Sunday, 28 September 2008

Then Vs Now: Harry Enfield. A Po-Faced Look At Comedy

It's a widely reported fact that once you begin to deconstruct comedy, it stops being funny. So let's do that now!

The rules: Two sketches, one from 'then', one from 'now'. Both by the same performer, or performers, both on a similar subject. The number of markedly different jokes are recorded, and then compared with the runtime of the sketch to arrive at a final Jokes Per Minute index. Highest number wins.

Performer(s): Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse.

Subject: Football.

1991: Harry Enfield's Television Programme

Sketch - Mr Cholmondley-Warner Presents: "Associaton Football"

(Quick tip - If you haven't seen the sketch in question recently, do yourself a favour and watch that YouTube video before reading the breakdown below, where we explain all the jokes. It's really good, but slightly less so once you know what's going to happen.)

Laugh Breakdown:

0:06 As the globe turns a comically huge representation of Britain is displayed, gently lampooning the British view of itself circa 1930.

0:16 Jarring jump-cut as Mr Grayson replies to Mr Cholmondley-Warner's question on the introduction of the professional footballer.

0:31 "You can't expect a professional, paid to do nothing but play football all day, to achieve the same level of physical fitness as a man who works in a chip-shop all week, and who only plays football on [jarring jump cut] Chaturdays!"

0:37 "If you don't mind, Mr Cholmondley-Warner, you're QUITE WRONG! [jarring jump cut, after which Mr Grayson is clasping his freshly bloodied nose as Mr Cholmondley-Warner rubs his knuckle without a trace of emotion] Let's see if a short film can settle the matter."

0:49 One of the leading teams of today, a bigshorted 1930s Arsenal, run onto the field in a comical fashion, in speeded-up-film-o-vision.

0.54 Against... the Liverpool team of 1991...

0:56 ...who will play for the first time in black and white.

1:01 As the commentator expresses how Liverpool 1991 may be surprised by the pace of the black and white game, we can see how the Arsenal team are all smoking while they warm up.

1:09 The Arsenal warm-up is interrupted as they pause to light each other's cigarettes, in the correct British manner.

1:15 And there's the captain, Charles Cholmondley-Charles. We can tell that he is the captain, as he is smoking a pipe and he exudes a paternalistic air.

1:21 It's the right-wing demon, Wilf "Adapted For Speed" Finney, played by Paul Whitehouse. He is practising his dribbling by running with a ball for three yards, then turning and dribbling it back the exact same three yards. In a marvellously comical fashion that you need to see the YouTube clip to really appreciate.

1:29 In goal, it's Stan "Between The Posts" Hartley. He generally looks a bit befuddled as a number of footballs fly past him into the net, having to lift up his flat cap over his eyeline to be sure what had just happened.

1.38 Charles Cholmondley-Charles shakes hands with the referee, and what's this? He's knitted him a lovely scarf.

1:42 Meanwhile, the other Arsenal players are wandering amongst the Liverpool players, offering them a selection of fine tobacco and triangle-cut sandwiches.

1:47 As the Arsenal players continue to wander around holding plates, the match kicks off. Liverpool collect the ball, and immediately score a goal.

1:51 The Arsenal players stand in the centre circle, and applaud their opponents' goal in a gentlemanly manner.

1:56 "Stan Hartley didn't even have time to put his cigarette out!"

2:01 "And the Liverpool team celebrate... they seem to be kissing!" Looking panicked by this act of male bonding, the Arsenal players drop their plates of sandwiches and run away.

2:05 Arsenal to kick-off. All ten outfield players crowd around the ball and run in a group after the captain as he runs with the ball, the Liverpool players remain stuck to their positions, so astonished are they by this bewildering lack of tactical forethought, allowing Charles Cholmondley-Charles to bear down on their penalty area.

2:12 Calamity for Arsenal, as Charles Cholmondley-Charles loses possession of the ball to a thicket. Fiercely loyal to their captain as ever, the remainder of the Arsenal team also run past the now stationary ball, with the referee in tow. Luckily, the heroic captain is able to notice when he has missed the ball, and runs back to collect it as his team-mates trail behind him.

