Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 11
David Gower – Cricket, Captaincy and Comedy
Cricket Commentator and former England Captain David Gower joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss the importance of humour in the dressing room and on the pitch. Gower gives his take on leadership while sharing delightful stories from his time as one of the nations most capped cricketers and most quality commentators.
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Paul Boross is joined by Cricket Commentator and former English Captain David Gower. The former captain shares stories from his legendary run as one of the country’s most captivating cricketers. Gower knows that laughter and leadership go hand in hand both on the pitch and in the pitch meeting.
“When there is tension, which needs deflecting at times, there are all sorts of situations which either need or gets humour anyway.”
Gower covers everything from his club career to his captaincy to his commentating to share how comedy can create a quality community. Join us this week to better yourself with the best of the blonde-haired batsmen only on The Humourology Podcast.
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David Gower on The Humourology Podcast
– I mean, you know you’re having a bad day when you haven’t had a laugh at any stage or found something funny. And I think, I mean, whether it’s professional or amateur or just part of the fabric that keeps us going, without that smile, because apart from anything else we read and we’re told that, the actual physical act of smiling is good for us.
– Welcome to “The Humourology Podcast” with me, Paul Boross, and 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 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 one of the most capped cricketers in the country’s history. A former classy England captain, he was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2009, and was named in the country’s greatest ever Test XI in 2018. After a record-setting career as one of the world’s most stylish left-handed batsmen, he continued his cultured career as a hugely successful commentator, journalist and broadcaster. He was subsequently honoured with an OBE by the Queen. His creative commentary and communication continues to confirm why this former blonde bombshell cricket captain is always on the front foot when it comes to fun. David Gower, welcome to “The Humourology Podcast.”
– Well, thank you, Paul, and that’s all we’ve got time for. What an intro, what an intro.
– Well, you’ve had a hell of a life, so it needed that amount of time to actually tell the full story, David. As someone who’s led teams at the highest level, I mean, obviously having captained England to the Ashes and many other things, is leadership enhanced by laughter?
– Oh yes, oh yes. I think sport is one of the great generators of humour. Anyone who has spent time in a dressing room, be it amateur or professional, or somewhere in between, knows that the interactions between players are absolutely vital. There is tension, which needs deflecting at times, there are all sorts of situations which either need or get humour anyway. Pretty much any day, each and every day, you’re in that sort of environment, at some stage, someone’s going to crack a joke. It might go down well, it might not. But I think all of us need that sort of protection, to be honest, because when something as emotional as a personal performance in a professional sport. So imagine you’re at Lord’s walking out to bat, and you’ve got these 25,000 people applauding you in. That in itself is a great feeling. That to me, was always a lovely, lovely feeling. And if you get your 50, 60, or better still, your 100, then everything is fine. But if you get that dreaded first ball duck, or something close to it, then you are now in a very, very dark place, because all your dreams for the day are shattered. All your emotions are now being tested. And yes, it’s probably sensitive of people when you get back into dressing room, for instance, to be sympathetic, but actually then you need to lighten the mood. You need to remember that whatever you’ve just done wrong, is actually not that important in the greater fabric of the world. So actually the humour comes in very, very quickly. And to illustrate it, and I’ve got one immediate story on that, which made me laugh at the time, luckily. We were in Delhi many, many years ago, 1981-82. Now an Indian tour was testing in those days, four months in India, fabulous in many, many ways, fascinating, ultimately, but testing on the field. And I was next to bat after Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare had taken about eight days to put on 100. And you know, bless them. But it’s one of those slow moving games. The wicket falls about five minutes before lunch and I’m next in. And I’ve got, in the dressing room, I’ve put together a plate of curry and rice and dahl and stuff, just in anticipation of lunch. But I’ve got to put that down. I pick up the bat and gloves, white floppy hat, walk out to bat. They’re still clearing oranges off the field ’cause the crowd, with the success of the wicket, they celebrated by throwing fresh fruit onto the field. So it them takes 10 minutes say, to clear the oranges off the field. I lined up to face the first ball, to use the technical term, it’s a little in swinger from a guy called Madan Lal, a little edge onto the pad, big appeal, and I’m given out, LBW. So all that waiting, all that building up this innings on a pitch that had runs plenty left in it. So I walked back up into the dressing room, go through the crowd who were all shouting, my mood is dark at this stage, I’m not a happy guy. And you walk into the dressing room and one of those great tourists, a fellow called John Lever from Essex. Looked at me quietly and said, well, at least your lunch is still warm. Now, that’s, I mean, okay, it’s a tricky one that, ’cause that could have gone down badly, he might’ve been wearing that lunch had I reacted not so well, but actually at the moment, you kind of sit down and it sort of, it did kind of help on that occasion. But it also highlights something else, which I think is quite important, It kind of depends, very much depends, who says the line. because John and I got on very well, he was a man with a natural sense of humour, very good tourist. So all those situations you get into in places like India, Pakistan, Australia, West Indies, wherever, there’s always something going on. And he was always someone who could deflect and entertain and basically bring you up. So the fact that the line came from him was important. I can think of others who, if they delivered the line, they would have been wearing that lunch, I can tell you.
– It is interesting, isn’t it? How rapport has to be established before you can get to sort of like break that bubble of, and I’m interested that you actually brought it up, because sometimes, a line in one person’s mouth can actually sort of kill and destroy in a good way, and in another way, in another person’s mouth, it can just kill and cut the person to bits. So what is it that makes the difference between somebody who can actually deliver the line in a way that will be seen as affectionate and somebody who will step all over it?
