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John Oliver: "The most formative comedy of my teenage years."
June 10, 2013 5:16 AM   Subscribe

There was no wink and they never sold it out for these half-hour, densely, beautifully produced pieces, which is, for all possibilities, obscuring that this doesn’t at all sound like a comedy show. It is all the production elements you would use in a full-scale news production. All the gravitas, but just inflated to a point that it has no gravitas whatsoever. And I think that is where it became this excitingly subversive thing because it just showed that BBC Radio 4 and everything it stood for was just a big bag of shit.
John Oliver on why he's a fan of On the Hour. On the Hour, of course, is the legendary BBC news radio program created by, among other people, Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, In The Loop, Veep), Christopher Morris (Jam, Brass Eye, Four Lions, Why Bother?), Stewart Lee (41st best stand-up comic ever), and Steve Coogan (Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge, I'm Alan Partridge). Short-lived but influential, On the Hour mimicked the tone and production of other radio news shows but replaced the content with what Oliver describes as "unremitting bullshit". On the Hour was aired in two six-episode series (S1E1 S1E2 S1E3 S1E4 S1E5 S1E6; S2E1 S2E2 S2E3 S2E4 S2E5 S2E6), and begat a television series called The Day Today. That show in turn added Graham Linehan (Black Books, Father Ted, The IT Crowd) to On the Hour's already all-star lineup, upped the already-insane levels of overproduction, and ran for six short-but-glorious episodes (one two three four five (WAR!) six), as well as a special 9/11 radio report.

I briefly considered bullshitting about the On the Hour staff I didn't know as much about – Steven Wells, Richard Herring, David Quantick, Rebecca Front, etc. – but this was getting overlong as-is. Apologies if I skipped over your favorite British comedy legend.
posted by Rory Marinich (64 comments total) 188 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for this post, which is quite magnificent.
posted by Wordshore at 5:20 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


YES THIS PLEASES THE STICHERBEAST
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:28 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Everything on that list is genius, especially anything involving Chris Morris and Graham Linehan.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:36 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also missing: The Day Today's spiritual succesor, Brass Eye.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:37 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brass Eye's there! I felt it was my duty to include Paedogeddon in the links.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:38 AM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Richard Herring.

TMWRNJ!

You want the moon on a stick, you do.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:39 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Leaves the news to ripen on the bough and then harvests it at tremendous speed.

A fantastic show.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:44 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chris Morris is god. Brass Eye was genius. "Drugs" was my favourite.

Also, I was in love with Collaterlie Sisters
posted by Decani at 5:44 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was a teenage Clarky Cat addict.
posted by longbaugh at 5:50 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also spawning usernames!

This post is my favourite post. (The only way it could have been improved is if they'd put a Shrek in it.) Thanks Rory!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:53 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes! Mrs A is away this week so I get to play this loud and laugh uncontrollably.
posted by arcticseal at 5:53 AM on June 10, 2013


On the Hour, The Day Today, and Brass Eye are some of the finest satire that has ever been made. They should be held up as examples of how one does satire:

Absurdist, to demonstrate that the target is nearly just as absurd when taken out of the framing that has led up to it, both barrels on the hard targets like misuse of authority, interspersed with less forceful and more random hits on soft targets to break up the vitriol so it doesn't overwhelm.

These three shows came closer to perfect than any other series that I'm aware of.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:55 AM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Incidently, this is relevant to my interests and a bit of a hobby horse. For a while in the nineties and early naughties, BBC Radio 4 was a breeding place of interesting, alternative political comedy that would often make a succesfull transition to television. There's this, Dead Ringers, Absolute Power, Fist of Fun, Little Britain, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Armstrong and Miller, Goodness Gracious Me, That Mitchell and Webb Sound etc.

A lot of these shows are regularly being rebroadcast on Radio 4 Extra, available on the interwebs even for non-licence paying foreigners.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:55 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't NOT post John Oliver's other tasty treat: The World's Only Audio Newspaper for a Visual World!
posted by mfu at 5:56 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


TMWRNJ!

Oh my god Stewart Lee had a TALK SHOW? Were the late 90s like a secret utopia or something? Because this is almost unbelievably wonderful.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:00 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah Barbara Wintergreen.

From On the Hour to Big Train - via Brass Eye, Jam, Father Ted etc - was the greatest run of comedy anywhere ever. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.
posted by Mocata at 6:03 AM on June 10, 2013


TMWRNJ was a sort of anti-talk-show in a bizarre early Sunday daytime slot.

Take off your pants - thanks ...
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:04 AM on June 10, 2013


There's not really any good way to type it out, but I still recite the weird intonation of "This is the newwwws!"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:05 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


"And what evidence did they use against you?"

