chalmers’ response to Skinner’s line isn’t even a word, it’s just a kind of mumbled “Yeah..” – again a contrast to Skinner’s own flowery language.

So what do the opening two lines tell us? We know that Chalmers is the down-to-earth straight man, and Skinner is the airhead idiot. It’s the classic straight man vs. crazy character set up that you find throughout comedy. Which brings us onto the structure.

2. The Structure

The structure of the scene is very simple. Skinner is trying to impress Chalmers, but is foiled again and again by both the situation and by Chalmers’ inquisitiveness. Rather than admitting defeat, Skinner attempts to bolster his position with increasingly flimsy lies. Thus there’s a characterisation to be noted in the structure of the scene – Skinner’s pride vs. Chalmer’s intelligence. The power dynamic is boss-employee, and the concept of desperately trying to impress one’s superior without showing any signs of weakness is universally relatable.

The fact that the setup is something of a cliché is entirely the point. The faux opening for a show called ‘Skinner & the Superintendent” is so good because you can perfectly imagine what the entire show would be like; “Skinner with his crazy explanations“. Farce is a sitcom staple, and though this sketch is meant to be a lampoon of the format, it also works perfectly in and of itself.

Notice how the lies that Skinner tells become ever-more absurd.

  1. Skinner is just stretching his calves, rather than climbing out the window.
  2. The smoke coming out of the oven is just steam.
  3. That Skinner moments ago said ‘steamed hams’ instead of ‘steamed clams’.
  4. Skinner routinely calls hamburgers ‘steamed hams.’
  5. That ‘steamed hams’ is a regional expression for hamburgers (from Albany, specifically).
  6. The burgers are an old family recipe.
  7. The fire in the kitchen is actually the aurora borealis.

At what point does Chalmers stop buying into Skinner’s deceptions? Possibly as early as (2) given the facial expression he makes before leaving the kitchen, and certainly by 4/5. The ‘steamed hams’ interrogation scene in particular is a densely-written masterpiece. Look at the script:

Superintendent, I hope you’re ready for mouthwatering hamburgers.

I thought we were having steamed clams.

D’oh, no. I said steamed hams.
That’s what I call hamburgers.

You call hamburgers steamed hams?

Yes. It’s a regional dialect.

Uh-huh. Uh, what region?

Uh, upstate New York.

Well, I’m from Utica, and I’ve never heard anyone use the phrase “steamed hams.

Oh, not in Utica. No.
It’s an Albany expression.

I see.
You know, these hamburgers are quite similar to the ones they have at Krusty Burger.

Oh, no. Patented Skinner burgers.
Old family recipe.

For steamed hams.


And you call them steamed hams despite the fact that they are obviously grilled.

To his credit, Skinner does a decent job here at fending off Chalmer’s queries. Chalmers isn’t buying it for a second of course, Skinner’s charade is woefully transparent, but the deception doesn’t completely fall apart until the very last line. There’s no contradiction in what Skinner has said (apart from the clams v. hams discrepancy which he addressed directly) until the point at which Chalmers points out that steaming is a different process to grilling.

As a side point, it’s worth comparing this scene to the one in Inglorious Basterds where Fassbender’s character is interrogated about his accent.

Replace Piz Palü with ‘Albany’ and it’s pretty striking. The comparison isn’t really relevant to my point, but it is interesting. Just because the scene is in an episode of The Simpsons, it doesn’t mean it can’t be incredibly great writing. Which brings us onto…

3. The Animation

Because yes, The Simpsons is ultimately a cartoon. There’s just some great drawings and animations in this scene. Chalmers’ reaction shots especially.

That one just screams suspicion and scrutiny. Meanwhile, the previous shot is equally excellent.

In a good cartoon, any frame should be able to stand on its own as a great joke. I’d say this one qualifies. The framing of Skinner in the foreground, with a whole leg out the window, and Chalmers bursting in with an expression of shock, is perfect. It’s the straight-man vs. the fool in a single shot. (The rational vs. the irrational). The hard cut from this to the light-hearted intro is a great piece of timing too, just at the beat we’d expect Skinner to get rumbled. It’s also parodying the concept of a cold opening in sitcoms, so again the concept is well married with the form.

Returning to the ‘steamed hams’ interrogation scene, observe how it’s mostly just two shots. Skinner talking, then Chalmers talking and back again. Between them are the offending hams.

