Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 6
Dan Snow – Humanity, History and Humour
Award-Winning Historian, TV presenter, and Podcaster Dan Snow joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss the history of humour. From Neanderthals to now, Dan shares how humans have used humour to communicate and survive.
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Popular historian and podcaster, Dan Snow joins Paul Boross to discuss how humour has been the most human trait throughout history. As one of the most celebrated historians in the country, Dan Snow knows a thing or two about the most prolific people of the past. What did all these legendary leaders have in common? A great sense of humour.
“Humour was, in many ways, essential to survival.”
Dan delves into the power humour to unite people. Hear his historically proven ways to use humour to help communicate and connect with all of humanity. Join us this week on The Humourology Podcast to hear how you can help history repeat itself by using laughter to lead.
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Dan Snow – Humanity, History and Humour
– As we know, satire, humour that they were the staple they were essential. They kept the big citizens age. They cut them down to size. They, political satire was a way of the little people, people like you and me, private citizens getting back at our over mighty overlords. And so there’s no question that throughout history humour has been absolutely essential and it’s oft quoted the minute you start laughing at someone, you stop fearing them. And laughter is a very potent weapon.
– Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me Paul Boross. My glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment. Who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success mental health 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. Please remember to like, subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a passionate and popular multi award-winning historian author and television presenter. He won a first class degree in history at Balliol college Oxford, where he developed a passion for military history specialising in the first world war. He has made numerous TV programmes, including presenting the 200th anniversary celebration of the battle of Trafalgar, and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two. His easy style makes him equally at home presenting big topics like Battlefield Britain or lighter items on The One Show. In the 2019 Queen’s birthday honours list he was awarded an MBE for services to history, perhaps unsurprisingly his History Hit podcast is a huge hit, and has rightly had humongous praise heaped on it. Dan Snow, welcome to the Humourology podcast.
– Thank you very much for having me.
– It’s great to have you here. I was listening to you speak recently. And you said that Napoleon being short was an urban myth and made up by British politicians, press and PR, what’s that an early example of weaponizing humour?
– Yes, it probably was, but it’s definitely poking fun at people of course is eternal. I think that in fact if you go back and look – I was reading a book the other day- where anthropologists have worked with people still living very traditional lifestyles around the world, and they’ve discovered that humour was essential in fact, picking on or keeping chiefs/leaders down to size by using humour, by kind of criticising in a playful way is essential to all of our most fundamental ways of being. So Napolian was about five foot, six, five foot seven. So, you know, he wasn’t tall, but he certainly wasn’t very short. And he was kind of average for the time in fact. And it was largely British propaganda, they said he was a short little Napoleon Bonaparte. I think we’ve been doing that through history. I think we’ve been doing it through for all of our recorded history.
– What do you think that history has taught us about humour if you like, is it important in our history? Has it changed anything?
– Well certainly changed a lot of things, hasn’t it. I think like I just, as we listen to start way back stone age societies, pre-industrial societies, hunter gatherer societies humour we know it was essential, because we can ask them are they still existing in some very small parts of the world and anthropologist have been studying them since the 19th century. We know that humour is one of the mechanisms that we all use to cement group ethos, ideology, build teams, build relationships. Humour is like singing. It’s one of these strange things we’re able to do because we’re able, our mouths evolved, and our tongues and our teeth evolved in a certain way that we’re able to make funny noises. We’re able to talk in a way that’s is what we think is pretty unique in the animal world other animals can sing. They can make noise, but we can construct these incredibly elaborate. We can invent communism or persuade someone to lend us a fiver. These things, no other animals that we know of have done these things. And so whilst we can talk and invent complicated political ideas and convince people to do insane stuff like die on our behalf, we can inspire young men to jump out of a trench and go and run towards almost certain death. We are also able to laugh, and appeal to that side of us. And so yeah, it’s essential of course it is. If you go back and look at ancient Athens the festival of Dionysus, the plays that were written and performed on the edge of the Acropolis, and the theatres there, As we know, satire, humour that they were the staple they were essential kept the big citizens age. They cut them down to size. Political satire was a way of the little people people like you and me, private citizens getting back at our over mighty overlords. And so there’s no question that throughout history humour has been absolute essential and it’s often quoted that, the minute you start laughing at someone, you stop fearing them and laughter is a very very potent weapon.
