Pick a word, any word -- Bill Kirton


It’s highly probable that only older readers will remember the success of The Goon Show. In school, the day after the latest adventures of Harry Seagoon, Eccles, Bluebottle and the rest had been broadcast, we repeated them to one another, quoting the best bits (of which there were unfailingly many), doing the voices, and laughing all over again at the genius Spike Milligan’s imaginings.

A quarter of a century later most of those same readers would probably have been part of the audience demographic for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and joined by thousands of adherents less advanced in years.

There were predecessors, of course, all bringing a world view that was mildly anarchic, certainly surreal, and whose principal aim was to entertain or, put more crudely, to provoke unreasoning, energising laughter.

Then, later, when I’d fooled enough people enough of the time to get a job in a university, part of my good fortune was to give lectures and tutorials on, among other things, the Theatre of the Absurd, which meant getting paid for enjoying chatting with intelligent, interesting young people about Ionesco, Beckett, Jarry, Sartre and others. So I discovered that the previously funny, harmless entertainment could be seen to have a ‘purpose’, an underlying philosophy. In fact, despite its wackiness and the fact that everything about it belied the word, it had ‘meaning’.

So what? Well, it could seem that ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’

I wish.

Before explaining myself, let’s stay with the Goon show and so on. Ionesco, whose Bald Prima Donna has become The Mousetrap of French theatre in the Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris, claimed that ‘the opposite of the absurd is meaningful’, while Arnold P. Hinchcliffe, in his slim volume, The Absurd, notes that one of the objections to absurdity is that ‘we have a strong conviction that the world is not absurd’. Really?

I’m afraid those ‘childish things’ I mentioned are still with us, but in a far more sinister form, because, Covid aside, what other word best conveys the purposeless, chaotic world in which we now live than ‘Absurd’.

The virus creates its own reality, but our governments, ‘leaders’ and others whom the majority of us have put in power still, at least apparently, operate according to ‘real’, well-established traditions. They are part of a sometimes glorious but also inglorious continuum which puts them in charge of us and, well, everything. Their decisions, opinions, words and actions have powerful consequences, and yet make no more sense than those of Seagoon, Bluebottle and Eccles.

The point I'm trying to make is not political, it's existential.

They/We are absurd. But it's not funny any more.


Eden Baylee said…
Wow Bill, you sure know how to make a bad situation worse! Haha, just kidding, kinda ...

We've had this discussion, so I know what you mean. From a political front, too many rulers today are merely parodies of leaders. They lack the mental stamina, intellectual capacity, and emotional stability to lead. Their power is used only to enrich themselves. And the absurdity is there are people who like and vote for them despite all this.

I agree with you that Monty Python (I never saw The Goon Show) was brilliant because their skits were so off the wall, but no matter how crazy they were, we recognized something in them that made us laugh. At the same time, they were also absurd because those situations were never going to happen.

Now, everything is upended. A 'dead parrot' can hardly compete with the absurdity of real life at the moment.