Without wanting to seem too arty, there’s surely something in the placement of the burgers. They’re symbolically the objectification of Skinner’s lies, and they’re literally under both their noses. Skinner has served his lies up on a literal platter too. The two men are talking around a subject when they can both see the truth right in front of them. It’s not until Chalmers finally confronts Skinners with evidence of his lies (the grill marks on the burgers) that the spell is broken.

But we can go even deeper.

4. The Psychology of Space

Imagine physical space in the scene representing the dominance of each character We see four spaces in the scene, as such.

The spaces to the right are the (literal) domain of Skinner. Chalmers acts as an intruder into this domain. So we begin in this position, at the front door scene.

Chalmers gradually invades the space, and Skinner loses power accordingly. He’s weakened early on when Chalmers steps into the kitchen, attacking his defensive bastion.

Skinner is able to just cling on though. And off-screen is able to make it to the Krusty Burger.

During the meal, they’re just about even. Equal combatants fending off blows.

The power balance is thrown off when Skinner is confronted with the grilled hams. At the very same time, something else interesting happens. His safe space is again compromised.

By the very end, Skinner has no space left at all at the fire has spread to his entire house.

Symbolically, Skinner has sacrificed everything, and he’s failed. He’s lost his footing and Chalmers goes away with the power advantage, having come out on top in the battle of wits. Or has he?

5. The Climax

The height of the narrative comes in the aurora borealis exchange.

I should be- Good Lord! What is happening in there?

Aurora borealis.

Uh. Aurora borealis at this time of year at this time of day in this part of the country localized entirely within your kitchen?


May I see it?


It’s Skinner’s most extravagant lie by far. And Chalmers’ perfectly-delivered “at this time…” line is one of the funniest and most memorable Simpsons moments ever. But at the very last minute, the scene pulls its punch. Skinner isn’t called out. In fact, Chalmers acts entirely out of character and asks to see the very thing he has such trouble believing.

What’s the rub? It’s an inconsistency that’s hard to explain. The writers gave themselves a hard task here, essentially writing themselves into a corner. Skinner’s lies are a build up of tension that has to be released. You’re constantly expecting Skinner to get rumbled, and it doesn’t happen. Even at the end, his obviously-burning down house isn’t commented on. So, rather than giving us the satisfaction in a payoff where Chalmers exposes the web of deceit Skinner has concocted, the tension is relieved by an unexpected shift in tone.

Even the very ending is ambiguous. Chalmers tells Skinner “you are an odd fellow but I must say you steam a good ham.” The language he uses here is somewhat similar to Skinner at the start – some awkward turns of phrasing. Is Chalmers subtly mocking Skinner with his remark about steaming hams? Certainly he doesn’t buy into the lie.

I’d argue that the message we take away from this is that Chalmers regards Skinner as a good friend, and that he actually enjoys their interactions, ridiculous as they are. He knows that Skinner is doing his best, and only has good intentions. Skinner on the other hand remains 100% oblivious. It’s a strange friendship, but it works, and it gives the scene heart. We go away knowing something more about each of the characters.

6. The Editing

Before concluding, I just want to appreciate the editing. The whole scene is edited really nicely, but particularly in a few key moments.

  • As said above, the hard cut from Chalmers entering the kitchen to the sitcom intro.
  • The transition from Skinner running over to Krusty Burger to entering the dining room with the hamburgers. We don’t need to see him buying the burgers, or arranging them in the kitchen. The pacing means we’re still on edge from the previous altercation between the two, and the music subtly smoothes it over too. Special mention goes to the noise that plays as Skinner runs over to KB – it has the feel of a scheme being put into motion, emphasising Skinner’s deception.
  • When Skinner leaves the dining room, enters the kitchen, and re-emerges a second later. It’s not an immediate enter-and-leave, and it would have been easy to do so given Skinner’s swinging kitchen door, so there’s just a moment where we’re left to imagine what’s happening in the kitchen. It’s great that we don’t see it, and makes Skinner’s non-reaction all the funnier. There’s just a glimpse of flames through the kitchen door, and that’s enough for the audience to know that something awful is happening.
  • The way the camera snaps to zoom in on Chalmer’s face during his aurora borealis line. We get closer and closer to him, so he becomes framed larger and larger in the shot. Each part of what he’s saying makes the lie more and more ridiculous. After Skinner fobs him off with a simple “Yes”, we return to Chalmers normally-sized again, as if the enormity of the lie has somehow been deflated by Skinners’ flippancy.

There’s so many other little gems in the scene too. Like Skinners’ shaky thumbs-up at the end. Is there a better drawing of someone pretending everything is fine?


