Part of the Humourology series
Season 3, Episode 63
Jon Holmes – Negotiating Humour
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“You can disarm people that way, get the other guy to grin a bit, it calms them down a bit. It’s hard to get cross with someone who’s making you laugh.”
Join us this week as join gives a masterclass in the art of negotiation. Learn how to listen and laugh with everyone involved and find success at the negotiation table only on The Humourology Podcast.
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Some people have a very dry sense of humour. Some people have a more bawdy sense of humour, but in the end, it’s about the connection between you and the person you’re dealing with getting them on your wavelength so that they actually feel more relaxed. Are you more likely to sell to someone who is feeling relaxed than someone who’s feeling tense? Well, of course you are
Paul Boross (00:32):
Welcome to the Humourlogy podcast with me, Paul Boross, and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business sport and entertainment who are here 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. Subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is one of the most influential agents and managers in all of sport entertainment. He has represented four English captains across multiple sports, and his collection of clients includes some of the biggest names in sport and television, including Gary Lineker, David Gower, Mike Atherton, and Brian Moore – just to name a few. His influence on modern day football is undeniable having been involved in the careers of players like David Beckham, Alan Sheerer Peter Shilton and Michael Owen. He has made transfers happen, created captivating careers for his clients, and even spent a short time as the chairman of his club, Leicester City. When he isn’t representing some of the nation’s most notable stars, you can find him writing captivating columns in the New Statesman or giving his insights on the, behind the scenes business of sport and entertainment. Now we’re sincerely hoping that the experience of doing this interview will rank a close second to his beloved Leicester City winning the premiership, Jon Holmes. Welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Jon Holmes (02:29):
Thank you, Paul.
Paul Boross (02:32):
Good. Is it, is it already ranking a close second to Leicester winning the premiership?
Jon Holmes (02:38):
You want me to be honest, don’t you?
Paul Boross (02:40):
<laugh>? No, I don’t actually.
Jon Holmes (02:43):
Paul Boross (02:46):
I’d like to go back to the beginning, John. I know your father was a big sports fan and encouraged you to love sport. Was he humorous and was humour important and valued in your family?
Jon Holmes (03:00):
Absolutely. Yeah, he was a massive fan of comedians. I think, you know he was a great fan of Tony Hancock. I think it was him that took me into Tony Hancock. He also through his father who was a fan of comedians. And so on, took me into Groucho Marx , Will Hay, Sid Field, lots of the old comedians. And yeah, watching comedy programmes on television together, I suppose gave me my love of television. My father was born in 1923, so it doesn’t take much to work out that he was 16 years old when the war broke out. He spent his 21st birthday on the hill at Casino. And he would never talk about the war, of course, because they didn’t, they especially didn’t talk about Casino, which will lead us into maybe another tale later.
Jon Holmes (04:04):
But, he came out of the army age 22 and tried to play sport because he’d been pretty good as a cricketer footballer and so on before the war not good enough to be professional, but good enough to be a decent amateur. But of course he was definitely into playing sport at that point and watching sport, he watched Leicester city, his idol was a man called Sep Smith. My father was at the Wiggiston school in Leicester and was a classmate Richard Attenborough. And always told me that Richard Attenborough – Dickie darling – was a massive sports fan. And he too had watched Leicester City of that era enlisted Sep Smith as amongst his greatest heroes. The difference was that Dicky wasn’t a sportsman self-admitted hopeless. And my father remembers having to leave Dicky out of a very important cricket team at school because he just wasn’t good enough.
Jon Holmes (05:19):
And, that was one of his bad decisions. He’d probably got more cinema tickets or parts in films. Wouldn’t he, if he’d have if he’d have put him in the team and years later, I put them back together again at a ceremony in Leicester, when Gary Lineker got his freedom of the city. Richard Attenborough was there. They hadn’t seen each other since the war – since before the war. So that was extraordinary. Yeah, he was a massive sports fan. He took me to football matches, cricket matches from an early age. And made me laugh on television or helped me laugh on television at Tony Hancock and stuff like that. And and also radio comedy as well.
Paul Boross (06:11):
So what was the young Jon Holmes actually like then? Was he funny? Was he cheeky? Did he already have an entrepreneurial flare?
Jon Holmes (06:20):
Yeah, I probably was. I was badly behaved mostly. I think the interesting bit is that my father’s generation had, in many ways their youth was taken away from them by the war and they wanted their kids to have a good time, wanted them to have a better time than them. And so he generally wanted me to enjoy the sort of sports experiences and everything else that had been denied him because of whatever. And I was fortunate. I was born in 1950. the 1950s didn’t have my, there wasn’t much money about, and then as someone once said, you know, 1963 came about, I became a teenager, the Beatles arrived sex and the Beatles and money arrived about the same time. And you got the swinging sixties. I was a bit young for the swinging sixties, but it was an era of growth of television of sport and so on.