Jan Needle said…
Not much to argue with there, dammit Bill, but here goes. I never knew (till now) that Bald Prima Donna was the French for mousetrap, and speaking as an adopted Oldhamer I think it's a bit unfair to finger Mililgan as the sole genius behind the Goon Show. Some of the best bits were written by Eric Sykes, the Oldham bus conductor who invented the dreaded lurgy, and all the credits make interesting reading. Having said which, though - here's to the mighty Milligan,the mad, depressive genius. Thank God (perhaps) he had a bad war trying to bring down Hitler. And while my father would have have argued that our greatest heroes, like Churchill, were evil, grasping , murderous bastards to match Trump, Johnson and co, it's hard not to think we're in awful, awful times.
One bright spot, for me, is that the bright young students we both admire so much are still around, and I understand that many in Liverpool have latched on to my surrealist and disgusting take on Boris and Dominic, Lying Doggo (https://amzn.to/2PBfAlS) It's still possible to laugh, and some of the antics of Trump seem designed to encourage it. I'd love to hear Henry and Min mulling over his latest pronoucements. And he would have deaded Bluebottle beyond a doubt,,,,
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Bill - entertaining and thoughtful, as ever. I'm of The Goons generation and still have insane quotes swirling round my head. They are a brief respite from the real insanity we are living in.
Susan Price said…
My Dad was once home on leave from National Service. He had an appalling headache which he couldn't shake. Neverthless, he was by the radio to hear The Goon Show, because he never missed it. (His father, who hated it because it was 'daft' tolerated him listening to it because, well, his only son was home on leave.)
My Dad laughed so much at the Goons, laughed so hard and so helplessly that his nose started bleeding -- and bleeding, and bleeding. His mother handed him a basin but he kept on listening as the basin filled. By the time the show was over and the basin was nearly full, his headache was cured.
We grew up listening to taped recordings and repeats of the Goons -- and,later, Dad took to the Pythons as enthusiastically as we did, while most other people we knew said they 'weren't funny, they were just daft.
But you're right, Bill. Neither the Goons nor the Pythons can match what's going on at the moment. Every morning I wake up, peer disbelievingly at the news and go: 'WTF?. I can only say, 'Teapot. Teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot TEAPOT! teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapotteapot teapot teapotteapot teapot teapot
Susan Price said…
teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot teapot...
I wish this wasn't the case, Bill, but what's happening just now is almost beyond comedy, although that's exactly when we need to laugh.
Umberto Tosi said…
I too loved the Goon Show - even as much as Money Python - as pure and brilliant groundbreaking absurdist comedy. We had to see get it and Monty Python second hand - mostly via PBS and NPR publich broadcasting - here in the US of course, but i readily joined its followers, recognizing it later as a spawning ground for much revolutionary comedic genius that followed but remaining non pareil (as with MAD, Show of Shows, etc. here in the US) Thanks for another enjoyable post.
Bill Kirton said…
Wow! Thanks for all the comments folks. A tribute, I think to the genius of The Goons. But I think even Spike (and Eric, if you insist, Jan) would have drawn the line at some of the excesses of the current idiots.

Eden, despite our collaborations, I rarely take account of the decades which separate us. It was, as you know, because of a chat with you that the ‘Absurd’ word came to be the perfect encapsulation of the modern era but I need to tell you there was a thing called radio back when Jan, Umberto and I were lads. But one didn’t need to ‘see’ the Goons –it was all in the language and the ideas. But you’re right, dead parrots are now the norm.

Jan, I refuse to rise to your bait about the Bald Prima Donna but acknowledge the brilliance of Eric Sykes (the lurgy even outlasted the present affliction). It’s also an appropriate moment to congratulate you on the success of your own excoriation of our current Bloodnoks, Lying Doggo ( in case readers didn’t pick up the blatant plug in your comment)

Sandra, as ever, the reliable voice of sanity, wisdom and reason. IT’s no surprise at all to hear that you, too, were weaned on Goonery.

Susan, you (or rather, your Dad) surpass(es) us all . It’s the first time I’ve heard the Goons associated with exsanguinations. Mind you, I can’t think of a better way of it being administered.
As for your (and Susan’s) obsession with teapots, my only reply is:
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there - I wonder if they're dry?

Cecilia, couldn’t agree more. In fact, your comment gives me (rather spuriously) the chance to repeat a wonderful aphorism created this wekk in the Guardian, by Suzanne Moore ‘A pessimist is only an optimist with more information’.

Umberto, the news that you manages to listen to The Goons pleases me as much as your typo ‘Money Python’.

And you may be glad to hear that MAD was also up there with those welcome early absurdists, too.
Bill Kirton said…
Typos: wekk for week, manages for managed. That's All, Folks.

Popular posts

How to Make Love to Your War Bag ~ Reb MacRath

Hit the Road, Jack, and Don’t You Come Back, No More No More No More No More (well, until you’ve sold at least five books, anyway)

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

Where We Work (Part Two) - Joint Post

Needle fails again by Jan Needle