– Well, I think so much depends on the character, doesn’t it? Of both people, both the joker and the jokee. Because one of the great things about humour is that it unites people. If you have the same sense of humour, as we know, have the same sense of humour as the bloke sitting next to you with a glass of white wine in his hand, then you’re likely to like his jokes and vice versa. Because you’re likely to like the same sort of triggers, you’re likely to think of the same sort of things, then one thing leads to another. And I mean, I know a lot of people are so dead pan about it, so serious about it, even when they are actually trying to be dry with their humour. But actually if you don’t know them, if you don’t know them that well, if you don’t understand that, the things they say are just offensive. So this seems to me already, this is one of the fine lines that you have to think about and how you deliver your lines. One of the great things nowadays, of course, is that because a lot of communication sadly, is done with the right thumb or forefinger, and ends up on a little screen in front of someone and whatever nice little pictures you throw, in fact, you have to send little pictures to sort of try and create a mood anyways. If you just put black and white words down, the number of times I’ve been misunderstood, and of course, let’s not get into sort of the greater arguments about Twitter and Instagram and social media, but the things people put out there. But the number of times you can be misunderstood, even by people who know you well, your nearest and dearest, you have to clarify what you’ve just said in black and white. If you’ve got an expression on your face, that mischievous or you’re genuinely happy, the person opposite knows exactly in that moment, that you’re not just being nasty, and that the line is designed to be fun.
– Do you think that in order to lead well, you have to be face-to-face with people, you have to be connected with them?
– Yeah, I actually, I do. I think, I mean my own experience of captaincy all those years ago, I would look back on that. And one of the failings, I would look at myself and say, was the number of times I didn’t personally go and speak to someone, or didn’t have that one-to-one with someone that they probably needed at the time. A lot of collective talks, a lot of casual talks, yes, and if people come to you, that’s easy, of course. But sometimes as a leader, you need to to be able to, shall we say, spot the signs and have a quiet moment with someone of your own making. So that they know that you’re thinking about them, this is not necessarily a moment for humour, but this is just sort of human sympathy, empathy and understanding. So I think, and none of that can work by text or WhatsApp or any of these things, I mean, that’s just hopeless. And I know from my own personal experience in the last few years as the receiver of messages, and I’d rather not sort of go into details as to who was sending them and why. But as a receiver of messages that were blunt, that created unnecessary friction. And once, I mean, I replied to one of these things, should we talk about this, and got the answer, no. And that to me was an example of management at its lowest ebb. Because if you’re working, and these are people you’re going to be working with, you’re working for, but with, and if you’ve got that sort of situation and someone is saying too, we should talk about this. Then the one thing you have to do is talk about this.
– Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And in fact, do you know the the Mehrabian Model where Professor Mehrabian did the pie chart of how people took on information, and the smallest piece of the pie, 7%, was the actual words. 38% of that was actually the way you said it, the ums, the ahs, the inflection and everything. And 55% of it was the body language, i.e, how you looked. You just said, your eyes had a sort of cheekiness about them, people can see that. Ever since we were children, we’ve been reading faces. So why would people think that wouldn’t be important in the mix anymore? And I think it’s really valuable for all our listeners to do it, that somebody as successful as you, spots that, and can see it in management happening all the time.
– Yeah, again, sometimes one of the key problems of course, with management is that one is often, and in terms of sport, in terms of say, for instance, using my own life and experiences, as an example quickly, you are put into a role as England captain, which is a very public role, and you are… you might be amongst friends in the sense the people closest to you in that environment are another 10 people who play cricket. Most of whom you know pretty well. But inevitably in an England team, for instance, there’ll be two or three coming in who don’t know you well, they have an image of you and you can try and break that, you can try and relax them with hopefully, well chosen lightheartedness, but you need to impress the most with your skills as a leader, your judgement as a decision maker, and all the things, I mean, there is a whole list of stuff, of course, but all the things that actually will make you a good leader at the end of it. And communication is simply the best tool and the hardest, it’s the best, but the hardest sometimes to manage.
– And you’ve been on both sides of it, as the leader and as the receiver, I mean, you may want to name names, you may not, who’s been the best at that, and why, what were they doing that was different and better?
