Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 23
Graham Stuart – Production Power with Punchlines
Award-winning producer of The Graham Norton Show, Graham Stuart joins The Humourology Podcast to share stories from his time supporting funny and charismatic A-listers in packing a comedic punch. Stuart discusses the value of humour when it comes to creating captivating television.
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Paul Boross is joined by award-winning producer of The Graham Norton Show, Graham Stuart. Stuart knows what it takes to make memorable and mirthful TV moments possible. Graham knows that when you support exceptional talent, you are sure to get a performance that is unforgettable.
“True star power is the ability to show all kinds of emotions and embrace humour.”
Join us this week to learn how Graham has built a career on producing punchlines and supporting performers to put on a powerful and priceless performance.
To find out more about Graham
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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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Graham Stuart on The Humourology Podcast
Graham Stuart (00:00):
You cannot have full charisma if you don’t have humour, you can have charisma but it’s a different kind of charisma. So, true star power is the ability to show all kinds of emotions and I would say that humour is high up in terms of the skills required to be a real star.
Speaker 2 (00:27):
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 here 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 one of the country’s premier producers at the impressive pinnacle of the TV profession. He is the multi award-winning executive producer behind The Graham Norton show. So Graham Norton and Idris Elba meets, Paul McCartney, just to name a few. When he isn’t overseeing interviews with the world’s greatest A-listers and leading them to laughter, he keeps busy by brokering brilliant business deals. He co-founded So television with his business partner, Graham Norton in the year 2000 and has been one of the most influential figures in the world of entertainment ever since. Although our chair is not big or red, we desperately hope he will share his scintillating stories. So we won’t feel compelled to tip him out of it. Graham Stuart welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Graham Stuart (02:03):
Thank you Paul. Thank you. Very good to be here.
Speaker 2 (02:06):
Well, it’s a great pleasure to have you here. I mean, I’ve loved your work and admired you for so long and it’s fantastic to have you here. I’d like to start by going back to your roots. I know your roots are in Dundee. In your family was humour valued?
Graham Stuart (02:22):
That’s a very good question. Yes, it was. It was the valued. I’ll tell you a really formative experience for me was when I was very young my father his best friend -n the two couples, my mum and dad, and my best friend Uncle David and his wife – they did a thing called a swap night and it was on Wednesday nights and the wives would go to one house and then the husbands would go to the other house. So, on the Wednesday nights, when David was over with my father, that was then the night that Morecambe and Wise was on television – early Morecmbe and Wise. And as a child, I can remember the gales of laughter that came from downstairs from my father and from David. And it was a really powerful memory for me. And my dad loves comedy and he loved Morecambe and WIse and I think that that’s something to me in those days. And I thought, you know, well… I was even at an early age, I was obsessed with television, but I thought you know, being funny on television is a powerful thing and maybe one day…. So that’s where it started.
Speaker 2 (03:46):
Well, that’s amazing. I mean, the first thing I’d like to say is that my heart skipped a beat. When you said ‘swap night’ with your parents.
Graham Stuart (03:57):
And now of course I think… Yes… well, my parents would be horrified if they were around Any allegations made. No, it was entirely above board.
Speaker 2 (04:14):
Well, I,get it, but I’m, I’m intrigued because the young Graham Stuart was already sort of, the antenna were up and went, oh my God, Morecambe and Wise, people can go on television and get this glorious reaction around the country. And so it was as young as that, that you…I mean, they say, give me a child of seven and I will give you the man. So it was as young that, that you realised that this tool that Morecambe and Wise were using could, could be something that you could do.
Graham Stuart (04:50):
I don’t think people ever believe me, but I always, I just had decided from, and that was part of it from a very early age, that what I was going to do was work in broadcasting. And I didn’t come from… My father was a chartered accountant and ran a textile firm in Dundee and there was no history of that kind of broadcasting dynasty that some people come from. He was a filmmaker, he was an amateur filmmaker. He did make a comedy film, but it certainly wasn’t that it was, I just, I loved radio and television and decided that’s what I’m going to do. And the Morecambe and Wise thing suggested that area where I’d like to end up,
Speaker 2 (05:44):
But was the young, was the the young Graham Stuart involved in the theatre when he was young? Were there school plays or anything like that?
Graham Stuart (05:53):
Yes. I mean, I think I did what people usually do. Yeah, I was always interested. I certainly was interested in theatre and plays and I was involved in that. I think I was, you know, there were later experiences, which confirmed it for me. It’s about, you know, it’s this thing about knowing yourself. What I knew was that I was never going to be a performer, although I did try it but I sort of knew that my skill set was not really at home there. It was going to be in making stuff rather than doing it, but that didn’t stop me trying. And I did try and do performance with varying degrees of success. But as I got older, my obsession was with radio. I loved radio. So I would try and do things, record things. And I loved the idea of having a tape machine and using your voice and all of that, but in my heart and in my head, I thought, you know what? I’m not going to be a star. I didn’t have that drive. I didn’t think you know, what, I could be the funniest person in the room. None of that. I just thought I know this world, but I know where I’ll be in it.