– Is that why totalitarians tend to close down the media that I think in Apartheid one of the things that happened was they stopped comedy. They stopped plays being performed. Is that because totalitarian regimes fear that pricking of the bubble of pomposity.
– I think exactly that. So I just did a podcast on humour in the age of Stalin, and Stalin secret police kept huge reams of material. What were the jokes? Who was telling them? Why were they joking? That’s a sort of, so actually it’s quite useful if you’re looking for humor in the age of Stalin in the NKVD and the government security apertatus wrote them all down. The researchers can just go through them all. And as you say, prick the bubble of their pomposity. I remember growing up, in the particularly satirical era Spitting Image was a big show here in the UK, which involves sort of puppets of famous people doing absurd things. And then we had, the relentless assault on sort of Reagan and Thatcher that you got on the comedy and everywhere. And I just remember growing up thinking that my politicians were like figures of absurdity, figures of fun almost… absurd. Yeah, John Major we used to love in sort of post George W. Bush era and to Brexit post 2009. So the global economic collapse that politicians appear a bit more sinister, Putin, Bolsanaro burning the rainforest. Putin doing his things Orban dismantling democracy here in Europe. President Xi, it’s kind of, it’s less funny now, because it’s all much more disturbing. But certainly in the nineties and eighties/nineties when I was growing up, I mean, I can’t remember I remember thinking, how could anyone be a politician? We just clownified them all immediately. It’s brutal.
– We were interviewing Rick Wilson. Who’s one of the founders of the Lincoln Project in America. I wonder how much difference it actually made to the toppling of Trump. Do you think that we’ve lost some of that in the UK at the moment, or generally in the world, the humour like Spitting Image that you mentioned that can actually topple power?
– Well, I think we’ve got that… so that bleeds into the perennial problem that we all talk about in all our podcasts at the moment, which is kind of in a information ecosystems doesn’t it? So, two parallel problems. One is that sometimes things are so bad they’re not funny, so how can you make jokes about Bolsanaro? or mock these new populists, Modi, Bolsanaro Trump, Johnson, who have mishandled COVID. In case of Bolsanaro is just destroying some of the most vital resource on planet earth. I’m not super excited about laughing about those guys. Like, I don’t know, you’ve got to make… somehow we’ve got to reach that core audience to make them laugh. Like I mean, I don’t think it’s very funny, but you need to undermine them. And I think the kind of the buffering that we’ve all been able to… the insulation we’ve all been able to place around that kind of information means that, I was a regular user of The Lincoln Project as a middle-aged affluent white guy that was never going to have any sympathy for Trump anyway. I thought Lincoln Project was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life. It was brilliant. The trouble is saw lot of that post-mortem suggests that it was people like me who were receiving all that propaganda. I didn’t need to be deradicalised. So whether or not you can direct that satire to the right places. I don’t know. I think, that this era of universally recognised satire, comedy, images, memes, seems to be passing. And these evil people in our world are just building this kind of absolutely armour plated silo, where their followers can congregate. And it’s kind of difficult to penetrate that.
– I think that’s right. But isn’t under in history terms haven’t all totalitarian regimes closed down the media on some level. And all they could do that.
– Yes. I mean yes, this is what’s so boring about the kind of arguments about Trump. There’s a very boring debate in the world of history whether Trump is actually a fascist in the traditional… in its correct sense of the word because this year in mid century or early 20th century Italian. Like sure it may not actually be a dictionary definition of a fascist. However, it is a fascistic thing to do to constantly de-legitimise the press. The day Hitler won power is fascinating. Some of the first targets he took out were all instruments of the free press. There was a newspaper in Bavaria that was day two when Hitler and the Nazis achieved power that was stifled, shut down, attacked. The free flow of information and humour is part of that of course. But of facts… the ability of people to access jokes or facts or anything that pricks the bubble of pomposity as you so brilliant said earlier, is existentially threatening for these organisations. And so for Trump, Trump has incredibly successfully de-legitimised all of the news outlets that published things that were true about him. And he simply said, don’t worry about it, folks they’re all fake. Now, that’s one of the most, I mean it’s stunningly successful. And you have… we’ve all poured over the polling data. We’ve all seen the effect that’s had on the Republican base. They do not believe in the reality that the rest of us understand to be. So it’s stifling jokes all that stuff. And the ways in which, Trump was always very rude about Saturday Night Live, which remains a kind of powerful engine of humor… political humour in the U S. But you know these things can, I don’t know whether they get through or not but there was the wonderful woman, Sarah Cooper on TikTok who did the miming of Trump and everyone I remember at the time Dave Baddiel on Twitter was saying “we’ve all wondered when are any of these blows going to land on Trump because he’s so absurd.” He’s such a joke that it’s actually very difficult for comedians to turn into a joke. Whereas Thatcher, yeah people like Thatcher who were effective. Whatever you want to say about a politician, she seemed quite effective. She seemed quite when comedians worked out how to get under her skin, and turn Thatcher it felt like a bit of a victory. With Trump it’s too easy. The fruit was too low hanging. It was too hard. And yet Sarah Cooper did come along with that miming in her house, in her shower, in her kitchen. And somehow gave us a new insight into his absurdity. Which I thought was very interesting. Whether or not that worked or got through to the right people who knows, but it was an example I think of humour, landing blows where we’ve been unable to do so before.