– Yeah, the easy answer to that is that my first two captains of professional cricket teams was Ray Illingworth at Leicestershire. So a tough Yorkshire, England captain, some years my senior, who knew the game intimately, was respected as a great leader. We had a sort of, I dunno, uncle/nephew type relationship because of the age gap, but it was a very friendly one, it was a very respectful one. And we used humour between us. We used humour to get messages across. For instance, there’s a story I’ve told a million times, but it goes something like this, the first couple of years, playing at Leicestershire for the first team under his guidance. And the cricket was going well. I was doing everything that I was told to, I was learning rapidly, I was getting better. But being sort of what what was I, so 18, 19, 20 years old at the time, dress sense was a little varied. And we had a, sort of a code of smart-casual. So I pitched up at Nottingham one day, having got up in Leicester, in a hurry, slightly late, got dressed in a hurry, driven at the speed of light, legally, to Nottingham. And just looked at my shoes in the dressing room, one brown one, one black one, thinking, damn. Illy said, we need to sharpen up a bit, he said, would you mind just to make a bit of an effort to smarten yourself up a bit. So next away game, the following weekend, we go to Thornton to play Somerset. And I took with me the full dinner suit. So I had this, I mean, bearing in mind, this the late 1970s, it’s not something I’d like to wear nowadays. There was lots of blue velvet and frills and ruffles, and God knows what else. But on the Sunday morning, so Saturday night out, Sunday morning we got until two o’clock to play the game, the game starts at two. I arrived at breakfast in the full dinner kit. So this ruffled shirt, bow tie, blue velvet dinner shoes, looking immaculate. Ray looks up from his fried eggs and bacon and sausage and baked beans said, bloody hell Gower, have you just come in? Which actually I thought was a bloody good line at the time, and I wish I’d had the presence of mind and the confidence to say, well, it was good enough for Dennis Compton, it’s good enough for me. So Compton had this great reputation of being one of life’s bon viveurs and coming in in some sort of state of dishevelment and still scoring 100 before lunch at Lord’s. So there were little things like that where we just established the relationship. And of course, in between, there’s some very serious messages that have to be relayed. But the other great benefit for me was my first England caption was Mike Brierley, who is trained in all sorts of things psychological, psychiatric, and all the rest of it. He was a very, very good man and was described by one of our opposition as the man, one of the Aussies, actually, I think it might’ve been Rodney Hogg, who called him a man with a degree in people. So you had Mike who was basically trained to look into people’s minds and he was very good at those one-to-ones, very good at taking you aside, maybe casually, maybe a sort of a structured meeting, and checking that things are okay and anything he wanted to tell the players, he would tell. So I started at a very high bar there, with two guys who were both respected and very good at it. And the interesting thing actually is as you become more yourself and you learn more about the game and all the rest of it, and you’ve actually been thrust into the role yourself, you start to see your captains as less godlike and more human, because you’re now understanding that there are other ways to do things. The first two guys, for those first two captains, you believe in essence, every word they told you. So every decision they made of course was right. As you go through your life, you start to question people’s decision-making, for the right reasons, not just to be a disruptor as such, but you do it because you know more yourself. So I think it was, I mean, I think it was a really good thing that I started with those two because they set some very good boundaries early on.
– Well, I mean marvellous and I think Brierley was highly praised by everybody for, I love the fact that he had a degree in people, was the quote. I think that’s, but surely all great leaders should be concentrating on their people rather than just the bottom line of their business. And isn’t that what’s happening in business more and more, the bottom line is getting in the way of actually how people operate and getting the best out of them?
– I actually had an open door policy. One of the key things that I thought was good was… I try to instil, what should we call it, a sense of responsibility in everyone who played or came on tour. So as an example, team meetings, so the management meeting, your team meeting before a big game, I didn’t want it just to be me talking to the group about my plans for them. I wanted them to be as interactive as possible with their plans, for what they were going to do with me, sort of just guiding on top of that. Now, some people might call that laissez-faire, some people might say that can go wrong if the wrong people seem to be pulling the wrong strings. But I thought the great thing about that was that people would benefit from feeling, shall we say, bigger than they were maybe, or feeling that responsibility gave them power. And I remember again, using an example of India, 84/85, we went to India with a team that was not at full strength for various political reasons. So one or two key people like Graham Gooch, John Embury, Ian Botham were missing, but the people that came in, bought into what we had to do. And for instance, one good example, Graham Fowler from Lancashire, who was a very talented opening batsman, but had limited opportunities, And his worst problem was he looked about 12. So people treated him as a child. And he had that, talk of humour, he had that impish humour that he might’ve overdone at times, but he was always cracking gags. And he was always that cheeky chap. So again, some people didn’t take him seriously because of it. But I said to him, as part of this strategy of mine, just little things like for instance, practise sessions a couple of days before a game, do you want to net, do you want to do this? It’s in your power to decide how you want to prepare for this. I’m not going to tell you how to prepare, whatever you think is good for you, please do it, in effect. And it was the first time he’d been given a sense of self-responsibility. So at the end of that tour, he got a double 100 against India in what was then Madras, now Chennai. And he did a seriously good job for us. And he came to me at the end of the tour, one of the proudest moments of my captaincy in a sense, and he said, thank you very much indeed, because it was the first time someone gave me responsibility and I felt like a grown up in this team. So it doesn’t work with everyone. Some people need to be steered more than that. But that to me was, should we say an endorsement, that at least my idea had one supporter, hopefully a few more. So it’s just one example of many.
– I actually have a theory that, as well as the great leaders laughing with people, great leaders are great listeners and therefore they know what each person needs. And so you are essentially listening to that person and instinctively, or you knew that he needed responsibility, he needed to feel like a grownup as he put it. And I think that is what leadership is about, is about feeling that, having that lightness of touch, ’cause The Humourology Project is all about humour obviously, but good humour, lightness of touch, the way we interact, it’s all the same thing. Is there any sledging or heckling that you’ve heard that really did make you laugh when you’re out on the pitch?
– Oh, hang on, there are some you can’t really use in public, to be honest, and I’m afraid of this counts as public. There was one as it’s you, there’s one fairly, it’s very close to the mark. Ian Botham and Rod Marsh, there’s so many stories with Ian. But allegedly Ian walks out to bat one day in a test match, this has got to be by definition sort of early ’80s, late ’70s, say. And Bacchus, Rod Marsh’s name nickname was Bacchus, comes up behind the stumps and says, good day, mate, how’s your wife and my kids? And you know, which is some somewhat under the belt, but it was par for the course in those days. And Ian was alleged to have said, well, the wife’s fine, the kids are, shall we say, mentally not very well. It was as a word we don’t use nowadays and whether or not the story is true, doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the repartee and the comeback, and the speed of thought and all the rest of it. Too many of them don’t really sort of bear repeating in public, but a lot of them did make you laugh, yeah.