Jon Holmes (07:23):
And they became my two big sort of obsessions. And my father who who’d worked in the rag trade his father had started a business during the second world war bizarrely because his father had been just too young to work, to sorry, to fight in the first world war. He then came he then experienced the twenties and thirties. And what happened of course then was the soldiers came back and didn’t get jobs. And there was a depression. So my grandfather decided he would do all the non-orthodox things. So during the war, he bought a big house when nobody was buying big houses, he started a business that his children could work in when they came back for the war, my father being his eldest son and he bought a chemist shop in Folkestone because he got it for nothing because everybody thought Folkestone was doomed.
Jon Holmes (08:30):
Why have we got a chemist shop in Folkestone? And it only later in my life did it occur to me that this was not only the reason for it, but actually it was a stroke of genius and coincided with the other things that my grandfather did, but what my father did having come out of the army and gone straight into the family business, sent out with a gown van to sell coats and dresses, to credit traders in the Midlands. He didn’t want me to have to do that. He wanted me to be able to do what I wanted to do and so on. And what I wanted to do was to write about football. So I wanted to become a journalist and that was where I started. But then I sort of realised quite quickly after going to university where I worked on the university newspaper, I quite enjoyed it.
Jon Holmes (09:30):
I worked in journalism for a bit. I found that the people who worked in local newspapers, where you had to work in those days actually hated graduates because they’d not gone to university. And I had a news editor who fancied, he was Humphrey Bogart and patrol around the place being actually quite unpleasant to his young staff. And I thought, fuck this for a game soldiers. And I was in contact with a local businessman, started his own business. And he and I used to, he used to take me out for lunch. And I talked to him about ideas I’d got about sport and so on. And I’d been heavily, I by a money programme television, again, that featured Mark McCormack. This sounds really brilliant. And that was what I wanted to do. And he said to me, why don’t you come and work with me? I’ll teach you about financial services and money, and you try and build a business in sport along McCo linesrmacks’s, which is what happened.
Paul Boross (10:39):
I mean, was mark McCormack charismatic? Was that what drew you to him or, and did he have humour you think? or did you think that…
Jon Holmes (10:50):
He was American? He didn’t have humour?
Paul Boross (10:54):
Well, that’s killed our American audience for a start.
Jon Holmes (10:57):
Yeah, he was charismatic. He was very clever. And what he did was to discover the connection between sport, television and business and put the two together and you can make it work or put the three together rather, and you will make it work. And he, of course, he transformed golf that way through taking Arnold Palmer, a player, who was the best player in probably in the world at that point and saying, if you’re gonna be the best player in the world, you need to play in the world. So let’s go over and play in the British Open, which the Americans at that point had had been boycoting. He came over. I can remember very clearly Arnold Palmer coming. My dad was a keen golfer. This guy’s coming to play in The Open as we called it.
Jon Holmes (11:51):
And it was all over the newspapers and so on. And, he came over, he finished second the first year, but then he won it for a couple of years on the trot. Golf was started to be televised. They worked out that golf was good sport to televise because of the great back cloths that you got in terms of the coast scenery, where the British Open, has always been played and it came off and of course the cameras then were fixed. So they couldn’t do it as well as they now do it brilliantly, but it drew audiences and so on. So McCormack started managing the top three golfers, cuz they’d seen what he’d done. The three were Gary Player, Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmer. And he invented this television programme where the big three played various courses around the world and he sold it, I think to Shell.
Jon Holmes (12:47):
And it was a TV series shown around the world, the big three play this course, the big three play that course and I thought this was really clever. Um, and, but McCormack made one fundamental error in what he said and his fundamental error was he believed that what happened in America happened in the rest of the world later. He may have been true at that point, but it’s no longer true of course. And if you really want to upset Americans, and if I, you really want to upset your American listeners, you tell ’em that the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics. They really react badly to that, And if you really want to get them to react, like you’ve shot their grandmother, you tell them, there are more films made in Bollywood than Hollywood, both which are true.
Paul Boross (13:39):
It sounds like that you, your image was to be Mark McCormack with gags and with humour as well. That was your image of the future. Would that, would that be fair to say that you’ve actually pushed the lighter side of it. You’ve got the charisma, you’ve got the but you’ve also added in a level of humour. How does that help you?
Jon Holmes (14:07):
<laugh> In most situations it does help you, doesn’t it? There was a boy I knew at school, he was very lazy, but he always got away with things. He used to irritate me intensely because he just used to grin and he smiled at people. And know, I remember this master say his name was Charlie Thompson. Thompson, have you done your essay? And he just grin back, no, sir. And he got away with it. I thought, how does he get away with that? And of course you know, you can disarm people, they say the disarming smile and to try and get a smile, to try and get the other guy to grin a bit. It takes them down a bit. It’s hard to get crosse with someone who’s making you laugh
Paul Boross (14:59):
Well. So you actually think that it’s a state change in a way. That you can actually, through humour, you can change people’s state for the better and use that.
