Part of the Humourology series
Season 1, Episode 11
Producing the Punchline: James Longman shares the value of sharing a laugh
As an Emmy-Winning producer on the Late Late Show with James Corden, James Longman knows the power of a punchline. Longman shares his experiences of how humour can be used to bring levity to any situation whether in life or on television.
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In this episode of the Humourology podcast, Paul Boross is joined by acclaimed Hollywood Producer James Longman. Longman reminisces on a childhood filled with laughter and a love of silliness. Longman discusses the influence that humour has had on his life as he laughed his way to Hollywood where he works with some of the world’s biggest stars (Tom Cruise), Washington royalty (Michelle Obama) and funniest people (Will Ferrell). Longman discusses the influence that humour has had on his life as he laughed his way to Hollywood where he works with some of the world’s funniest people.
“Humor provides a moment of levity that takes you away from the misery, the tough things in life. It lifts you up.”
Longman’s admiration for the uplifting quality of humour shines through as he shares his inspiring experiences and a hysterical story or two on this week’s episode of the Humourology Podcast.
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Spike Edney on the Humourology Podcast
– Yeah, you do need a sense of humour. You find that people with a good sense of humour get on and you’re happy to work with them. And people who are miserable, you are happy to never see them again.
– 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. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success 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 has had the most extraordinarily successful career in the music business. For over 40 years, he’s played with a who’s who of legendary rock superstars from bands such as Queen, Free, Spandau Ballet, Whitesnake, Duran Duran, The Boomtown Rats, and Roxy Music, to name but a few. He has performed on stage of many of the most iconic concerts of the past 40 years, including Live Aid, the Prince’s Trust Party in the Park, and Nelson Mandela’s Concert for AIDS. He was also musical director for The Freddie Mercury Memorial Concert at Wembley. As the leader of the SAS band, Spike’s All Stars, he has a regularly wrangled the richest revolving guest list of rock and roll greats onto stages around the world. Spike Edney, welcome to the Humourology Podcast.
– Very glad to be here, and I like the use of wrangling and revolving in a sentence. That’s really good.
– We love alliteration here. Spike, it’s lovely to have you here. To survive over 40 years in the music business, do you need a great sense of humour?
– You better have one, I think, because you better be able to take the rough with the smooth and there’s an awful lot of rough before you get the smooth. I can assure you of that. So yeah, you do need a sense of humour. You find that people with a good sense of humour get on and you’re happy to work with them. And people who are miserable, you are happy to never see them again, so…
– So do you think that, I mean, having been in bands myself, do you think that if it’s not there, you can’t stay for that long? For instance, you’ve been with Queen for, I think, is it 1985 or something?
– 84. August ’84.
– 1984. Wow. Well, I mean, there must be something about adapting and getting rapport and having a sense of humour that makes them want to be around you for that many years.
– Well, let’s hope so. There are some bands who kind of thrive on tension and discord, and some of those bands actually do last as long as they take long holidays from each other. And I think that that is the key to any successful big band, is that absence makes the heart grow fonder as well. So then when you’re together, you can have energy, and fun has got to be a big part of it. Otherwise, life is miserable. I mean, I’ve been in situations on tour where a band is getting near the end of its life, and everybody’s just miserable in everybody else’s company. And the smallest thing can be irksome, but that’s the same in any group of people wherein somebody’s slightly annoying habit becomes a major problem for another member of the band. So holidays are good, and having funny people around and in the band to ease the tension is definitely good. And not everybody’s funny, but as long as you’ve got one or two, that really helps.
– Well, I always remember the John Lennon quote, and I know you’re a huge Beatles fan as well. And when he was going through some miserable times in his life in the studio, which just shows his sense of humour, he turned to Paul McCartney and went, “The reason my life is shit is because your tambourine is out of time.”
– There you go, I can believe that. And what was the other great thing in the summer of Sergeant Pepper where Paul McCartney’s all jolly saying, “It’s getting better all the time, it’s getting better.” And Lennon comes in with, “It can’t get no worse.”
– And it stayed in the mix.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah.
– It’s an interesting thought though. Would The Beatles have stayed together if they’d been allowed a break and allowed some space?
– Probably. I say probably, what do I know? I can imagine that would work. I could also imagine that you would have to keep your wives out of your business because that’s always a tricky thing. When four guys are being creative together and there’s a balance going on, or the hierarchy is kind of set, the power hierarchy, and it’s obvious what that was with The Beatles, then to bring in another person can either be a positive thing or a negative thing. I do recall that at one point, John Lennon wanted to invite Brian Jones, when he quit The Rolling Stones or they kicked him out. He wanted to invite him to join The Beatles because he thought he was a real creative and chaotic influence that he wanted to bring into The Beatles to stir it up. Well, that didn’t work out sadly. So Yoko took that role and it didn’t turn out to be the creative, exciting influence that perhaps he was hoping for so.
– Well, you talk about a power hierarchy in a band. Is there a humour hierarchy in a band?
– The only band that I can think of that didn’t have a humour hierarchy was Dexy’s Midnight Runners. There humour was very much frowned upon, because I think they thought it showed weakness or something, but I’m trying to think, in every band I’ve been in or every group of musicians, there are people who are outstandingly funny and there are people who are less than funny, but of course you can overdo it. You don’t want to over-egg the pudding because a person that’s funny all the time can get annoying. I once had the pleasure/stroke misfortune to stand next to Frank Carson for an hour. That was the longest hour of my life. The first 15 minutes was glorious, the last 45 I wanted to kill him because he just wouldn’t shut up. And of course he was funny and I hurt my sides laughing, but I didn’t want it anymore, I was done. And it was just like too much Christmas pudding until you’re sick, that kind of thing.
