Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 24
Andy Hamilton – Jest a Minute
Award-Winning writer, comic and performer Andy Hamilton joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss how creative works can connect with a crowd. From stand-up comedy to sitcoms to his new book, Hamilton discusses how he uses his sense of humour to connect characters, comics, and crowds with comedy.
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Paul Boross is joined by the creative force behind a variety of content from stand-up comedy to popular sitcoms, Andy Hamilton. Hamilton has built a career creating comedic works that connect with audiences. As a co-creator of Outnumbered and the voice behind Dr. Elephant in Peppa Pig, Hamilton has used his sense of humour and smarts as a writer to craft characters that are believable and loveable by audiences everywhere.
“Your sense of humour would be one of the last defences you have against how awful things can be.”
Hamilton shares stories of hope, humour, and the how of creating captivating characters and a quality concerto of comedy this week only on The Humourology Podcast.
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Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
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Andy Hamilton on The Humourology Podcast
Andy Hamilton (00:00:00):
I think that’s the danger if the world becomes too po-faced. I think if there’s irreverence in general is a healthy thing because it makes you sceptical about authority. It makes you question the things that people tell you in a constructive way. There’s a danger that if the world turns to sort of solemn about everything, I think there’s a danger that people become more brittle.
Speaker 2 (00:00:39):
Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business sport and entertainment who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a multi award-winning comedic creative who has flexed his funny bone as a comedy writer, performer and director. His work on BBC Radio 4 has been lauded as legendary and includes credits as the creator and star of Old Harry’s game. It’s Only a Theory and Andy Hamilton Remembers. When he isn’t starring as Satan himself, he can be found touring the country with his brilliant one man show, starring as a panellist in a variety of quiz shows such as Have I Got News For You, The Infinite Monkey Cage and Would I Lie To You or creating quality pieces of comically crafted content for television and radio. Whether co-writing and directing family sitcoms like Outnumbered or voicing Doctor Elephant on the international hit Pepper pig. He has a punctual for performing with fun at the forefront. Andy Hamilton, welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Andy Hamilton (00:02:23):
Thank you, Paul. That’s a good intro.
Speaker 2 (00:02:28):
Well, we like a bit of alliteration here on the Humourology podcast as you can tell. You grew up in Fulham in Southwest London, very close to Chelsea’s football ground, when it wasn’t quite as salubrious as it is now, was humour valued in your family and did the young Andy Hamilton have a natural facility for it?
Andy Hamilton (00:02:52):
I’ve been asked that before, and I think, yeah, the answer is there were a lot of funny uncles and aunties. I remember, the house was a kind of focal point. It just, the way it panned out. It was sort of the central gathering place so my memories are of a house being full of people a lot of the time. I mean, my dad was quite funny and my mum liked a good laugh, but I did have sort of quite sort of extrovert funny uncles and aunts, so I think comedy played a huge role in the sense that the favourite Hamilton sport – and the way they express affection – was that sort of wind up. Winding each other up was the way… that was the currency that you dealt in.
Andy Hamilton (00:03:55):
And, you know, there is a lot of comedy in the way, the mischief of winding people up. And we would gather around the telly and watch sort of Hancock and Steptoe and stuff like that. So, although obviously I wouldn’t have been consciously aware of it. There was… it was quite a dominant force. Yeah. My mum and dad… I’m a middle-class product of working class parents. My mum and dad… my mum’s family were about as poor as you could get when she was growing up. You know, it was probably… yeah, the dialogue was a little bit more rough and ready than what I grew into, if you like.
Speaker 2 (00:04:43):
Yeah. I’m intrigued by that because my mother was from the east end of Glasgow and similar to your mother, that poor background where, you know, there were no inside lavvies until she arrived in London at 18 years old. And I wonder how humour – in terms of survival – is a mechanism for that? You talk about in I think one of your books about your dad being a prisoner of war and my father was a Hungarian refugee who was in refugee camps and all those things. And how important and where humour is in the survival mechanism.?
Andy Hamilton (00:05:28):
Yeah, I’m sure that’s true. I mean, I didn’t meet my maternal grandmother, but I mean, she must have been a remarkably resilient woman. Her life reads like a sort of Barbara Cookson novel, you know, just the extraordinary difficulty that she had but all her kids had lovely, warm natures and could always see the funny side of things, so I can only imagine they got that from her. You know what I mean, to give you an idea of how poor they were, my mum would tell a story about how, when she was at school in Newcastle, they would… they’d send inspectors around – charity inspectors would come around – and the children will be told to stand on the chairs so that the inspector could look at their shoes, their footwear and mum had these terrible old shoes that were falling apart, but that she liked.
Andy Hamilton (00:06:33):
And the charity inspector presented, gave her a pair of huge boots and she hated them and, and she walked home sort of through the snow with these boots round and neck because she didn’t want to wear them. And when she got home with these boots around her neck, her mum opened the door and burst into tears, and of course, mum presumed that her mum hated the boots as much as she did because they were tears of relief because, you know, someone had given her kid proper shoes to wear, you know and the winter was setting in and, and that’s how poor they were. And she lost her dad in extraordinarily tragic circumstances and they… she said she often remembers hearing her mum crying because she didn’t know if they’d have any food in the morning.