Jon Holmes (15:13):
Yeah, you can, of course, you can lighten the mood. You can, if somebody’s gettin, in a rage, I remember a colleague of mine , guy I worked with for a time Tony Stevens, he originally started acting as Beckham’s agent. And when he met Alex Ferguson, Alex Ferguson, to tell him. Alex Ferguson went into a state of rage because he didn’t like anyone having any control over any of his players. And at the end of it. So listening to his hair, dry treatment, he then looked at him, said, so take it you’re not happy. <laugh> and I think it maybe brought him down a bit. You do try and break people down. Some of the best managers in sport I’ve seen were also very funny, man, Brian Clough wa was a brilliant comedian Bill Shankley had moments of great comedy in terms of the way he dealt with people and so on and of course it gets people going with the, and so on.
Paul Boross (16:29):
I’ve heard you describe Brian Cluff as the, kind of like the Eric Morecambe to Peter Taylor’s Ernie Wise, in that he seemed to have a natural facility for humour. Did he always use it kindly or was a one-upmanship?
Jon Holmes (16:49):
Clough was mostly concerned with power. Power over people. That was, that was his primary concern. If you met him, his idea was to weigh up where you were in terms of power, how strong you were, how weak you were. And he could use humour to reduce people as well. I take the piss out of them to degree or build them up, but he was all concerned about his power in relation to them, but he used humour quite cleverly in doing that.
Paul Boross (17:27):
So humour can be used for a cruel aspect as, as well as the aspect of of, you know, lightening the mood and it’s of course always. And it’s so choice. Well, but you’ve always talked, I think about that Brian Clough would’ve been his success in any field. Do you think that humour is the key to great intelligence and great nous? It’s just how you use it.
Jon Holmes (17:58):
I’ve met some great people who are pretty humourless, so it’s not invariable but it’s a tool, isn’t it? it’s something that you can use if you are good at it, you can use it and I’ve always found the use of humour quite helpful. I’m not a comedian. I’m not funny. I’m not in terms of Jimmy Tarbuck is a friend of mine, he’s naturally funny. He can do absolutely anything and he can make you laugh and he tells stories in a way that completely disarms people. And so on. I remember one occasion where I went to a dinner, uh, in London with Tarbuck. It was anyway an organisation and Tarbuck was the president and Thacher was there after she’d been Prime minister. And she was, she was beginning to get towards I think, I mean, a state, her brain was, she was suffering from early dementia, early signs of dementia, although she was quite old.
Jon Holmes (19:17):
And Jimmy told a joke about um, about going on revisiting his honeymoon with his, um wife life after 40 years. And they went back to Southport and they took a walk as they’d done on their honeymoon 40 years before. And they strolled over the sand dunes. Andthen he said they made love against fence. And he said to his wife afterwards, God, that was as good as it was 40 years ago. And she said, yeah, but 40 years ago, the fence wasn’t electrified!
Paul Boross (20:02):
Jon Holmes (20:03):
And everyone reacted like you did Thatcher never moved a muscle. And I knew at that point, she’s maybe gone.
Paul Boross (20:11):
Well, we’ve we’ve had William Hague on the podcast. And and he has said categorically to us that Margaret Thatcher didn’t have a sense of humour. So it could just have been that.
Jon Holmes (20:26):
Well, it could have been. He Has got a sense of humour and actually he can tell joke. Boris Johnson gets away with a lot of things because he can tell a joke. Maybe Kier Starmer would be more effective. It’d be interesting to hear what Alastair Campbell said about it. If he was seen as a person who could tell jokes.
Paul Boross (20:51):
Well, according to Alastair…
Jon Holmes (20:53):
Talking of jokes, I’ve just been joined by a dog.
Paul Boross (20:55):
That’s alright. it’s the first time for a, dog on the podcast
Jon Holmes (21:01):
He wants me to throw his ball. Sorry, Otto. This is Otto von Bismark.
Paul Boross (21:11):
Oh, Otto. what’s your favourite gag?
Jon Holmes (21:15):
<laugh> what do you think of it so far? Rubbish! Sorry, I ill throw out. You’ll have to suspend at this point.
Jon Holmes (21:25):
Churchill obviously had great ability with humour and used it in speeches, you know, irony, those sort of things, some chicken, some neck, you know, one of his famous words and so on. And particularly if you go to the House of Commons, if you’ve ever been there and seen the way it’s set up and how they behave at Question Time, sometimes how that comes over in TV, as opposed to when you see it in reality, it is different. And actually it gets quite childish and you sometimes worry about actually, is this the right way to run a country when there are things that are serious and so on, there’s definitely a place for humour and a place where humour isn’t appropriate. I think you have to work that out.