"Well, the police found my blood all over their fists and boots, and my fingerprints were all over my hands. I'm really questioning this forensicness."

Enjoying this very much, thanks!
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:19 AM on June 10, 2013


When was that 9/11 thing first broadcast?

When The Day Today first went out, it's hyperactive graphics were clearly so ludicrous no real news channel could possibly consider using them. Fox News today outdoes them with ease.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:20 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


With this John Oliver thread and yesterday's John Oliver thread perhaps MeFi can start it's own regular series - - The Daily Thread.
posted by fairmettle at 6:21 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anyone is looking for something to be outraged about this Monday afternoon, they could do worse than check out Jam. I can think of at least four sketches (or scenes, or whatever they are) off the top of my head that would have many mefites calling for Chris Morris' head on a stick.

For me, it was his GLR show on Friday afternoons that was my first experience with that particular sense of humour. As it went on for about three hours, by the time the genuine news report rolled around at four o'clock, I was incapable of taking the news seriously any more. I'm surprised that more of those haven't turned up on the internet (I think I've found one one hour edit of a Christmas programme).

I've often thought that the purpose of The Day Today and Brass Eye was to show how the news media lie to us, but constructing the news machine and then pumping nonsense into it rather than data. It had that effect for me, anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 6:30 AM on June 10, 2013


Just to note, it was Richard Herring interviewing Stephen Fry last week when he talked about his suicide attempt. Tonight for the Richard Herring Leicester Square Theatre Podcast ( RHLSTP! ) he interviews Mary Beard and then John LLoyd , who may have even more to do with British comedy than any of those mentioned.
posted by stuartmm at 6:35 AM on June 10, 2013


I can think of at least four sketches (or scenes, or whatever they are) off the top of my head that would have many mefites calling for Chris Morris' head on a stick.

posted by Grangousier at 2:30 PM on June 10


Morris deals in full-on, no-holds-barred black humour, often laced with overdose levels of irony. This is not to everyone's taste, for sure.
posted by Decani at 6:37 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


YAAAAS! Thank you!
posted by droplet at 6:43 AM on June 10, 2013


"Heads it's news, tails it's news. [flips coin] It's news!"
posted by ZipRibbons at 6:44 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my god Stewart Lee had a TALK SHOW? Were the late 90s like a secret utopia or something? Because this is almost unbelievably wonderful.

Yep, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. Their website for it is still online. It was a Sunday early afternoon show, supposedly to catch all the students just awake from their Saturday night carousing, repeated on Friday evenings in a shorter version. Unfortunately it got yanked around the schedule a lot and there wasn't as successfull as it should've been and got cancelled after two series. Lee and Herring were among the first to make use of the internet to keep in contact with their fans, mentioning the site in the programme and such.

I think the entire series is now available on youtube, released ages ago by them to Google Video.

This Morning with Richard, Not Judy was of course a spoof of long running early morning chatter fest Richard and Judy, with Richard Herring as the naive, cheerful one and Lee of course the dour, cynical, usually correct one. Particular favourites among their regular sketches were Sunday Heroes (no, not aah), the Curious Orange, the lovechild of Richard and a particularly seductive orange tree, Histor's Eye, Sky Tv, magic pirate one eye history crow (he said egg), Pause for Thought for the Day (makes more sense than Radio 4's usual Though of the Day) and of course Richard Herring's Food and Milk (course, they're all snowy owls when I'm through with them).
posted by MartinWisse at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, yes, I find it very bracing. In some ways - because of the lack of visuals and that it's designed to be listened to at 3am - I think the original Blue Jam is even better and occasionally terrifying. Still... "We're particularly pleased with the balls."
posted by Grangousier at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Arise, Sir News!

I am going on a car trip soon and I can't wait to introduce my companions to On the Hour, and the impact absorbing hyrdraulic trumpet system, or IAHTS.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2013


My favorite Jam sketch is "please, just bring him back", which makes nearly everybody I show it to squirm. I think it's brilliant, designed to lob its way exactly between those parts of your mind which are designed to feel humor and horror.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:55 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's also My Wrongs 8245 - 8249 and 117 of course.
posted by Grangousier at 7:00 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And Bishopslips. And Bushwhacked.
posted by Grangousier at 7:07 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re: Histor's Eye. A couple of years ago, Richard Herring was a guest on Shaun Keaveny's BBC 6Music radio show. I texted the station, simply, "You said egg", and Keaveny, baffled in the extreme, read it out live on air. In bed, with a hangover, my life was secretly complete.
posted by hydatius at 7:17 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just watched the pedophile episode of Brass Eye. This was amazing. Chris Morris is amazing.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:38 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where has this been ALL MY LIFE. Most Americans only get so far as Look Around You so, naturally, I'll be spending my entire week watching every. Single. Link. In this post.
posted by Mooseli at 7:43 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The sketch which stays in my head so strong--indeed it's only one scene from a sketch--is the Sinn Fein man on helium. It's awesome.
posted by Jehan at 7:52 AM on June 10, 2013


If you can track down episodes of Blue Jam, the radio predecessor to Jam, oh my god do it. So good. I wish I'd been living in the UK still at the time so I could have experienced it as it aired, in the middle of the night/early morning - it's best with a touch of that sleep-deprived manic giddiness.

