Top Of The Bill [The Essay]


01Adrian Edmondson On The Pursuit Of Laughter20200217

In this essay Adrian Edmondson describes his pursuit of a certain type of laugh, a desperate, untamed, visceral laugh, and in doing so remembers one of the acts from those early days of the Comedy Store. It is one of the funniest things he has ever seen and led to his understanding of what comedy could be. He recalls how the performer played with the audience and their expectations to riotous, hysterical, effect. Except he cannot remember their name. No, really, he can’t.

For those who know Adrian Edmondson’s work with his former comedy partner Rik Mayall, it won’t come as a surprise that as a child he was delighted by The Goons and by rude words in comic songs. He went on to study drama at Manchester University. The influence of the absurdist dramatists he studied, and the Muppets and the Pythons, are all reflected in his comedy practice. He and Rik were part of the first wave of Alternative Comedy that changed the comedic landscape for ever. He starred as Vyvyan in The Young Ones, the series that blasted its way onto our screens, tearing into our preconceptions of what television comedy could be. He co-created and wrote the television series Bottom with Rik, which ran for three very successful series, toured as a stage show and was the basis for a spin-off film. Adrian Edmondson is now equally well known as an accomplished straight actor (in the RSC, BBC TV’s War and Peace, Eastenders), and a writer of books for adults and children.

Written and read by Adrian Edmondson
Produced by Caroline Raphael for Dora Productions

Adrian Edmondson remembers a riotous act from the early days of alternative comedy.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

02Susan Calman On Victoria Wood20200218

Susan Calman first saw An Audience with Victoria Wood at the age of 14. It was almost by accident, but by the end of the show she had come to realise what she was destined to be. Yet Susan’s career took a curious path to the comedy success that is now hers. She trained as a corporate lawyer and her work took her to the UN in Geneva and Death Row in America. In 2006 she finally gave it all up to follow in the footsteps of her comedy hero, Victoria Wood. In this essay, Susan Calman celebrates Wood’s performance and writing skills, marvelling at her precise choice of language, her stage presence and, of course, The Ballad of Barry and Freda.

Susan Calman made an impression very quickly with her Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows and was a finalist in the prestigious BBC New Comedy and the So You Think You’re Funny Awards. Susan is now one of the country’s top stand-ups, beloved by Radio 4 audiences on shows such as The News Quiz and in her own sitcom, Sisters, and her four solo stand-up shows. She has presented Woman’s Hour, was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, is a hugely successful television presenter and has published two books.

Written and read by Susan Calman
Produced by Caroline Raphael for Dora Productions

Susan Calman recalls how first seeing Victoria Wood helped shape her own career.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

03Mark Watson On The Simpsons20200219

Mark Watson was 12 when he first watched The Simpsons. At that time only available on satellite TV, which the Watson household did not have, his father had brought home two VHS tapes each with a couple of episodes from the first series. Initially rather sceptical and wary – wasn’t this just a cartoon about a skateboarding schoolboy prankster? – he was bowled over, and now acknowledges that it has influenced much of his work. Each new endeavour has been motivated by the fearlessness of the creators of this long-running show.

Mark is a multi-award-winning stand-up comedian who works regularly around the world and on television and radio. He has had several series on BBC Radio 4 including, in 2011, the first live transmission of a radio comedy show for many years. A fearless act in itself, it was perhaps almost as fearless as performing 24 hour Comedy Marathons at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and agreeing to be cast away on Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls in what turned out to be quite a gruelling experience. Mark is now also well established as a writer, having published six novels, and in 2017 he had his first play broadcast on Radio 4.

Written and read by Mark Watson
Produced by Caroline Raphael for Dora Productions

Comedian Mark Watson on The Simpsons and the show's impact on his own work.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

04Deborah Frances-white On Fleabag20200220

Comedian and writer Deborah Frances-White booked a somewhat reluctant Phoebe Waller-Bridge to do a ten-minute spot in a dusty basement theatre in Soho in 2012. Part stand-up, party storytelling, that night marked the first public appearance of the cultural phenomenon Fleabag. It went on to be developed into a full-length show and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It has run for two highly successful series on BBC TV, winning huge audiences, critical acclaim and a BAFTA and many Primetime Emmy awards. In this essay, Deborah recalls the impact of that first performance, how it helped drive a new revived wave of feminism and how it emboldened her own work.

Deborah Frances-White is an award-winning comedian and presenter of the hugely successful podcast The Guilty Feminist, which she launched in 2015. Always recorded with a live audience it has been presented around the world, including events at the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall. To date the podcast has had 70 million downloads. In 2018 the book of the show was published, its sub-title 'From our noble goals to our worst hypocrisies' sums it up beautifully. Her Radio 4 series Deborah Frances-White Rolls the Dice won a Writers Guild Award for best radio comedy and has run for several series. Deborah is also a renowned improviser and has new theatre and television shows in development.
Written and read by Deborah Frances-White

Produced by Caroline Raphael for Dora Productions

Deborah Frances-White remembers the very first appearance of Fleabag.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

05 LASTStephen K Amos On Redd Foxx20200221

As a teenager, Stephen K Amos’s family left London for Nigeria. There, for the first time, he saw television situation comedies, imported from America, about black families whose lives he recognised. Here were shows where the ethnicity of the lead characters was not central to the story or the punchline to a joke. One of his favourite shows was Sanford & Son, and for his essay Stephen has chosen one particular episode and its star, Redd Foxx, who took the lead part of Sanford. As he came to know more about Foxx’s life Stephen began to see the possibility of a life of his own in comedy.

Stephen K Amos started in stand up in 1994 taking his first shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1997. His work has taken him all round the world, and his striking ability to connect and talk with his audience, his charm, exuberance, intelligence and warmth have won him huge audiences. He has had his own ‘name above the title’ series on BBC Television, written several series for BBC Radio 4 including the semi-autobiographical What Does the K Stand For and now combines stand up with acting, presenting documentaries and writing. His documentary about homophobia in black communities, based on his own experiences of being a black gay man, won a Royal Television Society award and was nominated for a BAFTA. He took part in the recent BBC TV programme Pilgrimage: Road to Rome in which he got to meet the Pope and talk to him about how he feels that, as a gay man, he is not accepted within the Church.

Written and read by Stephen K Amos
Produced by Caroline Raphael for Dora Productions

Comedian Stephen K Amos on American performer Redd Foxx and his impact on his own career.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.