Paul Boross (22:24):
Yeah. It’s interesting. The Kier Starmer point, because we’ve had quite a lot of people from politics on Steve Richards and obviously Alastair and seemingly I don’t know Kier Starmer but he has got a good sense of humour. I think he’s just reticent to actually bring it out because he’s terrified of the press jumping on something that could be, you know, humour is very often inappropriate.
Jon Holmes (22:55):
Humour, inappropriate, and, and also maybe he’s playing a canny game in that he’s trying to present an opposite, you know, at played an opposite to Churchill in many ways yet was a very effective prime minister in many ways.
Paul Boross (23:13):
Well, you talk about negotiation. What is the key to negotiation for you in the terms of humour and how it can be used? Is it about good cop, bad cop you say, or what is, what is the essence of it?
Jon Holmes (23:33):
There’s no one good way. That’s the first thing you learn? The idea that something is, the answer in negotiation is not true. It’s all the circumstance, it’s where you are at the time. I’ve negotiated for a living as it were for ages and ages. And sometimes people will say to you, how did you do that? Or how did you do that? And, and how did you get that deal? How did you get that deal? And actually sometimes good negotiation. So times did I use humour it sometimes? Yeah. Did I sometimes play the hard man? Yeah. Sometimes. Did I sometimes play the naive? Yeah, there’s no good way to do it. It’s, what’s appropriate in the circumstance. It’s basically looking at the guy, the other side of the table and working out how to… It is, you see Clough understood it was about power and so on. And actually if someone’s on your wavelength, if they’re talking to you and you get a point of contact it does work. And sometimes that involves humour. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you are keener to get one step ahead of them. Sometimes you’re keen to withhold certain information. Sometimes the best way to do it is to actually be completely open. But it’s all about the dynamic of the relationship in order to achieve where you’re going.
Paul Boross (25:05):
I think that’s really interesting because what you have hit on, I think there whether consciously or unconsciously is that you said negotiation is all about different circumstances, but I think it’s about listening, which is what the essence of good humour is, is about listening to what, getting back and then reacting to it in a way. You are very good at listening. You are very good at gauging what people need at a certain point. And by the way, all the great comedians, I would say are the best listeners, but listening doesn’t just mean through the ears, it means seeing how people look.
Jon Holmes (25:48):
I was gonna say, I’m often told I’m not actually much, very good at listening. A friend of mine always used to say I was permanently fixed onto broadcast. <laugh> I think it’s not only what you hear, it’s what you see. You can see in eyes, in people’s body languages, whether you are getting over to them, you know, are they sitting like that or <laugh>, or are they sitting back and smiling and enjoying it? Are they smiling? Cuz they’re laughing at you or are they smiling and grinning because they’re enjoying the conversation. So it’s watching as much as listening, it’s sensing the other side of the table where you’re going to, is it time for a break now? Or is it time to push on?
Paul Boross (26:40):
I think that that listening off the top is – in psychology that we would call that listening off the top – whereby true listening is about recognising how someone looks when they’re, they’re talking to you. Are they with you on the journey? I mean, even the simple things, like when people want to hear more, the eyebrows go up, when they want to hear less, the eyebrows go down and you talked about it being instinctive. And I think that is really useful for our listeners to know that somebody who has done as many brilliant negotiations over the years is instinct. And doesn’t just play it one way, is humour appropriate at this point? Can we shift the way somebody’s feeling and their state through humour. So, that I think is the crucial thing. And I’m learning a lot from that negotiation stance. Well,
Jon Holmes (27:44):
You say it’s instinctive, it’s also learned. You gain through experience. Don’t you, you try and learn from each new negotiation you, because you do make mistakes and you learn, I won’t do that again. You know, one thing I always learnt with negotiation, even if you’ve got everything you absolutely want and you’re bursting to say, yeah, let’s do the deal. You should always say, Yeah. I think we’re there. But before we come to final agreement, I want to go and um, I want to go and talk with my mother, my, my wife, my dog, want to… always give yourself a get out clause because once you’ve got out of that state where the other guy, uh, you have between you manoeuvred yourselves into a position where you think you’ve got a deal, you need to then go, have we really got a deal?
Jon Holmes (28:48):
Have I missed something? And that so always give yourself time now, early on. And especially when I was dealing with training people to do my job when I was with a larger bit, I found that some of them were desperately anxious. Yeah. We’ve got a, a deal rights, brilliant. They went and did the deal. And then they rang me half an hour later and said, we’ve got, you know, we’ve got a better deal now. And I’d say to them well, have you a hundred percent agreed with this guy that you were going to do it. Yeah, I have. So I’m gonna let him down. I said, no, you must never let down because if you’ve a hundred percent agreed, I’m sorry, you will never do a deal with him again, if you let him down at this point. So always give yourself a get out clause because you don’t know if somebody else may come along with a better deal in the next 10 minutes, you can’t forever string things out.
