Isn’t it Awfully Nice…?

I remember this TV show, hosted by Muriel Gray, in which she would go for walks with famous people. An itinerant talk show. It’s the kind of thing that passes for a good idea in television — fantastically stupid and basic in one sense, but in another sense, genuinely quite a good idea. You interview somebody while exploring their favorite stomping ground. My memory tells me this show was called Walkie Talkie but I may have invented that. Reality, and television, can’t be THAT inane.

Gray, who is from Aberdeen which means she can seem quite humourless (I know some quite funny Aberdonians, so this is a stereotype which isn’t really true, but can SEEM quite true if you get the right Aberdonian in the right circumstances) interviewed Monty Python member Eric Idle. I forget where they walked. Every episode dissolves into nondescript greenery in my memory.

Somehow the subject turned to women in comedy. I think Idle, whose work does seem to suggest an old-fashioned male chauvinism, ventured the opinion that maybe women just weren’t as funny as men, or not in the right way anyhow.

“So what’s missing?” asked Gray.

“A penis?” shrugged Idle.

“And why would that matter?” asked Gray, completely ignoring the fact that Idle had been attempting a joke, and thus appearing to prove his point, though not really.

Idle then gamely tried to justify his facetious remark by citing the jester’s stick and maybe other phallic appurtenances. Chaplin’s cane may have been cited, I don’t recall.

There may be something in the idea that the penis can inspire comedy. One very funny sequence in EVIL DEAD II, showing Ash (Bruce Campbell) getting beaten up by his own hand, seems to depend on the notion of a part of the anatomy with a will of its own. Perhaps only male creators would have written that. An even better sequence is Peter Sellers grappling with his prosthetic arm in DR STRANGELOVE, where the involuntary Heil Hitler it performs doubles as an unwelcome erection.

But the thing is, women know about the penis too, though I suppose they don’t usually know what it’s like to have one. I remember Yoko Ono saying she thought penises were hilarious: these dangling appendages that just behave exactly as they see fit, without consulting the higher intellect more than occasionally. I do think Idle is quite wrong. Women do comedy just as readily as men. Women’s comedy does, it seems to me, have subtle differences of flavour from men’s, but it’s all on a spectrum and I can’t really define the differences I suppose to be present. Any generalisation would inevitably be torpedoed by the innumerable exceptions.

Oh, and a lot of comedy about penises and also bottoms is probably indirect homosexual panic — we straights have to find these bits ridiculous to prove to ourselves and others that we don’t find them sexy. Maybe the penis will fade like a ghost from our comedies as we all get over the jitters. Whatever remains will be the true comic personality of the phallus — which might look a lot like Eric Idle.



8 Responses to “Isn’t it Awfully Nice…?”

  1. Standing ovation.

  2. The automonous body part is a concept explored at great length (ahem) in Slavoj Zizek’s essay film A PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA with appropriate clips of Sellers/Strangelove, Veidt/Orlac, et al.

  3. Lydia Lopokova – the ballerina who married J.M. Keynes, who had been exclusively and enthusiastically homosexual until he met her – said she could understand male homosexuality because there was something to grab hold of but lesbianism was too fiddly to be worth bothering with.

  4. Hah!

    Makes sense that Zizek would “go there,” of course.

  5. …and Robert Graves’s poem, a precursor of Yoko Ono’s opinion:

    Down, wanton, down! Have you no shame
    That at the whisper of Love’s name,
    Or Beauty’s, presto! up you raise
    Your angry head and stand at gaze?

    Poor bombard-captain, sworn to reach
    The ravelin and effect a breach–
    Indifferent what you storm or why,
    So be that in the breach you die!

    Love may be blind, but Love at least
    Knows what is man and what mere beast;
    Or Beauty wayward, but requires
    More delicacy from her squires.

    Tell me, my witless, whose one boast
    Could be your staunchness at the post,
    When were you made a man of parts
    To think fine and profess the arts?

    Will many-gifted Beauty come
    Bowing to your bald rule of thumb,
    Or Love swear loyalty to your crown?
    Be gone, have done! Down, wanton, down!

  6. Reminds me that acclaimed German director Doris Dörrie (a WOMAN) went to Hollywood in the 90s and made a strange comedy about this exact…struggle men have with appendages. “ME AND HIM”

    I admit I’ve never seen it. I think it’s probably funnier in my imagination

  7. And then there’s that Marquis De Sade puppet film designed by Roland Topor where Sade converses with his dick, who has a face. And Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown comic strip where poor Ed gets Ronald Reagan’s head attached to his penis in an interdimensional accident. (JG Ballard and Richard Pryor both independently compared Reagan to a penis, though they differed on whether the 40th president was erect of flaccid.)

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