The steamed hams scene is incredibly tightly written, and masterfully executed. Every line is delivered to optimal effect. The editing and use of space help to reinforce the dynamics of the scene, which in turn support the humour. The format of the scene as a parody of a typical sitcom farce is sublime, and succeeds on both levels: being funny in itself, and spot-on as satire. At under three minutes, the scene delivers on all fronts that you’d want a comedy to deliver on, and nothing is wasted. Nothing else in the history of comedy comes close. This is a masterpiece.

Further Simpsons reading:

8.75 Web Comics You Need To Check Out!

Lol, it’s a listicle! But seriously, this is a great way to format this kind of content.

I want to talk about web comics. By which I mean comics specifically made for the internet. I don’t mean comics that are simply available online (like you’ll find on Marvel Unlimited, or just uploaded scans). Web comics are a unique breed, free to play around with form and style in a way that the traditional formats don’t always allow.

But enough babbling, here’s the list. No particular order.

1. Dinosaur Comics

My first love, and still one of the best. The premise of the comic is that the panel is exactly the same every day, but the text changes. Author Ryan North has somehow managed to find a way to make this work 3,086 times so far, and shows no signs of stopping.

It’s also very funny. The character of T-Rex is really well established as basically being this loud-mouth with wacky ideas (IT ME??!!). A great one is this one, where T-Rex renames his knuckles, or this one where T-Rex explores the use of slang, and ends up talking about gravy with God. It frequently makes me ‘laugh out loud’, out loud.

2. Hark, a vagrant

Like, the most beautiful thing ever. I love Kate Beaton’s sketches so much. They all have so much mirth and character in them, like those old Quentin Blake illustrations. She mostly does funnies about people from history and literature, so you’re learning stuff too! Hit the random button a few times and see what you find. Hard to pick a favourite (they’re all amazing), but this Les Mis one is pretty great.


The most unpronounceable of these picks. It describes itself as ‘a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language’ which sums it up pretty well. Basically, it’s just a really really nerdy comic about technology and things. The art is literally just stick people most of the time, but don’t let that put you off – the actual content is great.

3.5 XKCD – What If?

A spin-off form XKCD in which author Randall Munroe uses his science brain to answer pressing questions. Questions like ‘Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?‘ It’s a lot of fun, but I can only count it for half because it’s basically just more of XKCD.

4. Homestuck

The comic that changed the internet. Oh boy, this is a big one – literally. It’s over 10,000 pages. When I first started reading, it took me months to get up to date. It’s finished now though, so you can enjoy the whole thing in one (very long) sitting without having to wait on updates.

But what is it? Well, it’s a multimedia comic about teens. It’s at once unlike anything else ever, and also a full-on parody of everything from pop culture ever. There’s music, games, animations, chat logs, and more. There’s Nick Cage love, Guy Fieri fan fiction, and everything in between. At all times, my reaction to reading an update was literally this. If you want a great example of how it pushes the boundaries of all formats, just watch the Cascade update, which famously crashed the Newsground website when it went up.

Please watch it, just so we can talk about it.

4.25 Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff

SBAHJ is a comic written by one of the characters in Homestuck. So it actually exists within their universe and the characters talk about it. It’s intentionally terribly made – which I’m sure took so much effort it’s unreal. It’s a fascinating work of art – so check out the entire website. It also inspired me to make my own comics – for which I can only apologise.

I only count it as a .25 because it’s not really its own thing.

5. A Softer World

It’s over now, but for a time ‘A Softer World’ was the most heart-breaking web comic. It was just text on photos, but it was always poetic and beautiful – each strip almost a haiku. Read for some lovely, and funny, thoughts.

6. Buttersafe

The closest to what might be considered a traditional ‘web comic’ that I like. Just stick men drawn in a very simple fashion; y’know, the kind of style that Cyanide & Happiness made popular. But unlike C&H, Buttersafe is really good. I remember laughing at this one in particular for ages in 2007. I guess it’s aged ok.

7. The Perry Bible Fellowship

TPBF is very special. The styles in the panels are so varied, and the jokes always hit their mark. Typically, something is set up, but then something totally unexpected happens (like in ‘Martha’s Orphanage‘). It’s worth clicking through a lot of them to get the idea. Another favourite: Bip.

8. Whomp!

A funny comic about a self-deprecating chubby man who loves anime. Pretty amusing. Features a character who is a literal personification of the authors self-doubt and loathing. If you’re into that.

I hope you give at least some of these comics a go. It’s a shame really that we have to use the word ‘comics’ at all for these, given how different they actually are. But don’t let the term put you off. Just like ‘graphic novels’ have become a respectable thing in their own right, so too are ‘web comics’ just as legitimate a format for telling stories and jokes as anything else.