– And another thing, yeah.
– Have you heard this one? And some of the gags were funnier than the ones he’d done on the stage previously in his routine. He was funnier at the bar than he was on stage. And I kept trying to leave, “You haven’t heard this one yet.” Oh God, thank you, Frank.
– I actually met him. He was a friend of a friend of mine. Adrian Walsh is a comedian from Northern Ireland and he used to know him very well, and the word “relentless” comes to mind.
– Yes, relentless humour. I mean, yeah, death by laughing, certainly. The other situation I can remember where there was virtually no humour whatsoever was the afternoon I spent in Van Morrison’s company, and his band who on their own were very funny but the moment he walked into the room, they weren’t funny anymore. So, there was definitely a handbrake of humour in that situation.
– A handbrake of humour. We’ll be using that one, Spike.
– Credit me, credit me.
– Oh, you’ll get a credit. It’ll be in big letters as well. It’ll be above the title. What makes you laugh, Spike?
– People. People, the things they say, I mean, it’s classic stuff. The moment you try to be funny, it probably doesn’t work, but the accidental humour can have you in stitches. And when you work with a bunch of people for a long time, you get telepathy, and sometimes you don’t even have to say anything, you just look. Something happens and you look at each other. And there have been situations where I turn around and I don’t even say anything. I just look and if you don’t blink, they know that they need to pay attention because something is going on nearby or whatever. And I love that telegraphic thing where you can share humour with somebody without having to point it out.
– And does that actually happen on the stage as well? Because I know that you are, and I know you don’t like the term, but you’re the musical director for Queen essentially. I know you don’t like the term, so I use it-
– We’ll go through that. Yeah, use that advisedly. I do something that is quite unique. A musical director tells them what to play. I don’t tell them what to play. I remind them what to play.
– We’re going to the middle eight now.
– That kind of thing has happened on many occasions? And what happens, how many verses before the chorus? And how many choruses? Well, it depends which version we’re doing. Are we doing the 1980 version or the 1990 version? We have so many versions of so many songs, think of me as a musical stenographer. I’m the one that sort of keeps all the notes and then pulls out the references when we need to make a decision about something. And I’ll explain all that in detail if you want later. But the humour, yeah, you always need the humour because sometimes, well, catastrophe is only one fret away and you better have some humour in your reservoir or in your reserve account to cope with that because you may need it.
– Again, this is yours as well just for the record. Catastrophe is only one fret away. I just love that, that is brilliant. I was watching a documentary about Queen and you feature in it. But at one stage, Adam Lambert is saying, “I kept on looking over at Spike when I first started just to know if I was coming in yet.”
– Well, that’s true and bless him, he was very, very amenable to that, because some people either are not used to being told what to do or don’t have the mechanism or the facility to look around and check. You can work with people who get in and go into a blind panic and close in. Look inwards instead of saying, “Oh, bugger, I don’t know where I am. I need help.” Now, that person, I really got a lot of time for because that means they’re part of the team and I’m always ready to help. Now, Queen hate to rehearse. The established members of Queen hate to rehearse, and so bang it through twice and it’s in. That’s the rule. And then Adam will be leaning heavily on me when that happens.
– Well, that’s brilliant. I mean, it’s funny because I think that stars have always couldn’t remember their lyrics. He was in the last days of his career, went to Caesar’s Palace to see Frank Sinatra. And it was his wife’s birthday and Nancy opened for him. And was right down the front in the the big room at Caesar’s Palace. And what I couldn’t get over was Frank was reading the words to “My Way”. And I suppose okay, he was getting older, but I think they just like it as a comfort blanket.
– Yeah, I mean, sometimes it’s only there for if their mind goes blank and they could just look down and remember what the third verse is or something, or do they repeat the first verse, so you can’t blame them for that.
– Tell me a funny story about when you’ve been on stage and maybe it’s gone wrong but it’s worked out.
