Joy Day - Top Ten Sketches of Ian Ham

comedy sketches top 10

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 comedy sketches...

One snowy winter’s evening, a fluffy light-hearted discussion was started. The sort of discussions that in days of yore would be have been tackled only in dingy ale houses by the light of the roaring fire. However, this discussion was undertaken on the modern fashion: On the Facebooks.

The question was posed: What is your favourite comedy sketch that really made you laugh?

The suggestions poured in from far and wide, and soon got a little out of hand. When the dust had settled, it was decided that to make the cut, a number of restrictions needed to be imposed.

Number one: There had to be a limit of ten.

Number two: An artist or group could only appear on the list once.

Number three (and most importantly): The author’s decision is the correct one.

So, by a process of elimination, with only the merest hints of violence is my whittled down list of my favourite ten funny television or film scenes in date order:

(1) Peter Cook – One Leg Too Few (1960)

We start with a sketch that was written by Peter Cook when he was about 17. It was first performed while he was at Pembroke College, Cambridge. It was later made famous when Dudley Moore performed the sketch along with Cook in Beyond the Fringe.

(2) Pete and Dud – Greta Garbo (1964)

After insisting on the rule that an artist or group could only appear on the list one, I immediately go and break it. In my defence, One Leg Too Few was a solely Peter Cook project, and this sketch was written specifically for Not Only ... but Also, a vehicle for him and Dudley Moore. Of all the brilliant sketches in the series, the most loved were perhaps what became known as The Dagenham Dialogues. The two main characters, Pete and Dud, would sit, usually in the pub, and discuss a wide range of topics at great length. Cook would generally use this as an excuse to try and make Moore corpse. In this particular sketch, they discuss their love life…

(3) The Frost Report – The Class Sketch (1966)

The Frost Report was a ground-breaking show in many ways. Firstly it launched the careers of the Two Ronnies, most of the Pythons, and a whole host of comedy writers that would go on to create a vast array of comedy. It was created at the tail end of the satirical boom of the early sixties, following on from such shows as Beyond the Fringe and That Was the Week That Was. The Class Sketch was written by Marty Feldman and John Law.

(4) At Last the 1948 Show – Four Yorkshiremen (1967)

At Last the 1948 Show was quite a pivotal moment in comedy history. It links I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again to Monty Python and The Goodies. One of the sketches was The Four Yorkshireman. People tend to think of it as a Python sketch because it was performed by them in Live at Drury Lane and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. It was in fact written by Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman. Included here are two versions of the sketch for comparison.

Firstly, At Last the 1948 Show:

Finally, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl:

(5) Morecambe and Wise – Grieg Piano Concerto (by Grieg) (1971)

Morcambe and Wise liked to have at least 10 days to rehearse their Christmas shows. When they invited André Previn to be a guest on the show, tensions were running high because he had such a tight schedule. The only time he had available to learn his lines was on a transatlantic flight before the show. Previn’s delivery of his lines was so professional that you can virtually see Eric Morcambe relaxing as the sketch progresses.

Obviously, everyone in the UK has seen this sketch a thousand times. All credit to writer Eddie Braben for creating something that people can still quote 45 years later.

(6) Monty Python – Argument Clinic (1972)

If there’s a masterclass in comedy sketch writing, this one should be on the syllabus. Here, Michael Palin attends an argument clinic run by John Cleese. The sketch was written by Cleese and Graham Chapman.

(7) The Two Ronnies – Four Candles (1976)

Who hasn’t seen this sketch? What more can be said about it? It was written by Gerald Wiley, a pseudonym used by Robbie Barker. He would do this to submit works to the Two Ronnie’s office so it would be accepted on merit.

(8) John Cleese – Graham Chapman Eulogy (1989)

Now the rule I created about people only appearing once on this list? This is getting a bit silly as this is the third appearance by John Cleese. In his defence, he has appeared in three different guises (solo, as part of Python, and as part of At Last the 1948 Show). This does show his immense influence on British comedy in the last 50 years.

Now you might be thinking that a eulogy is an odd inclusion in a list of comedy sketches, and you’d be right. But this wonderful speech needs to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s a touching tribute by one friend to another, and one that could by only made to one Python to another. And because of their English public school stiff upper lippedness, could probably not have be said face to face.

(9) Dave Allen – Teaching the Time (1993)

This routine is from the latter end of Dave Allen’s career. For some reason, Allen’s show have very rarely been repeated, so he is nowhere near as popular as he should be. I was a huge fan of his latter series. Basically just sitting and telling funny stories. In one of his last regular television series, he made a joke and controversially (for the BBC in the 90s) contained the work ‘f*ck’. I clearly remember talking about it at school the next day. Oh how things have changed.

In this routine, he’s teaching his child how to tell the time:

(10)Fry & Laurie – The Hedge Sketch (1996)

This one seems to have slipped under the radar a bit. As far as I know it wasn’t part of the Bit of Fry and Laurie TV series, and was only performed at various charity events. There is one main difference between this sketch and all the other ones mentioned here: Not one of the lines in this sketch is funny. All the comedy is derived from the mix-ups and especially Fry and Laurie’s delivery.

Follow Ian on Twitter @ianham_
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