– Now we have to actually edit ourselves, don’t we, where we going, I can’t say that anymore, but it was of its time. And by the way, I was talking to Jo Brand about this, that it’s actually, we learned over the years that it wasn’t how funny the comeback was, it was how well it was timed. And if it was funny as well, if it was an added bonus. So it was all about the timing and also all about the state of the person doing it. I’m not phased by this, is what you’re trying to say.
– Yeah, I mean, the thing about this thing we call sledging, it basically, which is yeah, it’s banter at best, it’s verbal abuse at worst. It was what Steve Waugh called mental disintegration. And I have a nasty feeling it’s gone to a degree nowadays whereby people never shut up. When I remember pretty clearly, when I first played test cricket in Australia, it was late ’70s And then we had a tour where, there was this thing called World Series Cricket on, which was Packer, which took away some of the best players, a lot of the best players. The following winter were back there again with some of the great names up against us of Australian cricket of that era. So Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, all these people. And the sledging thing was, they would say stuff as you came in. And you’d sort of look at them quizzically, but the simple rule was that if I, as an individual, for instance, got in and got runs and was looking fine and happy and it just went quiet, and they didn’t waste their breath, just sledging for the sake of it. It was designed initially to put you ill at ease, to make you ill at ease. And they genuinely, in their own way, were sort of psychologists because they looked at people and they realised that there were some who would take it worse, they realised there were some amongst our number who would be more ill at ease because of it. And then it wouldn’t stop. Then it becomes, that’s genuine pressure being pushed onto an individual who is out there, one of two against 11 at that precise moment. So you only have your one ally at the other end. So you go and talk to your mate at the end of the over and say, what’s going on here then? And they’ll try and build you back up again.
– Well, I think that’s fascinating. What makes you laugh, David?
– All sorts, I like well chosen words. I like that quick moment where someone says something, you think of something funny or vice versa, the quick reaction, and it can be any time, any place, anywhere, it’s not just when you’re sitting down and having a drink and trying to have fun. I mean, for instance, the two sort of major parts of my career, so playing cricket for 18 years, broadcasting for 30, whatever it is. In amongst those commentary boxes, for instance, for the last 30 years, we’ve had all sorts of great characters. Some of them are great mates and there were so many funny lines. The stuff that is said off-air sometimes while you’re working on air and you hear this comment in the background, yeah, yeah, funny, very funny. But that’s how we interact. And that’s why those places are very good places to be because you have this sort of dressing room atmosphere. And so it’s like just taking the dressing room into a commentary box, same people, same giggles, same laughter, same silly stuff. And yet you’re still doing your job, of course. And if you don’t do the job properly and amongst it all, then there might be repercussions. But I mean, so many things get said and some of them are just literally spur of the moment things that come from absolutely nowhere. And it’s just reaction. To think back to them straight away, but for instance, we used to have, here’s one for you. When I first went to the BBC, so retiring from playing in 1993, end of the season, and I had a job lined up to do TV and stuff at the BBC for the next few years after that. And when we started, when I was working with the great Tony Lewis, who was our presenter, very urbane, very educated, very clever, very good, very subtle. Geoffrey Boycott, who’s most of the other things, most of the opposites, but Geoffrey knows that. And Geoffrey who was brilliant in his own very different way, because he was always to the point, there’s no sort of hiding from Geoffrey’s opinions. We had people like Jack Bannister, very, very good indeed. And the great Richie Benaud, the ultimate cricket broadcaster, Richie Benaud. In anyone’s book, he’s top three and in most people’s books, he’s number one. So Richie had lots of dry asides, which he used on air. And he had this great skill, one of the great skills Richie absolutely had was economy of words, but picking the right words, nothing too verbose, just four or five words in the right order, brilliant. And you learn a lot from someone like that. And he carried Fowler’s English Usage with him at all times. He loved language and he thought about it hard. But we had this game where Steve, our floor manager would say, okay, right, we’ve got half an hour’s commentary coming up, here are six words I would like you to insert into the next half hour. So the two of you, it might be me and Geoffrey, it might be me and someone. I remember at Trent Bridge one year, we must be playing New Zealand, because we had Sir Richard Hadley with us as a guest commentator, Haddles. And there were various words we were given for our half hour, and one of the words I was given was suspender belt. Now under normal circumstances, you’re not going to use the term, suspender belt in the midst of a test match broadcast between England and New Zealand at Trent Bridge. But I’m sort of wracking my brains, how to get this in. And we had an opportunity, the only way I could get it in was this, about 20 minutes in, I think it might’ve been someone like Graham Thorpe, but he nudges one almost straight towards a fielder, but he goes for the quick single, so pushes for the quick single, scampers up the other end quickly and gets in. Now I use the expression quick run single, as cheeky as a suspender belt at midnight.
– Oh, beautifully done.
