Part of the Humourology series
Season 3, Episode 61
Jon Plowman – Producing a Plethora of Punchlines
Former Head of Comedy at BBC and prodigious producer Jon Plowman, joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss his career in comedy. From building his comedy chops in grammar school to running the show on some of the country’s most notable comedies like Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar of Dibley, Jon has built a career on captivating chuckling crowds.
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Jon Plowman is the creative production mind behind decades of comedy. As the Head of Comedy for BBC is career has been chocked full of creative comedies he commissioned like The Office. He joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss the value of laughter and how he built a career out of creating comedy.
“I think comedies about humanity really. I see no difference between the two. I think it’s a vitally important aspect of life.”
Join Jon Plowman and Paul Boross as they discuss how humour and humanity go hand in hand. Learn how a producer influences the product and how laughter can lead the way only on The Humourology Podcast.
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Jon Ploughman (00:00):
A man who doesn’t know how to smile, doesn’t know how to live, I think,
Speaker 2 (00:04):
It’s a version of the old Chinese thing – man without smile should not open shop
Jon Ploughman (00:12):
Exactly. Well, man without smile should not open mouth!
Speaker 2 (00:20):
We’ll take that one. Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s of business sport and entertainment who are here 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.
Speaker 2 (01:03):
My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a legendary award-winning producer of classic comedy. His long and laughter filled career has created a collection of high quality comedic hits that was capped when he became the Head of Comedy for the BBC, from Wogan to French and Saunders to Absolutely Fabulous and the Vicar of Dibley. He can produce powerful poignant and punchline packed programmes that are sure to please the public. As an executive, he is responsible for an era of award-winning and crowd pleasing comedies, including The Office, Little Britain and Shooting Stars just to name a few. His brilliant book, How to Produce Comedy Bronze offers a deep dive into his legendary career of cultivating a culture of comedy. Jon Plowman. Welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Jon Ploughman (02:03):
Thank you very much for having me.
Speaker 2 (02:06):
Yeah, it’s a great pleasure to have you here now. I absolutely loved your book. How to Produce Comedy bronze.
Jon Ploughman (02:13):
It did. And,
Speaker 3 (02:16):
Speaker 2 (02:17):
It really did make me laugh out loud and good. And the first thing that made me laugh out loud was, was the love Lee, Don French, who does a wonderful, glowing introduction to the book.
Jon Ploughman (02:29):
I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t say, I mean, if you look at her first words are John is a TW, Which is some people might think it glowing. I’m I’m not a, moment’s a total trial. And on the says, this is absolutely and very, definitely a book
Speaker 2 (02:59):
Well in the comedy world, is there any higher form of praise than one of the comedy grapes insulting you?
Jon Ploughman (03:07):
No, no, you’re right. You’re right. Being insulted is, is amongst the, um, good things about knowing people in comedy?
Speaker 2 (03:17):
Well, well, for people, we, we get, um, listeners from all over the world, John and, uh, um, some people all over the
Jon Ploughman (03:24):
World’s, that’s not my problem. That’s not your fault. Sorry, that’s your problem. It’s not my problem.
Speaker 2 (03:28):
Exactly. But they, that they should understand that in Britain, uh, you know, that somebody really loves you when they completely insult you. Yeah.
Jon Ploughman (03:39):
Well, I suppose if I have a theory and I don’t really, but it, but I can drum one up when this, when needed. Um, it’s that comedy is partly about surprise. So, you know, you, you meet somebody new, you go along, you expect to shake their hand and everything to be nice. So if they then insult you, it’s a nice, well, not always nice, but it’s a good surprise and surprise being at the heart of comedy. But, you know, changing the expectation is, is what good comedy does.
Speaker 2 (04:15):
Funny enough in the book you said, laughter is registering a shock and therefore creates a receipt of release.
Jon Ploughman (04:21):
That’s right. Laughter is a, is a feeling is a degree of acceptance. Isn’t it? You feel everything’s okay. Cuz they’ve laughed at something I’ve done or they’ve just laughed in order to be pleasant. Um, laughters are feeling of acceptance.
Speaker 2 (04:38):
So the ultimate acceptance is insult insulting something. But
Jon Ploughman (04:44):
It’s funny though, it’s a very English thing. It’s, it’s, it’s English and slightly American, but, but there’s a, there’s always an age in American. They’re never quite sure what you’re doing. I it’s an English thing to insult the person before you are nice to the,
Speaker 2 (05:01):
I’d like to go back to your youth. Um, it was, was funny. Was comedy valued in your family?
Jon Ploughman (05:11):
It wasn’t particularly valued in my family, but it was certainly valued at school. You know, I went, I went to, um, went to a local grammar school, um, when local grammar schools existed and, and I suppose comedy was how I got by, you know, I knew I, I was a relatively scrawny kid. I knew that, uh, the first, um, you know, that any moment I might get beaten up by being kids or, or poked or whatever. So if you can make a joke and, and make people laugh before they punch you, uh, hence punch life, I guess. Um, then it’s an advantage. And so comedy, yeah, comedy was I, I began doing comedy at school, I suppose.
Speaker 2 (06:05):
So is that when the passion really came to the fore, you just realised it was a powerful tool.
