This week's comedy news
The stars of Monty Python have announced a press conference this Thursday amid rumours of a reunion. They last worked as a team back in 1983, on the film The Meaning of Life. The Sun reports that the five surviving Pythons (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Michael Palin) have spent months in "secret talks". Previous rumoured projects have come to nothing, with Idle once joking: "We would only do a reunion if [Graham] Chapman came back from the dead. So we're negotiating with his agent." The press conference is scheduled for midday 21 November at London's Playhouse Theatre. Meanwhile, as the British Comedy Guide report, ex-Pythons Palin and Jones have been filming new material together for the DVD release of their "lost" 1960s Python forerunner The Complete and Utter History of Britain. The faux-documentary series, first broadcast on London Weekend Television in 1969, was long considered gone forever. But now, the pair have reunited to refilm several scenes intended to link several surviving historical sketches.
Ex-X Factor winner James Arthur has departed Twitter after a spat with comedian Frankie Boyle, a reprise of an online feud waged by the duo last December. The latest instalment was triggered after Arthur used "fucking queer" in lyrics to a track released online last weekend. Boyle and Matt Lucas both took to Twitter to accuse the singer of homophobia. The correspondence got nasty with Arthur telling his old foe he looks like " a child's drawing of a monster" and "a post-op Miley Cyrus".
Arthur: "You are a 38 yr old man what are you doing? You know nothing about music and comedy it seems. I feel sorry for your kids."
Boyle: "I feel sorry for them too, because they'll have to watch you in panto next year." Arthur later withdrew from the fray, announcing that his management would be "doing all [his] tweets from now on".
Elsewhere, Radio 4 makes the news with its launch of a three-week Twitter campaign, Curious 4 Comedy, which randomly distributes clips of its comedy shows to social media users. The channel has also announced a "Comedy Advent Calendar". "Every day in December," the BBC tells us, "some of the nation's favourite stars, including Mitchell & Webb, Sue Perkins, Lenny Henry, Sandi Toksvig, Marcus Brigstocke and Johnny Vegas will appear in some of our flagship programmes such as Today and Woman's Hour."
News also reaches Laughing Stock that Russell Brand has had been refused entry to South Africa, forcing him to cancel planned gigs in the country, apparently because he didn't have enough free pages in his passport. The YouTube sensation What Does the Fox Say?, by Norwegian double-act Ylvis, has been turned into a children's book. And the sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart, is being retooled as a stage musical (but of course … ), while the gentlemen's magazine GQ is trying its hand at live comedy.
In screen news, film stars Tim Robbins and Jack Black are to star in an HBO pilot about a geopolitical crisis called The Brink. Micky Flanagan is developing an autobiographical sitcom about life as an "East End boy done good" and now moving in middle-class circles. Bridesmaids director Paul Feig is making a spin-off of last summer's Sandra Bullock film The Heat with the alter egos of agony-aunt double act Ronna & Beverly, Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin. The show Problems, by Aussie comic Sam Simmons, is to get a UK airing on the cable channel Dave. And finally, there are brushes with mortality for two well-loved telly stars, as Paul O'Grady has a heart scare, and Eddie Large is hospitalised after tripping over a road sign. Get well soon, gents!
Best of the Guardian's comedy coverage
• "Technology tends to get a bad press in comedy routines" – until now, as robot comedian RoboJase takes to the stage, reports Matt Trueman
• "It's Tina's show. I want to do my own show, which says what I want to say and about things I believe in" – 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin talks to Emma Brockes about former co-star Tina Fey
• It's sophisticated, Joan, but not as you know it – Frank Skinner returns to standup, to show us his less smutty side.
• "It's rare to find a sitcom where the couple get on" – Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani, stars of the sitcom Him & Her, in a video interview with Harriet Gibsone.
• "Built like an alp, ridged like a Toblerone" – Rich Pelley offers up a selection of the best ever Fast Show sketches.
Wanted: dead or alive
The biggest conflict in comedy this week concerns a man who's been dead for 30 years. Or has he? This week, at an awards ceremony honouring the great American gadfly Andy Kaufman, his brother, Michael, announced that Kaufman had faked his own death in 1984, and is in fact alive and well. To prove the point, Michael then introduced to the stage a woman who claimed to be Andy's 24-year-old daughter. "He's pretty much a great dad, and raised us," she told the (presumably) incredulous throng. "[He] works from home so he doesn't have to be hiding out [or] concealing himself. He just makes us food and takes care of the house."
It was later claimed, however, that the "daughter" was a New York actress that Michael Kaufman recruited to play his alleged niece. The stunt capitalised on rumours that have long swirled around Kaufman's apparent death, with a section of his fanbase persistently maintaining that the ex-Taxi star and comic prankster lives on. Their argument lost credibility as the week proceeded, however, with Kaufman's ex-girlfriend Lynne Marguiles – author of an forthcoming book about the comic's life and death – claiming that she watched him die, aged 35, of lung cancer. "I was in the hospital room," she told the gossip site TMZ. "I was there. They would have had to switch bodies." So, the story ends there right? Probably not. Marguiles' new book is supposed to "reveal the secret that Andy made Lynne [ … ] promise never to tell until both of his parents had died." A secret that will change everything you ever thought you knew about Andy Kaufman … Here we go again …
Best of our readers' comments
Last Friday, the comedian Eddie Nestor wrote a comment piece about the death of his friend and colleague, Felix Dexter and the dearth of opportunities for black comedians in British comedy. It was a heartfelt piece that provoked a big response. Here's TheGrimSqueaker, contradicting one commenter's suggestion that "if it's as good as [Channel 4's hit sitcom] Desmond's then it will be successful":
It isn't that simple. Desmond's happened because Channel 4 had a remit to provide culturally diverse programming and had a specialist "ethnic" unit which, from producer-level downward, was almost exclusively staffed by black, Asian and LBGT staff; so programmes such as Desmonds, Eastern Eye, Black on Black and Bandung File, and films like My Beautiful Launderette, were produced giving a platform to people who would otherwise have been stifled.
When Channel 4 disbanded this unit – and although the reason given was financial that is far from the whole story – that platform and those voices were stifled. Norman Beaton was a ferocious talent and one of the finest actors this country has ever seen, but without that short period of positive discrimination (and we can debate all day as to whether that is good or bad) Beaton would have remained unknown to many.
It's way harder for non-white British comedians to break on to TV, [even though] there are some amazing people at all levels. People are going on about percentage of the population, but the actual question is what percentage of the comedy population comedians "of colour" make up. It's actually pretty big, and, [speaking] as someone on the circuit, the best ones are gut-achingly hilarious. And I can't think of any [of them] who has got more than a bit part in a show or an odd appearance on bunfight of a panel show that's so heavily edited that they are lucky if you see then in the line-up, let alone actually talking or, God forbid, making a joke.
There's room for everyone in the schedule, but in my experience those who decide what is funny are young(ish), white and of the university circuit … I support picking out the best black (or Asian or Polish or Inuit) comedy talent and giving them a boost. Once you help an art form achieve a tipping point the balance will happen naturally thereafter, as a greater mix of people become producers and commissioners, as well as "the talent" …
Honestly. They're out there and deserve a platform.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk