There is a special magic to the audio medium. It is somehow much more personal and intimate than television and cinema. Aural entertainment is free from the limitations of the visual arts; allowing the listeners’ imaginations to paint the perfect pictures to accompany the sounds, untroubled by the constraints of budgets and the expense of sets, effects and cameramen’s salaries.
And although slapstick is one of comedy’s earliest evolved organs, the essence of many a good joke is the mental image the words conjure. Hence, despite all the pratfalls, custard pies and double takes, comedy has always enjoyed a cosy relationship with the aural medium. Before the days of the VCR, DVD and the disappointingly not gifted with a catchy a three letter acronym Blu-Bloody-Ray, live performances, film and TV comedy would live on purely as sounds through the medium of the comedy LP. And while we all sit about in our pants, waiting for the next video format revolution which will force us to buy yet another edition of The Life of Brian, the oldest of the modern media, radio still forges ahead, bringing us innovative comedy.
From its earliest days, radio was pioneering modern comedy with The Goon Show and Round the Horne. And the old wireless is still the first port of call for budding comedians – to name a few recent comedy alumni, Chris Morris, the League of Gentlemen, the Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords all first manifested across the airwaves.
Indeed until the recent developments in cheap digital video, the most accessible form of recording was audio; with just a mike and tape recorder, you could create your own slice of comedy genius. Or rather not, as many of us found out in our youth. Producing good comedy is far harder than it looks – you might be able to crack up your mates but crafting routines and sketches is a different matter entirely. And while there are great many funny and witty fellows podcasting these days, unfortunately a lot of the dedicated comedy ‘casts in the podosphere never rise above the level of the cassette recorded arsing about so many of us mucked about with in our youth. But not all, and hence I’m shining the spotlight upon the wonderful A Disappointment podcast, which is quite the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time.
A Disappointment is produced by produced by Mr Danny Davies, who some of you may know as the writer of the web comic Drill Boy, and has been mentioned previously in these pages as the assistant to Napoleon R Taverner of the The Bearcast. Now hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and a member of the Legion of Tangent, A Disappointment is a sketch show usually clocking in around the 20 minute mark and appearing around once a month. And what a delight it is.
Now as intimated above, writing good comedy is a lot harder than just making sweary jibes about celebrities and removing the Michaels from the news stories du jour. And in these days when producing a sketch show often just involves just repeating the same catchphrases episode after episode until you want to garrotte all concerned with an old Stretch Armstrong, *coughs* Little Britain, it’s a real breath of fresh air to discover a show like A Disappointment that goes to trouble of presenting fresh material in each and every edition.
The format is fairly straight forward, sketches interspersed with some chat from our host Mr Davies. Often this involves tales of the latest goings on in his world; one week he may be involved in a lengthy altercation with the city of Detroit or another encountering incompetent Ghosts of Various Christmases Past. And as for the sketches themselves, some are short and punchy, and others fully fledged comic vignettes.
But unlike a lot of sketch-based comedy, A Disappointment doesn’t just visit the same roster of characters every week, which keeps the comedy fresh and unusual. As much of the material is quite diverse, there’s a wonderful feeling of not knowing what on earth the show is going to deliver next. And unlike a lot of home brewed comedy, this isn’t a case of merely aping the style and format of an established act, A Disappointment clearly has its own voice and character.
For example, the only regular feature that has appeared in all the episodes to date is The History Theatre Workshop. These surreal and darkly funny vignettes comprise of dramatic readings of extracts from some coded diaries discovering in Butleigh Manor, Somerset, with Peter Loewenstein’s sonorous tones detailing some utter bizarre goings on in the life of an enigmatic minor aristocrat in days gone by. On one hand, these readings may remind the listener of the unsettling monologues found in Chris Morris’ Blue Jam but on the other paw, they are also reminiscent of the out-in-the-noonday-sun eccentricity of Vivian Stanshall’s Sir Henry At Rawlinsons End. However, the presentations by Timothy Watson and Loewenstein could be compared to some of the weirder sketches in Big Train or The League of Gentlemen. Essentially rather than material ‘homaged’ in the way Oasis ‘homage’ the Beatles, all of the above are merely convenient reference points which highlight shared elements of peculiarly English oddness and an exquisite use of language to create character and atmosphere as well as laughs.
And make no mistake; this is a beautifully crafted show. One of my personal benchmarks for comedy is how much replay value it has, and A Disappointment passes with flying colours. The scripting is so well done that on repeating airing, you will find many funny lines you missed the first time around. And although it eschews conventional catch phrases, you will find certain quotes embedding themselves in your everyday parlance, and very soon you will be bewildering all and sundry with talk of jam spattered faces, dancing jennys and cursed marzipan.
And in addition to a delightful and infectious turn of phrase, A Disappointment contains many diverse comedy textures. While the History Theatre Workshop is slowing burning surreal humour, other sketches such as the spoof Doctor Who trails or the Sentinel insurance ads are delightfully silly, immediate rib ticklers. And if neither of these two irregular series of sketches don’t have you crippled with mirth, then evidently some tweezer-wielding, cack-handed child has managed to remove your funny bone without lighting up your red nose.
Now a word of warning, this podcast does contain adult humour and some swearing – so younger readers may not want to let their parents hear them listening to it. Now swearing is neither big nor clever … but it is fucking funny. But often in so-called adult humour, it’s merely to get a cheap laugh, like what I just done. However A Disappointment never utilises its cursing just to show how grown-up it is - each instance is a part and parcel of a proper joke. Similarly A Disappointment doesn’t plumb the depths of bad taste or dance about the offensive line for cheap laughs. And all of this is a testament to the strength of the writing – if you have this much imagination you don’t need to shock the listener into laughs. A Disappointment is refreshingly good natured and as outré as some sketches are it never removes its fingers from the buttons marked ‘fun’.
But as well as being exceedingly well written, A Disappointment is beautifully performed. And amazingly all by Danny himself – I was quite gobsmacked when the credits at the end of the first episode revealed this, as I honestly thought there was a team behind all the different voices. Now I know some of you out there may well be thinking that in this digital age altering your voice is as easy as applying a filter to change a photo into a drawing in a graphics program. However I know from my own experiments in audio that such aural transformations are actually very hard to achieve. And there certainly isn’t a plug-in available that will allow you to impersonate Parky or a BBC announcer as well Danny does. And in addition to his prowess as a vocal chameleon, he writes the music to the show too.
As is often remarked, there is just isn’t enough laughter in the world today, and A Disappointment is a great way to rectify this. Of course you could just ask your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer to procure you a supply of nitrous oxide but A Disappointment is a much cheaper, and safer, alternative!
Now hosted by GeekPlanetOnline, the show can now be found here, plus between episodes you can also check out Danny’s blog and his Tumblr Wolves. Garlic. Ghosts.... And finally as he won’t be able to hear you laughing, do follow him on Twitter and tell him how much you did.
Additionally as well having a look at Drill Boy,there's the Waste Paper comics too. And if you like your low-fi indie tunes then I also highly recommend checking out The Raudive, the band Danny plays bass in.
JIM MOON, 16th July 2010