Jon Ploughman (06:11):
When I started in television, I didn’t start in comedy. Uh, I very first started at gr Bernard television in Manchester on a, a Saturday morning kids show called, um, rather ironically perhaps fun factory. Um, it was a sort of summer substitute for a show called ti was. Um, and, and my job was just was to put on a, a, a, a highly coloured boiler suit and heard kids around for two hours on a Saturday morning in view of the cameras. Uh, and after that, I had to work on the news. And after that, I worked on arts programming. And after that, I worked for man called Russell hearty. And after Russell, I worked for Terry Wogan and only after Terry who himself, it was possibly, you know, one of the funniest men I’ve ever met. But anyway, only after that, did I get to work in comedy?
Jon Ploughman (07:12):
I don’t think it was that I, I, the time doing Wogan, I thought, oh, if only I can work on comedy, it’s just, it just sort of happened. I, from university, I’d known a guy called Richard Curtis when comment really first happened, the first comedy relief, seven hours live, which Richard took huge, a huge risk in doing, uh, I apparent Richard sent me an a, I sent Richard a saying, well done for doing seven hours, live television, ignore the money raised. Obviously that was a great thing, but, but the achievement I thought was doing seven hours live comedy. Uh, I sent him a note and, and afterwards he said, you are the only person who sent me a note. So I wonder, could you, would, do you like to work on the next one? So I, and in a way I dug my own comedy grave.
Speaker 2 (08:08):
Well, God, but since then, and I you’ve been involved in so many hit comedies. Do you think that you can be a great communicator without understood and humour?
Jon Ploughman (08:21):
No. It may seem a stupid thing to say, but I can’t see the point in being a great communicator without humour. You know, humour seems to me a fundamental, you know, comedy is a thing which teaches us how to live. Uh, you know, you look at, I don’t know, look at Baso faulty beating a car in impatience. Now he’s going too far. He’s going too far. And the going too far is what makes us laugh. And, you know, so I think comedy is about humanity really. And I, I see no difference between the two and I, and I think it’s a vitally important aspect of life.
Speaker 2 (09:01):
What about those people who don’t get it? What, what, what are they missing in, in their lives? What are they
Jon Ploughman (09:08):
Well, they’re missing, they’re missing a chance to understand people. And, and I would say, what if you say, what about those people? I say, ignore them.
Speaker 2 (09:19):
What, in every aspect of life you do, you
Jon Ploughman (09:22):
Actually slightly, okay. I would say show them the error of their ways. Uh, and I would also say, I absolutely understand that. Not every show that anybody makes you is for everybody. Uh, you know, some things offer one audience, other things are for a different audience. Uh, some people, you know, like Mrs. Brown’s boys, some people hate Mrs. Brown boys. Some people prefer high end stuff. You know, it it’s just a question. There is taste, but I don’t know a man without a man who doesn’t know how to smile. Doesn’t know how to live. I think.
Speaker 2 (10:05):
Well, no, but it’s a version of the old Chinese, uh, thing is a man without smile should not open shop.
Jon Ploughman (10:13):
Exactly. Well, man, without smile should not open mouth. I
Speaker 2 (10:20):
We’ll take that one evidence go for it. Um, now I know having, uh, read your brilliant book. I, I know that you’ve often done studio warmups there ladies,
Jon Ploughman (10:35):
But I look let’s be honest. And the only reason I did studio warmups was because the first sort of out and out comedy show, I suppose I did was Dawn French and dead of soldiers. Third series that they’d, uh, they’d sort of got bored with Jeff PO who produced the first two soons and, and, and, and that, and so I, I got a call out the blue saying, might you be free to, so first the first show we do, I do what every producer does, which is to employ a warmup guy. Now it should be confessed that the warmup guy I employed wasn’t very good, but it, that was just to do with dates and times. And, you know, he, wasn’t very good at the end of the evening. Uh, Dawn Jennifer came to me and said, if that guy’s on next week, we are not.
Jon Ploughman (11:42):
And so I realised that I had to employ a different walk, maybe rashly. I said to them, look, if you help, you know, because I knew that they, what happened before immediately before an audience show is the girls were in makeup getting made up and costume for the first sketch. So they they’ve got a, a tiny bit of time in their hands. So we, we sort, would’ve developed a routine where they would interrupt me on the offstage, Mike, uh, and, and send me up, you know, they would say, oh, for God sake, John, get on with it. These people don’t want to hear from you. Uh, that absolutely right. And, and so it became a way of, of doing it. And I also thought actually being on the floor, doing the warmup with the audience was better as was a better use of my time than pacing up and down in the gallery saying, why can’t we get on with it? What’s going on? Come on, come on, go. You know, it, it, it’s just, it, it, it’s a, it’s a better use of my skills if I have any.
Speaker 2 (12:59):
So what advice would you give to people? Cause obviously not all our listeners are, are, are, are comics. What, what, what would you advice to for normal speakers, people doing weddings, people doing business speeches to get humour, to work.
Jon Ploughman (13:17):
I would say a slightly unusual thing maybe, which is don’t try and do jokes. I think jokes are sort of the enemy of good comedy. I think good comedy is about truth. And it’s about character. And it’s about expressing who you are. It’s not about set up gag set up gag. Now there is a, a, there are a vast number of people across the Atlantic who absolutely believe that the company is a bad jokes and an American shows a sort of written like that. So I’ve, I’ve sat in an American show, those room and, and being part of them, putting the script as it is on the, on, on a screen doing the first, okay, that’s the first line. Anybody got a best second line and you go through the script and you try and improve on which means you get set up jokes, set up jokes, set up jokes.