– Well, this is probably politically incorrect according to modern day sensitivities, but a lot of humour that happens is incorrect. I do, and have done for about 10 years now, this thing called the Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp. Now, this is where people who have always wanted to have been in a rock band and played with other people at the highest level, can pay money to go away for four days to a camp where a person like me brings together four or five disparate characters and basically I whip them into shape so they can go on stage at the House of Blues or the Whisky-A-Go-Go and play together as a band, play three songs. Now, this is a terrifying concept to a lot of people. These guys and women may have been enthusiastic musicians in their teens or whatever, gave up when they went to college and became doctors, lawyers, nurses, and now somebody’s bought them this as their 50th birthday present. And they come along filled with fear, anticipation. Normally, it’s a case of, “I haven’t held a guitar or play the guitar for 30 years. I’m going to make a fool of myself.” But it’s not what we do, is we encourage them and get their strengths and get them to be fulfilled playing with other people. And it works really well. And you can put five people in a room that don’t know each other in the morning. By the end of the afternoon, they’re arguing about how “Wild Thing” goes and where does the B fit in and all this kind of thing. And in four days, you’ve written a song with them and they are on stage at the Whisky-A-Go-Go or the House of Blues in Hollywood, and they’re playing together as a band. It’s a really intense but uplifting experience for them. So, with that in mind, I was brought on board to help organise one of these in London at Abbey Road. And a whole bunch of people from all over the world, we have normally have about 50 or 60 campers as they’re called, they came to Abbey Road and we spend a whole three or four days playing and we actually recorded a Beatles song each there, and we rehearse Beatles songs, and hear stories. But the finale for this one was going to be at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. So we all go up on the train as in “Hard Days Night”, and we all sat around singing with guitars the songs that were in that movie. We tried to recreate that moment for them. So we get to the Cavern and the idea is that, I’m going to be the band leader and I bring in a couple of the other counsellors. One of them’ is my good friend Jamie Moses who I’ve played with for forty years and he’s in my band. And we have this white board at the side of the stage and there are 35 Beatles songs there. And we are going to play these 35 songs because everybody knows at least one of them. And we set up a chart so that Ted Smith plays drums on “Help” and then Pete Jones plays guitar on something else, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. And we didn’t really have too much time. Because we had a limited amount of time, 35 songs, it takes awhile. And I had this poor stage manager, Tim, whose job it was to line up the guys at the side behind the stage to come through the door to be ready for the next song. Now, we have been working for four days. None of us had any sleep. We’d drunk far too much over those four days enjoying ourselves. So you can imagine we were in a bit of a frazzled state. So to start the 35 minutes, it was okay, but when you’re about 15 songs in, and you started getting a little bit delirious about what’s going to happen, what’s happening next, and then when we get up towards the end, up to round about number 13, we’re ready to die. I’m ready to die. Jamie’s losing his voice. We’re absolutely ragged, sweating. I feel like it’s the end of the world inside. And we’re looking at. I’m looking at the chart and my eyes are watering. When suddenly the organiser runs on stage, and said, “Oh, we’ve got a special guest. Here’s Ted Bloggings who’s going to play drums for you.” And I went, “Who the fuck is that? I’ve no idea who he is” “Oh, he’s really famous. He’s played with all the big bands up here, all the Liverpool bands, he was in them all.” Which normally means he wasn’t in any of them all. Or one of his friends knew “The Searchers” or something like that. But we didn’t care, we said, “Yeah, get him on, get him on.” So he gets behind the drum kits and we said, “What do you know of this list?” And he looked at it he went, “Well, not really any of them.” I went, “What?” Well, that shocked me. I said, “Don’t you know any rock and roll?” He said, “I know Chuck Berry.” I said, “Great, “No Particular Place To Go”.” ♪ Riding along in my automobile ♪ So we’re off, we go, and we’re going around and it goes around a couple of solos and it gets towards the end. And then the nod and the eyebrow come in. I look at Jamie, his voice is going, we’ve had enough, look back and the drummer, give him the nod, we’re getting ready to stop. And we all go, as we’re stopping and he’s going and he’s off. He goes again. Bugger. So we go round again. and we come to the end and another nod, a bigger eyebrow to everybody, here we go , nothing, he’s still carrying on. And I thought, this wanker is so star struck and he loves the limelight. He doesn’t want to get off the bloody stage. “No Particular Place To Go” became no particular place to stop. So we go round about four times like this, and gesticulation is getting more and more bigger and bigger and bigger, and ’till eventually on time number five, Jamie Moses turns around and says, “Would you fucking stop playing now?” And he went , And we are shaking our heads and we say, “What is wrong with you? Are you fucking deaf?” He said, “No, actually I’m blind.” So all our nods and our gesticulation and all our rock and roll training meant nothing. But of course we cracked up laughing at this, we thought that was absolutely brilliant. Shook his hand and said, “Well done mate” And then because the music had stopped for so long, Tim, the tour manager, stage manager who was also deranged ran on, he said, “What’s happening. What’s happening? Who’s this bloke. I don’t know, who is he?” I said, “This is the blind drummer, we’re finished with him. Now get me the one-arm trombonist.” He said, “Right, I’ll be right back.”
– Well, I think the learning from that story could be summed up, but you know the film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, and they said, “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”
– Yeah, really, really.
– He must see this bigger nod. Right? That is a great story. And, oh, fantastic. I love that. I absolutely love that. So you touched on it earlier on, is everyone funny or only some people touched, because I know that all my musician friends want to be comedians. All my comedian friends want to be musicians. And there’s a lot of crossover in that, is everybody in the music business funny or not?
– An interesting. The vast majority of people do have a humour but it’s the stories normally, because you sit down with a bunch of musos and somebody tells a story of when they missed their plane or fell down the stairs, whatever, and four or five other guys go, oh, hang on a minute. I’ve got one of those. And I’ve always maintained that, that if you stick a bunch of musicians together backstage with a bottle of wine, the stories will happen. maybe when you’re young and your career is really important and you got to be seen to be cool, maybe not so much, but as soon as you’ve been around the block a couple of times and it’s not your first rodeo anymore, and musicians will have an easy, happy affinity with other musicians and you go backstage and meet people for the first time. And I spent my whole life meeting people for the first time, especially when we do the Nelson Mandela stuff where you have to meet the artists, get them comfortable and rehearse them and get them out the door. So we can do the same with the next one. I can honestly say a room full of comedians is a very unhappy room.
– Well, having spent 10 years of my life at The Comedy Store and backstage, I know that everybody goes it must have been hilarious and you go, well, no there were hilarious bits on the stage, but you know most of the people are going, you know running around going, ‘keep it tight because they’re really angry tonight’.