Speaker 2 (07:12):
You went on to become a sports reporter on screen on the biggest Scottish TV show Scott Sport with Arthur Monford. What did you learn from being on screen that helped you later on?
Graham Stuart (07:29):
I was very young, completely naive, and I suddenly was involved in a television show, which was part of… Very much a part of the fabric of Scottish society, because sports is an obsession there. And I was suddenly on it which was a very, very powerful experience for me as a young person. And I did it for two years. There are two things I can say about it. One, it was an incredible education and two, I was terrible. Because I wasn’t trained for it. It was a world really, without support. I didn’t really have the help. And there’re lots of reasons for that, because suddenly I was moving, it was the lesson about being a performer. I was on screen everything, all the rules are different. But it was an amazing experience that had some really big experiences while
Graham Stuart (08:35):
I was doing it, but what it taught me, and it taught me so much about broadcasting and about live television and about how, how you deal with live television and more than anything else, as someone who has become a producer, it taught me the respect you must have for anyone that does go in front of the camera, that does go and open their mouth and see things that are being broadcast to a nation. It’s… I admire them. I admire all of them. I respect them. I’ve been there and I knew what it was like also the other thing of it, which is that you suddenly people know who you are, and if you’re involved in sports television in Scotland,eople have opinions and they like to voice them in… How can I put it? In unexpurgated form. And that was an education for me as well. But no, it was still had amazing experiences, but I moved on from that.
Speaker 2 (09:37):
It’s great that you actually, can actually understand from a psychological perspective, what the person on the screen is going through. And rather than being the producer who screams in their ear, ‘just get it right!’ You once told me over lunch, you once took over on Scot Sport.
Graham Stuart (09:55):
Yes, I did, quite early in my career Arthur Monford who was growing up, watching and listening to Arthur, he was the polite expression is the doyen of Scottish sports commentators. His sports jackets and his vocabulary were legendary in Scotland.He was an extraordinary man. Anyway, he liked to play golf and he went for a golfing weekend leaving me to be the reporter and to present the entire episode of a show that I’d watch as a boy that was a formative experience. Well, I can tell you a quick story about that. I did the whole show, which went past in a blur. It was very, very difficult for me. I was naive and experienceed. It was a lot to do linking into the matches. You have to do interviews afterwards. You’re playing reports that I’d done before.
Graham Stuart (10:54):
You’ve got to do the weeks news. And anyway, I get to the end of the show and traditionally in broadcasting or in performance, you would expect that people on the floor, when it’s finished, will say well done. Well done, good show. And nobody said that. Nobody said anything at the end of it. You know, this is Scotland. People are not lavish in their praise. Anyway, I went upstairs to the office afterwards and not really having spoken to anyone. And I went into the office and, and the production secretary was there and she said, oh, there’s been a call for you. I thought, well, the one person who would have a comment or say something after you’ve gone through this experience, well, that would be your mother. So, I said, oh, was that my mum?
Graham Stuart (11:50):
And she said, no. So I thought, not even my mother is calling me. I said to her, who was it?, She said it was Jock Stein. Then the manager of Scotland, one of the greatest football managers of all time – the man who took Celtic to the… The first British club to win the European cup in 1967. Great, great man. What did he say? And the secretary said, he said, “tell the young lad you did well.” And that was the manager of Scotland saying that. And I’ve analysed that afterwards – that was really a big thing for me – but I’ve analysed that afterwards. And what was happening there was Jock Stein was the greatest manager of men that football’s ever known. He won the European cup with, with these boys who were all from Glasgow, literally from a few miles from the centre of Glasgow.
Graham Stuart (12:50):
And he made them the greatest team in Europe, if not the world. And he did it with difficult characters, Jimmy Johnson genius, but we wayward. Jinky Johnson, he knew how to manage people. He watched me on screen. He saw the fear in my eyes, and he knew like a player who was under pressure that you either shout at them or you put your arm around them. He knew that I needed the arm round. And he gave me that and I walked out of that building feeling 10 feet, tall Jock Stein said, I’d done well, didn’t care what anyone else thought. Jock Stein And that I held that with me my whole life. And I think that’s important too, for, for the work that I do. Praise, the right praise at the right time, is such a, such a powerful, powerful… I don’t want to say weapon,udevice to make people feel better.
Speaker 2 (13:55):
Think that’s such a great story. And it’s so indicative of what the whole Humourology project is about.The great leaders know when lightness, when praise, is needed to pick people up. And that’s… I mean, he was at least one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all time and understanding. And he essentially had a degree in people, didn’t he?