Also, I am in love with the fact that Jam aired remixed versions of each episode as Jaaaaam. For all the attention Chris Morris gets as a comedic genius, he's also got some seriously impressive musical and visual sensibilities. These days The Mighty Boosh gets a lot of cred for their musical/visual/comedic blend, and rightly so, but they could never be utterly terrifying like Morris.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:08 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, and if you like Jam's surreal musical comedy, you could do far worse than checking out Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher's Snuff Box on Netflix. It's got different sensibilities (I mean it's got Rich Fulcher being Rich Fulcher) but it's also got a pretty bitchin' leitmotif.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:16 AM on June 10, 2013


There is no doubt in my mind that these are all great things that have stood the test of time. The question is, where are today's equivalents? Did someone in the cabal decide that there would never again be a chance for a possible future Chris Morris, Stewart Lee, Graham Lineham et al to slip through the net and get onto the BBC? Channel 4 is also a comedy wasteland.

IIRC Chris Morris described Jam as having a 'flu vibe', which I think is a perfect description of the vaguely nauseous surreality.

On preview, thanks jason_steakums, will try to check them out.
posted by asok at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2013


the Sinn Fein man on helium.

"Sinn Fein is a legitimate political party!"
posted by leotrotsky at 8:21 AM on June 10, 2013


The scary thing about the Sinn Fein man on helium is that it's a direct parody of a real government policy. I remember a Late Show segment around the time the broadcast ban was lifted where they interviewed some of the Northern Irish actors for whom it had been a steady job.
posted by Grangousier at 8:27 AM on June 10, 2013


The Sinn Fein man (Steve Coogan) on helium.

Please consider flagging this FPP as Fantastic so it has a better chance of being nudged onto the Best of MetaFilter. Because, well, it is :)
posted by Wordshore at 8:31 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have two default modes for giving presentations or compering events: either as myself, or as Chris Morris from On The Hour. The latter is easily the most fun but it's really hard to keep it going for more than five minutes.
posted by Hogshead at 8:49 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just watched the first episode of On the Hour. Wow!
"That's it. That's the Day Today on the day that Boris Yeltsin told the world on how he milks Mrs. Thatcher." (last line in the sign off)
posted by dougzilla at 9:02 AM on June 10, 2013


There is no doubt in my mind that these are all great things that have stood the test of time. The question is, where are today's equivalents? Did someone in the cabal decide that there would never again be a chance for a possible future Chris Morris, Stewart Lee, Graham Lineham et al to slip through the net and get onto the BBC? Channel 4 is also a comedy wasteland.

There's Limmy, but he's been quarantined and no one outside Scotland is allowed to see him.
posted by dng at 9:33 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Great post, great links. Thanks Rory.

I liked reading about Oliver taping the show off the radio. I assume he started with sticking the microphone of something like this recorder right up next to the speaker. It's my generation's Napster.

[And in case anyone stumbles into here completely new to this set of comedians, I'll point to running order squabble fest's comprehensive (bespoke) thread on Stewart Lee.]
posted by benito.strauss at 9:43 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This post left me quadraspazzed on a life-glug.
posted by Falconetti at 11:48 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sure that I've posted a link to this before, But Morris also made a flexidisc for Select magazine back in 1992, in which he impersonates a zoo-show Radio 1 DJ, fools Piers "Morgan" Moron into thinking he talking to Bono about U2's upcoming tour plans – in which Bono reveals that to all intents and purposes, U2 "have been a black dance band since we started", and that NWA will support them at a gig at Alton Towers*, with U2 joining in for a rendition of "One Less Bitch". He also does the most pitch perfect impersonation of the Pixies – apparently he played everything, and sang the lead vocal – with a song called "Motherbanger". Which begins "Well, my mother is a whore / Let me tell you more". It's only seven and a bit minutes, but it's some of Morris' best work.

*If you're American, think Six Flags
posted by Len at 11:57 AM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sadly Seething Wells is no longer with us. A tribute video. A tribute song. Obituary thread.
posted by poseathon at 12:55 PM on June 10, 2013


Please consider flagging this FPP as Fantastic so it has a better chance of being nudged onto the Best of MetaFilter. Because, well, it is :)

Flagged! Great post, Rory.