Jon Ploughman (14:18):
I don’t think that’s right. Cause I think jokes. I think people’s, if you’re doing a wedding, let’s say your audience is in a good mood. Hopefully, maybe no, they’re really yes, exactly. Cross figures. They’re in a good mood. They want to have a nice time. They, they want to laugh probably, uh, maybe a part in the bride. Um, and so if, if you do, I don’t know, this sounds like terrible advice, but if you do, as it were observations and, and anecdotes, rather than gags, you’ll get a better response. Cuz you’ll get the response of, as I say, surprise, uh, rather than that forced, you know, people do a gang and, and the audience think, oh, I see I’m supposed to laugh here, but if you’re not a trained comedian, I mean trained by experience rather than that, there is a training you can do. But if you’re not a trained comedian, you will go down like a, a bucket old, sick, no doubt about it.
Speaker 2 (15:35):
So it’s being in the moment and it’s, isn’t it because one of the things that I always talk about is actual listening. So you are gauging absolutely The audiences, if you’re talking
Jon Ploughman (15:45):
To what the audience are enjoying. Uh, and, and if they’re enjoying, if they’re enjoying you get off.
Speaker 2 (15:56):
Exactly. Well, it’s, it’s about being conscious of, of what’s going on. Yeah. And having worked for so many years in comedy, I think the best comedians are the ones who really listen. And if somebody says something in the audience or murmurs or does so comment on it, make, bring it in
Jon Ploughman (16:16):
To that. Absolutely. Right. I remember the, maybe the most difficult one was there. There was a night on one of the series with Dawn and Jennifer when Jennifer had done her back in and was at home, she wasn’t even in the building. She was at home on her back. She said, uh, and I said, well, look, if you’re gonna stay there on your back, the very least you can do is, is a, a sort of phone call live into the audience to apologise for the fact that, you know, you, and if you can sound pain, that would be good. But it meant that we’d only got Dawn. There was Dawn and, and anything, you know, the way Francis orange sort of sometimes worked was one of them would do a sketch. The other one would be changing for the sketch after that. So there was a, you know, you didn’t, you didn’t have to, there wasn’t much fill in to do, but on a night where one of them is you could only, you know, you’ve only got fill in really. So in the end, what we did was, and, and was show, um, sort of old things from that series to the, you know, show, show on the monitors. Cause the let’s be honest, the audience who’ve come to see Dawn French and Jennifer don’t want to see me or you even that’s
Speaker 2 (17:43):
Jon Ploughman (17:44):
Uh, you know, they want to see the SARS. They don’t want, see, some guys been employed to try and make ’em laugh because they won’t, you know, they’re not gonna laugh.
Speaker 2 (17:56):
So John, what makes you laugh?
Jon Ploughman (17:59):
Um, I, I tell you what, I, here’s a unscrupulous piece of advertising. Mel Brook’s book all about me, which I am currently reading makes me laugh. Uh, Mel Brooks makes me laugh. Woody Allen makes me laugh. Um, I think somewhere in the back of my heritage, it, there was something Jewish because Jewish people, I think Jewish people, uh, have, have funny bones as it were. And, and there’s something about, so can I, um, there’s a tiny bit, let me, there’s a tiny definition of the difference, uh, if I can find it, but yeah, between comedy and tragedy, this is reading from Mel’s book. Somebody getting hurt is always funny later as the 2000 year old man with car rhino, I explained the difference between comedy and tragedy. If I cut my finger that’s tragedy, if you walk into an open sewer, fall down and die that’s comedy. So if it happens to me, it’s tragedy, if it happens to you, it’s somebody. I don’t mean that seriously. It’s just a, a, a, a gives you the idea of, of how that company outta tragedy comes. Maybe, maybe what I like maybe, um, a are people who laugh at tragedy rather than it, uh, rather than cry at it.
Speaker 2 (19:38):
Well, yeah, it’s a choice at that point. Isn’t it? And it, so, but then, I mean, the classic is of course that comedy is tragedy plus time. So everything can be funny at point,
Jon Ploughman (19:50):
Well, comedy is tragedy plus and opens her
Speaker 2 (19:58):
As long as you are not falling in it.
Jon Ploughman (20:00):
Yeah, exactly. As long as it’s the other person falling in.
Speaker 2 (20:03):
Exactly. Well, talking about the, those, then tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you.
Jon Ploughman (20:10):
Oh God. Uh, well, I had to do warmup for friendship soldiers. Um, well, here’s a, here’s a notionally, funny thing. Two people walk into my office. One was a tall thin guy and one was a short fact guy and they, the tall thing guy had been doing the BBC directors course. And the short fact guy had been in a band, but hadn’t really, as it well made an impact. And they got an idea that, uh they’d and I knew this before they walked in, they’d sort of touted around to everybody. Uh, and they showed me the beginning of, of the idea that they’d, they’d made a short piece. And the short piece was the short fat guy, um, trying to get somebody into the, to his company without doing the required safety exams to do with, uh, forklift tucks. Uh, at one, at one point he says, um, for relief, tough exams, I write them and he does, uh, a OCIO nose.