Graham Stuart (14:28):
Speaker 2 (14:30):
I understand from my family as you know, are from Glasgow, that he had also wicked sense of humour. So he could tease, he could play as well,
Graham Stuart (14:40):
But, you know, he was, and these terms are used lightly, but this is for real, he was a great man. If he walked into a room and I was in his presence and I saw incredibly, I was at the World Cup with Scotland and he was there. These people, these great players immediately it’s not being submissive. They would just be respectful. They knew that this was a man who knew what to do, what to say, when to see how to do it. You know he was legendary.
Speaker 2 (15:16):
Absolutely legendary. And I’m fascinated by that because you just, you said a phrase during that, that, that, that Scottish people are lavish with their praise and having, having spent a lot of my time as a child going up to Glasgow with my cousins. I’ll tell you a quick story that the first time I was on Top of the Pops. I thought, you know, it was like you with wanting to work in television, my thing was to be on Top of the Pops. I thought I was going to be the new David Bowie, but I ended up having a penciled on moustache and singing Stutter Rap. But the first time I went, I went off on tour to Glasgow and I went to see my family and they lived in Cranhill, which was very rough at the time. And I went there and all my cousins gathered round. And just, you know, you feel a bit sort of like, I’ve been on Top of the Pops and they allowed me to puff my chest out a little bit. And they went, Oh, we saw you on that there Top of the Pops uncle Paul. And I was just there enough. And then they looked me straight in the eye and went, we thought you were shite!
Graham Stuart (16:34):
Which is this is high praise, high praise and the east end of Glasgow,
Speaker 2 (16:39):
It really is actually but to be honestonly people who understand that thing will understand that they did it with a glint in the eye and they were they were having a laugh. And if you love someone in Glasgow, you take the piss.
Graham Stuart (16:58):
You do, you do. They do take it to extreme. I mean, you know, that was the thing when I was on TV then as I say, people felt that they had the right to make comments to you. You know, you’re in their sitting room because you’re on TV. And one time I was sitting in a bar in Glasgow and I’d got used to this, so there’d be the tap on the shoulder and look up in the, you know, there wasa… How can I put it? Well, a distinctive Glaswegian type. And he said, ah, I know who you are, but they always got my name wrong, the previous guy who did the job, his name was Andy, Andy, Melvin. And there was a rumour that because my surname’s Stuart, that I was the son of Andy Stewart, the famous Scots singer. He did have actually, he does have a son who’s similar age to me, but I’m not Andy Stewart’s son. But, so I was known as Andy, I got used to that. Aye, you’re Andy off the telly. I said, yes. And he said, my wife really likes you. And I said, oh, thank you very much. And without batting an eyelid, he said, I think you’re a C word! And you know he could say that because I was on TV and I went thanks very much and off he went. He had. Imparted the message he wished to impart. I realised that I had become a C word for quite a lot of people. That was nice.
Speaker 2 (18:38):
Yeah. Well, it’s a term of affection back in the day in Glasgow, to be honest,
Graham Stuart (18:43):
It wasn’t saying with affection, but yeah, maybe
Speaker 2 (18:47):
You’ve done approaching, what is it nearly 900 shows now, Graham Norton shows? You’ve been up close and personal with more celebrities than just about anyone. What is the difference that makes a difference that gives someone true charisma and likability and is humour essential in that mix?
Graham Stuart (19:17):
I definitely is. Humour is absolutely vital ingredient. Put it this way. You cannot have full charisma. If you don’t have humour. You can have charisma but it’s a different kind of charisma. So true star power is the ability to show all kinds of emotions and I would say that humour is high up there in terms of the skills required to be you know, a real star.
Speaker 2 (19:49):
So what is that magic that happens because we had James Longman, who’s the executive producer on The Late, Late show with James Corden in America. And he talked about Will Ferrell, for instance, having extraordinary charisma, obviously on screen, but in person, there was something else that was happening. Is that about the humour that connects people that ability to connect with everybody in the room?
Graham Stuart (20:19):
Here’s the thing about being really famous and being a true star is you, you have to be exceptional. There are lots of people who are famous, who are, who are good, and there are people that are funny and people who are great actors or some people are good at sport or whatever but when we’re talking and that’s the privilege of working on the Norton show, you were talking about people who are at the highest and the top echelon, the highest tier of, of what it is they’re doing. Those people are, they are very, very good at what they do. And they’re very good at being a star. The really good ones are the ones who are going to be a star, but, you know, it can often be innate Jock Stein. Going back to Jock Stein, I’ll give you two examples, Jock Stein and Tom Hanks.
Graham Stuart (21:13):
They seem very different, but both of them change the room when they come in. And that’s a cliche and people, you know, people talk about that all the time, believe me, because I mixed with all these famous people. I know the ones that change and room and Jock Stein and Tom Hanks and if they came in together, the room would explode. They have, they’re brilliant at what they do. They’re interesting and fascinating people, but they have an aura which is beyond a normal human being. These are, these are super normal people,
Speaker 2 (21:49):
So, really humour. In your opinion, having seen all these huge stars close up is a superpower.