2:17 "He shoots for goal! And it's a throw-in to Liverpool."

2:19 The Arsenal team form a semi-circle around Liverpool's thrown-in taker. Surely there's no way he can get the ball past... ah.

2:24 And the ball is duly played forward by Liverpool, and so they score another goal. Unfortunately for Arsenal, "Between The Posts" Hartley was distracted as he was having a bit of a chat with the inside-right.

2:29 Two-nil! Three-nil! Four-nil! The goals fly in for Liverpool, the last of which propels the spluttering Hartley over the line with the ball.

2:34 Hope for Arsenal! They get the ball out to Finney on the wing. Sadly, he can only do his comical three-yard-repeat-dribble move, and is subsequently dispossessed. So preoccupied is the plucky winger, it takes him a few kicks before he realises he has lost the ball.

2:50 Half-time, and ten-nil to Liverpool. While the Liverpudlians trot off to the dressing room, the Gunners stay on the pitch, where the linesman has brought them a nice pint of foaming brown ale each. Mmm!

2:57 Half-time entertainment for the crowd - Mr George Banjo. And his banjo.

3:13 Arsenal come out for the second half with a whole new approach. This is demonstrated by their striker rushing toward a football-jerseyed dummy with a fixed bayonet. Grr!

3:17 The whistle blows, and the new pro-active approach of the Arsenal team is displayed immediately as the referee is punched in the face before he can finish whistling the start of the second half.

3:20 The Arsenal side further display their new-found tactical nous by fanning out amongst the field of play, and punching the Liverpool players in the face. The ball is passed to Finney on the wing...

3:23 Who repeats his earlier 'three yard dribble' routine.

3:24 And is subsequently smacked in the face by a team mate.

3:28 A shot at goal for Arsenal! The keeper catches the ball, only to be headbutted by an Arsenal forward.

3:30 The keeper falls backward, him still holding the ball. His arms fall back as the referee examines the situation. Yes, it's a goal for Arsenal!

3:35 The lucky goalscorer celebrates in the 1991 fashion, by giving a team-mate a little peck on the lips.

3:36 Then by collapsing to his knees and trying to tug down the shorts of a clearly bewildered Finney for some of that early 1990s oral lovin'.

3:42 The entire outfield of the Arsenal side score another goal by shoving the Liverpool goalkeeper in the net en masse.

3:52 A Liverpool player attempts to complain to the referee about the serious foul play. The referee duly takes out his black book, which turns out to be a Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, in order to look up some of the words used in the complaints.

3:56 He doesn't like what he finds, and duly brings on his mother to disprove everything that has just been said.

4:02 Charles Cholmondley-Charles has a plan. He coats his boot in glue. We can see it is glue, as it is in a pot with the word 'glue' painted on it in huge letters.

4:06 With the ball duly affixed to his foot, the plucky Woolwich Arsenal captain runs the Liverpool defence ragged. Arsenal win the game!

4:15 A sporting finish to a sporting contest! As the two sets of players mix in order to swap shirts, an Arsenal player enamoured of the modern 1991 way also drops his own shorts, and leans forward to tug down the shorts of his astonished counterpart.

4:21 Final shot of the sketch - a 1930s footballer with his shorts around his ankles tries to run after the rapidly departing 1990s footballer. A comedy basic, but well choreographed.


2008: Harry and Paul

Sketch: Paquador versus England

England are playing the fictional Paquador at football. The teams are lined up for the national anthems.

00:20 "Here comes the Paquador national anthem." Comical subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen in order to translate the words of the anthem in question. Such as "Paquador, where the atmosphere is rarefied" and "Where the sun burns our beans to a crisp". That sort of thing.

0:35 As the camera pans long the line of Paquadorian players, Paul Whitehouse is made up to look like Columbia's talismanic forward of the 1990s Carlos Valderrama.

0:36 And Kathy Burke is making a cameo appearance as the Paquadorian dictator's wife.

0:43 The cameraman gets a bit confused and has to pan back down to fit in a short footballer.

1:08 As the 'funny' lyrics to the national anthem continue ("She will steal your crows as you writhe in agony") - and they only count as one joke, remember - the commentators note that this is a very long national anthem.