Andy Hamilton (00:07:38):
So, I’m sure that given that there was no welfare state, your sense of humour would be one of the last defences you had against how awful that must have been; particularly for her mum who was alone there in an impossible situation. Yeah. I mean, I think it is a last line of defence and that’s why, that’s why everybody has a story about something funny that happened at a funeral or that they remember these moments of something someone said, or they remember these comic moments, as being little kind of rafts of sanity in mad moments.
Speaker 2 (00:08:32):
So, do you think that humour generally aids, resilience?
Andy Hamilton (00:08:37):
Yeah. Yeah. I think it does. I think it does and I think that’s the danger if the world becomes too po-faced, you know, if I think if there’s irreverence in general is a healthy thing because it makes you sceptical about authority. It makes you question the things that people tell you in a constructive way and I think that there’s a danger that if the world turns to sort of solemn about everything, I think there’s a danger that people become more brittle.
Speaker 2 (00:09:22):
Yeah. And it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because also, as well as the things you just mentioned, it bursts the bubble of… or punctures the bubble of pomposity, doesn’t it? And isn’t that why totalitarian regimes tend to hate humour because it’s an effective tool to…
Andy Hamilton (00:09:42):
Yeah,I mean, I never managed to, I mean, it always breaks out, doesn’t it? I mean in Russia course, you had the bread queue jokes, you know, that was where the jokes about the state got circulated and maybe that shows that it is a basic human need if you like, to be able to crack jokes when things are terrible.
Speaker 2 (00:10:16):
Yeah. I think it’s also a release, isn’t it? From the tension of the moment, because from a psychological perspective, it actually changes the structure of the brain. So it’s actually a relief and to release it at the same time.
Andy Hamilton (00:10:32):
Yeah. Yeah. I do think it’s interesting that, you know, when people, if someone has a fall, if someone’s walking along the pavement and they trip up very often and, you know, you can see that it’s hurt, they bang their knees or whatever, but very often they will laugh as they get up even though they go ow ow and I think the nearest thing I’ve read to a sort of an account of that phenomenon that makes sense is that you laugh as a signal to the rest of the tribe. That you’re all right. You know it’s a way of distinguishing between something they’ve got to worry about and something they don’t have to worry about. So you are signalling to the tribe. It’s okay. I mean, I suppose the troubling question is whether you are signalling that you’re okay cause you don’t want them to leave you behind or whether you’re just doing it for the good of the tribe. They don’t waste time, coming to see if you’re okay.
Speaker 2 (00:11:38):
Well, actually, and isn’t it also a signal that you are strong and so therefore you’re useful to the tribe and you don’t want to be left.
Andy Hamilton (00:11:48):
Yes, that’s right. Don’t leave me behind for the sabre-toothed tiger.Look, I’m fine. I’m fine. Laugh it off. There’s a bit of blood, but I’m fine. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (00:11:59):
It’s just a flesh wound to paraphrase Monty Python. Yeah. That’s true. Well talking about things. What makes you laugh, Andy?
Andy Hamilton (00:12:10):
In any given day, I mean, just the world in general, really. I mean, I went to I went to Winbourne last weekend. I was doing a show in Winbourne, me and my wife Libby went and stayed over. I was walking around Winbourne and there was, it’s got nice, old churches and old Elizabethan buildings and stuff. And… but there’s a Salvation Army place and they had a big placard outside, but you know, quite nicely produced. And it said, of course, there’s a God now stop worrying and get on with enjoying your life! At that… the tone of that kind of thing. Of course there’s a God – why’re you even discussing it? But fundamentally the whole kind of carousel of people, but in terms of sort of my getting through the day, it’s just little things you see and hear.
Speaker 2 (00:13:14):
Is that danger… obviously I know lots of comics and, is there that danger that making a living from comedy you’re always analysing, why is that, you know, it’s that whole thing about a bunch of comics and writers in a room and you’re performing to them and rather than laugh, they’ll, they’ll actually think about it and go “funny”.
Andy Hamilton (00:13:40):
Yeah. Yeah. They’ll evaluate rather than… That’s a good word… laugh. Yeah. That is a risk. I mean, I think when I was younger, I had a tendency to watch and evaluate rather than just enjo bu, I don’t do that now. It still amazes me how polarised people’s opinions can be about whether someone is funny or not, you know?
Speaker 2 (00:14:06):
Yeah. Well, you spent your whole working life being reliant on people, making this strange involuntary action, IE laughing. Is that very stressful in general? And what’s the antidote to that because you’re always on that knife edge, aren’t you?