Graham Stuart (22:00):
It absolutely is. To use it correctly to understand how you use it, when you use it. That is, yes. It is a supercar when it’s used at its full extent, by the handful of people. It’s, it’s, it’s amazing to be in that presence,
Speaker 2 (22:21):
In psychological terms, I would say, because lots of people listening to this are going to want to take something away and they go, well, that’s fine, these people are born with it, but I actually don’t believe that they are born with it. I think, and my thesis is they are very good at listening. They are very good at, at cueing into what people need. And I think you can learn to get better at that. Would you agree?
Graham Stuart (22:52):
Oh yeah. Yes, Paul. I absolutely agree. We’re talking, and I’ve used the expression already about skillset, being famous, being a performer and being a funny person requires a set of skills. And you can, as with every skill, you can improve it, you can learn techniques and you can learn ways of enhancing what you have even the truth in fact, interesting at the moment, you know, Jimmy Carr has written this book about his life and his theory is that you don’t have to be funny. You just have to learn how to be funny and I think that’s true, but to be truly funny, there is a chip within you that has to be there and then you can enhance it, but yes, you can absolutely improve. And enhance your skills and be funny or be more interesting but the real, real talent are the people, the real talents of the people who for much of what they do, it comes natural.
Speaker 2 (24:08):
Yeah. So, I mean, you love your sport as do I, and is the analogywhich I think I was talking about on a previous episode whereby David Beckham, let’s just take an example, has, for want of a better expression, a gift from God of coordination, sort of foot, eye coordination. And Gary Neville has an ability to work very, very hard, but I always, I pointed out to my son when he was playing football that Gary Neville won more trophies than David Becker. So you can make yourself better at it with work. And I think that’s what people want to hear about is that not that people are just born with this skill, but they’ve acquired it. And when I’m working with people, whether that’s leaders or, or teams, I’m there to take what they’ve got and enhance it. And do you think you’ve enhanced what you do by being around these people and modelling them
Graham Stuart (25:17):
Your whole life?…I meanyour whole life is about assimilating information and experiences, how you grew up and you watch the best people. First of all, when you’re young, you just watch older people do their,… And some of the things they teach you are wrong but you do assimilate it and I think that the ability to keep learning and at whatever age is very important. You know, I’ve been privileged to be around people who are at the very top of their game. Just one thing I would put in there, it’s what we were talking about before. It’s about also understanding your limits. Some people might not like this because they say, well, that’s wrong. You don’t, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t limit yourself. You should just be, do everything and be wherever you want to be.
Graham Stuart (26:04):
I think intelligence in life is understanding your limits, but you want to try and exit them. But, but you understand where you are. I mean, the example I would give – you asked me earlier about performing – When I was at university I did a lot of acting because I really enjoyed it. And I was in a play at university. And I was doing a scene with a girl who went on to become very successful actor. And we were doing a scene together and I can remember this so vividly. We’re doing a scene and the two of us. And as I’m doing the scene, what I realised was that I was doing the lines and she was living them. She was acting. And I thought I could… I could spend a thousand years doing this.
Graham Stuart (27:05):
I can never do that. And it was confirming what I thought, look I know much as I like being on a stage,- well, a bit – if I ever fancy myself as being someone that was going to be a professional performer, it wasn’t going to happen, or I wasn’t going to be, I was going to be mediocre. She was brilliant. I was functional and, and so my point is, this is not going against your point about teaching people. I think you can get better, but I’m just saying when there’s a bar and I’m just being realistic, I hit the bar and then moved to one side.
Speaker 2 (27:41):
Well, it’s funny. Cause I had a similar experience, obviously doing a lot of stage at the Comedy Store. I actually spent about a year and a half guesting with the Comedy Store Players when, in the really early days when Mike Myers and Paul Merton and Neil Mullarkey and Josie Lawrence and Sandi Toksvig. And I held my own, but actually about a year and a half in, I actually realised that this was… I could get to a certain level and I would have been decent. And I, you know, I think I did well, but you suddenly realise that there is another level and it’s later on that you can actually go, okay, what it was Mike Myers and Paul Merton,
Graham Stuart (28:34):
Everything’s relative, you used a very, very, very good word there. And that word is decent. And if you, if you say, well, what I’m doing is decent. That is damning with faint praise, time to revisit your career structure.
Speaker 2 (28:51):
Okay. Yeah. I agree. What makes you laugh, Graham?
Graham Stuart (28:55):
A lot of things make me laugh and I absolutely love comedy and lots of different forms. I think, you’ve got to be… When you do for a living you’re got to be careful. This is the thing that always makes me think. And it’s a way that Americans, particular American producers ,deal with comedy. So there listening to something a brilliant piece of work or you’re pitching them an idea, which is a funny idea. And they say these words, yeah, that’s funny. And they say it with that expression and you think to yourself, maybe a laugh, wouldn’t be out of order at this point, but they’re going, it’s that thing about comedy as a science and they’re going yeah that works and I’m aware of doing that sometimes. I’ll be watching a TV show and I think, yeah, that’s funny. I think I should be laughing. So you crave the common experiences when you do the natural reaction instantly where you go, (laughs) you don’t have to say. That’s funny because your laughter says it is. That’s what I look for, and it’s, you know, you get, you watch a lot of it and you experience a lot of it, you get selective.
