We asked Ian Ham what brought him joy. He cheated slightly by basically getting social media to do the work for him but there was a spreadsheet, and we are all impressed by spreadsheets, so we forgave him. Here's his top ten funny scenes...
These are dark times, not only when you turn on the news (my advice: don’t), but these January days are short. What could bring a little joy to the world during these long miserable winter nights? What better way to bring a smile to your face but to have a vicious argument over what the ten best scenes from films or sitcoms are!
This idea was put forward to an entirely impartial group (OK, some probably slightly inebriated Facebook friends). Once the bitching and infighting had died down, I decided on some ground rules to make it fair:
Number one: There had to be a limit of ten.
Number two: An artist or group could only appear on the list once (mostly).
Number three (and most importantly): This author’s decision is the correct one.
Here, then, is my choice of ten excellent bits of comedy TV and film scenes that you can either chuckle along with, or (more likely) mutter loudly about the lack of any Blackadder. They are placed in date order because it was totally impossible to categorise them in any other way. This is of course my list. Feel free to give me your ten scenes and to tell me what I’ve missed:
(1) Harold Lloyd – Clock Face (1923)
The image of Harold Lloyd hanging off the clock face has to be one of the iconic images of all cinema. ‘Safety Last’ was one of a series of silent feature length films that Lloyd starred in in the early 20s. It may not have been produced at all. In 1919, Lloyd was attending a photo shoot to produce some publicity shots for magazines and posters. He was being photographed lighting a cigarette from a fake bomb, when the bomb exploded, burning him badly, and severely damaging his right hand. His eyesight was a concern for a while afterwards, and Lloyd himself was convinced that his fledgling film career was over. Fortunately he made an excellent recovery, albeit without his thumb and forefinger. In every film he made after that date he wore a glove that contained prosthetic digits. It didn’t stop him performing the majority of his own stunts, including most of the sequences scaling the clock face.
(2) Buster Keaton – House Fall (1928)
I’ve always been amazed by this sequence in the film ‘Steamboat Bill, Jr.’. It was obviously created way before any sort of digital trickery, and was filmed when Keaton himself was in his own words “out of his mind”. He didn’t care if he lived or died, and considered the stunt to be one of the greatest thrills of his life. It marked the end of Keaton’s independently produced films. At the time the reviews were mixed, and it was his third of his films in a row to lose money. Today it is rightly considered a classic.
(3) Laurel and Hardy – Music Box Scene (1932)
Stan and Ollie have been heroes of mine all of my life, and it’s difficult to pick out an individual scene as a favourite. After eliminating a lot, my favourite sequence of theirs is probably this one from ‘The Music Box’. Our heroes are simply trying to deliver a piano, so what could possibly go wrong? I am a huge fan of Stan Laurel and can sit and watch his routines for hours. His influence looms large of a lot of comedians that came after him.
(4) Only Fools – Falling through the bar (1989)
This scene, from the 1989 episode ‘Yuppy Love’, was inspired by real life events. The write John Sullivan was standing quietly in the corner of a pub when he saw a man standing at the bar. The barman came out from behind the bar, leaving the bar flap up. The man went to lean back on the bar, but just caught himself in time. Sullivan watched as the man pretended that he had meant to do it. He was recounting the story to David Jason during filming, and Jason immediately liked the idea, but decided Del (his character) needed to actually fall through the bar. The script came back as seen and the rest is history.
(5) Absolutely Fabulous – Burnt Kitchen (1994)
For the few that don’t know, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ was a series written by Jennifer Saunders, but was originally a sketch from French and Saunders . This scene comes from the second series episode ‘Birth’. It’s a masterclass from the ever excellent Joanna Lumley.
(6) Drop the Dead Donkey – Burning Drugs (1994)
‘Drop the Dead Donkey’ was a close-to-air satirical news based comedy that ran from 1990 to 1998 created by Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin. Damian Day (Stephen Tompkinson) is a roving reporter sent out on the road to cover stories all over the world, with a penchant for making his stories ever more sensationalised. The boss of the fictional TV organisation “GlobeLink News” was called Sir Roysten Merchant and it was a total coincidence that he shared his initials with both Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.
(7) Frasier – Niles Starts a Fire (1999)
This scene is a wonderful bit of silent physical comedy from David Hyde Pierce, directed by co-star Kelsey Grammer. According to the co-creator of Frasier, David Lee, he (Lee) had just seen some of Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Mr Bean’ series and wanted a scene of that style in Frasier. The other plot threads in that week’s episode used all the other characters, so Lee decided to add this scene with just Pearce on his own.
(8) Spaced – Must have changed at Kings Cross (1999)
Spaced was the series that basically made stars of Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. I can remember the exact moment I first watched Spaced. It was broadcast tucked away on Channel 4 on a Friday night, when its target audience were probably out enjoying themselves. It was the second series episode ‘Dissolution’ where they all have a food fight with cake in a restaurant. In hindsight, this isn’t the best of episodes to get hooked on the series, but it was good enough for me to track down the rest of the episodes and get completely addicted.
(9) Coupling – How to chat up a girl (2000)
Steven Moffat’s Coupling is one of the best sitcoms around. It arrived in the very early 2000’s ostensibly as a British version of Friends. It soon became apparent that it was much more irreverent than its transatlantic cousin, with fine line in off the wall humour. The character of Jeff (played here by the brilliant Richard Coyle) is, in my opinion, one of the greatest sitcom creations ever. Way before Doctor Who, Steven Moffat was a teacher and an aspiring writer. His first commission was the children’s drama series Press Gang (about production of a school newspaper), Joking Apart (the breakup of a relationship), and then finally Coupling (the creation of a new relationship).
(10) Black Books – Jazz Hands
Black Books seems to be a slightly overlooked series. It ran from 2000 to 2004, and was created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan. It’s a sort of semi-cousin of Spaced as both were produced by Nira Park’s Big Talk production company that went on to have huge hits with the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy amongst many other films. Here, Bill Bailey stretches his musical muscles when he accidentally discovers he’s a virtuoso pianist. As a side note, it’s also Bill Bailey playing the music on the radio.
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