– Is he funnier than me. You’re a therapist backstage, I’m sure.
– If you think about it. Comedy is the hardest thing in the world because musicians, and I’m musician and worked in comedy, musicians can go on and just play. And if they don’t get a huge round of applause or cheers at the end, they can walk off. But if a comedian doesn’t get a laugh. It is, that’s your feedback loop. It’s you kind of go, well, actually. And that’s why it is such a hard game. And there’s a Jerry Seinfeld quote, which is that comedy is the most visceral sort of like closest thing to justice. If you’re funny, you survive, if you don’t think that you’re done for, and it is comedy is justice. But I’m fascinated by the bits because a lot of our listeners will be not working in the music business, we’ll be working in offices. Will be leaders and things, but you are a leader in a band. So therefore you value humour. And I was very interested in what you said about bringing people together. And it being a shortcut to being able to go do get on and can we get this done?
– Some artists can be very self-aware. They can also be very introspective and nervous when they’re having to deal with other musicians out of their comfort zone let’s say. And there are some who thrive on it. There are some who have no problem, Tony Hadley can walk in and go, Hello mate! all right, whatever, whoever it is do you know the song yet? Right. Let’s go for it. And other people go in and go, Oh my God, I’m working with a different drummer and a different keyboard player. I worked with the same people for 20 years. And now strangers are in my song. And you need a bit of humour to help alleviate that. And the other thing is knowing the song, and that really helps too.
– But that’s what your job is, isn’t it? I mean I think it’s all leaders’ jobs to make everybody feel at ease and the quickest way to make people feel at ease as a psychologist is to actually get on their level of humour. And I think it’s always incumbent on the person who’s leading to find the other person’s level. What do you think about that?
– Well, yes. I mean, in that position, the bandleader is trying to find what makes people comfortable and sometimes it’s humour or just sometimes it’s not being too forceful, letting them make the suggestions or giving them options, say, we could do it this way. Or we could do it that way. I noticed that on your recorded version you do this, but in your live version, you’ve changed it to that. What are you most happy with? Because you never make the decision for them. And they normally say, oh, I prefer the studio version. I hate that live version. Thank God for that. Anything, anything to break down the barriers, but the humour, and then of course, when we’re playing them if we make a mistake, always laugh, we always laugh and make a gag out of it. It’s never a negative moment and I make mistakes all the time. And I put my hand up, I said, sorry, I’m the least trained person here. I’ve fucked up royally. You get to fuck up whatever you want. And they’re like, oh yeah, yeah. And, but that takes the sting out of the situation. And I’ve done it on stage as well, if we’ve launched into something badly and we’ve… somebody wasn’t watching the count in, or when you’re playing a whole three hours of songs, it’s easy to get the intros mixed up. That can happen. We’ve had that before, we’ve mixed up, I’ve called one song and the guitar play started the intro to another. ‘Cause he didn’t know the songs that, well. You need humour for that. And I’ve stopped the band regularly. I have no fear and say, whoa, hey everybody’s come such a long way. We could at least attempt to play the right version of the song.
– Or all play the same song.
– Yeah, really, all the same song. And the band go oh yeah, roll your eyes and start again. And the audience without a doubt have found this hilarious, hilarious. And now some artists would freak out at that. But fortunately I’ve always been in a situation where it hasn’t happened that it’s affected the artists. I normally stop it before the artist starts singing, if it’s wrong. Yeah, the humour of that saves that from being a terribly embarrassing situation. a very good friend of mine is a man called Alan White who was the drummer…is the drummer of Yes. He was previously the drummer for John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the Plastic Ono Band, in fact he joined John Lennon after he got a phone call from somebody he thought was pretending to be John Lennon and didn’t believe it was him. But anyway, I’ve done a couple of ad hoc gigs with him and a couple of mates in America. Alan lives in Seattle. And we put together a programme of songs, a couple of his songs, Yes songs, and a couple of other great songs. And there’s one song, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” is a big Yes hit in the eighties. And it has, it was produced by Trevor Horn, and it has samples in it. And Alan being quite adept has used this sample, which it sounds like the beginning of “The Flintstones”, drums, mayhem, and banging and crashing. And it’s a really angular piece of music. That’s a sample that happens in the middle of “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. So we did the song and it goes off flawlessly. And then we’re playing along with a few other songs and then we’re going to do, “I am the Walrus” by The Beatles. And in the middle of that there’s a bit before it goes into ♪ Sitting in an English garden ♪ before that there’s this sort of weird cacophonous orchestrated bit. And if you heard it, you would recognise it instantly. So in rehearsal, Alan said, we’ll do that bit as well because it’s very hard to actually replicate that line. He said, I’ll do the thing I can do the thing. Be great. And we said, yeah, of course it will. And we ran through it once or twice. No worries. We get on the stage and we do “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and we get into that bit and that’s good. And then we come along to “I am the Walrus”, we get to the middle of it and he hits the button and it goes “Owner of a Lonely Heart” kicks off, now this floors us completely because we weren’t expecting it. You know what I mean? We went, okay, well now we have to stop because this is a great moment. And everybody’s come so far I’ve come from London and whatever, “Alan, should we try that again?” He said, “We’ll try that again.” So we play the thing leading up to it and we get to it, and of course the wrong one and like four times, we did it four times until apparently every time he turned the control when he pressed the button, he didn’t save it or something like that. So it just reverted. Now nobody cares about that out front. They don’t know that you’ve well, you’re just one digital number away from catastrophe there. And that’s what happened. And that moment has been a moment that we share, Alan and I share every time we see each other, I looked at him and said, “Fancy ever playing ‘I am the Walrus’ again?” he just holds his hands, and for him, that’s a moment that keeps him awake at night and we will have those.