Andy Hamilton (00:14:30):
Well, I suppose it depends on the context. If I’m doing the one man show fundamentally because that’s not my main job, you know, my main, my proper job – in the days when you wrote your job on your passport – it said, ‘writer’. So that is my real job. I go out and perform as a kind of, for myself really. I go out just to have a good time. And so I don’t find that stressful because I know that provided I’d go out and talk to them in a natural, as long as I am myself, I’m reasonably confident that I’ll be able to make them laugh. Where I suppose it is stressful is if you, you are writing, say you’re writing a sitcom and you’ve rehearsed it all week. And you’re just, it’s a trust exercise.
Andy Hamilton (00:15:28):
You just have to think, right we’ve worked on it, we got it as good as we can. And now the actors are going to go out there and they sort of bring it home. And, you know, the first 90 seconds of any sitcom record, you are on tenterhooks a bit. You’re listening out, you know, what sort of audience are they? You know, because that will influence how well the show is executed, you know, once you know, you’re okay. Once you know that you’re safe with that audience then it’s all right. I mean, again, when I was younger, I did used to watch shows a bit like following your horse around the Grand National. I would think, right. We’ve cleared that fence. That’s good. You know, but again I find, I don’t watch them the same way now when I’m at a recording.
Speaker 2 (00:16:20):
Interesting. Cause on the shows where you’re writing rather than performing and you’re writing for someone else, do you try to write for the actor or the character, or do you write for how you think or expect the actor or character to adjust to that?
Andy Hamilton (00:16:35):
They all kind of fuse it’s going well. By the moment the character, the actor steps onto the set they make that distinction sort of disappear, you know, the really good ones. And I mean sitcom acting for example is a really difficult craft because you are, the actor is having to give a performance that’s comic for 250-300 people sat in front of them, but it’s, but the performance has gotta be the right size for the camera. An it’s… so it’s gotta be natural, but they’ve also got to know where the laughs are. They got to know where the beats are. So it’s highly, highly technical, but the ones who are really good manage to do all of that, to master all the technical side and also create a character who lives and breathes in people’s homes,. The fact that they achieved that the love that an audience will feel for a Del Boy or a, Steptoe or, or even even a nutcase like Basil Fawlty. I mean, the audience know that he’s kind of mad, but they still want to be in his company. So, yeah you write for the character, but I suppose once you’ve cast the actor, then you know their speech rhythms and so you probably accommodate that.
Speaker 2 (00:18:07):
It’s interesting when you’re talking about – I mean because it does take somebody very special to do that,- especially with all the pressure of learning your lines, to having an audience there, camera’s everywhere, directors telling you what to do and still be delivering a naturalistic performance while hitting the beats, as you say. Do you think that is a gift given from God – for want of a better word – understanding where the funny is or can it be learned?
Andy Hamilton (00:18:41):
That is really… No I think that’s an intuitive gift. I think knowing where the joke is. So knowing instinctively that if you emphasise that word, it is funny and if you emphasise the other word it isn’t; or knowing where to pause or knowing how brave to be with a pause, I think those are intuitive things. I mean, I think direction you could give guidence and in rehearsal, there’s sometimes the process of experimentation because some lines, for example, there’s probably more than one way of doing it and being funny and you’d kind of experiment, you feel a lot of great sitcom actors, you notice in rehearsal, they’re always ruffling the lines slightly, just trying out different permutations of it. And then they decide which one they’re most comfortable with and that’s the one they do. And, and the ones who do have that intuitive gift are right 95% of the time.
Speaker 2 (00:19:58):
Because a lot of people who listen to this podcast aren’t obviously in the business and they want something to take away for themselves, you talk about intuitive gifts, but you can build on that, can’t you? If you,can hear funny, you can learn to be funnier. How do you think you can learn to be funnier?
Andy Hamilton (00:20:22):
Well, I mean, I suppose if you take the approach that is fundamentally a version of storytelling, mostly, I mean, if you mean wit – kind of the ability to come back very quickly and say a funny thing quickly – that’s maybe slightly different, but in terms of telling a funny story, either an anecdote about an experience or a funny story, or a shaggy dog story, or a sort of like a Jewish joke or something like that, a lot of whether a joke gets a laugh or not depends on whether the information is laid out in the right order, you know? And which bits you keep back and stuff like that. I think you can improve that kind of comic storytelling muscle, but what I think will be hard to synthesise if you like, is the instinctive grasp of where the funny lies in a particular thing. Does that make sense? I’m not sure.
Speaker 2 (00:21:30):
Yeah, it makes complete sense, cause I think actually there’s a lot of that, which is true in psychology as well, about listening and properly listening and connecting to yourself and to the person you’re telling the story to. And that’s where wit comes from. And I think storytelling is about structure and understanding where that needs to go. Talking of funny stories. Can you tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you?
Andy Hamilton (00:21:59):
Something that could have been very nasty, but iwasn’t. When I was about seven years old we lived next door to this playground. It was a very hot day. There was a big heat wave. And the tarmac in the playground was sort of melting a bit and there was a kid called Joey Annouchi who’d got a dart and he was amusing himself by chucking the dart and it was sticking in the tarmac. And me and my brother was sitting in the shade of the bottom of this fence and I’ve got a memory of my brother saying, let’s move. I think we should move. And then the next moment I thought, oh, I’ve been hit on the forehead by stone. It’s what I thought it was. But when I opened my eyes, I could see feathers cause the dart was sticking in my eyebrow bone there in my forehead like that.