– It was one of the proudest moments in my broadcasting career, it had absolutely no logic whatsoever. without that challenge, those words would never, ever have been uttered by me or probably anyone else in terms of a BBC test match broadcast on the TV. But that was one of those things that kind of kept us going, it’s like an added challenge. Now you’ve got the challenge anyway of describing action entertainingly, with knowledge, with sort of skill and all the rest of it. But that was just the added challenge we used to have from this guy, Steve, who was very good, great fun to work with.
– That is fabulous, I absolutely love that. Having worked in all these environments and seen different people, do you think everyone has the potential to be funny or is it a gift only given to the few?
– I think to be really funny, it’s a gift given to the few, because one of the key elements of humour, good humour, especially in those repartee type situations, is that it has to be quick. So if you have to think about your response, then it’s not going to work, because it’s now two, three, four, five seconds down. And if it comes out straight away, the fact that it’s come out straight away is both good for you, your own wellbeing in the sense, oh, I thought of that straight away, got the line out, especially if it works, if it doesn’t work, then you just try and dismiss it and bin it for history. But if it takes you too long, then the moment has gone. So what Jo Brand was saying to you, and Jo’s great, we worked with her. I say we, it just sounds like I’m an arch comedian, but I mean, when I say something called, “They Think It’s All Over,” and we had Rory McGrath, who’s great. Nick Hancock, who’s great. Lee Hurst, Jonathan Ross, Gary Lineker on the other team. We were amongst great comedians. We were amongst the sharpest minds. And if you get a line both into the programme and into the edit, which sharp enough and good enough to survive, hey, I’m there, I’m up with the big boys now. But the truth is, it’s actually interesting, I found myself even as we were rehearsing, even in preparation, thinking of things, oh I can’t say that, I can’t say that, not with these guys here and this. Again, the context, the confidence to be funny is drawn I find entirely from who you’re next to, who you’re with, as to whether or not you have the confidence to throw this line out in the mix. Because maybe it’s a status thing, you may be sort of feel as though you are not bigger and better, but you might have a little bit seniority. So you’re prepared to try these things. And if they work, of course, we all love it, it’s all part of the the happy environment. But I think as soon as I, the comparison is this in terms of cricket, because I was a test player, I was good, I was confident. And I backed myself to do it. In terms of humour, when I came up against the test players who are Nick Hancock, Rory McGrath, Jonathan Ross, Lee Hurst, then I’m no better than a county or a club player in comparison. Therefore my shots are going to be mistimed, miscued. I found that very interesting, being part of that. And every now and again, a magic moment occurs, oh, great, nice.
– Will, it is, I think you’re right. It’s playing on a new stage and with the bits, but it’s also, I think it’s interesting, you said two words, you said confidence, having the confidence to do that, which I think is key to having that and challenging yourself. I think the reason people don’t do it is because if it goes wrong, it really goes wrong.
– Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, that’s why I would sort of cower when I’m amongst people who I know are genuinely, it’s quite funny with Nick Hancock, I know very well in love, I mean, he’s a lovely guy, Nick, Nick had a slightly different persona, but he was the boss. And so we would go out and have dinner sometimes, other days, and I would be more confident to throw lines in. And he almost, a few times said, hang on, I’m the funny bloke here, as if to say, hang on, what are you doing? ‘Cause we’re out together, this is now where I can be more confident. I can be me now, not someone on TV, who’s playing second fiddle. So you have that sort of dynamic as well. But again, if you’re with the right sort of people and through this life, you meet a lot of very good people. So we meet, one of the great people, I think on TV at the moment is David Mitchell, who is a friend of a friend, and I seen him over dinner a few times, and you get stuck in, you have a lot of fun because David is brilliant, he’s absolutely brilliant, very, very funny, on and off screen, but he’s nice enough that you feel you can sort of try and be part of if, if you see what I mean. So you have a bit of a back and forth and you think of funny things to say and they’re not just dismissed, you know? So you almost get up to parity, almost, sort of, almost get to equal status and people like that are great because you can have a lot of fun with them. It’s certainly easier for me, I can tell you that.
– But what is it about people who make us laugh that that draws us in so much? What is that secret sauce that they have? Why is it so powerful? Is it a superpower?
– It is, I’m sure it is. I mean, one can be impressed by power, to use that word, by personality, by academics, by those with huge knowledge. Going back to the example, for instance of Rory, Rory McGrath, Rory has an extraordinary capacity, he’s got an extraordinary brain double first at Cambridge in languages, so languages are a doddle, but snippets of information. For instance, we went to Australia once, to do a thing for the BBC, a travel thing, we were going to be in a camper van for a week in Queensland. And he basically stage managed the whole thing himself, he took over production. But on the flight there, he bought one of these little books, which has every country in the world, gross national product, capital city, population, and he said, right, test me, let’s just go through this, just test me, anything you’d like. And he loves acquiring knowledge. Birds, he’s a birdwatcher, a twitcher as it were. So he knows the latin names of birds and all the rest of it he doesn’t just say, right, that’s a blue tit, he’ll give the Latin name, seagull, Larum Silverbacked gull, whatever it is, that sort of stuff. And you sit with Rory, you learn everything. And so you can be impressed with Rory because he is both very knowledgeable, therefore, very interesting, and you can’t argue with him because he knows everything, but he’ll make you laugh all the time as well. And he has that generosity of spirit that you’re never looked down upon either. So I’ve loved my times, sadly a long time ago, now with Rory doing those things. We did one of those trips to Australia, we did one to California, we did one in India, in the Taj Hotel, working as butlers in the Taj, where humour was absolutely essential. We needed all the humour to make that really work. And I mean, I loved him for it, people that make you laugh like that, you can be told a joke by anyone, and if it was a good joke, you can still laugh. But people with whom you feel you have some sort of synergy so that you’re not just listening to the joke and laughing politely, you’re listening to the joke and you come back with something because you know he’s going to like that, and you’re thinking you’re going to go for hours because you go down these alleyways and down these paths and into realms you’d never thought of before, because you’re on that same page. And that’s where when you identify even someone on television, you identify people who have that same way of thinking yeah. And books, the sort of the books one reads, the same thing, you know that you’re going to get something from that which chimes with your own way of looking at life.
