... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Block Chop 6: Great Artists - Bob Monkhouse!

“Growing old is compulsory.  Growing up is optional.”

Just been listening to All Round Bob Monkhouse on iPlayer .  The man was an absolute legend and an inspiration for many reasons.  He has never been cool, but was always the best at what he did.  He was supremely prodigious in many different creative pursuits.  As a teenager he wrote for the Beano and various other forgotten kids comics then, always developing his writing skills began writing porn novels.  He had hundreds of naughty books published under various different names, and then began writing for ancient American comedian Bob Hope.  He did a million other jobs from acting, presenting game shows, script writing, and stand-up comedy.  He kept immaculately filed notes of his own jokes, and was the master of the one-liner.  Many well known jokes (e.g. “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father.  Not screaming in terror like his passengers”) are attributed to him.  His influence on modern masters of the one-liner, such as Jimmy Carr, is obvious to anyone who has seen their acts.  Basically he was a master craftsman of comedy, and there may never be another like him.

One of the main things he had going for him was simply how hard he worked.  He claimed to have written a 40,000 word novelette between dusk and dawn one night.  He achieved huge amounts in all he set his mind to, and seemingly never left a job unfinished.  This is where I must take my inspiration.  My to-do list grows much faster than I am crossing things off it.  Perhaps it’s not too bad, as he did live to 75, and the BBC R2 programme I just listened to condensed it all down into just under an hour.  That must make it seem like years worth of achievements and adventure fly by in the blink of an eye.

Then of course there are the jokes.  Many of them seem cheesy; on the surface a bit like the same old crap spouted by any old-fashioned comedian repeating jokes they didn’t write themselves.  But Bob wasn’t like that.  He wrote all his own cheesy jokes; he had millions on all different subjects and could recall them with split second timing.

“A miniature village in Bournemouth caught fire and the flames could be seen three feet away.”
“They laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian; well they’re not laughing now.”
“What do gardeners do when they retire?”

His humour had a dark streak, that wasn’t present in most other mainstream 1970s-era comedians:

“My mother tried to kill me when I was a baby.  She denied it of course; she said she thought the plastic bag would keep me fresh.”
“My wife and I have sex nearly every day.  Nearly on Monday, nearly on Tuesday, nearly on...”
“People often think I’m from Kent.  I hear them whisper it as I walk past.”

And he was thoughtful:

“Growing old is compulsory.  Growing up is optional.”
“Silence is not only golden; it is seldom misquoted.”

Good old Bob.  I’m not a comedian, and I should expect I never will be.  Stand-up comedy has got to be one of the most difficult and impressive of modern art forms.  I liked Bob because, despite him being a household name my entire life, he felt like a discovery.  By the 1980s he was firmly established as a churner-outer of low budget TV quizzes, and as a comedian was lumped in with 1970’s The Comedians-style dross (except with his weird poshness, as opposed to the usual Working Men's club-type).  It was easy to forget he was a proper, top-of-the-range stand-up genius, and indeed many people my age perhaps never knew this.  However by the 1990s we started to (re)discover his talent and, like Johnny Cash, he enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and a creative renaissance just in time to die at the top of his game.

(Seems a bit weird to do an obituary for someone seven years after the event, but never mind.)

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