Andy Hamilton (00:22:56):
And there was no, I don’t remember that there was blood or anything. It was just in the bone and my brother with amazing sangfroid really for a 13 year old boy said, okay, well, let’s go home. Mum will know what to do. So, he led me to the house was about 40 yards away, you know? So my poor mum opened the door – I was a tiny kid, that’s no surprise – she looked down as I was standing there with this dart in my head and my brother said, Andy’s got dart in his head. Which, you know, I’m pretty sure she spotted, cause mums have an instinct about this stuff. And so what was funny about it was how downbeat it all was because obviously my mum, you can imagine, I mean, your heart would be in your mouth but of course you’ve got to stay calm for the kid.
Andy Hamilton (00:24:11):
You know, you mustn’t panic the kid. So she said, all right then, let’s go down the hospital and see what they say. She put her coat on. And I remember walking down the road where we grew up. And of course all my mates, everything that was still in the playground. You alright? Oh yeah, got a dart in me ‘ead. And then we went to the Princess Beatrice hospital, I think it was, which was at the top of the road. Looking back, it was funny how people were determined not to make a fuss about it. I mean, now of course everyone will be photographing you on their phone and you’d probably be splashed all over the front page of the Daily Mail as an example of broken Britain, but in those days… So that, that was one example of something actually quite serious, but that had a sort of you know, really comic aspect to it, you know?
Speaker 2 (00:25:12):
Yeah. You could have been a Tik Tok, internet sensation. Yeah, yeah,
Andy Hamilton (00:25:16):
But I mean, I’m sure my mum and dad must’ve, they must’ve, it must’ve been a terrible… cause you know, like a quarter of an inch further down, that would have been it. So, I dunno why that one sprung to mind. I was trying to think of stories about, you know, serious situations.
Speaker 2 (00:25:40):
It’s a great story and it’s terrifying at the same time. Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting though, is because those kinds of stories, I mean, we go back to resilience, don’t we? Do we have to care for something to be funny? Is that part of it?
Andy Hamilton (00:26:06):
I don’t know. It’s interesting what you’re saying about the resilience thing, because I don’t remember. I mean, maybe it happened when I wasn’t there, but I don’t remember a huge fuss being made. Do you know what I mean? I think an incident like that now you would probably expect a visit from some kind of professional. Probably someone would go and see the parents of the child who threw the dart. There would be, you kind of imagine there would be a bit of a post-mortem on what happened, but my memory is, and maybe that’s because they were post war generation, they were used to, you know, so they weren’t going to get worked up about something bad that nearly happened. You know, they’d lived through genuinely bad things that, that actually happened, you know? So I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing. You do a
Speaker 2 (00:27:04):
phenomenally successful one man show, and I know why, and they’re great. What tips can you share with people about how to get humour to work on stage? And I mean this for people, anyone who isn’t, you know, somebody who’s got to make a wedding speech, somebody who’s got to talk at their company day, all those things, what tips can you give for them?
Andy Hamilton (00:27:30):
Well, the first one, which is probably the hardest one is to try to relax, you know, because the more relaxed you seem, even if it’s a front, if you come across as relaxed, then the audience feels safe and they relax. And if they relax, they are going to laugh more. I mean, to put it at it’s bluntest. So that would be the first one, and I suppose the other one is to try to be yourself. I mean, those two sound a little bit contradictory don’t they? But you know, sometimes people kind of think, oh, I’m, I’m supposed to be being funny, and that’s always what kills it, isn’t it?You gotta be telling a story. You gotta be in the moment, which is not an easy thing to achieve. And I suppose the other thing is read the room. You’ll know from your performing days that you kind of, sometimes you sense that the audience aren’t up for a certain kind of thing. So you need to sort of, if possible, be able to mentally self edit, if they don’t seem like the crowd who were up for that kind of story, then don’t do another one, don’t impose on them.
Speaker 2 (00:29:08):
I think that’s very true. And it’s about listening to the audience. Isn’t it really? I mean, when we talk about listening where we’re talk about listing off the top, so you’re actually sensing. You can tell when an audience, if you look at their faces, if they’re up for it.
Andy Hamilton (00:29:26):
Yeah. Yeah. And taking your time is the other thing, not rushing. Because if you rush, if you seem to be rushing, then you won’t look relaxed. If you seem to be gabbling. If you look at all the great stand-ups, they are quite happy to take their time. You know, whether it’s Dave Allen. Dave used to do it, just sitting on a stool with a glass of whiskey. I mean, but even like Billy Connolly , you know, Billy does quite a lot of pacing around while he just, While he just let them settle after the last laugh and while he kind of organises his thoughts into which direction he’s going to go in. Once you’re inside the story or the joke you need to be reasonably… you need to give it colour. But, so, you mustn’t be boring because you’re taking your time, but it’s just that thing of not rushing. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (00:30:38):
Yeah. I’m intrigued from a psychological perspective because in psychology, we say that if you want anyone to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. And what you just described was perfect state management, whereby the audience goes, oh, they’re relaxed. So now I can be relaxed as well.