– Well, I think you’ve perfectly answered one of my questions, which was is it important to be able to laugh at yourself? And you’ve just given lots of examples of that. Of course it is, because it humanises you not just to the audience, but to your fellow band players, or if you work in business to your fellow professionals.
– Yeah. I mean, and it’s also getting back on the horse, isn’t it? Because if you slip or if you’ve come off the rails, it can go one of two ways you go either go, Oh my God, Oh we’re so sorry. Oh, this is awful. And you go negative, or you go, ah, what a cock-up look, we can do that better. And turn it into a positive thing and move on. And then it becomes a great moment in the show and the moment that people remember and take away.
– Well, did you know that in comedy and they used to when they did sitcoms. ‘Cause I grew up going to sit-com recordings because my best friend’s dad was William G. Stewart who used to do “Bless This House”, “Father, Dear Father”, and all those big, and Frost and all those. And they used to deliberately build in things going wrong for the live studio audience, because psychologically they used to, the audience used to love it and it would get them more involved. And so what you’ve just described is that humanising and people coming up to you and go I love that bit when it went to shit, but they loved it because you stayed in character as it were and held it. And we all screw up in life.
– Yeah, actually you reminded me I’ve never done it deliberately. It’s always been genuine. It happens enough. But I remember seeing some things at a charity show where Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood got back together with Kenny Jones to do a kind of semi Faces reunion for a charity event. And they had, they were actually rehearsed. They might’ve had a knock through in the afternoon or something. And Rod introduced it, “Here’s a song, here’s a version of a great R&B blues song that we always loved. And we always included and take it away, Ronnie. So Ronnie Wood starts playing this thing’s intro. And within about three or four bars of the intro, Rod says, “Oh, Ronnie, come on mate, come on. I know it’s been a long time, but you know give us all a break, at least play the right bloody song.” And Ronnie looked at him really weird and played exactly the same thing and the song went on and, and afterwards, I went up to Ronnie Wood and I said, What happened there, because it didn’t sound that like you’ve actually changed it.” He said, “I didn’t, he was fucking around.” He just wants you to have the moment Rod Stewart called foul on the intro just for the moment. And so I get that totally.
– Oh yeah. What would the world be like without humour?
– Well, it’d probably be like North Korea, wouldn’t it.
– That’s a good answer, actually, yeah. Humour, is our release valve isn’t it? I mean, especially during this time, we need to I mean, I was stuck. I was stuck. I was in lockdown in California during the period here. And I would have a regular Zoom with a bunch of friends the friends that I would have met down the pub or would have been doing a gig with or whatever we would get together and just catch up. And it was just a non-stop attack of banter and one-liners and mono entendres and whatever. So, yeah, and that was good, but like anything you don’t want it all the time. You don’t want the Frank Carson approach where it just never stops, you want it to be a pressure pressure release, and relief.
– Do you find yourself funny?
– Oh, I make myself laugh all the time through my own stupidity, or I can hear my dad or my mum was saying, there we are, right little twat you are. You know what I mean? My subconscious puts in their line. When I find myself doing the things they predicted I would do and fucking up or whatever, that’s just a. Yes, I do. I do find myself funny. I don’t think I’m hilarious and funny all the time but I have my moments. I also think that I’m very unfunny sometimes as well.
– No, but I mean, because I know so many comedians and this whole podcast and the book is going to be about humour and how it can improve people’s lives dramatically it’s like, do you think you learnt how to be funny or was the young Spike funny already and just got better at it?
– Right. The young Spike was around funny people without realising how funny they were. My parents, had an ongoing sense of humour and I’m sure lots of parents do when their kids around they have their own kind of language and their own rapport and their own dynamic. And, and they made each other laugh a lot. And my mum was constantly haranguing, not in a bad way in a funny way, my old man, and we would hear this. And so it was part of growing up, my sister and I would pick up on this. But we thought this was just a normal way of living to hear this going on. And it was only once I got to see other people… the way other people lived in other people’s dynamic with their people. Some people have a miserable childhood sadly, and some people have disasters before them and parents they lose their parents or the parents split up or whatever. I didn’t, I had my parents until I was 60 years old. And I only left home when my mother invited me too. Because being a musician. It was great coming back from a gig, laying in bed all day getting my washing done, getting a cup of tea brought in, and having my dinner cooked and then the next day I’d go off and do it all again and by the age of about 25, she’d had enough of that as she was saying I think it’s time you found your own place. I was crestfallen by this being invited to leave. And then I realised more and more what that bubble of humour, that family humour was. And thankfully it’s ingrained in me. And when my parents passed. And so many of my friends from my sort of teens, twenties and thirties who are still my friends now, went to great pains to tell me how funny and brilliant they thought my parents were and how they used to love coming to our house because they knew that mum and dad would be putting on – inadvertently just in their normal sort of banter to each other and the way they reacted – a really fun time. And they said they loved it. I couldn’t get rid of my friends. My friends would come around and I couldn’t I couldn’t get them out, but they wouldn’t leave. And it wasn’t about me it was about my folks. So, I realised more and more now that I was blessed by having that growing up and hopefully life hasn’t beaten me up so much that I’ve lost too much of it.