Jon Ploughman (21:35):
And the funny thing in a way is that those two people were Rease and Steve merchant, the show they were offering me to, which I unbelievably said you, or maybe not that the show that they offered me was the office. Um, and Ricky says to this day that what I said was look, it’s fine, but I don’t understand why this company employ this guy. Um, David Brent who’s who’s who’s, you know, incompetent, not very good at his job. Why do they employ? And he said, John, can I take you for a walk around the BBC? And, and the was, he was gonna show me people similar to David Brent in every department of the BBC. He may have been right. Will that do
Speaker 2 (22:39):
Yo that’s perfect as
Jon Ploughman (22:41):
Well. It’s the funny thing, the funny thing, at least from my point of view, was it made both of them gazillion theirs, me, the person who said yes, I made nothing. We took it to the controller of BBC two at the time was a lady called January. Uh, and she worried about her a bit because she was worried that at the time there were quite a number of shows on BBC two that were the horrible were docu soaps. They were things like, you know, hotel shop, airport, airport, uh, airport. Yes, they were, they were documented spun out to a number of weeks in which tried to make characters out of the ordinary people, working in all new jobs Andray and she was slightly worried that if the office caught on it would kill off these shares. I’m not sure that it ever did kill ’em off, but, but to her credit, she was the person who the first series went out at the end of August, which is pretty near death for most shows, went out, uh, at the end of August and went through to September and it, it started, uh, sort of here and then it went down and then it went, sorry, I’m, I’m doing things for a podcast that you can only see if you can see my hands, I will try to do them without mine.
Jon Ploughman (24:14):
Uh, um, so it did quite well on its, on its first week. Not great, but quite well. And then it dipped, which is what all comedies do in numbers. And then it sort of dragged along the bottom. But then, and this was Jane root’s skill. She noticed that in its last couple of weeks, it picked up a little bit. Now most shows don’t do that. Most shows get their best order in episode one. And if they’re okay, then it goes down a bit for episode two and then it starts gradually going up a bit. If you’re lucky, uh, the office didn’t do that, it just went along the bottom and then picked up and it picked up enough for her to think, hang on, maybe this is word of mouth. This is people watching it, realising what it is and getting a cause. You know, a show called the office sounds like the hotel, and there’s no reason why the office should be funnier than the, um, uh, but she had the courage to repeat it within about two and a half months, which is unheard of really. And the repeat doubled its audience. It doubled the audience that had got on the first time out now, most shows don’t do that. So it was a, it was a sign of faith on her part and, and faith that the audience kind of came to it.
Speaker 2 (25:54):
God, that’s an amazing story. And it’s, uh, and, and I still think that, uh, Rick, Ricky and Steven owe you a drink, don’t they?
Jon Ploughman (26:02):
I think they, no, they don’t owe me a drink. They owe me a large amount of money, be honest.
Speaker 2 (26:10):
Well, I’ll send this clip to them and see if we can be of any help. Thank you Really fine. Um, is everyone potentially funny, John, or is it a gift given from God?
Jon Ploughman (26:23):
Those are, those are particular alternatives aren’t they? No, not everybody is funny. It’s not their fault. They’re just not, it just, some people have a serious view of life, which doesn’t include, uh, humour. It’s sad, but true. Uh, I I’m, I’m sort of sorry for, well, no, I am sorry for, is it a gift given from God? Well, I suppose as it were to be Les Dawson is a gift given from God. Uh, but to, to have some comic nows, to be able to make your friends laugh, it, it is, it’s shared more equally. Let’s put it that way.
Speaker 2 (27:06):
So do you think, I mean, you’ve worked with the, you know, so many of the greatest comedians in the world,
Jon Ploughman (27:14):
I worked with some people in who weren’t the greatest comedians. Well that’s
Speaker 2 (27:20):
Yeah, but I’m not interested in them, John, to be honest.
Jon Ploughman (27:24):
No, you’re right. I’m interested in why they hell they got a series in the first place, but anyway, let’s not get all right.
Speaker 2 (27:29):
We we’re actually that going on that point. Why do people fail to be funny then?
Jon Ploughman (27:36):
Well, I think it’s, some of it is sometimes arrogant. Some of it is sometimes missed judging how an audience will, will react to something. It, you know, it’s yes, of course. If you do a comedy series on television, if you’re lucky enough to get it, you’ve got to believe in yourself. Of course you have, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t gotta put in a lot of work to make it the thing as funny as it can be. And I think it, there are there have, I have been known to work with the odd person who, as it were had more self-belief than, than was perhaps, uh, they were perhaps entitled to two put it that way,
Speaker 2 (28:28):
Jon Ploughman (28:29):
Warranty and they didn’t, they and their talent warranted. And maybe they didn’t put in the work that was necessary to make a thing work. And I dunno why, you know, I cannot tell you there, there have certainly been shows, which I was convinced were, uh, an absolute sure for our here. I remember it showed I didn’t make it Jeffrey Bergens made it, but the two of us talked about it before it was recorded. And I think in looking back on it, I think I’m not gonna tell you what it is, but I think it was slightly miscast. I think the leading guy just kind of played it slightly wrongly. And so the origins didn’t take to hear man did as much as they should. I can’t tell you why things don’t work. I can, I can tell you when they don’t, uh, only, but you know, I could tell you by that when they don’t buy standing with my back to the audience and hearing them not laugh.
