August 22, 2006


Just saw this story--What Is Britain's Funniest Accent?--which, oddly enough, belongs to the Magic City's namesake.

What I found so odd about the piece?

One--that this guy gal actually exists:

[...] The research, led by comedy expert Dr Lesley Harbidge from the University of Aberdeen [...]

and second, the fact that if indeed he she DOES exist and DOES actually consider himself herself a comedy expert, he she should know better than this:

The test joke was chosen by Dr Harbidge for reflecting traditional British stand-up comedy.

With no notion of cleverness on the part of the teller, the listener's concentration is focused on the lilt of the words themselves.

The joke goes: Workmen are eating sandwiches, balancing on a girder miles above the ground.

"You ever get that urge, Frank? It begins with looking down from 50 storeys up, thinking about the meaningless of life, listening to dark voices deep inside you, and you think, 'Should I?... Should I?...Should I push someone off?"'

Friends, scholars--THAT is NOT a joke! At least by itself--it is a CAPTION, proceeding from the comedic gold mine found inside Gary Larson's bulging head.

Captions rely on the artwork and in most cases the artwork relies on the caption to be funny. In the original cartoon, without the caption, it's just a cartoon of two guys sitting on a girder. With only the caption, you miss the subtle bulging of Frank's eyeballs as the words sink in and he realizes he's sitting beside a psycho. In any event, I find it difficult to see how any of this is "reflecting traditional British stand-up comedy."

But then again, I am from Birmingham.

(I do wonder what it takes to get a gig at a college as a humor expert.)

UPDATED 12/14/06 Well, it turns out that such peoples as Doctors of Comedy do exist! Just got a note in the comments below from the Dr. Harbidge HERself, who says that in the research it was noted that the Far Side cartoon was used as the basis for the joke, so it's not like she just heard it second-hand as a joke and then decided to use it. SO, as I noted below, my regrets for relying upon a news report for facts.

Along with my apologies for mistaking her for a he. But it's just that all those fancy-pants British university guys have girl names like Lesley and Ashley and Pamela, so I just assumed. And we know what happens when one assumes, right? OF COURSE we do!

As always, though, we are happy to correct ourselves in the unlikely event we are ever mistaken about something.

Also, it is a great pleasure to report to you that we have decided to confer upon Dr. Harbidge the Axis of Weevil Distinguished Chair of Comedic Studies, and will call upon her often to weigh in on matters of a funny nature. (Funny 'ha-ha,' not funny 'strange'.)

Posted by Terry Oglesby at August 22, 2006 12:45 PM

(I do wonder what it takes to get a gig at a college as a humor expert.)

The ability to not take oneself seriously?

Posted by: Diane at August 22, 2006 01:13 PM

That must not be it, or otherwise I'd have my own entire university by now.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at August 22, 2006 01:15 PM

The research does state that this is a joke adapted from a Far Side cartoon. As such, and in its adapted form, its conversational tone/unintentional humour do, in fact, mirror that of a significant trend in live stand-up comedy in Britain. And, yes, I'm afraid 'experts' (and female ones at that) on comedy do exist, by virtue of having a PhD, and teaching and researching in the area.

Posted by: Lesley Harbidge at December 14, 2006 08:36 AM

YOU DO EXIST!! Well, first of all, apologies for saying you're a guy, and second of all, apologies for relying upon a news story for factual information. Shame on me.

AND SINCE YOU DO HAVE A DEGREE in this field, surely you must realize it is rather comical that there is such a thing as the study of comedy. As my good friend Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush once said, "It's the old, old story. Boy meets girl - Romeo and Juliet - Minneapolis and St. Paul!"

In any event, I appreciate your stopping by to set the record straight, and hope my gentle tweaking regarding your research didn't cause you undue distress. It should be helpful to remember anything named "Possumblog" is probably not the best place to find carefully considered opinion. Most of the time.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at December 14, 2006 09:23 AM