I don't see it mentioned yet, so I'll throw in a mention of Time Trumpet (2006; Episode 1 parts 1, 2, and 3). It's (unsurprisingly) rather dark stuff, but well worth a watch on its own terms; it also granted a first airing to what would become Soupy Norman, allowing Buttevant finally to take its place on the world stage.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 1:29 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the news satire of Not the Nine O'Clock News deserves a mention here. It spawned shows like Alias Smith and Jones and also launched Rowan Atkinson and Chris Langham (although he suffered a rather catastrophic re-entry).

On another sidenote, Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge started as a sports reporter on "The Day Today" radio show, then the TV show, before doing Knowing Me, Knowing You. After that, of course, came his downfall and subsequent jobs on UK Conquest, Crash Bang Wallop What A Video, Radio Norwich and currently, North Norfolk Digital. Chris Morris was involved as well.
posted by Harry at 1:34 PM on June 10, 2013


Buttevant? This thread just keeps on delivering.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:48 PM on June 10, 2013


The Day Today and Brass Eye profounded and permanently altered how I interact with (the) media, and also provided me numerous silly and/or potty-mouthed catchphrases which form an unthinking part of my regular idiom, like "... but it was a naff effort", "Peter, you've lost the news!", "crime is confusing!", "I've got the Mirror!", Shatner's Bassoon, spherical cows, bomb dogs, bad AIDS, "Chris.", "that lad must have a foot like a traction engine!" , "one kid puked up his own pelvis", Nonce-Sense... that's honestly off the top of my head... even in the credits there are little phrases like "Thanks Attack" which stuck me with me and my mates. I don't think any tv series has influenced me so much.
posted by Slyfen at 6:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't see any mention of CM's Radio One show, so here goes. Highlights include:

* His alter ego Wayne Carr's interview with Two Unlimited.
* The infamous announcement of Michael Heseltine's death.
* The tortoise prank call (he'd taken it out of its shell, because they do that in wild to go swimming or climbing trees).

The full shows are available for download at Cook'd and Bomb'd. Oh so highly recommended.
posted by NailsTheCat at 7:56 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just a seconding of kudos for Blue Jam. I was lucky enough to live in London from 1995-99 and again for a year in 2003. I had become a huge fan of the Day Today and soaked up Brass Eye when that came out a short while later.

But nothing prepared me for Blue Jam. Wednesday nights, 2am? I was so there. Addled with dope and drink ... just perfect. Everything about it -- not just the incredible surreal bits, but the amazing choice in music, the editing -- and ...

Above all, the fucking insane monologues.

Like 'The Belt'.

My favourite comedian of all time, Chris Morris.
posted by northtwilight at 8:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suppose what I'm wondering is where are the shows on Radio 4 or Radio 1 that are the incubators for the future? Have things moved to other channels or other forms of media? Should I be looking to online sources now rather than hoping the BBC will provide me with seminal hilarity?
posted by asok at 1:18 AM on June 11, 2013


Down The Line on Radio 4 is worth a listen. It's a spoof talk radio show - it can be a bit hit or miss but there enough hits in an episode to make it entertaining.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:57 AM on June 11, 2013


BACK OF THE NET! KISS MY FACE!
posted by capnsue at 10:26 AM on June 11, 2013


All I'd ever seen of this was Brass Eye, which is great. Thanks for all this! I'm especially liking Jam.
posted by nTeleKy at 10:43 AM on June 11, 2013


Oliver gets the BBC/Sinn Fein thing wrong - the BBC used to use actors' voices for Sinn Fein politicians as a loophole way around a stupid govt ban then on broadcasting Sinn Fein politicians' voices . So the BBC was cleverly short-circuiting and showing up Thatcher govt stupidity , not committing stupidity of its own in this case
posted by Bwithh at 4:30 PM on June 11, 2013


Americans: Chris Morris also helped out with Armando Ianucci's Veep for HBO - consulting & some directing I think, but rather below the radar so as not to freak HBO execs out , I'd guess. Morris has a cameo role at least one time as the voice of a US news report on TV in Veep
posted by Bwithh at 4:40 PM on June 11, 2013


Bwithh, do you know what episode features the Morris cameo? My wife loves Veep and it has allowed me to finally introduce Brass Eye, The Day Today, etc. to her.
posted by Falconetti at 8:35 AM on June 12, 2013


From the Daily Show last night (which John Oliver is hosting for the summer) a delightful interview with Armando Iannucci, partially about Veep, but also about ... oh just watch it. It is delightful.

- Part one
- Part two
posted by Wordshore at 11:54 AM on June 12, 2013


Also, on YouTube as one play.
posted by Wordshore at 12:15 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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