– Well, it’s funny, you mentioned Sarah Cooper because Jo Brand, I was talking to Jo Brand yesterday and she mentioned exactly the same thing. So obviously had a cut through on many levels whereby the absurdity was magnified to a level. I’m interested that you mentioned Margaret Thatcher because we were interviewing William Hague and William Hague said, “Margaret Thatcher didn’t have a sense of humour at all.” So do you think that in modern day politics people need to be more charismatic and have a sense of humour in order to cut through, or somebody like Trump who can just bash the press will win more times than not
– It’s very difficult. Isn’t it? I think first of all, everything’s very culturally dependent. I mean what’s so interesting is Hitler appeared so absurd in the twenties and thirties. There’s a famous New York times article, and they go this guy’s a complete idiot, he’s just sort of… obviously. His little uniform, he wears, his Knickerbockers, his stupid little moustache. I mean the guy’s a fool. He’s going nowhere. And Boris Johnson wouldn’t be elected anywhere else Donald Trump wouldn’t be elected anywhere else. Nicholas Sturgeon wouldn’t be elected anywhere else, but all that… these French presidents is kind of… who the French all think… We all think they’re completely mental, but I mean, that’s the kind of the fascinating thing about humour. And I think so it depends on the culture and the dominant. I think it’s been a huge advantage for Boris Johnson he does have a sense of humour. He can joke as well. He’s a funny guy, he’s charismatic. I think Trump weirdly doesn’t have a sense of humour but it’s sort of, he’s charismatic, he’s deeply charismatic and he makes jokes. He sort of makes jokes, doesn’t he? Barbs. He’s got kind of, I don’t know he’s got kind of comic timing I guess that works for that audience. I think in a more, and that’s in a kind of cut and thrust world of media outlets and live streaming. A guy like Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t exist in that world, a far more traditional media, where you control all the means of communication. And he just goes and does these kinds of press conferences once a year, which are kind of fairly Soviet? I don’t think he needs to be particularly charismatic or media friendly. So it very much depends on the system again, in a traditional monarchical court if you like. Your Henry the Eighth, you’ve got to have personal charisma. I think you need to, you actually need to gather politicians around you. You slap backs, you shake hands, you issue patronage. I think you need to be more charismatic. I think the kind of giant totalitarian systems of the 20th century that emerged at the head of these huge very sophisticated states. Like that of the kind that still exist in China or Russia. You don’t have to be super charismatic that because you are just sitting on this huge iron pinnacle you have to … In Stalin’s in this case, you have to kind of work…he had to work the Politburo. Yeah, sure. He had to kill or charm the sort of 14, 15 key people around him to reach the top. But he didn’t have to, he didn’t have to walk into a room like Barack Obama had to do in Iowa when he was running for the Democrat nomination for President, and properly chat and work a room and make self-deprecating jokes and then do that the next night, the next night, the next night. So, it very much depends on the system, the culture I think.
– Yeah, I was listening to your brilliant History Hit podcast on Hitler and Stalin and weighing up. I mean, I have to say, neither of them seemed like a barrel of laughs to be honest with you. But there was a different style. Was there not with, I think it would Stalin was more about sort of getting people on board to a certain extent whereas Hitler was leading from the front. Is that right?