– So there’s some kind of genetic thing in it as well which you think. But hearing humour and understanding it are a different thing? ‘Cause some people really hear it. And we met many, many years ago, but you won’t remember because you were too busy directing people musically even though you weren’t, if you know what I mean. But when like rehearsals for the Freddie Mercury and and other rehearsals I went to with Queen, you were always funny. And then we happened to meet again at an event earlier this year and there was an automatic banter. There was an automatic being able to find the funny and I think certain people can just find the funny in any situation.
– Yes, you’re right. There is. And, and sometimes you can be in a very dark thing. I mean, I’ve been doing some research and digging up some memories for my own book which I hope will be done by the end of this year. And I was talking to some friends trying to get the details together of the trip we made to entertain the troops in Bosnia just after it had all stopped there. So this would have been ’96, ’97, whenever. And we arrived and we were all jolly and uplifted and were our first night was staying in a holiday hotel in Split down on the Adriatic. And then the next day we took a bus up into the mountains to where the main British forces were based. And I can honestly say it was like driving into something was that was at the Battle of the Somme. It was the whole camp was just a sea of mud cause they were high up, and it rained an awful lot and everybody was intense or quickly fashioned, roughly fashioned barracks. And so you had mud and brand new untreated wood. And that vision really stuck in my mind. These guys were there trying to help everybody out. And they were living in these conditions. And as we went around and did like five or six shows playing to these young guys, basically, most of them would have been in their early twenties who were there trying to keep these two warring factions apart as one thing. And on the second thing they were clearing the mess up. And some of the things they discovered were indescribable. And I’m not going to describe them now just to say that no human being should have to walk in and see what they saw and then try to make sense of it. And to do that on a daily basis. The only thing that gets you through is music and humour. I mean whether, and we sang a song, “We Got To Get Out Of This Place”, The Animals song, which had been an anthem to the guys in Vietnam, that was their song. And we realised this and we played, that sort of energy and a gusto that they would sing along and you know it poured out of them and adding… So it was the music and the humour that was their salvation while they went through this nightmare, really mental nightmare, as well as physical discomfort while they were in a place they didn’t want to be. And weren’t meant to be anyway, they were all meant to be safe and sound at home with their loved ones, protecting this country, not out there trying to sort out some terrible, terrible conflict. So that really came home to me. And we witnessed this, we witnessed some things and we witnessed the men and the boys, how they reacted to it. And it was dark humour all the way, you had to have dark humor, gallows humour, whatever you call it, to turn around something that was almost, you didn’t want to look at it. You didn’t want to watch, you need something to release that. And dark humour quickly turns to light humour. So that’s your way out.
– And humour is there to change the state of the people around you. And it changes the dynamic. And so whether it’s gallows humour, dark humour, whatever, it’s humour, and it’s humour born out of the situation.
– I mean, and some things are dark but they’re not dark at all. I mean, what’s that, Spike Milligan’s gravestone, What’s written on his gravestone. “I told you I was ill.” I mean, that’s perfect, isn’t it? The other thing that really occurs to me is, my wife’s American and of course we’re in America and we get to see stuff and we got to see something. I watch things with Americans and they laugh at different bits. I will burst out laughing and they will laugh at something and they won’t get what that bit, or just hadn’t seen the humour or the irony or whatever it is I’m seeing. And they will laugh at something that’s five seconds later. And I found that very… my wife at first found that very strange that I would suddenly guffaw very loudly at something, tumbleweed around the rest of the auditorium. Just me breaking up.
– Talking about national traits. Is there a trait for humour in the music business? Because every comedian and every musician if you want a shortcut to humour you just say something from the film Spinal Tap.
– Well that, that is the humour Bible and or Mighty Wind or any of those. Yeah, but humour is a national thing. I mean, I’ve been in setups with American musicians or something, and we laugh at different things, but they always think that they’re very cool because they like Monty Python, they love that and Benny Hill. And, but they don’t, they often get the wrong bit of it. You get lots of it, they get the wrong bit. But you’ll find Americans who will wear their Anglophilia or whatever it is how much they love the Brits by showing how how they engage with Monty Python and try and show off their knowledge of what’s going on. And it’s invariably slightly wrong.
– That’s just what you want. Isn’t it repeating all the cheeses.
– I know all the cheeses from the sketch. Do you want to hear them? That’s not really the point.
– And not funny on their own.
– Well going the other way then, going the other way, have you ever gotten yourself out of big trouble by using humour?
– At school I avoided some confrontations. I was a new boy at a grammar school having moved and found myself the butt of new boy antics. And then, and I used a combination of humour and violence to get out of that.
– Oh, that old combination. I started with violence and it turned into humour, so that everything’s fine. And then later on-
– Isn’t it funny, the more I punch you the more popular I get.
– Well, I know that, sorry, sir he’s fallen over, punch, punch, punch, punch, punch. This made everybody laugh in the class. And then I became their mate and they hated him. And then we became firm friends because I didn’t rat him out.
– In business, is it survival of the fittest or survival of the funniest?
– Ooh, well, I don’t know. I mean, look at the President of the United States.
– He looks fit to me, Spike.