Jon Holmes (29:44):
But again, that’s a bit of intelligence and watching as to kind of string this guy on for a little bit longer, or is he gonna lose his humour and his patience and so on. Have got to sort of bring him wee bit? I remember, and it is quite a funny story. Uh, Peter Shelton, we, the first time we did a transfer, uh, for him, we moved him from Leicester City to Stoke City. And in those days transfers were done rather quicker and all sorts of arcane rules. Like you had to lodge the papers on a Thursday night at Lytham St Annes. I mean, could you make a more difficult place to do it? And, so we, Leicester and Stoke agreed a deal. We had to agree personal terms. And most managers assume that what would happen is they would walk into a negotiation, tell the player what he was getting.
Jon Holmes (30:49):
The player would argue a bit, but then he’d say, well, that’s what we pay. And that’s it son. And you can’t have any advisors and you just do this and we’ll look after you. Is there anything else you want? And the player would then meakly say, well, can I have a new car? And he’d say, I’ll look after that, just sign there. And that will be the end of it. And then the next day they he’d go and say, what about my new car? And he’d say, fuck off. You’ve signed. And, you’re playing for me now sudden you’re on three year contract. Um, and I walked in with Peter, the club they, they came in, there’s the manager there, the director there, the secretary there yet, the player was expected to go on his own. And basically they overpowered him. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.
Jon Holmes (31:37):
And I said, well, you know, and Peter backed me up. I’m not gonna sign unless John it’s okay. So we negotiated and we negotiated and it took a long time and they wanted to talk in terms of weeks because these people were paid employees that you only got, youn weekly wage. This was what you got. You were like the mill worker, you know? and we talked in terms of annual salary and we messed about did all those typical negotiation ploys. If somebody’s talking pounds, you say, oh, want, well, can we denominate that in dollars? And then now you could say Euros and so on and so on. So, I’ve done that loads of times. It used to be, you used to have a sheet with all the currencies written, if you were to go foreign transfer. So you could mess about with the numbers a wee bit.
Jon Holmes (32:29):
And so, but anyway, to cut long story short, this negotiation went on a long time. And director who turned up, you know, he didn’t actually say a lot except to agree to various things along the way, which I made them right down and so on. I could see as the morning went on, he, he’d not, you know, we were in a hotel in the middle of the north Hamptonshire and there was, there was no refreshments in there and he was a big man and he was getting more and more hungry. And he, he kept saying, well, should we have some sandwiches now? Or some lunch should some, okay, no, I think we need to concentrate on this. You know, we need to go had this sorted. And then we, we got to where we got, we got, you know, we were moving on and through dividing things up and putting in rates of inflation and all that sort of thing.
Jon Holmes (33:32):
We got to a, some, I think it was 338 pound 60 P. And he said, well, good. Right, I’ll get some sandwiches. So he bought his sandwiches up and he got a prawn sandwich in his mouth. And I said, look, this, this, I went back from annualised amounts back to weekly amounts. I said, this 338 pounds 60, the, this is ridiculous. Why don’t we make it 350? And he’s halfway through his prawn sandwich. He said, and his prawns flying all over the place. You’ve got enough. That’s it young man.
Paul Boross (34:10):
I think that by understanding how important humour is, you actually manage to change the image in public perception of sports people in the UK. Cause you were instrumental in bringing the TV show. They Think It’s All Over to our screens. On that show, you encouraged both Gary Lineker, if I’m right and David Gower to take the piss out of themselves and allow the piss to be taken out of them. So how important do you think, think that is to the image to be allow the piss to be taken out yourself? Cause you, you started it really
Jon Holmes (34:48):
Well. I’m not sure. I thought what the story of think it’s all over was that on, on the guy phone me, he said, my name is, Richard Addis I think his name was, he said, I’m a producer with BBC radio Four and we are starting a new sports quiz series, which I’ve been put in charge of. And I know nothing about sport. And I thought, yeah, that sounds right for BBC. And he said, I’m told by Jonathan Martin – who was then head of BBC sport that, you know, everything. So I said, well, that’s very kind of him. Yes. He said, uh, and I think Gary Linaker would be the perfect person to be on cause we are doing a pilot show. And so I said, well, that proves two things, uh, that Jonathan Martin knows a little bit, but you do know nothing because if you knew anything, you’d know Gary Lineker currently in Japan playing for a Japanese side.