– Yeah, Hitler was profoundly charismatic again within the kind of slightly peculiar understandings of his own culture. We would have found him weird, but he worked at that time in that place and he was whipping up vast crowds, had enormous pace power, seemed derive from his mastery of the public theatre. Stalin was a backroom guy. He just went around sort of slitting throats and twisting arms. And he’s so very different indeed. But once he’d reached the kind of top tier, I don’t think he… his public facing charisma was kind of irrelevant. And I suspect that’s true of China. Although there doesn’t seem to be much movement at the top of China anymore. You don’t have to appeal to a public opinion outside the very narrow group of opinion formers, like sort of decision-makers within the top of that society. And the same way you look at 18th century British prime ministers or some 19th century. They were not retail politicians. They didn’t care what the public thought. Their constituency was the narrow composition of the House of Commons, and the King and possibly one or two others, that was it. And if they kept all those very small constituencies online then they could be Prime Minister. They could be first Lord of the Treasury Then asking them to go out and make a barnstorming speech to an open air crowd in Manchester. They’d look like you gone mad.
– Yeah that’s great point. Anyway, we’ve wonderfully gone off on these tangents. What makes you laugh, Dan?
– What makes me laugh? My kids said this terrible thing to me the other day, they said to me, “you never laugh.” And I thought, Jesus, that’s right. When I’m with my kids, I probably don’t laugh. I don’t like belly laugh that much, right? Because I’m too busy kicking their ass, and telling them what to do, and moving them in from car to car, and arguing about dinner. But I do, contrary to what they think, I do laugh. I do love that sort of political. I love political humour. I love satire. I love the absurdity of poking fun at our leaders. If you don’t laugh, you cry kind of stuff. I like, the sitting down with fun and clever and articulate friends and sort of just talking our way through the absurdity of Boris Johnson’s. flip-flopping on the Irish border around Brexit. And someone will throw in, we just like, you just guffaw it’s so goddamn stupid or Trump. I think, Trump and again you’re verging on these issues of kind of not laughing, cause it’s all really sad and disturbing. But I find that very funny. I used to find the kind of when I was younger, and sort of bachelor, and watch those kinds of bachelor lad films. I used to love all those sort of Will Ferrell Anchormany sort of those. I loved all those films. I used to have, thought they were all hysterical. Those are the films of my sort of formative years, which are always important, old school Anchorman all those ones. What else makes me laugh? I think in terms of popular culture, I can’t.. what make me laugh in popular culture?
– Are there any comedians that do it for you.
– I’m a sucker for comedians. I kind of love them. I think they’re all brilliant. I love observational humour. I love that that trick they all do. I’m full of admiration for, and I love when they just point out this absurdity of our life, they’re going through each day do we. And of course COVID has made that worse. You kind of, put your mask on and you’re terribly worried and then you take your mask off and your fingers are all over it. You put it in your disgusting pocket and then you put it back. That’s a bad example. I love that modern life is kind of absurd on many levels that we’re not meant to live like this, right? All of modalities happened in a flash of an eye. We’ve been anatomically modern for like 200,000 years. And then we spent the last 200 years living in high rise buildings and surrounded by metal and eating weird food in a microwave. Like it’s madness. And so I think that any I love comedians who kind of point that out and revel in it. Just remind us all the time that none of this is normal. I’m not very particular. Jo Brand you’ve mentioned, I think is absolutely brilliant for example. She’s one of the few comedians, I’ve met her in the flesh. Most times you meet comedians, they’re not that funny in real life. And it must be very stressful because they must go round thinking, oh my God I’m supposed to be so funny all the time. And I’m just bloody miserable. And Jo Brand is genuinely and effortlessly funny all the time. And I’m such a huge admirer of hers.
– Yeah, and lovely as well. Wonderful person. No she really is. Tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you.