– And funny. He’s got it all going on there. Yeah. I think that’s too wide a question. There are some people I’m sure that have done very well with very little humour. I think in business focus and energy form a great part of what you do, but humour will make it all go better. It’s like a spoonful of sugar really, if you can be focused and energetic and you can have some humour in, and then you’ve got a full deck. You’re playing with a full deck.
– Well, you’ve worked with some of the most unbelievably charismatic people in the world. I’m thinking of Freddie Mercury. I’m thinking of all the lead singers in bands or maybe different band members. Was it an essential trait to be charismatic, to have humour?
– Yeah, I mean, Freddie, as an example was, had wicked humour, and had lots of moments where his wicked side would come out even on stage, even with himself you see him running around and playing with the audience and he’ll say the most outrageous things, being on stage would unleash his performing side which brought out his wicked side, humorous side even more like he, he used to say, “Oh, I’ve got to behave myself tonight. Cause my, my mother’s in.” And then walk on stage and say, “How are you my fucking beauties?” It’s the first thing he would say on stage, he couldn’t stop himself you know. And I look at him and I think, okay, well, fair enough, he’s been banging on in the dressing room about how he’s going to control himself. So yeah, he would have fun or something would happen or we would play something and sometimes it would just be something he’d play something and cock it up and he was meandering any he’d mess around. And then he’d look at me and he just sort of like smile and pull a face which was purely for my benefit because he knew that I knew. And I think that’s part of the performance. If you are having fun as a performer that certainly comes across to the audience and they pick up on that, and they loved him. And the more outrageous he was, I mean, when he did his ‘Ay Oh’ thing, there’s a couple of versions where you see, Ay Oh, Ay Oh Ay… he finishes then looks at the audience and goes “Fuck You!” to the audience And that means for being so good you can fuck off ’cause you can sing it as well as I can. And they would lap it up, they thought that was hilarious and you’d have to be a very sort of straight laced person not to see the humour in that.
– But I think that there is a real credible link between charisma and humour. I think it’s very difficult to be very charismatic without understanding the things that actually bond people, that come from humour.
– Well, the rhythm, the timing, yeah, there’s a lot of that going on and understanding the appropriate – hopefully – getting away with delivering the right thing that will alleviate the situation or sometimes knowing when to deliver the wrong thing which alleviates the situation, taking a chance and getting away with it kind of thing.
– What you just described with Freddie I think is that cheekiness, which is adorable and just elevates people in other people’s eyes. He’s saying the things I wish I could, which I think is brilliant.
– And maybe explains his appeal because everybody from all kinds of age groups and demographics and demographics and locations, geography, loved Freddie Mercury, from blue rinse grannies who absolutely adored him and still do, women loved him, and men loved him, even though he was gay. They overlook that even though some men would have a problem with liking a gay performer, used to, maybe not so much now, but back in the seventies and eighties being a gay performer was seen to be a problem. But you get butch guys having a drink down the pub liked Queen.
– Right, we’re coming to the end part of the show, which I call quickfire questions. And I always say it as if we’ve got a jingle but we’ve never had a fucking jingle. ♪ Quick fire questions ♪ I’ll do it, ♪ Quick fire questions ♪ Now I’m giving you that for nothing because I’m the man who wrote Edwin Starr’s “Happy Radio”. And I wrote that jingle for him. And I said, if I give you a jingle at the beginning of the track, DJs will use it. And they did. It was a perfect marketing tool to do that. So you should get some of your mates together to do a four-part harmony and sing quick fire questions.
– Well, I’m hoping you’re now my mate and you’ll go away and do it, Spike.
– No sorry. I’m far too busy. You can sample the original one I just gave you. ♪ Quick fire questions ♪ Okay, so you could double that up, and then add harmonies to it.
– That’s the one. We’re going to be taking that into the studio. There’s going to be four, and PRS will be calling you forth with.
– That’s my retirement programme there.
– It really is.
– And what you should do of course is maybe get everybody from now on to do that you count them in three, two, one, and they do it. And then you can put them together as a postage stamp thing.
– Oh, all right. We’re going to quick fire questions. Who’s the funniest person you’ve met in business?
– Who do I always have, I can’t tell you that there’s one, there’s a whole rake of people. Who’s, I’ll tell you, who’s really funny to be with. And from the moment you sit down and you very rarely get a serious word in and that’s Jeff Beck.
– Hysterical Man. With a great mind for humour and a great reservoir of human knowledge. I was at something with him the other day, and then he started talking about people that he would really admire as guitarists. And I said, well, who does it go back with? And Link Wray was a really early heavy sort of like guitar player. And then the joke was going to be that Jeff Beck knew John McLaughlin. That was it. And John McLaughlin had put out an album apparently and I haven’t seen this, but on the front of it it’s like a little business card that he apparently he had printed. John McLaughlin when he was a youngster, it said, Johnny McLaughlin plays guitar, available for weddings, funerals. It’s something like that. A little shitty business card from the sixties, anyway, he took this business card and put it on the front of an album. Now I haven’t seen that. So that might need some fact check on it. And we said, oh God, yeah, John McLaughlin. And we said, well, how amazing was it when the Mahavishnu Orchestra just descended? I think it was the early seventies I think, now for musicians the early seventies was an incredible time of boundaries being pushed, envelopes, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra with the interplay John McLaughlin’s incredibly free form energetic and inventive guitar along with the first violinist and the drumming. And he said, oh, of course. And wasn’t that drummer fantastic. I said, oh, you mean Billy Cotton? And of course it isn’t Betty Cotton. It’s Billy Cobham, but Billy Cotton used to have a radio show. ♪ Wakey, Wakey ♪ The Band Show ♪ Jeff Beck fell over laughing because he got the reference immediately. The fact of having Bill Cotton, who was a baldy old conductor playing drums with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. he made the contact immediately. Now I can’t tell that joke to very many people. I can’t tell that story because it would whoosh straight over their head. You need to have all the references from the John McLaughlin to Mahavishnu to the Billy Cotton Band Show. And you only know about the Billy Cotton Band Show if you were a kid in the fifties.