Happy reading!

Sketch: Hipster Ken

The following is a sketch I wrote for Newsjack that of course didn’t get used. It’s pretty stupid. But it’s Ken Day so I thought I’d share it again here. Enjoy?


Toy news now. Yes, we’re really doing Toy News now apparently. It’s not like the country’s future as one of the world’s biggest political groups is being under threat right now or anything, we’ve got bigger things on our mind.

At the New York Toy Fair, Mattel have unveiled their latest Barbie doll set, which is fully Wi-Fi enabled, features voice recognition technology, and even has wireless lightbulbs. This has sparked debate amongst toy fans as it now means that Barbie has a better life than me!

But for all the advancements in Barbie’s modern life, is her boyfriend Ken getting left behind? We smuggled a microphone-equipped Barbie into an executive meeting to find out.


This new Barbie sure is something. She’s got all the latest gadgets and gizmos, and each doll has its own Twitter account. And if there’s one thing that kids love, it’s toys featuring unnecessary technological innovations.


Yes, this is all well and good. But what about the Ken doll? We haven’t updated him since the 80s. I mean, he still hasn’t even got genitals!


No need to worry about that. We’ve had someone on the case. Send in, Gok Wan!


Hello darlings! I’ve got some great ideas to bring Ken right up to the 21st Century. First up, the name. Nobody cool is called Ken anymore.


I’m called Ken!


Exactly. So we’ve changed the name, and he’s now called… Trés Cool, which is French for ‘very cool’. Because he is very cool.


Trés… I love it!


Trés is a 20-something social media consultant who lives in a rented flat in Berlin. He loves artisan coffee and knitting his beard.


Oh my god, you’ve made Ken into a hipster!




Trés is über trendy. By which I mean he’s trendy and has Uber.


You really think kids will want to play with a weird loser manchild?


Oh no, Trés isn’t meant to be ‘played’ with. He’s his own independent person. He’s also a freelance blogger and full-time vegan. I wouldn’t expect children to understand.


I don’t like this idea.


But what else have we got? Especially after our disastrous run of Donald Trump: Action Man figures….


And I didn’t even mention the best bit! Press a button on Trés’ back and he’ll read you his dissertation on Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. See!


When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.


Well, let’s just hope this does better than our rebrand for Snakes and Ladders.


Oh, what was that?


We accidentally invented the Cereal Café in Shoreditch.


Some sketches

It’s Newsjack time again. Woo and yay. Basically that means I write things for the Radio that don’t get put on the Radio.

Here are this week’s failures. Apparently Font Factor got into the recording at least. It just got the chop in the edit. Boo hoo.



1. INTRO Google has been in the news this week after changing its

typeface, freaking out internet nerds the world over. Yes,

Google the company that harvests all of your personal data on

a day to day basis without anyone batting an eyelid. But

change how the words look a little bit and suddenly everyone

grabs their torches, flaming pitchforks, and USB sticks. But how

exactly does Google pick a new font? It’s actually quite a

competitive process…

2: PRESENTER Hello and welcome to Font Factor. The show where you, the

audience, can decide what becomes the next big thing in

typefaces – and which ones will be forever discarded to the

Recycle Bin. Let’s meet our contestants.

First up, Sans Serif!

3. SANS SERIF (BUBBLY) Hi, I’m Sans Serif. You might know me from, like,

every start-up company in the world. I’m friendly, oh so

personal, and not at all intimidating. I’m your best friend!

4: PRESENTER Yay! Next up, Times New Roman..

5: TNR (OLD) Huh? Oh, I’m Times New Roman. Remember me? I

used to be everyone’s favourite. But then Microsoft stopped

making me the default and now I’m just a lonely old font. WHAT


6. PRESENTER And last but not least, we have… Comic Sans!


7: PRESENTER Great. So in this round the fonts will be showing us what they

can do in the world of marketing. Fonts, we’re making an ad for

a new kind of shoe. We want to sell as many shoes as

possible, so what do you do? I’ll give you five seconds to think

it over. Font off!

Five, font, three, two, one. And that’s it! What have you got,

Sans Serif?

8: SANS SERIF Well I think we should use Arial and do a lovely minimalist

poster talking all about the benefits of the shoes. It’ll really

appeal to the millennial market and work at scale for different

ad platforms.

9: PRESENTER And how about you, Times New Roman?

10: TNR (SUDDENLY AWAKE) Huhh?! Sorry I wasn’t paying attention.