Andy Hamilton (00:31:00):
Yeah, you certainly, I mean, that’s a phenomenon that you’ll have witnessed many times, that first laugh that an audience gives, which is very much the kind of, oh, it’s all right, we’re going to be safe laugh. You know, that kind of all right, we’re going to have a good time. We can tell, we can tell from the way this bloke is, or this woman has begun. Now, of course, once you’re known you have a huge advantage because they feel that way already when they sat down. But when you’re new and the crowd doesn’t know you that that moment is it’s the critical one I suspect.
Speaker 2 (00:31:44):
Well, I know it’s first impressions as well, isn’t it? Because people very rarely change their minds or if they do, it takes an eternity to change their mind. So you have to have that relaxed persona, authenticity, like you mentioned, and the ability to go. It’s like the supply teacher who goes, I’ve got this rather than the one who bumbles in looking nervous.
Andy Hamilton (00:32:18):
Yeah. Yes. There’s a lot of comparisons abetween supply teachers and comedians I think.
Speaker 2 (00:32:24):
Yeah. I loved your book Longhand, which is phenomenal. By an
Andy Hamilton (00:32:32):
Speaker 2 (00:32:34):
No way. Yeah. Who’d have thought it?! Actually, for our audience watching on YouTube, can you open out because it is a phenomenal to look at inside as well. And you don’t normally say that about
Andy Hamilton (00:32:47):
a book. It is genuine, genuinely unique. And I know people who say things a thing’s unique usually that’s bullshit marketing bullshit. But as far as we’re aware, this is the first novel to be published in handwriting, it’s in handwriting. now the handwriting, is probably backwards, isn’t it? So it’ll look, but, no, it isn’t
Speaker 2 (00:33:13):
It, but it’s very legible you and it’s, it’s a beautiful handwriting. I was shocked by how good it was. And what I loved is there were some crossings out in there and things that had been left in. Was that deliberate?
Andy Hamilton (00:33:28):
Yes. Not every crossing out is deliberate. Yeah. I mean, we are confident that that is the only work of fiction that’s been done in – printed in handwriting, unless you want to go back before Caxton put all those monks out of work., You know, I mean, you’ve got Wainwrights, Lake District Walks and stuff, but yeah, well, as, you know, the situation as you know, the reason it’s in handwriting is not completely arbitrary. It is that the man who has written it, has to write a very long letter to his loved one, to explain why he has to abandon her after 20 years of happily living together in order to protect her and he’s writing against the deadline, you know, he’s got to get it finished quickly and get away from her if she is to be safe.
Andy Hamilton (00:34:35):
So I thought, well, a man writing against a deadline like that, if you made a little error, he wouldn’t go back and write it out again. He would just cross it out. So, there were those kinds of crossings out, but there are also sections where the crossing out tells you about his state of mind. And that was inspired by – I went to the British Library and I was looking at a wonderful long letter by queen Elizabeth the First. And it’s a letter to her courtiers explaining that it it was all the same with them, she will decide whether she marries or not and who she will marry. And it starts off, she’s got lovely handwriting. It starts off with this beautiful copper plate, but as the letter, progresses, it gets more and more jagged. And then there’s lots of crossing out and then writing up the margins and, you know, and it such a perfect essay in understanding someone’s state of mind as were writing the letters.
Andy Hamilton (00:35:38):
So, yeah, there’s a few places in the book where you can tell he’s getting upset or frightened because of the crossings out. Yeah. And sometimes as you say, sometimes you can see what he crossed out and you can see what he chose to try to hide. I mean, I don’t do it sort of perversely, but you always try as a writer, one of the most attractive things is to do something that’s completely original that no one else’s has done before. And I thought, I just hadn’t seen storytelling done that way.
Speaker 2 (00:36:18):
But it’s a great book. And I advise all our listeners to rush out and buy Longhand as soon as possible because you really, really will love it. It’s phenomenal. If I asked you to write a business case, Andy for humour, what would you include in it?
Andy Hamilton (00:36:36):
Well, fundamentally, I would say happy people are more efficient, even from a ruthless commercial perspective. It, it pays to have a good environment, a good working environment and humour sort of crucial to that. So that’s, that’s probably the place where I’d start given that it will foster resilience then that will promote a working environment where people don’t lose morale too easily, don’t sulk too much, you know? I mean, it’s quite interesting. II was watching the Blair/Brown documentary.
Speaker 2 (00:37:24):
I’ve seen he first one.
