The old ones are the best (… and I should know, I am one of themBarry Cryer has been a stand-up comedian since the fiftiesHe has worked with everyone from Morecambe and Wise to The Two RonniesThe 77-year-old funnyman was awarded an OBE in 2001
23:17 GMT, 2 August 2012
Older is funnier: Barry Cryer cracks some of his favourite jokes
Being a stand-up at 77 is great. I tell jokes and stories — the younger performers don’t. Their comedy is observational, they talk about life and themselves.
My stage show is over two hours long with an interval, so apparently I’ve still got plenty of energy.
When I started out at the Windmill Theatre in Soho in the late Fifties we didn’t call it stand-up, we called it a ‘turn’. We did six shows a day, six days a week. That was one hell of an education.
The audience didn’t come to see us; they came to see to the strippers, who bizarrely weren’t allowed to move.
The Lord Chamberlain had ruled that nudity was only allowed if they kept absolutely still on stage. Quaint days.
In 1957 at the Windmill I met a man called Bruce Forsyth — I’ve never found out what happened to him. He said to me: ‘I’ve got as far as I’m going to get. I’m going to pack it in.’ I said: ‘What are you going to do’ He said: ‘Open a little tobacconist’s.’
The following year I saw my friend was the new compere of Sunday Night At The London Palladium. It was watched by millions of viewers. Soon after, I was walking down Kingsway in central London and bumped into him. I said: ‘What happened to the tobacconist’s’ He said: ‘Postponed!’ It’s been postponed a long time.
I went on to write and perform for Danny La Rue at his cabaret nightclub in Hanover Square. I met my wife Terry, a dancer, and Ronnie Corbett, one of our oldest friends, on the same day and I always say I tossed a coin and married her — nothing personal, Ron.
One day in the early Sixties David Frost came into the club and after he saw the show he asked who wrote it. That’s how I came to write for him on The Frost Report and how Ronnie Corbett came to be in it. I called Frosty a practising catalyst because of the way he used to bring people together.
He put me with Graham Chapman, who became part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We wrote about 50 shows together after The Frost Report, including a sitcom for Ronnie Corbett. Graham and I were from different backgrounds but became great friends.
John Cleese was another Python I tried writing with. We sat down to write a sketch and John was very meticulous. He wanted to write a page and then go back over it, every word.
And I wanted to write the sketch in a white heat and then look at it, screw it up, throw it in the bin and start again. We just laughed and said: ‘That’s it!’ We never wrote together again. You’ve got to have chemistry.
At Danny La Rue’s I was the warm-up man and would do a few jokes and introduce the show. Once from the darkness a voice said: ‘This is satire, I suppose.’
And I said, ‘No, this is nightclub filth, you must get out more.’ This got a laugh. Then I went back to the dressing room and somebody said: ‘You know who that was’ ‘No’, ‘John Lennon,’ Oh God.
Years later, I was working on the Frost show and John was with Yoko. We found ourselves sitting together in the green room and he said: ‘I know you from somewhere.’ I said: ‘Well, I don’t know. Danny La Rue’s club’ And he said a strange thing: ‘Was I a pig’
I said: ‘What are you talking about’ He replied: ‘I was on everything, I was out of it then.’ He had become a different man.
As one of the founder writers of The
Two Ronnies with Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker, I still love their
first sketch, which Pythons Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote. One of
the Ronnies was a sergeant at a police station and as the officer walks
in says: ‘Morning, Super.’ And the other one says: ‘Hello, Wonderful.’
I am a words man, I love visual comedy and I wrote two such things for
them, I remember. One was a sign that said: ‘Don’t walk on the grass.’
John Cleese and Nicky Henderson played two park keepers staring at
Ronnie Corbett who was approaching the grass and he did everything but
walk on it: he danced and did cartwheels.
other one was somebody climbing over a wall where it said: ‘Trespassers
will be prosecuted’. He ignored it and landed in a garden, and there
was a full courtroom, judge, and jury.
did a lot of visuals with Kenny Everett on The Kenny Everett Video
Show. He was playing poker with three men. There was a beam of light
coming down from an overhead lamp.
Kenny won the game, stood up in
triumph and hit his head on the beam of light — either side of it was
solid. You had to be there . . .