Speaker 2 (29:38):
Sorry, how do you make your decisions? Like in, for instance, in casting, is it all gut whereby you actually go this person’s got it. That, that special something
Jon Ploughman (29:51):
Most, probably most times it’s gut. I remember when we were casting and I only say this, cuz he sadly recently passed away. When we were casting the rigour of Didley. It, we saw a lot of very good actors. Richard had just done for weddings in a funeral. It had been a huge hit. This was his next project as it were. Uh, and so we could sort of see anybody and we saw people who’d can leads at the national. We saw people who’d been leads on television. We saw good serious actors. We saw good comic actors, but it was, it, it was a curiously hard part because what Richard did written was on the one hand, a sort of comedy bigot as it were, it, it in I’m sorry, in David Horton was the part that we had trouble casting and David Horton was the part we could.
Jon Ploughman (30:50):
We saw a lot of people for, and, and we just couldn’t find amongst all these really good actors, we couldn’t find somebody who kind of knew how to tread the line between kind of bigot and, and somebody, the audience would like enough. Does that make sense? Um, we saw Gary Waldon relatively early in the process, but we thought maybe it was a bit of a sort of comedy turn. He’d done quite a lot of comedies. And, and so we, we were prejudiced against him really, but there is a skill, there is a skill in knowing how to play a line in knowing how to play a part. Clearly having seen the people are not found anybody. We got Gary back, we got Gary back with Dawn and, and we saw that he was the guy. He, he abso he had the skill. There’s a skill about being able to do a line. And for that line to be funny, I dunno what it is. I only wish I had it.
Speaker 2 (32:04):
Well, it is something because, you know, I think you hear funny from a young age. I think it, it’s something that’s inherent. You hear a rhythm, you hear how, how it works and then you work on it. Well,
Jon Ploughman (32:18):
You hear that. They, you hear that they’ve understood the rhythm that they need to make thing. My dog’s got no nose. How does it smell bloody awful. Or as I learn from national Lampoon, the Canadian version of that joke, which is my dog’s got no knows. How does it smell it? Can’t
Speaker 3 (32:45):
Jon Ploughman (32:46):
I apologise to all people listening in Canada.
Speaker 2 (32:52):
No, but, but it is about understanding. I think it’s a rhythmic thing. I think it, you, where the funny comes and instinctively, um, both of us knowing tonnes and tonnes of funny people, it’s, it’s kind of like your brain is always worrying and you are unpacking what you are hearing constantly and going that I know a line here is that appropriate and you are here. I was, uh, listening to Lee Mac being interviewed. And I kind of, uh, thought that what he was describing was similar to what a great sports person was describing. That everything starts to slow down on, on that stage, whether it on a pitch or on a thing. And you start to see things happening in slow motion and you have loads more time than everybody else. And
Jon Ploughman (33:49):
Yeah, absolutely. Right.
Speaker 2 (33:50):
And he described it as that, that he can’t believe that nobody else has done the line. So after a while he says, I’m a as well say it, it just
Jon Ploughman (34:02):
Shows very good. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (34:05):
How, how the comedy mind works when it’s at that moment. And we all have those moments. Well, that those of us lucky enough to, uh, to, to do it whereby it’s just working. You can hear it. You can, So maybe it is a gift given from God.
Jon Ploughman (34:24):
Yep. Okay. I’ll go with that.
Speaker 2 (34:26):
What would the world be like without any humour?
Jon Ploughman (34:32):
Sad. Well, you could say it would be like the world were currently living. Uh,
Speaker 2 (34:40):
Jon Ploughman (34:41):
It would be a very sad place. I, I’m not sure I’d want to kind of carry on living in it. It humans, what gets us through, isn’t it? I mean, humans, what makes us, okay. Cast your mind back or cast your parents’ mind back to world war II. During world war II, there was a lot of comedy on the radio and a lot of great comedians came out of the army and came out of radio at the time. You know, the goons came from there and they came from there because it was a bad time because during a bad time, people needed to laugh. They needed to be told that the world wasn’t entirely awful. Yes, of course it was awful, but it wasn’t the word still, these people are out to make them laugh. So my God, we need it.
Speaker 2 (35:39):
So it’s a coping mechanism in your view,
Jon Ploughman (35:42):
It’s partly a coping mechanism and it’s partly a, a, it’s partly giving us the, the means to get through things. Yeah. I mean, that is coping. So, uh, but, but it’s sort of saying you could laugh at this another way of looking at this, another way of looking at this prime minister who won’t get leaves, job. He may have left his job listeners by the time we’re listening for this, in which case I apologise. But the way of coping with that might be just to laugh at it. If it weren’t so tragic, but anyway, yes, it is a coping mechanism.
Speaker 2 (36:20):
Well, we’re recording this, um, while Boris Johnson still has a job folks. Um, but so do you think that that is ultimately, and it’s an interesting point of ultimately what might destroy him is people mocking him laughing at him?
Jon Ploughman (36:39):
Yes. And it might also be that he thinks he’s funny when he is not.
Speaker 2 (36:46):
So the arrogance comes in. Yeah.