– So what would the world be like without humour, David?
– Dull, hugely dull, very grey. You know you’re having a bad day when you haven’t had a laugh at any stage or found something funny. And I think, I mean, whether it’s professional or amateur or just part of the fabric that keeps us going, without that smile, because I mean, apart from anything else, we read and were told that the actual physical act of smiling is good for us, and that laughing is good for us. And I can imagine you, in your trade for instance, I’m sure you’d endorse that wholly. And I know for instance, if we’re talking dark days, we’ve all had dark days for various reasons professionally, emotionally, whatever it might be. And you’re in no danger of smiling, let alone laughing. It takes someone maybe to just help you maybe get from here to here to here. And if that, whether it’s a joke or an aside, or just a smile coming at you, which helps you realise that, A, there’s someone else who’s on your side and B, you can still do it. I mean those are, we’re talking about the ultimate dark days here. The whole mechanism of getting yourself from rock bottom, up to somewhere acceptable and back to normal again, involves a smile.
– Yeah, and it changes the structure of the brain,. just the mere act of smiling. In fact, there was a study in America whereby they gave people SSRIs, which are serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, And they gave half the group those SSRIs and the other half, the group, just an instruction to go and smile in a mirror for five minutes in the morning and the evening. And they followed the brain patterns, and it was exactly the same. So you can actually create your own drugs in your mind to make yourself happy. So you’re quite right, that it does change the structure of the mind. You’ve had to learn and relearn skills over the years in cricket and broadcasting and living in different parts of the world. And of course, even school, have you found that the things you’ve learned most easily have been connected to humour or fun?
– Best way I can answer that is that for instance, learning to play sport, kind of key for me, but learning a sport, not just cricket, but things like all the other sports I played at school, football and hockey and rugby and squash and tennis, in doing that, the more you enjoy it, very straightforward sort of upward spiral. The more you enjoy it, the more you want to do it, the more you want to do it, the better you get, the better you get, the more you enjoy it. And that spiral keeps going on. There is obviously a limit for most people, there’s only so much progress one could make in a certain field, especially in sport. But yeah, so creating for people around you, for instance, at school, the people around you to create the right atmosphere for you to want to do that. I had two brilliant cricket masters, both at my first school, which is Marlborough House, in Hawkhurst, in Kent, and at King’s Canterbury. Derek Witham was the cricket master at Marlborough House, and he let me get on with it was always supportive and I just loved it. Fellow called Colin Fairservice was the long established cricket coach, head of cricket at King’s Canterbury, and he umpired and all the rest of it and stood there with a trilby on. And he was brilliant we got on so well, and the environment again was perfect for me. And there would have been laughs, there would have been strictures, yeah, of course you’re being taught to acquire skills, therefore you’re not just going to go rampaging through it without some sort of guidance. So I mean, and they were happy days. I mean, they were just happy days. So there is definitely a link. The other side of that, not saying coin necessarily, the other side of that is if you’re a proud parent and you want to force your child to become a cricketer and your child doesn’t want to do it, it’s not fun, it’s not going to learn, it’s not going to get better. So you’ve got to follow the natural paths to make it easier. And then I guess at some stage you sometimes have to be a bit more grown up and follow paths we don’t necessarily want to follow, but we have to follow them. But in my case, the joy of playing sport was all I needed.
– Well, yeah, isn’t a case of if you find something you love doing, you’ll never work another day in your life.
– Even if you’re going into, shall we say, to use a pejorative term, a job, because all the things I’ve done, so-called professionally, they’ve not felt in a sense, like a job, because they’d been fun to do basically. Yes, I’ve taken them seriously. You can’t make a lot of runs without taking it seriously. You can’t remain in broadcasting, fronting up a programme for 20 odd years without taking it seriously. And I’ve always tried to set high standards for myself. But I’ve always had that sort of quirky sense of humour in amongst it. So for instance, every time we went live on Sky, when the count gets down from 10 to nine to eight, at about five, my mantra is what could possibly… as in what could possibly go wrong, echoed in the truck by a director, you know, and here we go, fine, we’re now in. So you preempt, you kind of preempt it. And all that was fun. I mean, all that was lovely. And therefore we were able to let the humour come in and you know, it was all part of the gig. So that that’s an ideal. And I do sympathise and understand that there are lots of people in jobs that don’t necessarily come with built in fun, but, and I don’t want to pick a job at random and insult anyone, but if you’re on a job, which is not necessarily fun in the job description, it can be made more interesting and more bearable by the people around you if they’re prepared to be nice and have fun and crack a joke and be characters and make the most of whatever that environment is.