Andy Hamilton (00:37:26):
Well, there’s a moment in that way where Gordon Brown at the very end where the writing is on the wall and they know he’s got to resign, he had this sort of couple of hours just sitting in Number 10 with all these kind of mates from New Labour and Ed Balls said, they just told each other jokes. Often they retold terrible jokes that Gordon Brown used to tell them and sort of laughed at how the bad jokes were, but that was their response to the imminent death of the New Labour project. Really. It was a moment of affection and bonding and actually Ed Balls said it was quite touching. And I just thought it was really interesting that that’s what they fell back on, you know, but I would say fundamentally given that it greases the wheels of sort of human interaction, then, I mean, if you’ve got an office that’s humour less, then you would have a real problem wouldn’t you?
Speaker 2 (00:38:37):
It’s interesting, because you’ve worked in so many creative environments going back to sort of working with Roy Hudd on The News Huddines, and you talk about him creating an atmosphere, and I know you work with, and in the offices of Hattrick. What do you think is the secret of creating an environment where creativity can flourish?
Andy Hamilton (00:39:03):
Well, that’s, that’s a really interesting question because when I started out, there were a lot of shows where you, were a contributor, a paid contributor, but you were in a room with lots of other contributors and you, you know, you all had different size, commissions, and you’re all had different rates. And that did sometimes create a kind of wariness about sharing comic ideas, because you were effectively competing with each other. Now friendships form, and you found… Like with Guy Jenkin, we would always kind of swap ideas and he’d say, oh, I can’t, this is really funny, I think, but I can’t find a way of ending it, you know, then that kind of cross-pollination would happen, but the money got in the way. So I remember we did a show called Who Dares Wins on Channel 4.
Andy Hamilton (00:40:04):
And what we did was we had six writers and we just said from the beginning, everyone’s on the same money, everybody’s on the same money. And that the writers room on that show was a really productive writers’ room because we were cross pollinating all the time. So, yeah, we had a massive sort of engine of creativity and we had a lot of show to fill as well. I mean, initially it was an hour long show. It was 52 minutes worth of programme. And it also fostered sort of quite an adventurous approach so we did some sketches that were on other shows would probably have been ruled out as being practically too difficult. But I think yeah, it gave us a sense of adventure and the fact that we were all in it together. And if you can trying,
New Speaker (00:41:13):
trying not to sort of treat failure as a spectre because if you do that, I think some people will just tighten up and, I think you. I have to, yeah. Any creative process it’s going to involve an element of experimentation. So there, the risk of failure will always be there.
Speaker 2 (00:41:41):
No, I think that’s really interesting because the creative process, and I think this is what sometimes people don’t understand and you’ve hit the nail on the head, I think with the failure, you have to allow it, but it not to be crushed. And it’s sort of like the improv world whereby you listen and you go it’s Yes And ,rather than No But in the sense of, because if you’ve killed somebody or their spirit essentially killed their spirit, they’re not going to pitch in with their next idea, which could be the one that saves the company, or it could be brilliant. So you have to foster an atmosphere it’s about creating an atmosphere, isn’t it?
Andy Hamilton (00:42:28):
Yes. You can’t really encourage risk-taking and then sort of somehow punish people for having placed you at risk. You know, it’s, there’s a sort of… but that’s very difficult. Again, the money gets in the way, doesn’t it, because tof course professionally in quite a few jobs, not just in the creative industry, but if you take a risk and it fails and there are commercial consequences, then everyone goes back into their shell and they don’t want to come out again because it’s too painful.
Speaker 2 (00:43:11):
There’s the other argument for humour. If you keep humour in there, it can lighten the atmosphere and keep people going
Andy Hamilton (00:43:18):
Well. Yeah. I mean trench humour, that’s very often …some filming days just turn into endurance tests, you know, because I don’t know you’re out, say you’re out in terrible weather and you’ve got to complete it or like a night shoot, which can be very physically punishing sometimes. And you will hear lots of trench humour that people use to keep themselves going and I’m sure that’s true in every profession where sometimes it’s just very hard,
Speaker 2 (00:43:58):
You think you could be a good communicator without understanding humour? Or is it a prerequisite?
Andy Hamilton (00:44:05):
Well, it depends what you mean by understanding it, doesn’t it? Valuing it. I think you’ve got to value it, you know, and you’ve got to understand that it’s an important ingredient in any mix. Then I think you’re more likely to fail. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (00:44:26):
We’ve come to the part of the show, Andy, that we like to call Quick Fire Questions
Andy Hamilton (00:44:31):
Okay, *Music sting* Alright. Well, I may not have my quick fire answer brain in, but I’ll do my best.
Speaker 2 (00:44:45):
I’m sure you will. Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met?
Andy Hamilton (00:44:51):
I can’t remember his name. That’s a good start. I did an after dinner once years and years and years ago for the waste industry. And there was a chap there and he just told me all the secrets of the waste industry. And he was very, very funny, but that’s not much use to you, is it?. I don’t get to meet many…
Speaker 2 (00:45:17):
What abllut in the Television business?