Jon Holmes (35:43):
So he said, right. Oh yes. Oh dear. So can, so I said, well, look, I’ve got this client. I I’ve got Dave Gower, who’s a client and I’ve got Will Carling who’s England rugby captain. I think they could do pilot radio quiz for you. and so, we went along and the panel consisted of Rory Bremner, who was teamed up on one side with David Gower and Rory McGrath who was teamed up with Will Carlling. And the question master was Des Lynham who was BBC’s Mr. Sport at that point, point of view, and it was done at the Paris theatre and I watched it and I thought it was very funny. And I thought this could work on TV. And I’d always been interested in extending the career of a sportsman beyond 35 in to broadcasting and so on, which was the simplest way to do it, television sport.
Jon Holmes (36:44):
McCormack this is how to do it, grow them out of that. And so on. So, about three or four days later, I bumped, bumped into Brian Barwick who was head of BBC no second head of BBC sport, deputy head below, Jonathan Martin, three or four days later, bumped into Brian Barwick head of BBC who second second out of BBC sport, deputy head, Jonathan Martin. And I said to him, I saw a pilot of a radio programme being done the other night called they think it’s all over. And, uh, I think it could work on TV. And he said, oh, Des doesn’t think it’ll work on TV. I said okay. That’s DESS opinion. So we got the two of them together and we did endless pilots and yes, and the first night it came out on television, I remember it going out.
Paul Boross (37:42):
I think it was, I think they put it on after the watershed because of the, you know, nature of it and so on. And, then it just finished. I just finished watching it on the television. And I got a phone call from at home from the editor of The Sun. Now phone calls in those days from the editor of the sun late at night were not normally good news. So, and I knew him, it was Stuart Higgins and he phoned me. He said, it’s brilliant, isn’t it? It’s fantastic. I said, what Stuart? He said that programme. He said, it’s brilliant. And I knew then we got a hit. What it did was that you saw Gary and David learn next to really good comedians, how to deliver a joke, how to deliver a line, how to be funny, what worked, what didn’t like, everything in broadcasting on TV – heavily edited.
Jon Holmes (38:47):
So they could tell which jokes worked, which were didn’t, which went into the broadcast programme about, you know, an hour and a half was done condensed down into, into half an hour. And that programme had of course a dramatic effect for both of them in that it presented them to the public in a different way. Beyond just the original sport. How do you feel after winning the The World Cup? Now, you feel bloody terrible, you know, the stupid questions you get. How do you feel? Well, I’m over the moon guv and all that sort of thing. They could actually use that and learn how the comedians did it and so on. So it was an interesting exercise,
Paul Boross (39:33):
But I think you are hiding your light under a bushel because I think that was a seismic shift in the way sports people were viewed and allowing that to happen. It had to be an instinctive thing that actually they are going to be more drawn to the bosum of the public. If they have humour.
Jon Holmes (39:56):
Of course, what happens on television is of course the public are watching you. So they’re seeing you differently. So your public are observing and you get the feedback. Of course it was it was still a very enjoyable exercise.
Paul Boross (40:12):
No, I think you’ve done. All right, John, haven’t you?
Jon Holmes (40:16):
I’ve got away with it.
Paul Boross (40:18):
<laugh> What makes you laugh?
Jon Holmes (40:22):
What makes certain comedians make me make me laugh? Jimmy Tarbuck who’s become a friend. He makes me laugh. Tony Hancock made me laugh. Dad’s Army ,sitcoms in general. I think what’s sad now is that the sitcoms of that era, which were all based in terms of development of character, it was Hancock’s character. Hancock wasn’t actually a comedian, he was a comic actor. Maybe the geniuses were, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. you look at the comedies that often in partnerships, weren’t they Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse that were able to write,Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, the Likely Lads brilliant, came out the characters and development of the carrot so that people knew and could identify with them. And actually the interaction of people does make me laugh and so on. Modern standup, some of it, I, some of it, I think very good, but It’s not necessarily the material, but the way it’s the way you tell him, as they say. Tommy Cooper, you know, that sort of thing he could, Bob Monkhouse had brilliant of course and so on and got a joke for every situation and had this book and was this slick and witty? It’s the wittiness, the response, the it’s the intelligence of some of it that, uh, that makes me laugh. Yeah.
Paul Boross (42:08):
You were talking, uh, about one of your comedy heroes who makes you laugh Bob Monkhouse and in my performing days, um, I did a big gala show at the Birmingham HRO organised by Japer Carrott. It was like a who’s who ofcomedy Rowan Atkinson and Lenny Henry and Punt and Dennis, and all of us and my old act Morris Meyer and the Majors we were on and the person who blew everyone away that night. And remember it was, everybody was steeped in comedy, was Bob Monkhouse. He was so funny live on stage. And people seem to remember him more as a game show, how, but live on stage, he was naughty. He was a little bit blue, but boy, was he funny?