– I think you’re a 100% right. I think it adds resilience to the whole thing but by the way, when I was young and trying to earn money before going abroad and everything, I did jobs, I worked for six weeks on a building site and actually it was fun. And because we decided it was fun and we had a group of people who we liked, and they’re all students doing the same kind of thing. So you can build, I think you can build fun into any business. So if I were to ask you to write a business case for humour, what would you include? Because we’ve got to go to all these CEOs and say, you’ve got to build fun in, why would they want to build fun into their business?
– Right, great question, no easy answer. I mean, I would say because, right, you’re building a business and you’re building a business on people then very straightforwardly, you want those people to get up in the morning and want to go to work. So why would you want to go to work? Okay, you might be earning money, it might be as simple as that. But if you really want to go to work, it’s because you think when I get there, I’m going to be with like-minded people, with good people, it’s going to be interesting, we’re going to be allowed to smile. If for instance, there were ever an environment where I’m not allowed to smile and jokes are banned. Why would you want to go there? Why would you physically, mentally want to go there? You might have to. I can imagine that sadly, but why would you want to go there? So if you’re trying to build a business case and all the stories you read of so many successful companies, I mean, it’s not just about putting a ping pong table inside or funny pictures up on the walls, or I dunno, there are so many things you read about, but it’s about creating that environment where someone comes to work thinking, I want to see John, I want to see Sarah, I want to see Reg, I want to see Julie, because they’re good people, we work well together, and because we work well together, we get the job done, and we’d leave there at the end of the day, we might be tired, but we we’re smiling. And when we come back tomorrow, we want to be with the same people again. So surely, your ambition as a leader of any sort of team, be it four people, 400 people or 4,000 people or more, is to know that they are on side with you, for all the right reasons, but that they’re going to want to come to work. And that would be my simplest way of putting it. People have to want to come to work.
– And I wonder if, because I’ve talked to, I won’t name names, but managers in other sports, who have actually stopped people coming into the dressing room because they are disruptive or not funny, or brought the wrong atmosphere. Have you ever come up against that? And what advice do you give to people about that?
– No, I’ve not really seeing anyone banned. What you do see sadly, is that for instance, in the context of an England team. So you’ve got many county teams, any team, I guess will operate in the same way, but for instance, in an England team, and for instance, if you’re picking 16 people to go away for four months in Australia or anywhere or four months in India, whatever it might be, as we used to. Those 16 people, plus the staff around have to be able to get on. There are always going to be characters who are not necessarily as gregarious, and it depends how you deal with them individually. And again, not naming names, I have known way back in the past of people being not selected because there was that worry about how they’re going to fit in for four months as part of that squad. And it’s normally borderline cases, because there that same thing, that if you’re seriously good, then people will make allowances for you. And if you’re scoring 150 for England in Sydney, even if your joke as you come off the field falls completely flat because people don’t like you, they’ll go well-played, ’cause you just got 150. So I mean, there can be a bit of a trade off. I mean, let’s face it, none of us, there is no one who is both extremely 100% gifted as a sportsman, leader, business, you name it, and stand up comedian at the same time. But a lot of people get a lot of those elements pretty much right, pretty much most of the time. So those are the people you love and respect because they have this automatic balance between the job, life and how you enjoy life. And I think for some people that’s a very tricky balance, for others, it seems to fall into place all too easily. And those are the ones that you both admire and hate.
– Yeah, well, no, I think you’re quite right. We’ve come to the part of the show now called quick fire questions. ♪ Quick fire questions ♪ Who’s the funniest business person you’ve met?
– TV is a business, let’s face it, TV is a business and yeah, Rory McGrath.
– There you go.
– I love Rory’s humour. It’s not just about telling jokes, it is about all those things we’ve talked about, all about sort of the instant reaction, it’s just fun to be with, so that’s a business, that’s definitely a business, comedy is definitely a business.
– Absolutely, no, and Rory is hilarious. What book makes you laugh?
– The authors I love to make me laugh are Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Tom Sharpe, Saki, Woodhouse. As we speak, I’m not actually reading it at this precise moment, but when we finish, I’m rereading a Terry Pratchett. Terry, I thought was absolutely brilliant. Just those little sentences, those little asides, those little things that you look at and you think, it’s six very simple words, but they are brilliantly, brilliantly put in the right place at the right time. And every page has something on it from Terry.
– Great, to be honest, I know he’s one of the most popular authors in the world, but I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett, but now I’m going to give it a go because of your recommendation.
– Good man.
– What film makes you laugh?
– Monty Python. I love the Pythons. And therefore it’s a toss up between “The Life Of Brian” and “The Holy Grail.”
– So “Life of Brian” has come back on this series so many times, I think it is the perfect film, Isn’t it, really? And it doesn’t date because it’s set 2000 years ago. Which kind of helps.
– They were brilliant, I love the Pythons.
– I think it’s pure genius, it’s pure genius. Now we’re going to take a shift to the other side, what in life is not funny? Is there anything that you don’t think that can be seen as funny or anything personal that you don’t find funny?