Speaker 2 (30:18):
And so I mean, you talked about Morecambe and Wise earlier on, I mean, are they still the benchmark for you or has it moved on?
Graham Stuart (30:27):
Well, listen, they were amazing. Eric Morecambe and Ernie wise, again, t’s fair to say it was a double act and everything that Eric did was because of Ernie and Ernie’s timing was amazing, but Eric Morecambe was a fantastically funny man. Yes. I hold them in great esteem because he made my dad laugh. And,that that’s something that was…, that’s always been important to me. The great thing is now you can, you can see all this stuff. And I saw something the other day – I can’t remember what I was flicking through – but there was a bit of Morecambe. Yeah. There was a, for some reason that it was,I think the BBC were dong something about `Shirely Bassey on the Morecambe and Wise show.
Graham Stuart (31:20):
And, you know, it’s a famous scene, when you look at it now, it’s,… The effects are, and the props are a bit cheap. And it looks a bit old fashioned and clunky. Eric Morecambe is saying very little but his body = beause he was a really good mover. He was a good dancer, the physical nature of his comedy and the face. I was laughing out loud. I just remembered this how funny he was and how, and that was being watched at the time it was 26 million people are watching it. That’s how big that was. Yeah. I thought still like it. But there are a lot of other people that, that I love and are as funny or funnier, but yeah, he does have a special place and Morecambe and Wise have a special place.
Speaker 2 (32:11):
I mean, I was lucky enough to be backstage at the David Frost show. Frost Live from London, with Eric Morecambe stuck in a green room. And you know, that more than anybody else probably in the world, that green room thing, when you’re suddenly just there having a chat and we were just having a chat about football, actually a big Luton Town fan. What happened – and you will understand this and you probably have your own stories about this – is that we were just chatting away about football, just the two of us and suddenly a woman approached from nowhere and was very hesitant and was trying to come up and was sort of skulking up towards us and went, look, I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I was in the audience today. And I just couldn’t waste this opportunity to come up to you, Mr. Morecambe. I’m so sorry to disturbed. And she was very humble and very lovely – but I just had to thank you for all the pleasure you’ve brought me and my family over the years. And she just had to say that, and he was so lovely and so humble. And so embracing of that and she backed off apologising going, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry and just the two of us were standing there and he just turned to me and went, seems like a nice young man!
Speaker 2 (33:42):
And he just did the gag for me. And you must’ve had so many of those experiences when you’re actually seeing it at firsthand and experiencing the magic,
Graham Stuart (33:55):
Talking about it this exceptionalism, this skill that goes beyond what people normally witness. I mean, look, I’m not going to trump your story, which is a good one, but they’re some of the experiences I’ve had over the years. I remember… And it’s sometimes know because of the talk show is not just the Norton show. Cause I worked on talk shows before you know, some of the experiences I think are kind of out of body experiences then that when, when you’re… It’s happened a couple of times in our life – where we’re I’ve realise that what I’m doing, like you, you’re in a one-to-one with people that are so famous, and they’re looking at you and talking to you that you, and I’m sure you do this too, and you come out and I always think in television terms.
Graham Stuart (34:46):
So I come out and I go wide shot and I’m looking down at myself thinking, oh I’d better better tape this cause nobody’s going to believe it. And the one that comes to mind is that quite a few years ago we had, cause we had them several times, we had Robin Williams, you know, who was one of the world’s funniest people ever. And we were, I went into makeup to just see the guest. And it was a makeup lady, Robin Williams, and me, and I’m doing that producer bit, I’m saying, Oh Robin, you know, we love having you on the show So thanks for being here and he wanted to chat and I’m going to ruin the story. I can’t remember what it was we were talking about, but because because I was going into a state of shock.
Graham Stuart (35:47):
What happened then in comedy terms was, and I admit I’m not the right person to do it. He, the way he talks is that you started talking and then, you know, you, you know it from all the improv days, you’ve got to feed, you’ve got to do the feeds you’ve got through and which I realised and I was doing. And at that moment I went into the wide shot above my head because I was riffing with Robin Williams, the world’s funniest man. And I was working with him. Andyou know what? The terrible thing is, I’ve forgotten what we riffing about it. I think it was, I think there’s something to do with being in London. But that moment I thought, how many people, how many people get that chance?
Speaker 2 (36:39):
But actually there’s a really important lesson there is that when you are doing that, it is about just listening to the person. That’s the improv lesson, isn’t it it’s you suddenly realised that you had to play because otherwise he had nothing to play off. I think that’s really good. I was interested because you have prepped literally thousands of people for interviews. Now, a lot of these people are famous. So you think that they might know a bit about what they’re doing, but some of them don’t, you have to relax them. What advice would you give to anyone being interviewed on radio or TV?