Jon Ploughman (36:48):
The arrogance of thinking, one of the reasons people like me is cuz I’m funny and cuz I’m prepared to tell lies might be his undoing.
Speaker 2 (36:57):
It it’ll be interesting to, to actually watch this out cuz that’s what I’m fascinated by the whole
Jon Ploughman (37:03):
Thing. Interesting. It’ll either be interesting or tragic.
Speaker 2 (37:09):
Well, it’ll be tragic first and then it’ll be comedy, won’t it?
Jon Ploughman (37:13):
Yeah. Very good. Yes.
Speaker 2 (37:15):
Do you, how important, because it goes back to that thing. How important is it to be able to laugh at yourself?
Jon Ploughman (37:22):
It’s very important. Of course it’s important because it, it goes back to the idea of being able to cope as you know, laughing at tragedy, which may be what you are. You see what I mean? Um, at your position, uh, laughing at what’s happened to you, laughing at your circumstances, fantastically important. Cause it’s a coping mechanism. It’s how we survive.
Speaker 2 (37:53):
So do you think as somebody who can’t laugh at themselves is, is actually missing a trick in, in their life armour,
Jon Ploughman (38:01):
But I would say Amanda has not humour in it, uh, is not to be trusted.
Speaker 2 (38:06):
Ah, you’d go. As far as that. Yeah. Um,
Jon Ploughman (38:10):
I think that important,
Speaker 2 (38:12):
But there’s different kinds of humour, isn’t it? Isn’t it. Um, self deprecating humour is, uh, important, but humour can also be cruel. Can’t it? It can be a, a bullies, um, yeah. Remit as well.
Jon Ploughman (38:25):
Yes. I mean, I think the cruelty of humour is important. You know, the cruelty of being able to laugh at the man, falling down the sewer while you pricked your own finger, uh, is, is a tragedy is important. But cruelty that actually if, um, is tough on the target as it was, you know, that actually says, look at this person they’re pathetic and horrible. If they’re not pathetic and horrible, uh, is, is a, a very bad use of comedy comedy that says, look at this person. They, uh, you know, only just the side of Gus, uh, it is, is sensible.
Speaker 2 (39:12):
Well then we’re getting into the realms of pricking, the bubble of posity. Is it using it, Using it for, uh, good in that sense? Yeah. No, I think, uh, I think that’s very important. You’ve spent your life, um, Facilitating if you like people being creative.
Jon Ploughman (39:35):
Speaker 2 (39:36):
Um, a lot of our listeners obviously don’t work in television, don’t work in the media. How do you, um, best facilitate creativity in any business workplace?
Jon Ploughman (39:48):
Let it happen. Don’t stop it. Even if you think people are going in the wrong, if you think they’re going totally in the wrong direct, and then at least advise them. But if they’re being in the least bit creative, let them do it to them and, and maybe they’ll come a point when they are going in the wrong direction, but let, ’em let, ’em go with it. You know, don’t jump in and think, you know, better. Cause it’s just possible that you don’t, and it’s important to know that you don’t.
Speaker 2 (40:26):
So basically you have to allow them to play, have to allow them to make mistakes.
Jon Ploughman (40:33):
Yes, absolutely. Right. And, and get in their way.
Speaker 2 (40:39):
Well, but, but that’s actually a really important point, isn’t it? Because isn’t the, the knowing when to shut up is as important.
Jon Ploughman (40:48):
Absolutely. Right. Is as important as, as not shutting up.
Speaker 2 (40:52):
No. You know, but because you may miss the great thing if you go, okay, I’ve heard enough of that or the idea because how many times have you been in a room whereby the idea is really terrible until it becomes brilliant. It makes that
Jon Ploughman (41:13):
Sort of absolutely
Speaker 2 (41:15):
Jon Ploughman (41:16):
Quite often. Yeah. Uh, you know, there’s a moment when you suddenly think, yes. Okay. I can see where you’re going with this. I mean, there are some moments when you can’t see and you continue not to be able to see, and maybe that’s when, what you’re paid for is to stop people, making a terrible mistake, but let, ’em go as far as they can.
Speaker 2 (41:42):
Well, I think that’s brilliant advice actually. Um, so if I asked you to write a business case for why humour, uh, would be involved in any business, I mean, I’m talking every business, this is not the world of comedy. What a business case for why you still have humour, what would you include in it?
Jon Ploughman (42:05):
I’d say that it’s not fair on any of your employees or your, or your business to not allow humour. You know, the, the company that says, I’m sorry, look, we’re not doing jokes between nine and five is, is the company that’s dead, I think. Or if not dead, at least on the way I, you know, it’s my, it’s a human, you know, it’s part of humanity. It’s a thing that leads us to understand ourselves and, and to make ourselves better. You know, you, you can watch, uh, I don’t know. I go back to Bael 40 watch. Bael 40 beat his head and a, a, a table, uh, at the wrong moment for the wrong reason, for reasons to do with ego. And you learn something about humanity, you learn something about people bosses. You don’t have to be the boss of a bad hotel in, uh, talk, understand what battle’s doing wrong.
Speaker 2 (43:17):
Yeah. And, and so there’s lessons to be learned. Um, but the trouble is that most companies want to return on investment. What do you think return on investment on allowing comedy to happen is
Jon Ploughman (43:31):
Well a, a, a much bigger return than not allowing. It said the man who knows nothing about business, but, but I know something about the business we call show.
