Good joke

Mail15comedians

With very good reason, the Mail On Sunday‘s man-aimed Live supplement (for which I very briefly wrote when it launched in 2005) proudly trumpeted this exclusive story on, yes, Sunday, entitled So These 15 Comedians Walk Into A Room …

The blurb proudly declares, “Live invited a select group of 15 of its favourite performers on to our largest sofa to explain why, 30 years after the ground-breaking launch of the Comedy Store, Britain is the laughing stock of the world – and proud of it.” The main photograph, taken by lensing legend Nicky Johnston (who once took some fetching photos of Collins & Maconie), featured all 15 of these comedians, from Frank Skinner and Dara O’Briain to newcomers Simon Bird and Mark Watson, sitting on or standing behind a long sofa, all interacting and chatting. This is how the piece sets it up:

“On a sunny day in May, you could walk past West London’s Jet Studios and never know the cream of British comedy were gathered inside … For anyone with ears to hear, the noise emanating from these garage doors is unmistakable: a cacophony of yelping, hooting, swearing, shouting and heckling that Frank Skinner describes as ‘like some kind of horrible voodoo sex ritual’. This is what happens when you put 15 comedians in a room … The atmosphere is feverish etc. etc.”

Right. So all 15 of these comedians were in the same room at the same time were they? They didn’t come in at different times, let’s say, and pose for individual shots against the same pink background, later to be expertly photoshopped together? Listen, I worked in the magazine publishing caper when such techniques were still in their relative infancy, and when we gathered together, say, a bunch of disparate rock stars for an awards ceremony, we had to photograph them together, or in groups of two and three, as best we could. Immediately after I left the job in 1997, the trick of photographing a parade of celebrities against the same studio background and on the same studio sofa became commonplace. Hence: those tremendous fold-out covers with everybody who was at a single awards ceremony, miraculously all sitting together and sharing a joke. Since the magazine has been responsible for arranging these celebrities in one place, albeit not necessarily at the same time, it feels it has the right to cheat time and join them together. It’s not exactly a lie, more a smoothing over of the truth.

In other words, it hardly qualifies as a photographic deception any more: it’s the same sofa, the same studio, the same background, and the work has been done by the same bookers – getting 15 mostly big-name comedians together at different times on the same day is a logistical feat. This is what irks me – as a reader:

  1. The way the words weave a fictional web around the more mundane reality of what happened. “The cream of British comedy were gathered inside …” – yes, at staggered intervals. If you check out the rest of the excellent photos on the M0S website, you’ll see that Jack Dee and Alan Carr were definitely in the studio at the same time, as evidenced by the shots of them mucking about with each other and some props. Meanwhile, none of the other comics are seen interacting, which rather suggests that they all came through individually. (I have, in fact, checked, and a number of them did.) If you look at the one of Alan Carr lying down you can see that the sofa is normal sofa-sized and not giant, and you can also see the edge of the studio background. It’s not as if the illusion has even been protected.
  2. The point of this blog entry: during the BBC witch hunt that centred around “Crowngate”, the Mail were as quick and enthusiastic as all the other national newspapers to heap shame upon the BBC and other broadcasters for the crime of editing some film together in a way that presented something other than hard fact. How dare a broadcaster do this! Off with their heads!

Yes, I know it would be tiresome to read an introduction that ran, On a sunny day in May, you could walk past West London’s Jet Studios and never know the cream of British comedy were gathered inside – because they weren’t really, well, not at exactly the same time … For anyone with ears to hear, the noise emanating from these garage doors is unmistakable: some individual comics talking to the photographer and sometimes their publicist. This is what happens when you put 15 comedians in a room, one after the other … The atmosphere is like that of a person being photographed in a studio.” But I’m not an idiot, and I can handle the truth. Fifteen separate interviews with 15 entertainment luminaries is journalistic achievement enough.

And as I say, it’s a really good photograph.

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