Graham Stuart (37:25):
Very much depends on what’s expected of you. But if you’re going on a talk show and talk to a, an entity on a talk show then, you know, by the way I was trained at LWT, we never come to chat shoes because chat is insubstantial. You only call them talk shows. So, that’s, it’s just the thing in my head. I can never call it a chat show, it’s always a talk shown. You’re going to have to talk that that comes with the territory and you’re also going to have to entertain. Andthe way to do that is to be able to tell at least two stories One of them will be cut out, but one of them will win and it, it won’t happen magically, you know, people think, you know, that thing where people it’s like an inexperienced producerwill say, well, just go on and be funny. No, no, no, no. Funny requires pre thinking and planning and it’s not cynical. It’s just being realistic in your head. That’s all you have to know. And you tell the people who are going to interview you, whatever you do, sk me about a beetroot because I’ve got just a winning beetroot story. And then it’s their challenge to, to work that into your interview. And that’s, that’s obviously just do the funny,
Speaker 2 (38:46):
So what is it that stops people from being funny? Because, I mean, I think that, you know, nerves play a part in talking yourself out of it can play a part. I mean, I always say there’s two types of people in the world, those who get nervous and those who are liars (so true) When your helping people to get over their nerves, do you have any things that you use to help people or any tips that our audience might be able to use
Graham Stuart (39:18):
With the kind of people that we’re dealing with? I don’t think, I don’t think nerves come into it, particularly not… This is another thing. The success of the Graham Norton show,let’s face it ,is down to the remarkable and brilliant talent of Graham Norton who is without doubt. And people will say that I’m biassed, but I do know what I’m talking about. The most gifted, the most talented and the most effective talk show host in the world. And the Americans agree it too. What Graham does is that he -and he’s a comedian – he’s got comedy timing – to be a talk show host. You know, I always talk about a Venn diagram of what the skill set and part of the skill set is being a standup comedian. Paul, you know, this, if you’ve been a stand up, you have a, a sense of timing and a comedy radar, which no one else gets.
Graham Stuart (40:16):
You can be. You can be a very funny person, but if you have stood on stages as you have, and you’ve looked at an audience and you have worked funny and been funny, but that’s very particular, Graham has that. He also has a warmth and an understanding and an empathy, because not only has he been a stand-up comedian, he trained as an actor. We mainly an actors on and actors sense the empathy from somebody who has done and experienced what they’ve done. So when, no matter who they are, when they sit down on the sofa or on the individual chairs is we have now in Covid times. They look over to Graham and they feel that they’re with somebody who will be kind and gentle and get the best from them and nerves, if the exist, dissipate very, very quickly, and we’ve done thusands of guests – from the highest to the lowest – if you took a poll of those thousands of guests and say as a television experience, you know like that thing you always get on every website you’re on, you know, how would you rate it zero to five?
Graham Stuart (41:30):
People are going to give him five everybody’s going to give him five because they feel that they had an experience work and when you relax like that, even though there’s a nervousness because of the circumstances, because you’re on television and, you know that people are watching and all of that, I think at that moment you will give of your best and the funny people get funnier. The unfunny people get a bit funny and the weirdos remain weird, but they might say something funny.
Speaker 2 (41:59):
I think that’s fascinating. And from a psychological perspective, what I think is it’s so brilliant and you’ve just expressed it about Graham Norton is that he goes into that state ahead of the guests. So he is relaxed. He is cheeky. He is funny. He is empathetic. He’s doing all the things that they need to do. And there’s an automatic symbiotic process whereby they go, oh, I’m safe, but I can also go on that level. And I mean you are sort of hiding your light slightly under a bushel because you are doing this backstage as well. You are creating an environment. And I think, a lot of the Humourology project is all about how do you create environments where this can flow easily? Can you talk a little bit about how you running the company, create an environment where you get the most creativity and, and everything coming out.
Graham Stuart (43:13):
It’s very interesting, yeah, and I know this is everything about Humourology and what you’re doing. I’ve always felt that you should be in a creative business but in any business, but, really in a creative business. So you want to, you want to create a world where people feel that they’re not comfortable, but they feel safe. And that the currency of what we do in our business is the idea. Some people think it’s other things. Some people are spending their time thinking about logistics and money. And those are important. But for me, that I’ve always said in our business the currency is the idea. Ideas can come from any person any time, but they’re more likely to come into an environment where they are encouraged. So encouragement Jock Stein in my head saying, the lad did well.
Graham Stuart (44:15):
Well, I’ve been doing this so long and I’m so old that I’m not thinking of myself as an elder statesman. I like to think of myself as enthusiast. So, when I work with development people, which is what we have to do with the right people, honestly, it’s the best part of what we do. The best part is being in a space where you go, well, what if, what if we did this? What if we tried that? What if we use this person. The energy that you derive from that absolutely derived from that absolutely creates the space for ideas, but in your business, whatever is if you’re making TV shows or you’re making widgets, do you, can you create a place where people go, what if? What if we tried, that’s the place that, which every company should have.