But I’ve got an essay about the history of the English penal

system if that helps.

11: PRESENTER I’m sorry but that’s not what we’re looking for. Tough luck,

Times New Roman. And what’s Comic Sans got fonted up for



13: PRESENTER Ooh, it’s definitely going to be a close one. Let’s see what the

results of the audience vote show. The winner is…


14: PRESENTER Oh my god, I can’t believe it. Out of nowhere, the winner is

Wingdings. Wingdings, would you like to give a victory speech?

15: WINGDINGS Smiley Face. Left arrow. Trademark Sign. Skull and

crossbones. Skull and crossbones.

16: PRESENTER And that’s all we have time for. Join us next week when we’ll be

seeing if Helvetica can impress the judges in an all-out battle to

the death with Comic Sans in the Font Arena.


18. END


1. INTRO The Pope was spotted out and about in central Rome as he

visited an optician in person, drawing huge crowds. Watching

an old man try on different pairs of glasses might not sound like

everyone’s idea of a fun day out, but apparently it was worth it

just so everyone could keep making ‘Holy See’ jokes. Reports

that he also put on a pair of Harry Potter glasses and ran

around the shop shouting killing curses at people were sadly

greatly exaggerated. But what was the Pope really up to in

there? He could easily have sent for someone to come into his

little Pope bedroom and fit his glasses. There’s only one

conclusion: The Pope is planning to launch his own range of

designer eyewear.


3. POPE (STREET TALKING) Heyyyyy! It’s me, the Pope! Don’t ya just

haate it when ya preparing your weekly Papal blessings and

you can’t see a damn thing?

4. CHOIR SINGER Preach it!

5. POPE Well, me too. So that’s why I’m launching this new range of

totally kickin’ Papal spectacles. They’re called: Holy Specs!

6. CHOIR SINGER Amen to that!

7. POPE Now, I hear what y’all saying. Aint’ these specs just like the

same ol’ same ol’ glasses people been wearing for hundreds of

years? Well, hell no sister!

8. CHOIR SINGER Hell no!

RICHARD COOK cookywook@gmail.com HOLY SPECS

9. POPE No, these are unique, top-of-the-line holiest-of-holies

eyepieces. Each one has been blessed by me – your buddy the

Pope! And I can personally guarantee you’ll witness at least

three miracles while wearing them.

10. CHOIR SINGER (SINGING) This guarantee is not legally binding. Your statutory

rights are not affected.

11. POPE But wait! Just like Jesus said to his disciples when he came

back from the dead: “there’s so many great benefits to these


The lenses are bifocal, polarized, UV protective, and 100% gay

marriage reflective.

11. CHOIR SINGER (SINGING) But what about contraception?

12. POPE (SINGING BACK) We still haven’t formed an effective

consensus on thaaat…

13. CHOIR SINGER Fair enough!

14. POPE Holy Specs are the only choice for the discerning bishop in

YOUR life. So don’t forget the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt

always buy glasses endorsed by the Pope and also buy some

extra pairs for friends and family.

15. CHOIR SINGER They make a perfect gift!

16. LAWYER (SERIOUS) Not suitable for the non-religious, elderly, or young

vulnerable church boys.

17. END

Rejected Sketches: Week 3

So didn’t get anything into this week’s Newsjack again. Which is fine.

My only noteworthy submission was a sketch about the new Frozen film. It’s pretty ambitious, but I can see why it wasn’t used.


1. INTRO: Entertainment news, and Disney has announced plans to produce

a sequel to the hit animated film Frozen. A story about two sisters,

one of whom has magical powers, the original film has driven

droves of parents insane thanks to its repetitive catchy songs.

We’re lucky enough to have a sneak preview of some of the

newest songs that will feature in the upcoming sequel. Warning:

you may want to cover the ears of any young children present.

2. MUSIC: (Do you wanna build a snowman?)

3. SINGER: Do you wanna watch a sequel?

And rewatch it every day?

Never do anything else

But sing these songs over and over

And driving parents insaaaaane.

You used to be happy with Teletubbies

Or In the Night Garden

And that was absolutely fiiiine

Do you wanna watch a sequel?

I don’t really wanna a sequel.

Ok, fine…

4. MUSIC (Let it go)

5. SINGER Don’t go the cinema, don’t let them see

There’s probably something better on CBBC!

Don’t tell the kids, oh no it’s too late!

Oh god, now they now!

They won’t let it go, let it go,

There’ll be no holding back anymore,

Every day and every night

You’ll be singing this until Frozen 4!

6. END