Speaker 2 (43:44):
I think, you know, a lot about that business. John, You are an absolute expert and legend in that business. Have you ever taken a, I suspect the answer is yes to this quite clearly taken a joke too far or crossed the line.
Jon Ploughman (44:03):
Yes. I’m sure I have. Most of the times I’ve done J jokes. When I was nervous about a situation I was in, you know, in my business, the point at which you go and pitch a show to a controller is when you are essentially walking in and saying, please give me, uh, half a million pounds for six episodes of this thing. And that’s always nerve Acking. It can be a point at which you go too far in trying to make the thing, a humorous event. In other words, you know, going in and asking somebody for half million quid, essentially isn’t a humorous event, uh, but pitching a comedy that will need our quid to survive. Um, sometimes brings out nerves that make you go too far. We were pitching, I, I can’t remember something to, to do with the league of gentlemen to Mark Thompson, who was then controlled of BBC two.
Jon Ploughman (45:16):
And at one point I said to look, mark, if you don’t go for this, we’ll just go to channel four. And that’s that. Now that was, you know, I was, he, we received for God sake. I wasn’t gonna pitch a show to channel four. And, and he must have known that and I must have known that, but I clearly did it in such a, um, serious tone, uh, that he then said, okay, look, I’m stopping these, this meeting. I’m I’m, you know, I’m and he walked out, um, he walked back in again, a bit fucking calm down, but you know it, yeah, you have to be careful. You have to pick your moment.
Speaker 2 (45:59):
I’m interested because you, you introduce the topic of nerves and, uh, a lot of, uh, people who listen to the podcast writing and, and say, how do you deal with nerves? Because I think they presume that at the stars that you work with, or, or, uh, you know, some of the biggest names in the common comedy firm have no nerves, but everybo, I say there’s two types of people in the world, those who get nervous and those who are liars, you know,
Jon Ploughman (46:29):
But so absolutely right. My partners downstairs, um, had, uh, a brain, um, had an accident, got out of his bike, it involved, uh, some, a seven hour brain operation, which eventually was fine. Um, and after it had happened, the surgeon said, oh, you know, this is days after said to him, um, oh, I never asked what, what do you do? And he said, oh, I’m an actor. And the surgeon said, I, God, you’re brave. I could never do that. You think, no, hang on. This is man. Who’s just spent seven hours poking around in somebody’s brain, had to know the right bits on the wrong, but says he can’t be an actor cuz it involves nerves. I mean, nerves are steel anyway,
Speaker 2 (47:31):
Isn’t it funny. But I always think that it’s the things we are more nervous about are the things that we can’t do. It’s everything, you know? Yeah. And we’re also more impressed by things we can’t do.
Jon Ploughman (47:45):
We’re more impressed by the team. We’re more impressed by people who can do the things we can’t do. You know, I’m very, very impressed by pilots. I, I’m not keen on flying, but I, I have to do it from downtown. I’m certainly nervous flying. I’m I’m full of admir for people who can, uh, sit up there and take something up to, you know, 35,000 feet to take it across land again, land it well done. Then I could
Speaker 2 (48:14):
Well done them. Indeed. Um, what, what about, um, performance and nerves if you, uh, I mean we both know people who get massively nervous before
Jon Ploughman (48:28):
Rick mail is the classic gigs when we were doing bottom, which was Rick, Melanie Monds. And uh, we would do a studio. We did two days in the studio on that show when there were, when they were, as it were sending prior to each other’s parts or hitting each other over the head with source. But there were things which had to be pre because they were, they were too risky or too difficult, uh, camera wise to be done on the night in front of the audience. So we’d record that. And then on the second day, we’d do a run through of what we were gonna do in front of the audience. And at the end of the run through Rick would always say, uh, if you got any notes, uh, give them to a cuz I’ll be in the dressing room, throwing up his, he was incredibly nervous until he, as world walks out of the wings onto the, onto the studio floor. And then he was entirely alive. I, I cannot tell you how, I dunno what the I’m sure there are psychologists who could tell you why that works in that way. He got incredibly nervous and then was fine and was able to do it. Maybe it was only by being nervous that he had the power as it were to do what he then did on stage.
Speaker 2 (49:48):
Well, I would say from a psychological perspective, is we, what he was doing is he was building himself up to like sports people do over a period of time. So the, the adrenaline is running and that the mind is getting sharper because of the adrenaline. Uh, and then what he has the ability to do is shift all that and anchor himself into performance state. But he’s at optimum, you know, levels of concentration at that point. And, and then it can be released and that’s, that’s extraordinary. That kind of power
Jon Ploughman (50:27):
You may well be. Right? I couldn’t possibly comment.
Speaker 2 (50:33):
Well, John we’ve reached the point in the show, uh, which we like to call quickfire questions,
Speaker 4 (50:40):
Quick fire questions.
Speaker 2 (50:44):
Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met.
Jon Ploughman (50:48):
Oh, well Jim Moyer, who used to be head of life entertainment at the BBC.
Speaker 2 (50:53):
What book makes you laugh? John,
Jon Ploughman (50:56):
Currently, Mel Brooks all about me, my remarkable life in show business written as, as the blurb tells us by a man currently nine years old.