Andy Hamilton (00:45:20):
Well, I mean, the first is a good friend. I worked with him a lot over the years and he’s actually in Old Harry’s Game He plays the most revolting human being ever to walk the planet – Thomasc- In Old Harry’s Game but Jimmy Mulville is very funny. John Lloyd. I mean, I don’t think of them as business men. Of course they are as well. They have to be. And Michael Grade Is funny. Yeah, I don’t get out much.
Speaker 2 (00:45:51):
No no no. Jimmy Mulville, John Lloyd and Michael Grade. Funnily enough. I think you were there. I know Guy was there, Bill Stewart, William G Stewart’s funeral and Michael Grade made a very funny eulogy.
Andy Hamilton (00:46:09):
Yeah. Well, William G I mean he was a lovely man. He was a great character,
Speaker 2 (00:46:18):
You know, I grew up with him. He was like a second father to me, which is so, yeah. So, his son was my best friend growing up and they lived in the flat above us when we were growing up when Bill was a scene shifter or at the BBC.
Andy Hamilton (00:46:37):
Bill, Bill got series of one off plays commissioned at what was then Central TV. And we went along to this meeting. There were four plays. It was called Tickets for the Titanic, those satires on, you know, the modern world and the people at central didn’t like the ending on one of the plays written by Barry Pilton. And so Bill was putting up quite a steadfast defence of this play. And then he did this thing, which was obviously a negotiating ploy. He said, well, I’m sorry, but you know, I’m not prepared to compromise on this unless you accept all four plays as they’re written. Um, that’s, I don’t think we’ve got any more to talk about. And he got up and he was walking out and the writers are sitting there. Of course we’re not used this. And we’re thinking, oh, are we… I think we’re supposed to walk out as well. Then Bill and I remember Bill saying, You could have walked out a bit more decisively. And sure enough, like, you know, they called us back in and you know,
Speaker 2 (00:48:01):
Yeah. That’s so Bill. God rest his soul. What book makes you laugh, Andy?
Andy Hamilton (00:48:12):
Catch 22 makes me laugh, Joseph Heller, brilliant. I read that not that long ago, that made me laugh a lot.
Speaker 2 (00:48:21):
What film makes you laugh?
Andy Hamilton (00:48:23):
Some Lke It Hot makes me laugh. I love all of Billy Wilder’s films, not just the … He did every kind of film. I’m just in awe of him. We caught, the, the other night on tele, I caught the original version of The Producers again, which although it was full… there are lots of things in it that would not be tolerated now, just Zero Mostels performance in it. Just…I’d forgotten how funny he was
Speaker 2 (00:49:02):
Taking a shift to the other side. Very briefly. What is not funny?
Andy Hamilton (00:49:08):
That’s pretty hard for me. I mean, I think there’s comic elements to pretty much everything. I mean, it’s quite interesting. I used to open the second half of… I haven’t done my one man show for about two and a half years, but when I was doing it last, I used to open, either the first half or the second half, with a joke about Trump. I used to come on and say, I’m a bit down. I’ve been watching the news. You won’t believe what President Trump,, what he’s done now. And I’d say, okay. I said, President Trump is now saying that intends to build a wall between America and reality. And, you know, and then I do this thing about, you know, he says too many facts are sneaking undetected into the country. And so I create this littles kind of surreal world. When I watched the mob storming the Capitol.
Andy Hamilton (00:50:09):
I did think to myself, maybe I won’t do that joke anymore. Because it kind of, it came true in a bad way. And, you know he kind of did build the wall between them and reality and that’s his legacy. So sometimes I think that jokes turns a bit, it curdles on you a bit but in general terms, I think there’s usually a funny grain of something in most situations. And I mean, I’m not weird. I don’t laugh at other people’s misfortune or tragedy but I mean, even something as horrible as the Taliban resuming power in Afghanistan, there is something comic about the sort of blatant male insecurity of all those Mujahedin walking around still waving rocket launchers around isn’t there. I mean you couldn’t give a more kind of graphic picture of male insecurity.
Andy Hamilton (00:51:25):
They’re literally carrying these massive penile weapons around after the conflict is over when they’re on the… when there are no planes to shoot down or no tanks to shell, they’ve got rocket launches, not just guns so yeah, I think there’s comedy to be found in most things. I mean, I suppose what is not funny, I suppose, is jokes that are purely there as ways of communicating hatred, you know what I mean? So, and this is a really, really hard area sometimes when I’m talking about it on stage, I’m conscious of, if I make a misstep, I could easily get myself cancelled, but it’s quite funny, I mean, you know, I’ve had two of my adult kids at home with us during lockdown – it’s been lovely, but there’ve been some very lively dinner time conversations where I’ve ended up sticking up for the 1970s a bit.