– Well that’s obviously a dangerous thing to say because in the story, the funniness will be lost in the telling of. Filming around the world provides moments of great hilarity. Often at the expense of others. I was filming with a guy called Will in Rome once. And we were in a sewer and there was just poo and wee just sloshing around our thighs we were wearing this overalls and he kept walking. When you’re in a suit, let me tell you the big problem is you don’t know where the floor is because you assume, cause you can’t see the bottom and he just kept walking. And obviously he just disappeared off the edge into a kind of sump and just disappeared camera a hundred thousand pound camera and him went, totally under underwater quote unquote. And then we rescued him and it was a manhole and we pushed them out to the top of man hole cover, and he came out in the Roman forum when he was covered head to toe in sewage. This had happened before to people. So there was an Italian, decontamination unit, all part of the health and safety, these decontamination guys were around. And he then had to strip off entirely naked in the middle of the Roman forum, all these tourists just looking, he just emerged from the ground, he is covered in shit. And he’s now being decontaminated naked in the middle of the Roman forum. Which was a source of extraordinary happiness to everyone that witnessed that. And the other one that is a funny one that I’ve just remembered is. We were making a TV show, Sheila Hancock on the show who’s kind of grand old dame of British sort of broadcasting. I heard the rehearsal script. I was the presenter. And we’d go from interview Sheila Hancock to VT like a video about some bit of history and then something else. The script had changed. And I was like, hold on it’s five minutes before air we’re doing the last bit of rehearsal. I am so sorry, I just heard that. Why the atuocue… Why has the script changed? It’s about… the next film’s about sinking the Bismarck. And I was about to say, Sheila Hancock’s interview had gone. And she was back in the green room. And the next thing was about the sinking of the Bismarck. And the script change said… it had previously said ‘it changed the course of the war at sea. And it didn’t say that anymore. So I quite liked that line. And the voice came back from the director saying, “Yeah, we ran it by Sheila Hancock and she didn’t think that the sinking of the Bismarck changed the course of the war at sea.” And I’m like, “I don’t care what Sheila Hancock thinks about 1941. Have I got absolutely bananas.
– And now with the History Hit you run everything past Sheila Hancock of course.
– Yah, I mean, she’s the absolute, yeah. She’s the fact checker.
– I love that Dan. Do you think everyone is potentially funny or is it, just a gift given to the few?
– Oh, I think everyone’s potentially funny. Yeah. I think everyone’s potentially funny. I think humour often comes from -it’s being highly observant being smart, but it also comes from adversity. I certainly tried to be funny to make people like me when I was a teenager because I was just a weird gawky kid who didn’t fit in. I think also humour is not genetically inherited but inherited from your upbringing. There’s families of people that are super funny because the discourse is funny, energetic, and the jokes made and there’s a constant churn of humour. And often you meet comedians who say I’m definitely not the funniest person in my family but I was the one who sort of did it professionally.
– So what would the world be like without humour.
– It would be a grim, it would be a grey place, wouldn’t it? It would be super grim. It would be a place where… humour is one of the few weapons we’ve talked about it in this podcast. it’s one of the few weapons that those who are deprived of power the powerless have, we can laugh. Humour is one of the few things. I’ve taught sort of black American historians. And they talk a lot about humour in the black American community, the legacy of slavery, legacy of marginalisation, and racism they faced. And the same you’ll know, from your family, your tradition of in Eastern Europe, and under the Soviet union humour was in many ways essential to survival
– I think you are right? You say humour is essential to survival. In history there haven’t been that many leaders that I know about but you’re the expert, who have been quoted as being funny. I mean Churchill, obviously is one who has several quotes the stuff with Nancy Aster when Nancy Aster says to him, Sir, if I were your wife, I would poison your coffee. And he said, if I were your husband, I would drink it. You know, those kinds of things. Who else in the history is funny?
– Oh I think lots of people are funny. I think Abraham Lincoln was funny. I think many leaders have been funny. I think that Wellington was a bit funny. Maybe. I don’t know if he intended to be funny but certainly his putdowns were very impressive. I think Sir Robert Walpole was funny again humour it depends on the audience and the place, but I think Sir Robert Walpole was funny. He was able to pepper his speeches to the House of Commons with humour that showed him to be a crusty Norfolk gentlemen. He showed the backbenchers. He was on their side, he got them. And so he was funny and that helped to keep him Prime Minister for around 20 years. So he almost created… Well, created the office of prime minister virtually and cemented him in it for a long time. So I think humour is a way that’s… and being self-effacing is part of humour and is essential people think, especially in the UK people think self-effacement, people think being modest even falsely modest, what is it? Is it kind of essential to any leader? That’s the great difference in the U S and Britain. And I was talking to someone who does university applications, and they say it’s a complete catastrophe because the British professors will write, that your person giving your references, your referees will say, yeah they’re quite good. And the Americans said, we don’t want quite good, we want the best. What are you talking about? And so it’s a huge problem with communication, but in Britain for those listening abroad, and if you meet new people, you have to be ostentatiously self-effacing for about the first three hours to make sure that everyone doesn’t think you’re a dick. And particularly actually if you’re six foot six, and have physical presence, right? Cause I walk into a room I’m gigantic and I have to particularly spend a lot of my time going, “oh my God I’m fucking idiot.” And you get a better response from people.