– Yeah, well, I think what’s not funny, actually there’s a lot, isn’t there, sadly. I mean, all you have to do is follow a news bulletin, inevitably, most news is tragic for someone in some shape or form, and we don’t have to look far, do we, in this current era, in the last 18 months for stuff that’s been suitably tragic or unsuitably tragic. And I’m sure having said that, I mean, one would be ever so careful with death, divorce, personal tragedy, anyone who’s having a rough time, for whatever reason. There are lots of things that you would maybe think of a funny line, but if you’ve got any decency, you’d shut it down there and then. The only thing I’d say about that is if we’re talking about things like, personal problems, bereavement, divorce, all those things, all those things that are top of the list as being testers for individuals, if you’re a good friend of someone who’s just suffered from such an event, what are you going to try and do? You’re going to try and get the smile back on their face. So however you do it and it might take a few attempts and some of them might fail, but you want to try and get people. I mean, my natural instinct would be to get people back up there. And for instance, when I’ve, as a reasonably sane, I think, and good example, I’ve given the odd encomium at a funeral and I’ve listened to a few. And I much prefer the ones where the fun times are remembered, where the stories are told. And there was, I gave one, a eulogy for a fellow called Tim Stanley Clark, who was revered in the wine trade. He was worked for the Symington family in Portugal. basically sold thousands, hundreds of thousands of bottles of port and many other things through his career. Great practical joker, such huge fun to be with Tim. And we had so many great times with him in clubs in London, in Portugal, up in the Dora Valley, Porto, such a good man. Now I was asked to give the eulogy. So much material. People were throwing stuff at me. So, all right, you got to tell this story, you got to tell that story. And and it was a huge packed house and a huge church. And you know, so it’s a performance, yes, but I would have been very disappointed in myself, if I just given a sort of, dear Tim, we miss him. It had to be good, it had to be entertaining, and his brother-in-law did the same thing, gave a fantastic eulogy as well. And I had a hip flask in my inner pocket, in my suit pocket, And I said to the vicar, you don’t mind, do you? I’d like to be the first to raise a toast. So hip flask, lips, here’s to Tim. And I loved doing that, and my voice is kind of breaking because it’s an emotional time, but that was how I had to do it.
– Yeah, and have you ever, you talked about the Pythons, have you ever seen John Cleese’s eulogy for Graham Chapman who was his greatest friend?
– I haven’t.
– Well, I’ll send it to you, it’s a YouTube link, but what he does is he goes completely against the grain and it starts out with, he was a good man, he was a wonderful man and then he goes, but no, the snivelling bastard, you know? And then he goes into, it cuts to the shot of the audience who were shocked and then bursts, because it’s a big, big sort of release.
– It’s the what he would have wanted line, isn’t it?
– Because you know these intimately and you know that, Graham Chapman, genius of his own sort, wouldn’t have wanted John to stand up there going, oh, you know, we miss him I know it’s ridiculous because you know, one of them’s dead and he’s not going to listen to it. I mean, in a sense maybe, maybe not, you want to listen to your own encomiums before you go, one more laugh before I go. I mean, here we are-
– Do you want to get to edit them? I liked that bit, but we could we leave-
– Do you mind leaving that bit out? I’ll feel better, you’ll be dead. But I think for all concerned, I mean, ’cause I mean we’ve all been to funerals where obviously the underlying emotion is sort of gripping sadness, but that can be relieved by the right person at the right time, saying the right things. You can change the entire mood then you go to the cup of tea and the sandwiches, thinking, do you know what, that was great. That was great.
– Well, I think to bring laughter in that situation is a real talent and I think it actually does change the structure of the event, and frankly who wouldn’t like people to be, remembering people in a good way, is what I think. And remembering them for the fun they had with them, I think is probably the biggest, the best testament you can do. What word makes you laugh?
– But it’s a funny word, it is a funny word-
– You can imagine, but in the hands of a master, a master comedian, “Blackadder” or something, you get infinite mileage out of it.
– Mileage out of moist, ladies and gentlemen. Would you rather be considered clever or funny, David?
– Well, I’d love both. I think at this stage we’ve probably done clever, we’ve been seen through there, so just yeah. If I can be seen as amusing, yeah, that would do, that would do.
– Amusing and witty, you’ll take.
– I like witty, I’m happy to be witty, on a good day, I’ll do witty.. Witty and amusing, that’s good, yeah. Rip-roaringly funny, that’s probably too much, but amusing and witty in any order will do me very nicely.
– Well, I’d say as a psychologist, that in order to be amusing and witty, you have to be clever. ‘Cause I actually think the way the brain works, you talk about Rory McGrath, who’s also very intelligent and very witty. And I think the two things collide most of the time.
– Yeah, they do, inevitably the best comedians are knowledgeable and clever and obviously quick, it’s that sharpness of mind, as you say, that allows them to do what they do so well. And that would be great if one could match it. So yes, you’re right, you do need to be, but there are degrees of clever, I guess, and they’re sort of clever with knowledge. You can be clever without knowledge, I guess, but clever with knowledge could be very dangerous.
– Oh, oh gosh, yeah, that could be.
– Clever without knowledge could be more dangerous, but yeah, let’s put it this way, one can but aspire.
– I think you’re there, I think you’re there. And finally, Desert Island Gags. You can only take one joke with you to a desert island, what is it?
– I haven’t got a clue, right, here’s the joke for you. It’s not very good, but it’ll have to do, I’ll tell it to myself 3 million times until that steamer hoves into view on the horizon and my bottle with a note in it, reaches it. And it goes something like this. What does the seagull say when he flies into a cliff? Fuck.
– You see, I think that’s very funny and I haven’t heard that gag before. Hey, and we end it on a hard K, which is always funny. Thank you so much for sharing the funny, the front foot, and the fun, David Gower, thank you so much.
– Paul, pleasure, pleasure.
– “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.