Speaker 2 (45:16):
And isn’t that where a lot of leaders, well, not a lot. I don’t know the percentage, but leaders fail is because they, they create an atmosphere which stifles creativity and it comes from the top. If I asked you to write a business case, and I know you’ve written a lot of business cases in your time, but a business case for humour, what would you include in it?
Graham Stuart (45:43):
Are you imagining a case to run a business or any business that you must have humour involved is that what you’re looking for? It’s vital for just human relations. And that is after all what you have at any company, people have got to connect to work together. They’ve got to connect because they sit next to each other. They’ve got connect because they’re passing messages. You know, everybody from, from the, from the post room to the CEO office, everybody’s connecting and communicating. So out of that, I’m saying, don’t say to people, you’ve got to be funny. You’ve got to be fun. I want you to be funny. If you’re doing something fun, I’d say, you know what, if you’re doing something and there’s something funny about it, say… Happy with that. You know, as I say, from the post room to the CEO’s office – better get the timing, right – you know if you wander into the CEO’s office and say, you know a man walked into a bar and… I doubt, if that’s going to help you get on in life, but you know what I mean? If circumstances allow and the culture says, you know, that can be, that can, that can happen. You can be funny when it’s right,
Speaker 2 (46:54):
What’s the return on investment,? Because we have to consider that all the financial directors are going, you know, why should we have more humour in here? There’s nothing on the bottom line. What is a tangible thing that people can get from it?
Graham Stuart (47:11):
And I understand, you know, thinking about FDs and the demands they have. Well, I’ll use the word productivity productivity, which sounds like a dull word it’s actually, it’s a great word. It’s a positive word. It’s saying, get the most from your people, therefore get the most from your business, right? Get the most from your people in highest productivity. Everyone,.Your bottom line is improved. Everybody’s happy. The FD is happy. The FD is cracking jokes. There you go. That’s it. A positive workforce that’s empowered, and, nd enjoying themselves, I guarantee your business will do better.
Speaker 2 (47:55):
Great stuff. I couldn’t agree more. We come to the part of the show, Graham called Quickfire Questions. Who’s the funniest person in business that you’ve met?
Graham Stuart (48:11):
The funniest person business is undoubtedly Kevin Lygo now running ITV and I’m sure that you know him well. Kevin is… He’s been very instrumental in our career. He was at Channel 4 when Graham and I started, there. He’s Is ITV. And as you know, we are owned by ITV studios. And Kevin is probably the most gifted television executive out there, but he has the driest and most effective sense of humour of anyone working in that, in that area. So I would nominate him.
Speaker 2 (48:53):
A great choice. What book makes you laugh Graham?
Graham Stuart (48:58):
For just page on page wit and brilliance and just intelligence. Bill Bryson. Lost Continent is a book that I return to, and it’s so that I was a great American file and actually we made films. I made films with Robbie Coltrane driving across America, doing exactly what Bill Bryson did. He does it so brilliantly. There are jokes.You know we talk about laughter ratio sitcoms of laughter ratio and comedy talk shows have a higher laughter ratio. Cause people are quicker when people are doing the stuff that you do on a talk show you can get more laughs. Bill Bryson gets more or less than a page. And if it wasn’t Bill Bryson, then my greatest hero based Clive James. So name any Clive James I absolutely love that. And I worked for Clive James which was again, a hugely important part of my career.
Speaker 2 (49:56):
Oh, what a gifted man – sadly missed. It’s interesting that you said gags per page and we used to talk about in comedy GPM gags per minute, you had to have. And so you think about it in those terms, but Bill Bryson, oh, what a writer. What a genius. What film makes you laugh?
Graham Stuart (50:22):
Again, part of the privilege of my job was I got to meet the person. Well, Mel Brooks is about the funniest person that there’s ever been, and you can name any of them, but I’m going to say The Producers because because obviously it means something to me. So Springtime for Hitler that will do it for me.
Speaker 2 (50:45):
We’ve going to take a shift to the other side, Graham, what is not funny?
Graham Stuart (50:50):
I think comedy is in the eye of the beholder and ‘uncomedy’ is also in the eye of the beholder I mean, there’s some triteanswers. Okay, just, just to be technical, forced comedy is not funny. I mean, it’s obviously, you know, tragedy is not funny and all the bad things as well- of which there are plenty, but if you force comedy, then the funny comes out of it. So the more forced it is, the unfunnier it is. So, forced comedy.
Speaker 2 (51:23):
So, describe forced comedy for me, because I automatically started to think of those comedies, which had the canned laughter shoved on.