– It’s the laughing. Your being able to laugh at yourself, isn’t it? Which evens things up especially British society and actually on stage my background’s in the Comedy Store and everything on stage, most comedians, I mean, Jo Brand who we were just talking about would point out first of all, their character traits. I mean Jo used to get the mic, and the first thing she do, was go “I’ll move this so you can see me.” And those kinds of things are very important in the UK. The Humourology project is all about how can we introduce more humour into business and to life, so that people can get more out of it. If I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you include it?
– Humour is essential. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a business or in a military situation, political situation any situation in which you need to develop relationships, in which you need to extract concessions in which you need to build unity, create teams humour is essential. Humans have got several tools at our disposal. We’ve got violence. You can whack people. You can prod them. Stab them and kick them, bite them. You can inspire people. We can use our words to paint a picture of a unifying dream, of a mission that will make us all healthier richer, stronger, have a better afterlife, whatever it is. Or you can appeal on a pragmatic level. You can say, I’ll give you money. And you’ll get a Mars bar, or you can use humour. These are simply the suite of things that we have available when it comes to persuasion. And so if you’re ignoring humour you have to ignore violence, I think probably in most businesses, I hope you are. But you should not ignore humour. It’s one of the few tools you have available to cement leadership, to create trust, to create good feeling. We all know at the beginning of Zooms, we all make a joke about the person that’s muted. I mean, if you don’t get, if you’re not able to do humour, again it could be a British thing. I often think when I start an email I think it’s nice to start. It’s very British. I should probably… rather than just launching in with, I need you to send me this attachments today. You just launch in with a thought, make a joke about the weather which in Britain is easy because the weather is unbelievably bizarre and humorous. Oh, you make a joke about the politics or the endless lockdown we are enduring. We’re recording this now at the end of Britain third lockdown during the COVID crisis. So the business case for humour is like saying what’s the business case for using inspiring language, or for creating safe, psychologically safe workplaces. It’s a huge pillar of how we communicate with each other, how we understand each other, how we give and take from each other. And if you’re not addressing humour you’re not using the full arsenal that you have at the field potential arsenal.
– Absolutely I couldn’t agree more, It’s perfect. I know that as a speaker and you’re a great speaker. I’ve seen you speak a thing. You talk about lessons in leadership that can be given to people from people like Alexander The great Genghis Khan, Napoleon and the like. In those lessons in leadership, what comes out to you? And is there any correlation with leadership and humour?
– Yeah, no, there is. Well, we all know bosses. We’ve all worked for people who are kind of bereft of humour. It’s a bit unsettling, really. It’s worrying if you can’t share a smile and laugh, as you said at the outset of a meeting or at the end of it, or walking through the corridors towards it, or when you’re leaving the office, Then that person feels distance, cold Humour is a way that we reinforce intimacy. There’s just no two ways about it. So Nelson with his captains, there was laughter in the great cabin of Victory, there was discussion of tactics. But there was informality there. Of course there was. There had to be, he had to persuade his captains to fight the battle in the way that he intended – The Battle a Trafalgar you can’t just issue the orders and then tell them what. You can’t just send them all a letter and expect them to behave. You gather them together. They talked about it, they ate, they broke bread, they drank together, they laughed. They shared… that’s what we do. That’s what we do. We smile. We laugh. It’s what people have found. So difficult about Zoom. And it’s what I find a bit suspicious about the idea of we’re all going to work remotely. I’m not, Maybe I’m old and I’m too resistant to change, but I think small group bonding is essential in so many businesses, maybe not in your business but in mine it is where we need to come up with ideas. We need to make things work. We think let’s make a programme on D-Day. What are we going to put? Let’s put this, let’s put that. How are we going to do it? Let’s get sea plane and land it off the coast of Normandy. Yeah, that’s a brilliant idea. Now that’s something that only comes about when you’re in a intimate human setting. I think humour is essential in marriage as we know, goodness me, if you can’t laugh together if you can’t laugh at your misfortunes and the kind of, the baby that’s pooed on the thing and the food that spilled on the thing and the house being a tip If you can’t laugh about that, then what have you got?
