Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chris Morris and Peter Cook - Comedy Greats in a Brief, Rare Collaboration

Chris Morris, British comedian/satirist - I've brought him up before (clip from Morris' Brass Eye TV Show). Throughout his radio and television shows, one thing I've always liked about him has been his vocal control, coming from his start on radio. Peter Cook, something of a Morris precursor - in the 50's and 60's a particularly edgy British comedian/satirist, similar to Morris in the 90s. His first popular show at the Edinburgh Festival...
"...included Cook impersonating the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. This was one of the first occasions that satirical political mimicry had been attempted in live theatre, and caused some considerable shock amongst audiences. During one performance, Macmillan himself was in the theatre, and having spotted him Cook departed from his script and directly attacked him verbally."*
Ten years after his death Peter Cook was ranked number one most-talented comedian in a list entitled The Comedian's Comedian, a poll taken of more than 300 comics, comedy writers, producers and directors throughout the English speaking world (Morris was number eleven). All this to preface:

Why Bother: A comedy album comprising of five 10-minute long "interviews" between Chris Morris and Peter Cook, with the dialogue largely ad-libbed. Neither of these men had worked with the other before, though were able to take on a familiar role for these recordings: Morris as the penetrating interviewer, Cook as the supposedly knowledgeable expert on the given topic or experience (usually having his story/expertise humorously undermined). The question of preparation for this, Morris (CM) answered as follows: 
CM: Just shoot from the hip, really. See what happens.
HD: No preparation?
CM: No. I think the preparation that existed, existed only in terms of the things we had already done. I was already quite used to going and imposing bollocks interviews on people anyway from any direction so it didn't seem much different, except with him, obviously, you could keep an idea going for much longer...It's trying to keep some sort of logic going.
They're both really, really good at these character roles. But what I find particularly skillful in these recordings is how fully they accept each others concepts/angles while still staying vitally true to their character. Cook projects knowledge and certainty while clearing wide spaces for Morris to lead him into a trap (for the sake of the listener's enjoyment), and Morris is strikingly deft, finding the potential for turning Cook's words against him or raising the stakes of the (likely ridiculous) premise. They connect easily, and how well they lead (and listen to) each other belies its ad-libbed creation. Cook died about a year after its first broadcast, making its recording even more serendipitous.

Here's my favorite of the five recordings: in this Cook ("Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling") talks to Morris about the time he spent in a Japanese Concentration Camp in World War II. It is cued up to start at 1:30, but gets going around 2:20, when Morris starts turning the tables on him. Their exchange in the last minute of the recording is also exquisite...

 -"...And I attempt to organize an escape."
-"Yes, and then you told the Commandant 24-hours before it was put in operation."
-"...I...informed my superior, but I'd already told my do it the day after so they wouldn't get caught."
"And yet they all did get caught-"
"They got caught, well, they went on the wrong day."

*Likely comparable to the controversy stirred from Morris' Brass Eye Special episode. 

1 comment:

  1. this is reeeeeeeeally funny. i'm gonna go find the rest of them.