Jon Holmes (43:03):
He’s very funny. Um, Terry Wogan, you see wasn’t a comedian, but he was the master of a funny line and a way to react. I remember with Wogan, he, he did a speech, he waschairman of the saints and sinners, club. And they had a Christmas lunch andevery year they got a speaker along the speaker general speaking was brilliant. They had some very, very funny speakers along. And he got someone over from Ireland and this bloke was absolutely terrible. He was awful. And he went on for 20 minutes and in the end he’d lost his audience. They were almost throwing things at him and so on. And, the chap I was sitting next to is my mate who’d invited me. He said to me, let’s see Wogan, get out of this cuz this guy’s his choice. And Wogan stood up and because he’d stood up, he was quite a big man, Terry, he commanded presents and it just went quiet. And he just looked at everyone and said, Well follow that.
Paul Boross (44:19):
Jon Holmes (44:22):
He didn’t put the guy away. He just gently seemed, of course everyone, wet themselves. It was very, very clever,quick wit. And so on that, that sort of thing makes me laugh and so on. And yeah, it is about, that’s about power over the audience. A lot of it is about power and power. And you’re talking about negotiation, which is about power and humour as a way of getting people on side. Some people can’t do it, some people can.
Paul Boross (44:55):
Why do people fail to be funny? Do you think that it’s in the background? Cause I know you’ve talked about in the past that from the idea of sports people that that team players, people who play for teams tend to be funnier than individual sports. So, what do you think it is that makes people fail to be funny?
Jon Holmes (45:17):
Some cases it’s autism, but which can in itself could be funny, can’t it? You know, some autistic people are quite funny should one laugh. I don’t know.,Is it cruel to fund of those circumstances, but it can certainly be, disarming, but it’s, as we’ve talked about earlier, it’s your relationship with the person you’re talking to and judging it and so on. And some people, you know, I have a very dry sense of humour. Some people have a more bawdy sense of humour, but in the end, it’s about the connection between you and the person you’re dealing with getting them on your wavelength so that they actually feel more relaxed. Are you more likely to sell to someone who is feeling relaxed than someone who’s feeling tense? And so well, of course you are.
Paul Boross (46:19):
You were talking about just now about why people fail to be funny and it sounded like that they fail to empathise really that that would be the key for you is to actually empathise before you could funny,
Jon Holmes (46:34):
Correct. I think if, if the guy’s not on your wavelength, can you get him on your wavelength by using a bit of humour? You know, you are all the time. Aren’t you searching when you meet someone for the first time, what can I talk about to this person – who he will get on my side? You notice a lot of people often not very clever people or people who are not sure of themselves will laugh after they make a very bland statement. What that is, I think is an unconscious attempt to get somebody on this. So I’m being funny. No, you are actually not being funny. Doesn’t, you know, it’s not, it’s not getting me there, but it’s a nervous laugh and they unconsciously they’re trying to get the other guy to laugh with them.
Paul Boross (47:29):
Rapport, I think is the first thing you need before you can do humour. There seems to be an order of things that you have to actually have got the rap rapport in order to get the person into a state whereby they are going to be relaxed enough to laugh.
Jon Holmes (47:48):
And it it’s risky. Sometimes I can remember in my selling days going to meet a guy who he was a, I think he was a fruit and veg market wholesaler and so on and walking into his office in Shefield and it was a shambles. And I, I looked at him and um, I went in and I thought, you know, cuz sometimes you do take risks. This could have gone really wrong. And I said, God, what a fucking mess <laugh> and he looked at me and smiled and said, it is you’re right. <laugh> and we got on straight away. So something in me at that point could have gone really wrong. Like that’s really rude go away, but it didn’t so you’ve gotta try those things. Nowhere you are trying them. And so on
Paul Boross (48:47):
That comes with charm. Doesn’t it really because actually some element of your face or your demeanour or your body language is showing people that you are teasing, you are having fun. And I think that’s a really important element whereby your face tells a different story. I mean, if you just say the word, you know this place is a shithole with a blank, look on your face.
Jon Holmes (49:18):
Paul Boross (49:19):
It’s gonna die on its ass.
Jon Holmes (49:21):
Well, sometimes the blank look on your face can also be effective. Charm is a dangerous quality because you can work yourself into a position where if you can make people laugh, you think you can get away with almost anything. I think we have a prime minister who thinks he can get away with almost anything because people will laugh and so on. It needs to be at the same time with an intelligence of where I’m going with this, you know, I don’t want to get too carried away with this. Otherwise you’ll get out of hand and so on. So humour, tempered, but it’s intelligence basically, isn’t it. And empathy and understanding. And there’s also an element of integrity as well, stuck at the back of it. Yeah.
Paul Boross (50:19):
Isn’t it about self editing because all of us who think funny or all think loads of things and then go, no, it’s not the right time. No, no, no. Yes. It’s the right time. And so, I mean, how many times have you had a gag in your head and you thought, no, it’s funny, but it’ll be cruel at the same time. You are a brilliant businessman. Who’s brought people through the business. If I asked you because a lot of our audience are business people. If I asked you to write a business case for humour, why it should be included in any business, what would you include in that business case?