– Well yeah and I would argue from a psychological standpoint that what it does is it adds resilience as well on that level, whereby if you’re laughing at something it diminishes in importance. If you can’t laugh at it you end up getting frustrated. And that leads to all kinds of problems where in businesses and in the world. We’ve coming to the end part of our show, which we like to call quickfire questions, ♪ Quick fire question ♪ Quick fire question number one, Dan. Who’s the funniest business person you’ve ever met?
– The funniest person, person I’ve ever met it’s probably John Spence. Who’s chairman of the Karma group of hotels.
– Oh, okay. What does he do that’s different and better?
– He’s just got a wonderful outlook on life. He tells funny stories, about his failures and he jokes about himself. He’s cheerful, he’s just jolly, he is jolly as hell.
– What book makes you laugh, Dan? It’s actually, it’s… As you asked me, that was a bit depressing. I read very few fiction books now. Cause I’m always reading history books. Yeah. I think Evelyn Waugh and PG Woodhouse I think made me laugh a lot when I was younger, Bill Bryson, I just thought those early Bill Bryson books I thought were so funny.
– They’re superb. Bill Bryson was wonderful. What film makes you laugh Dan?
– I used to guffaw at all the Will Ferrell and the Vince Vaughn films. I think I’m slightly growing out that now unfortunately. Cause I watched one again on the plane the other day, and I still had a bit of a giggle but I didn’t find it. absolutely back slapping hysterical as did in my twenties.
– So there’s nothing new that’s come out or you just don’t have time. You’ve got young children.
– Yeah. I haven’t watched any adults comedies for a long time actually. No, I mean, I’m one of these terrible people. I spend a lot of time watching short films on TikTok and Twitter. And it’s great. I watch a lot of that. I don’t watch a huge amount of big old fashioned, Hollywood comedy drama anymore.
– It’s time I think is probably the enemy. What word makes you laugh?
– I think the word thespian is so absurd. For actor it just makes me laugh. And I’ve got a sister that’s an actor. And when people drop in thespian meaning actors and people in the arts community, I can’t contain myself.
– It’s so funny. Okay now we turn and go to the other end of the spectrum. What is not funny?
– The climate crisis is not funny. It’s just unbelievably awful. And our response to it is not funny. Yeah.
– Yeah that’s true. So you’ve got a double first from Oxford. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– Well as someone who’s never really had to think about that choice because I’ve never been considered either. I would say, what I’d rather be considered clever or funny? God. It’d be nice to be funny. Be nice people say, oh, that guy’s so funny. That’d be fun thing to be
– Some people on the show. Want both basically, and I’m of the belief that actually in order to be funny and we have mutual friends who think you’re very funny which is you have to be clever,
– Yeah, no question.
– Yeah I mean all the funniest people, you know quite clever.
– Yeah. I mean, I’m such a big fan of John Lovett. I listen to in the states I was listening to one of his podcasts and he’s fantastically clever, and as a result and very funny used to be Barack Obama speechwriter for, people who don’t know and used to put the jokes, but he’s partly responsible for the roasting. Barack Obama gave Donald Trump in the press association dinner, which is one of the reasons Trump ran for president. So that backfired. But no I think, people like him are have to be brilliant before they can be funny.
– And finally Dan Desert Island Gags you can only take one gag with you to a desert island. What is it?
– The honest answer is I got absolutely no idea but I don’t know why, but this one’s popped into my head which is just so embarrassing. But I quite I like a bit of old gentle. You can tell your grandma wordplay in which it takes advantage of the kind of linguistic peculiarities of English. And there’s that thing like… My wife and I are going to the Caribbean. Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord. Like I think that’s kind of I yearn for that kind of gentle 1950s sort of music hall banter.
– That’d be quite an appropriate gag on a desert island.
– That’s maybe why I thought about it. Yeah. So it does. It’s a sort of sandy island related joke. Yeah.
– Yeah, well that’s fantastic. Unfortunately, this interview is now history and I’d have to say Dan Snow thank you so much for being a guest on the Humourology podcast.
– Thanks for having, Thank you.
– The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth. Creative Direction by Les Hughes. And 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.