Comedy couple: Barry Cryer, left, with Ronnie Golden in a scene from their comedy production 'Men in Beige'
Cliff Richard was on the show and
Kenny said: ‘Oh, we’ve got a surprise for you, Cliff.’ Cliff groaned and
said,: ‘Not an old clip’ And we cut to Cliff wearing a grey suit,
black shirt, white tie and the set was grey and black and white and his
hair was slicked back.
We were shooting with colour cameras. As he was
singing Kenny walked into the clip wearing a red shirt and blue jeans
and Cliff said: ‘Get out of my old clip!’
I have been dogged by good luck all my
life. I go with the flow. Denis Norden once said I was ‘living proof
you do not have to be neurotic to be a comedian’.
I was quite touched by
that. And he also said: ‘Barry lives in the world of “we don’t want it
good, we want it Monday”, and he delivers. Any script is better than no
But I feel as if I
have got an inflated reputation. People say: ‘Oh, you wrote for all the
greats.’ We all did. There was a whole gang of us.
I never wrote alone. I
wrote the Kenny Everett shows with the late Ray Cameron, father of
Michael McIntyre. The generations go on. I’ve known Mike since he was a
Once when I was
working with Morecambe and Wise on their Christmas special, Eric was
cornered by a man pontificating to him about showbusiness.
‘Oh boy, you’re going to get it.’ And this man said to Eric, ‘I always
think, to be in showbusiness you need three things . . .’ And Eric said:
‘If you’ve got three things you should be in a circus.’
Long career: Barry Cryer on set whilst filming BBC Four show The Story Of Music Hall With Michael Grade, pictured left, and Michael Kilgarriff, right in 2011
Cooper was one of a kind. The first time I ever wrote for him we got
round the table to do a read-through. I had noticed Tom repeated
himself, ‘Good evening, good evening.’ And I wrote, ‘Good evening, good
evening.’ So he started reading the script: ‘Good evening . . . what’s
‘Well, you say everything twice.’ He said, ‘Look, you write it once,
I’ll say it twice and you get the best of the bargain.’ I never knew
what he meant at the time.
Decorated: Barry Cryer was awarded an OBE in 2001; 'Keep on making people laugh,' the Queen told him at the investiture
Howerd was our favourite if you were being paid for each minute it took
to perform your script. He could make any page last five minutes
instead of one. ‘Ooh, er, no, listen . . .’
played games with writers. If you put the words, ‘No, listen, don’t
take a vote on it’ in a script he’d say: ‘Don’t do that. I do that.’ You
didn’t know whether to put in his catchphrases. If the writer didn’t
put them in he’d say: ‘Where’s the “Ooh, no, Missus” ’
was performing at Peter Cook’s Establishment club one night and Kenneth
Williams was there braying away. Frank said: ‘You are witnessing
history, ladies and gentlemen, one comedian laughing at another.’
I have a good memory for jokes, so
usually I can get a joke that fits. For real life my memory is abysmal.
My short-term memory has gone — family birthdays, everything.
favourite joke is one I told as a student at Leeds University in 1955.
And I’ve loved it ever since: A man was driving down a country lane and
ran over a cockerel.
He knocked on the farmhouse door and a
woman answered. ‘I appear to have killed your cockerel,’ he said. ‘I’d
like to replace it.’ ‘Please yourself,’ said the woman, ‘the hens are
round the back.’
The most recent one somebody told me in the pub the other day was: A man is in the front room and his wife is in the kitchen. She says: ‘Smoked salmon or chicken’ And he says: ‘Oh, love, smoked salmon.’ She says, ‘You’re having soup, Fatty. I was talking to the cat.’
I was writing for about 30 years and then in the late Eighties it suddenly went quiet. There was a new breed of performers writing their own material. Then Willie Rushton and I did a show for charity called Two Old Farts In The Night.
The title was Willie’s idea; he said we can’t get done under the trades descriptions act. Then Willie said to me: ‘Is there money in this’
He phoned the manager of a theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe to see if there was space after a performance of the Duchess of Malfi, or as Willie called it, What’s It All About Malfi So we turned up every night after 11pm, and that’s how it all kicked off.