– Brilliant. By the way, you’ve killed quickfire questions.
– Probably for the best.
– What book makes you laugh?
– Hmm. I used to read as a school boy Jennings and Derbyshire, “The Adventures of Jennings and Derbyshire”, and I was writing about that as a piece. Trying to recall school days and I bought one online. And at the age of 68, it still made me laugh. It’s something that’s designed for 12 year olds. So, which really shows the talent of the author. Well, I won’t read all of them… but I read that And also what I was thinking about I read is the story of Jimmy Webb.
– I’ll take that as a recommendation. ‘Cause I just think he was a genius.
– And it’s not a funny book as such but some of the things that happen in it, I personally really related to, and just echoed things.
– What film makes you laugh?
– Oh, always makes me laugh. “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” Which features Spencer Tracy in a straight role. But it, and it’s really strange. I’ve always liked that film because there’s one gag in there where Jimmy Durante is laying on the side of a rocky mountain, and he croaks. And as her croaks, his foot shoots out and it kicks a bucket down the hill. I saw that at the cinema and I cracked and it makes me crack now, just the timing, it was so unexpected. And as it turns out the way things go around that film was shot. And it’s centred upon where my house is in Palm Springs, California. So I feel that it’s a film about the home I have now just ahead of time.
– What word makes you laugh? Well bollocks is always a good one because it’s so useful. It made you laugh too.
– It does. Well my favourite thing of that do you remember when Virgin was sued for the cover of “Nevermind the Bollocks”?
– I do indeed, yeah.
– And John Lydon, who I’m sure you’ve met as well. Who is a funny man, and he was interviewed by like Thames News at Six or something, and then outside the court and they put a mic in front of his face. And went John Lydon, what do you think of the verdict? And he went, “Bollocks is legal. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks.” On a slightly serious note in quickfire questions we’d always like to stick one in, what’s not funny?
– Racism. And fortunately, in music, it’s one of the least as far as I’m concerned, least racist things you do because we meet and work with people from all over the world, from all kinds of musical cultures. And I embrace that. So I’m glad to say that. I mean, I can’t speak for everybody in all situations and there will be people who say, oh, hang on a minute. But yeah, that’s the one thing I would say is-
– Music changed the course of a lot of things with places. And even if you go back to The Beatles and The Stones, they were listening to all the black artists and were actually the people that brought those back artists back to America really. And gave them an audience.
– Very true. Very true. Yeah. I mean, people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, very grateful to The Beatles and The Stones for opening up the audiences. And American radio stations of course, to play black music. I mean who would think that now.
– Yeah, extraordinary. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– Oh, God. Can I be both?
– No, these are the rules, Spike.
– Do you know what, there are different hats for different days. There are days when you certainly want to be considered clever, but most of the time it’d be nice to be considered funny.
– Yeah. No, no. That’s good answer. And finally, Desert Island Gags, you’ve one gag that you can take with you to a desert Island. What’s that gag?
– I don’t think it’s necessarily a funny gag, but it brings a smile to me because the way I heard it and it was told to me by, not told to me, but I heard it from a comedian that I wasn’t particularly a fan of because my dad didn’t like him. And that was Bob Monkhouse, Bob Monkhouse was on TV a lot. And he got on TV in the fifties and my dad would just go, “That smarmy git, why’s he on again?” And I said, yeah, yeah, of course, he’s a smarmy git. So I had the inbuilt prejudice and then I heard him say this one thing and I think I used it. I’m not sure, and it was with members of Queen. So I was the first one to pass this gag on to them. Bob Monkhouse said, “When I was young and people ask what I wanted to do, what I want to be when I grew up. And I told them I wanted to be a comedian, and they all laughed. They’re not laughing now.”
– Brilliant. Brilliant. We love Bob. Thank you so much, Spike. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I’d like to stay and talk to you but I’ve got to go and wait in the lobby for the limo.
– Yeah. Superdome, superdome. No. The Enormodome! The Enormadone!
– Spike Edney, thank you so much for being my guest on the Humourology Podcast.
– Hey, it was fun. It was fun. I had a laugh.
– [Paul] 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.
Spike works with a who’s who of many of the finest musicians ever. Here are just some of the extraordinary list of groovy greats:
Melanie C (Spice Girls)
Bono & The Edge (U2)
Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet)
Dave Stuart (Eurythmics)
Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
Jack Bruce (Cream)
Jim Kerr (Simple Minds)
John Anderson (Yes)
Roy Wood (The Move, Wizard)
Graham Gouldman (10cc)
Marty Pellow (Wet, Wet, Wet)
Mike Rutherford (Genesis)
Paul Rodgers (Free)
Ray Davies (The Kinks)
Roger Daltrey (The Who)
Nelson Mandela (His concerts)
Al Murray (The Pub Landlord)
The Boomtown Rats
Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Sir Bob Geldof