Speaker 2 (51:09):
Wow. He’s an
Jon Ploughman (51:12):
Speaker 2 (51:12):
Jon Ploughman (51:13):
Yeah. And, and I would, I would say Woody Allen, despite all the sort of call that’s thrown at him, a funny man, a seriously funny man, cuz he is both serious and funny
Speaker 2 (51:27):
Actually. Uh, um, the Woody Allen book, the last one of his life is actually
Jon Ploughman (51:32):
Speaker 2 (51:33):
In memoir is brilliant as well.
Jon Ploughman (51:35):
Yes, it is very good.
Speaker 2 (51:37):
What film makes you laugh?
Jon Ploughman (51:39):
Anything by Woody? Uh, um, a film I watch didn’t watch it this year curiously, but I’ve I watch most Christmases is LA is Woody Allen LAER because even though I’ve bogged on about the, how jokes aren’t as important as they quite often think it it’s the Woody Allen movie that has the best jokes and I recommend it. It’s the one set in the, uh, set in Russia during the nap or it still makes enough,
Speaker 2 (52:19):
Let’s take a shift to the other side now. Um, what is not funny
Jon Ploughman (52:25):
If I’m absolutely honest? I don’t think that there are are things which you can’t, uh, make funny. I, I I’m, I I’m a sort of serious izer for that because I think, you know, there’s a tendency amongst people to think, oh, well, no, I can’t do jokes about that. If you get the joke, right. You can do jokes about that. The problem is getting the joke.
Speaker 2 (52:55):
Well, do don’t you think Ricky Chaves proves that to a, a, a large extent, um, that, that you can push the boundaries on anything and it’s, it’s it it’s in intent. Isn’t it exactly.
Jon Ploughman (53:10):
Yes. I, if the intent’s right, there’s a reasonable chance. You’ll get the gag, right? Yeah. If the intent’s wrong, then people will see that the intents are wrong and it will, um, bomb, I think is the expression.
Speaker 2 (53:27):
I I’m really interested in this because I, I got asked this when I was being interviewed on a radio show recently, when somebody said, you know, you can’t say anything anymore, can you? Comedy is dying. And I, I, I, I
Speaker 3 (53:41):
Have you seen
Speaker 2 (53:42):
Jimmy car’s act, you know,
Jon Ploughman (53:46):
Quite right. It’s not dying, it’s it? It is having constraints put upon it. But, but if it doesn’t bother with those constraints, it’s certainly not dying.
Speaker 2 (53:58):
No, I agree. What word makes you laugh? John
Jon Ploughman (54:04):
Speaker 3 (54:08):
Jon Ploughman (54:11):
I plugged it outta the air. I’m sorry. I apologise. All potson people across the world.
Speaker 2 (54:17):
What sound makes you laugh?
Jon Ploughman (54:20):
Sorry. PLOS are funny. Um, you know, one of the, I worked a bit from, from university days with Ron Atkinson and Ron has difficulty with some PLA of, and has to sort of, you know, it’s a thing he was born with. He has to get on top of PLAs and, and hence Bob. Um, and, and that is a very good example of somebody taking something which could be handicap making it into something that could be comedy gold.
Speaker 2 (54:55):
Well, we had Deborah me from dragons down on the show and actually her the sound that makes her laugh was, um, uh, RO Atkinson saying the word Bob.
Jon Ploughman (55:06):
Speaker 2 (55:06):
Jon Ploughman (55:08):
It’s very specific because he is, he’s when Richard writes scripts for Richard as for Ron, as he used to and still does, sometimes there are words he knows he shouldn’t include cuz Ron will have problems with them. Wow. But, and, and he can, he knows also there, he can get that, that something like Bob will get a laugh.
Speaker 2 (55:33):
I I’ve, I’ve never seen somebody get a lot, so many laughs out of one name.
Jon Ploughman (55:39):
I know noises.
Speaker 2 (55:47):
It is, it is absolute genius. Would you rather be considered clever or funny? John
Jon Ploughman (55:54):
Speaker 2 (55:56):
A hundred percent.
Jon Ploughman (55:58):
Yeah. Made a decision there. You know, if it’s an alternative, I’d rather be clever and funny rather than clever or funny. But, uh, funny, funny is the thing to hang onto.
Speaker 2 (56:13):
And finally, John desert island gags, if you could only take one joke with you to a desert island, what would that be?
Jon Ploughman (56:22):
Well, I’ve already done it. My dog’s got no nose outta the smell it count. Uh, um, I’ll stick with that one. I’ll stick with that one. There are others I’m that drift through my mind and I quite rightly put away as possibly, um, in very so I’ll stick with,
Speaker 2 (56:47):
Well, would you like to tell us one it’s in very bad taste and then we can decide if it stays in the edit?
Jon Ploughman (56:52):
Speaker 2 (56:56):
I think that’s probably a wise decision. John, John Bowman. Thank you so much for being a one entertaining guest on the humology
Jon Ploughman (57:05):
Podcast. Not all my pleasure. Thank you. Thank you. Having me.
Speaker 2 (57:11):
The humology podcast was hosted by Paul per Ross and produced by Simon BS music by Steve Hayworth, creative direction, Byles Hughes, and additional research by and psychs. Please remember to subscribe like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a big sky production.