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Tony Grist

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Why Peter Cook Is Not A Great Comedian [Sep. 19th, 2004|10:37 am]
Tony Grist
It's not enough to be funny. You've got to leave something behind.

Peter Cook could have people rolling on the floor at cocktail parties, but he didn't make stuff to last.

He was a japester, not an artist.

The sketch show with Dudley Moore (Not Only, But Also) was his best shot, but it's only a sketch show- a slightly riskier Morecambe and Wise. It doesn't break new ground like The Goon Show or Monty Python.

Putting on a cap and muffler and a proletarian accent- it's not that clever. It's Oxbridge humour. Oh my dear, aren't working-class people a scream!

Cook did funny voices. Peter Sellers did them better. Cook doing funny voices is just Cook doing funny voices- Sellers as Strangelove or Quilty is a window onto the apocalypse.

Lots of comedians drink. Keaton drank, Fields drank, Hancock drank. They all managed to reel off some deathless stuff before the drink got to them. Cook didn't.

Cook didn't progress beyond his beginnings. In the last set of interviews with Clive Anderson he's still the clever undergraduate cheeking his elders and betters. You laugh out of respect. It's like a Paul McCartney gig. Paul has been crap for thirty years, but you sit up and pay attention because he used to be a Beatle.

Cook was a brilliant young man. After which he noodled and frittered and guested.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-19 04:56 am (UTC)
Frankie Howerd is great. Most of his vehicles were rubbish, but he himself was a work of art. I guess he was basically a stand-up. I love it how he kept going out of fashion and then the up-and-coming-generation would discover him and suddenly he was a star again.

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-09-19 05:43 am (UTC)
I enjoyed the "Rising Damp" series very much when it was run here in the United States. I wish it were available on DVDs. So funny--who was the droll woman who wore blue glasses when she was depressed? And the landlord was a fine comedian.

(But I am wondering about your encounter with the apologizing woman last night. I hope she left feeling expiated, or whatever it was she needed to feel?)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-19 07:08 am (UTC)
Frances de la Tour and Leonard Rossiter. Great actors, both of them. He died in early middle age. She's still alive I'm glad to say.

I saw her on stage once in a Restoration comedy. She stole the show.

Rossiter was in a wonderful series called the Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin. I wonder if that's available on DVD.

Yes, Kerry went away absolved or expiated or whatever. The thing is we weren't actually cross at her. She'd apologized once before and we'd forgiven her. We had a pleasant enough evening I think.
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[User Picture]From: michaelkeane
2004-09-19 08:26 am (UTC)
The interview where he played a gruff Northern football manager is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-19 08:44 am (UTC)
I guess humour is a matter of taste. Those Clive Anderson interviews just didn't do it for me. I thought Cook was being petted and indulged.

Give me Paul Whitehouse's Ron Manager any day!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-19 12:52 pm (UTC)
Cook's great period was right at the beginning of the 60s.- when he was a leading figure in the "satire" boom. The mainstream comedy of Pete and Dud already represented a falling off from his glory days.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-19 12:43 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, those shows are wonderful. And don't forget Derek Faulds as Bernard- the third member of the triumvirate.
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[User Picture]From: cybersofa
2004-09-20 03:48 am (UTC)
Sorry to arrive late and disagree, but this is the first of your posts I've read with which I can't concur. I think Cook was A++ genius, right to the end, and my Exhibit A is the marvellous Radio 3 series Why Bother? where, as Sir Arthur Streeb-Gribling (or Grebe-Stribling) he was interviewed by Chris Morris (another genius IMHO) about his long and interesting life - and not just teaching ravens to fly underwater.

It's all personal taste of course, and even I would agree that he did some crappy projects, in which I include Derek And Clive and all chat show appearances. But all genius has its dark side, which throws the good stuff into relief.

Even as a dying man he was inventing a new comedic form, with his unannounced spoofing of radio phone-ins as Sven the Norwegian fisherman. And he deserves sainthood for his unswerving support of Private Eye magazine, especially in its legal fights with the megalomaniac James Goldsmith.

Just my €0.02's worth. Be a dull old world if we all thought the same, wouldn't it?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-20 09:27 am (UTC)
I never heard Why Bother, but I share your admiration for Chris Morris. Brass Eye was brilliant (and brave.)

I'm willing to be persuaded of Cook's genius. Posts like this one are designedly extreme, the aim being to promote conversation. :)
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