Graham Stuart (51:33):
Yes. I mean, that’s true. That’s and that’s forced comedy reaction. I’m talking about forced comedy. That is where where someone says, I have to be funny now, and this is what I’m going to see. Or someone says, you got to be funny now, and this is for, you’re going to see that, you know, will very possibly fall on stony ground. It, you know, comedy should be real not necessarily spontaneous. It just should be real.
Speaker 2 (52:02):
You’ve got an English degree. What word makes you laugh?
Graham Stuart (52:08):
It’s a brilliant question, so the word that makes me laugh, the word that I use is a funny word, and this is… . It’s a Scottish thing. It’s a surname and the surname is McGlumfort and it’s not a real surname. There is a Scottish surname. I think it’s called McGlumfer, but McGlumfort – now over the years, if I was ever telling a story that involved a bad Scottish person, or I was looking for a generic name, I would always say that, you know, that’s what Mr McGlumfort would say. And I have used McGlumfort. So, this is me. No one else is laughing now, but in my head, when I have a sentence, which has got McGlumfort in it, I think that’s about the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
Speaker 2 (52:59):
It’s a funny name. It is.
Graham Stuart (53:02):
Okay. Well, thank you, Paul.
Speaker 2 (53:06):
And guess what nobody else has ever chosen McGlumfort you’ll be surprised to know. It’s all yours. What sound makes you laugh?
New Speaker (53:18):
I’ve never been a fan of the, you know, the sounds that people use to make you laugh, you know, because the world and for many people, anything that sounds like a fart is the funniest thing ever. And I’m not disputing that it can be funny, but that’s not my kind of comedy. The sound that makes me laugh is the sound of a brilliant comic saying a word. I’d rather hear it from a human voice.
Speaker 2 (53:47):
It’s the sound created by a comedian.
Graham Stuart (53:52):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s
Speaker 2 (53:53):
Funny. Because Deborah Meaden’s choice of a word was the word or the name Bob, but only said by Rowan Atkinson.
Graham Stuart (54:06):
Oh, well, that’s the most brilliant sequence. Rowan, you know, again, and again, I’ve be very lucky to be around him when he’s at genius level and he is as good as anyone has ever been both at the physical comedy, but also in that, in that variable to do what he does, you know, we read out the names of pupils, but to do that Bob sequence, which where he says, Bob, I think he says it seven or eight times, and it just gets funnier and funnier who in the world could do that? That’s it that’s genius.
Speaker 2 (54:45):
And imagine that written down on the page when the script comes and there’s nothing there apart from what he creates. So I completely understand what you mean by that. That’s fabulous. Would you rather be considered clever or funny Graham?
Graham Stuart (55:03):
I would wan to be considered of clever. I would never be considered funny. I’d never be considered funny because that’s not what I do. I mean, I like funny and would try and say funny things in conversation, but I’m not, I’m not a funny person. I just love being in funny, so no one in the world is ever saying, Graham Stuart – he’s really funny. No one’s ever said that maybe they did when I was on Scots Sport, but they would put… There’d be an epithet before that.I would like to be… Clever would do for me thank you.
Speaker 2 (55:42):
You see? You just proved yourself wrong because you made me laugh by saying that there would be an epithet before that
Graham Stuart (55:51):
It’s all real, Paul. I’m just dealing with reality. That’s real comedy.
Speaker 2 (55:57):
It is. It is. It’s in the moment. And finally, Graham Desert Island Gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Graham Stuart (56:09):
Well, what I would take with me and that one joke is very short and I’m sure you are a fan of this comedian. It’s somebody that has made me laugh through my whole life and always will do. Steven Wright. The master of the one-liner and there there’s so many of them, of those one-liners, which are brilliant, but there’s one that I’ve kept with me. Look, it’s, it’s very simple, but it’s in his laconic style and I would be hearing on a desert island. I’d just be hearing his voice on a loop and it’s very simple. And the joke is – I’m not gonna do impression – but you know, I’ll do it kind of in the style, I’ve been keeping a diary of my life day. Day one reads, still tired after the move. That’s it, it works for me, but you have to do this voice but he is a genius and that that’s the whole of life encompassed. Then he does it in style. I mean, right. Okay. If it wasn’t that one, cause I feel that one didn’t go down so well… I went to a restaurant that said it’s served breakfast at any time. So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance
Graham Stuart (57:39):
And I’m on a roll. Now it’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it. He’s a genius. He’s another genius. I love him. And you what? His dad was from Paisley. Did you know that?
Speaker 2 (57:56):
Graham Stuart (57:58):
Very American laconic and frizzy here, his dad was from Paisley, so there it is, he’s a jock. And that works for me as well.
Speaker 2 (58:09):
Well, all the funniest people in the world are Celts
Graham Stuart (58:15):
Speaker 2 (58:18):
Yeah. Graham Stuart. Thank you so much for sharing your culture, your comedy and lots and lots of fun with us today on the Humourology podcast.
Graham Stuart (58:29):
Well thank you, Paul. Really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Speaker 2 (58:32):
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.