1:16 The players run off to start the match. But wait! The South American team need to rush back to the line-up, as their anthem hasn't stopped yet. They stand back in position, and mouth the words that are translated into English on our screen, but which still don't count as a new joke.

1:36 The referee allows the game to kick off while the Paquadorian team are still standing for their anthem. England rush forward.

1:44 At the end of the verse, the Paquador team belt towards their goal to try and defend it. But oh no! Their anthem still has more. The England team score a goal.

2:13 The commentator remarks on how the Generalissimo wouldn't like it if the Paquador team ignored the anthem, as England take the kick off after the goal they scored. Which, of course, can't happen in football.

The same joke is repeated until 2:54, meaning England leave the first half six goals to the good.

3:02 The Paquadorian dictator's wife has now fallen asleep, with her fag still in her gob.

[Rest for a sketch where some old men are in a fast car listening to the modern rap music. Our timer is paused.]

3:46 In the second half now, and the Paquador anthem finally finishes. England are currently winning twelve to nil. This isn't technically a joke, and won't count in the final score, we just felt the need to mark the passage of time.

3:58 Cut to the final whistle. Paquador 13 England 12, and the crowd and players all go wild. And, truth be told, we've just had out first actual snicker of the sketch.

4:07 Harry Enfield impersonates Fabio Capello mouthing Italian platitudes into a mobile phone. It is a recognisable impersonation, and therefore qualifies as a joke.

4:24 Sketch ends with no real punchline.

TOTAL LAUGHS: 12 (a generous estimate, if we're honest)

Are we going to put this into a graph? If you're asking that, you don't know us very well.

And so. Even giving one hell of a lot of slack to the 2008 Enfield/Whitehouse ticket, it's Then that romps home. If we'd classed each instance of "there's a person made up to look like the sort of person they're supposed to look like in such a sketch" as a proper joke in the 'Then' sketch, as we generously did for the modern version, it would have been a lot worse. Bad show, Harry And Paul. Quite literally.

6 .:

Mike Landers said...

Fair comparison, but then I've always considered the original sketch to be on the of the funniest sketches of all comedy, well, ever.

Mark X said...

It just irks me that while the main point of "Harry Enfield's Television Programme" was to cram as many jokes as possible into the shortest possible amount of time, with each part being shot and re-shot until the optimum number of big laffs are provided, with Harry & Paul the writing seems to revolve around the promise of "Here's quite a funny idea. How long can we drag it out for?"

Jason said...

The great, great thing about Harry Enfield's Television Programme was that all the characters had their own mini title sequences - that's how you knew they were called The Old Gits, or The Slobs.

The original still reduces me to stitches everytime, coupled with a mournful 'was that really 17 years ago' passing-of-time angst.

A picture of Harold Lloyd outwitting Dustpan Dan with a kipper, drawn by Roy Wilson said...

I'm slightly at a disadvantage here because I haven't yet seen Harry and Paul ep 4, so leapt past that bit, but the thing about the Cholmondley-Warner sketches that always aggravated me to the point of murder with hammers was the programme's ruddy awful laugh track. By the time the hawking, shrieking cretins shut their fat stupid pie-holes, three other jokes had been smothered.

It's particularly a bother with Cholmondley-Warner because of the subtlety of the effort, and especially rubbish in the Association Football sketch because of the density of the gags; unlike the others in the series (helpfully linked via that Youtube vid) the breathless-voiceover, dialogue-free pace is relentlessly rapid. You get the feeling you're missing at least half of the script rather than the usual third. I defy anyone with ears to pick out H Enfield's character's name over the bellowing idiots, for example.

(Incidentally, the captain is Charles "Charlie" Charles, in keeping with the nickname style.)

This convenient rhyme would have greatly benefited the producer: "If the sketch is on film / Set fire to anyone recording the audience as they watch it on the overhead monitilm." See also the brutally abbreviated Arthur Atkinson clips from The Fast Show, Five Four Three Two Hun ( and How Queer ( with its bang-on ITMA bit which the squawking imbeciles clearly don't get at all, thus proving I am better than them.

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