Jon Holmes (51:03):
Because people work better when things are fun. I think we’ve proved haven’t we now that a happy staff, a happy workforce, if they’re having fun, if they’re enjoying it, even if it’s a fairly mundane job, they will work better.
Paul Boross (51:26):
Anyway, John we’ve reached the point of in the show out, which we like to call quickfire questions,
Speaker 3 (51:32):
Quick Fire Questions.
Paul Boross (51:36):
Did you like the jingle by the way?
Jon Holmes (51:38):
Wonderful jingle. Yeah.
Speaker 3 (51:41):
Jon Holmes (51:42):
Have you tried releasing it as a single
Paul Boross (51:48):
It’s a number it’s got number one, written all over it, by the way, it was written by the fifth member of Queen, just so you know, It’s true.
Jon Holmes (51:58):
Is that Princess Anne?
Speaker 3 (52:00):
Paul Boross (52:03):
Who is the funniest business person that you’ve met?
Jon Holmes (52:11):
Paul Boross (52:14):
Okay. So why ?
Jon Holmes (52:18):
Quick witted, fiercely intelligent – cabaret show at times on his own.
Paul Boross (52:28):
So what was it that made him and is it for you? Is that an cater of absolute intelligence? The fact that he was so funny?
Jon Holmes (52:40):
Not absolute intelligence, but a particular time kind of focused intelligence.
Paul Boross (52:47):
What book makes you laugh?
Jon Holmes (52:50):
Three men in a Boat made me laugh – Jerome K Jerome. Bertie Wooster. You know, some of the lines, his Satire on Britain and clever observation.
Paul Boross (53:05):
What film makes you laugh? Jon?
Jon Holmes (53:08):
I love The Great Race. I like Tony Curtis and Jack Lamon in that. I thought that was very funny. Anything that the Marx Brothers were in is very funny. Blazing Saddles is very funny. Cat Baloo, Mel Brooks, the Producers loads and loads,
Paul Boross (53:29):
Brilliant answers. All of those films are hilarious and we’ve never had anybody who’s reeled off so many so quickly. Wonderful. Um, let’s take a shift to the other side because it’s very relevant to these times. What is not funny?
Jon Holmes (53:49):
What’s going on in Russia at the moment is not funny and Ukraine, Russia as a country is not funny. Some of what went on in America recently with Trump is not funny. The growth of totalitarianism is not funny. Authoritarian, leadership is not funny.
Paul Boross (54:12):
No, I couldn’t agree more to be honest with you, it’s a son of a Hungarian refugee. It it’s all hitting home quite, quite severely. What word makes you laugh?
Jon Holmes (54:25):
Paul Boross (54:31):
No. What word makes you laugh? So
Speaker 3 (54:36):
Paul Boross (54:37):
What sound makes you laugh, Jon?
Jon Holmes (54:43):
I think a lot of, uh, you know, things going bang, things going pop. I mean, there’s a lot of very, I mean, if you watch the early chaplain films, there is a lot of humour in, fairly basic, it has to be quite sudden and unexpected. Doesn’t it sudden and unexpected things make me laugh. They’re the sounds that make me laugh, I suppose. Yeah. They can sometimes frighten you, but they can also make you laugh. If something happens at an inappropriate moment, Farts make you laugh on occasions, don’t they?
Paul Boross (55:22):
Or when your bollocks go bang.
Jon Holmes (55:25):
Well, that that’s no, <laugh> someone who’s had a prostatectomy does not laugh about things like that.
Speaker 3 (55:32):
Paul Boross (55:34):
Okay. I take it back <laugh> would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Jon Holmes (55:41):
Uh, both I’m greedy.
Paul Boross (55:44):
Okay. Okay. You can have both. And finally, Jon Desert Island Gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Jon Holmes (55:56):
Well, I like Jimmy Tarbuck’s joke about the honeymoon that Margaret Thatcher didn’t like, I have to say, I’ve told that a few times and there was a really inappropriate joke which just, it did make me laugh, but it reveals me as Republican and capable of,<laugh> saying things at the wrong time. So I’m not gonna tell that that’s private.
Paul Boross (56:26):
Okay. So you’re, you’re gonna go with the Jimmy Tarbuck one.
Jon Holmes (56:28):
I’ll go with that. Yeah. Yeah.
Paul Boross (56:31):
Brilliant. John. You’ve not only been a fascinating guest, but you’ve actually improved my mind and my humour. Thank you so much for being a guest on the Humourology podcast.
Jon Holmes (56:45):
You lie with effortless ability, Paul and good luck to you. I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks.
Paul Boross (56:52):
The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks music by Steve Haworth, creative direction, by Les Hughes, 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.