EDINBURGH'S BEST GAGS
The Edinburgh Festival is back again and, with it, a clutch of comedians hoping to make a splash. Here, ten of them tell their favourite joke.
Sean Hughes: I once overdosed on amphetamines. I was rushed to hospital — and made to work the night shift.
Luke Toulson: A computer once beat me at chess. Mind you, it was no match for me at kickboxing.
Rob Deering: Captain Kirk ruined his old vinyl records. He played them at warp speed.#
Alistair Barrie: My ex-girlfriend’s a lecturer. But, then, aren’t they all
Luke Benson: I’ll tell you what’s a tough job: coffee tasters. I don’t know how they sleep at night.
Dog-Eared Collective: Plans are in hand for Glasgow’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The mascot Jock Frost.
Rachel Stubbings: I’m mates with Banksy. But whenever I call to try to meet up, he just tells me he’ll stencil me in.
Jarred Christmas: Growing up in New Zealand, we only had white bread. I thought brown bread was toast.
Stephen Carlin: Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
Tania Edwards: Dating is tricky. I can’t tell how old anyone is any more. I’ve made some schoolboy errors.
Five of the funniest
Since 2008, TV channel Dave has invited a panel of judges to pick their favourite joke from that year’s Fringe. Here are some that made previous top tens:
Jack Whitehall: I’m sure, wherever my dad is, he’s looking down on us. He’s not dead, just very condescending.
Dan Antolpolski: Hedgehogs. Why can’t they just share the hedge
Nick Helm: I needed a password eight characters long — so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Tim Vine: Crime in multi-storey car parks. That’s wrong on so many different levels.
Tim Vine (again): I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Tell you what, never again.
Our charity shows had been sponsored by Taylor’s Port and they carried on in Edinburgh. The audience all got a glass of port when they walked in, so we had a very warm-hearted audience.
For the past ten or 11 years I’ve been
going to Edinburgh with Ronnie Golden, a brilliant musician. We sing
together all the way through and chat away between the songs. It’s
called Going Gaga. In case you’re wondering, it’s a salute to that
do after-dinner engagements. Probably the worst gig I ever did was in
Guernsey. When I got to the dinner they were all drunk. I later found
out there had been redundancies in the company and stuff going on that I
had no idea about.
There was a Scalextric game in the bar and a model train set, and two men were doing a commentary. A man dug me in the ribs and said:‘You’d better be funnier than these two.’ So I thought: ‘Oh that’s a good start.’
Veterans: Barry Cryer with Ronnie Golden promoting their show 'Unplugged' during the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe
When we went into dinner there was a fight — I am not making this up. I battled away for about 15 minutes, which seemed like an eternity — I usually do 35-40 minutes — and it was humiliating. Two men took me to the bar afterwards and said, ‘That was disgraceful!’, referring to the audience.
And then I overslept and missed the plane home! My self-confidence was shot, but on the Friday I compered an awards event in Glasgow.
After it a man came up to me and said: ‘I was in Guernsey. This is what you’re really like. You’re quite good.’
I’m still writing books, doing comedy shows, and of course appearing on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. We’ve been going for 40 years, though it didn’t have an auspicious start. After the first series someone at the BBC said: ‘Well, we gave it a go.’ Somebody persuaded them to go with it again.
Jack Dee has settled in so well since he took over from Humphrey Lyttleton, who died in 2008. We did a recording in Swansea and although I think it was meant as a joke, there was a chilling moment.
In the middle of the recording a man in the audience shouted out: ‘It’s not the same without Humphrey Lyttleton, is it’ Stunned silence. Jack was brilliant, he said: ‘Ah, dear Humph. I wonder where he is now I envy him.’ Style.
I had a show back in 1998 which I called The First Farewell Tour. Focus on the word ‘First’. You couldn’t fake what I do. I’d be exhausted.
I just wander on and start talking and hope I am getting a bond with the audience. I’m lucky, I do something I enjoy. I am not looking at my watch for the end of the day and every day is different.
In my business you don’t retire: the phone stops ringing.
As told to Spencer Bright
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe starts today and runs until August 27. Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden — Going Gaga is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh, from today until next Friday.