Andy Hamilton (00:52:43):
And what I think is quite interesting is there seems to be this sort of general notion that we all walked around in the seventies, sort of gladly condoning racism and sexual assault, but I’m sure, you know, as you remember that there were lots of us saying, no, the a lot of the stuff Benny Hill is doing is not all right in the seventies. There were lots of us who were astonished that The Black and White Minstrels was still on television. I was having to explain to them that actually most of the people you spoke to in the 1970s did think Jimmy Savile was creepy. I mean that, I remember being bewildered as to why is this slightly dodgy sort of guy… You could see it in the shows. So this notion that we were all that we were lax about, I think is a bit of a generalisation.
Andy Hamilton (00:53:55):
But the thing about stereotyping I think is really interesting because the context of who is the storyteller and what is his objective is, is central to it. I mean, I was, I remember I was sitting on the steps of Zurich station with a friend, and it was a lovely sunny day. And we were just sitting on the step, you know, loads of steps. And just sort of with our eyes closed drinking up the sun, and this policeman came up and said, you can’t sit there. And I, and we weren’t obstructing anything. I said why not? He said you make the steps look, untidy. You think, well how Swiss is that? And I remember getting the post office at Earls Court And there was an Australian in front of me with a big parcel with air mail written all over it, you know?
Andy Hamilton (00:54:59):
And there was a quite an elderly lady behind the counter who was very slow in the days when people used to withdraw their pensions, you know, it was a slow queue and he was huffing and sighing. And I could tell he was losing his temper and he finally got to the front and he plonked his parcel on this woman’s counter. And she looked over he glasses and she said, I see, and you want this to go by air mail to Australia, do you?. And he looked at her and he said, no, I want it to go to Venezuela by fucking submarine! But again, you know, that is like the Oka Australian in a nutshell so they’re observations on cultural differences but you have to fill it out.
Speaker 2 (00:55:57):
You have to find a way in, and anything can be funny if you have the right intent and you find the right way in.
Andy Hamilton (00:56:05):
Yeah. And there has to be almost like an element, of joy of finding these elements of ridiculousness in different communities.Yeah, I
Speaker 2 (00:56:16):
Think so. So what word makes you laugh?
Andy Hamilton (00:56:20):
I will currently I tell you the way that makes me laugh is learnings. That makes me laugh. I mean, jargon often makes me laugh. And I often find, I instinctively like to write characters who abuse the language in the form of junk, but the learnings is currently making me laugh. And when people use it on the telly, I get the giggles because I it’s become the new, I think you hear a lot of politicians use it, so we don’t learn lessons. We take away learnings,. I’m intrigued by why they think what they think the difference is. I suppose learnings sounds less bossy, less sort of autocratic, but why they decided that the word lesson is a no go now, now, but you hear it, you hear it, Matt Hancock used to use it. God bless him. It just seems to have found its way in. And I always think it’s funny because I think the moment I hear the word learnings, I immediately presume someone’s being insincere.
Speaker 2 (00:57:32):
Yeah. Well, I actually think it’s, it’s probably completely deliberate in the sense that they don’t want to think that anybody should think that they have to learn lessons because they don’t, they’re taking away learnings and they all learned it because they’re taking away learnings.
Andy Hamilton (00:57:51):
Speaker 2 (00:57:53):
What sound makes you laugh?
Andy Hamilton (00:57:55):
That’s an intriguing one. Well, I can always make my daughter laugh by blowing a raspberry. So, and I’ve never been a big a big raspberry blower but for some reason, it just finds a way in and she is now an investigative journalist, she’s a serious person out there in the world, but I know that in moments of peak stress, if I blow a raspberry, it will make her laugh.
Speaker 2 (00:58:27):
It’s a wonderful, comedic anchor, isn’t i?t Between you and her as well. So, no, it’s a perfect answer to a quick fire question. You went to Cambridge, would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Andy Hamilton (00:58:40):
Oh, funny. I think. I mean, what is clever anyway? I mean, who gets to decide what is clever? I mean, the world is full of clever people who, who have huge, hidden stupidities well not even hidden sometimes, I mean, being clever per se is not actually that much use. No, I think I’d rather be funny than clever. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (00:59:17):
Yeah. I think most funny people are clever anyway, so that’s probably the answer to that. And finally, Andy, Desert Island Gags. You can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Andy Hamilton (00:59:33):
Well, this is a joke that divides audiences, and sometimes youtell it and an audience laughs. Sometimes you tell it and they just look at you and in bewilderment but it was a joke that Barry Cryer told me and I just like the surreal kind of simplicity of it. So, a skeleton walks into a pub. He walks up to the bar and says, I’d like a pint of lager, and a mop. Because you have to do the extra bit of work, what happens when… And we used it in an episode of Outnumbered. We gave it to Ben to explain to his auntie. His rather humourless Auntie and we made him explain it to her and kind of draw a picture. But I think that’s it. A skeleton. Yeah. I’d like a pint of lager and a mop. Um, maybe that would be my desert island gag.
Speaker 2 (01:00:39):
That’s brilliant. It’s with you on the desert island. I’d like to thank you for being a wonderful guest. Andy Hamilton. Thank you for being on the Humourology podcast.
Andy Hamilton (01:00:49):
Thank you for having me.
Speaker 2 (01:00:53):
The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.