Comic Actors

Britain’s funniest TV show.   

Roger Bara

It was 1975, and a brand new six-part series made its debut on the BBC. It became an instant hit. There was then a gap of four years before a second series, again of six 30-minute programmes, hit the screens. Again, fabulously successful, but no other series was ever made.

I consider “Fawlty Towers” to be Britain’s greatest comedy, even though only 12 episodes ever existed. Each one I consider an absolute classic, and there is simply no room for any  improvements.

Why does it so appeal to me? A lot of it stems from the scenario. Basil Fawlty is an inept hotel manager in the south-west of England, who frankly, dislikes the kind of people that stay in hotels. He thinks his guests consist of “riff-raff”, “cretins” and “yobbos”. He’s miserable and short-tempered, not helped by a nagging wife who he intensely dislikes, and a cheap but cheerful Spanish waiter who finds speaking English rather a challenge.

Fawlty Towers TV Show

John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, and later Life of Brian, took the lead role, and his acting skills were such that he managed to portray an awful human being, but one who made the audience laugh, with the result that most felt some affection for the character.

With so few episodes made, many fans of the programme today can probably still write the scripts, or certainly parts of them, despite over 40 years having elapsed. Certain lines have become classics, and I’ll just mention two.

Complaining hotel guest: “When I pay for a view, I expect something more interesting than this!”

A totally frustrated Basil: “Well, may I ask you what you expect to see out of a hotel bedroom in Torquay? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The hanging gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain….”

In another episode, a German guest at dinner says: “Will you stop talking about the war?”

Basil: “Me? You started it!”

German: “We did not start it!”

Basil: “Yes you did, you invaded Poland.”

The two series were helped by very tight editing, which meant not one word or piece of action was surplus to requirements. The opening sequence showed the hotel in the background, but with a close-up of a sign “Fawlty Towers”. Each subsequent episode opening showed the letters on the sign re-arranged – the one that comes to mind was “Flowery Twats”. 

If you fancy classic British humour, beautifully performed, with a barrel-load of laughs, then do look it up somewhere; you won’t be disappointed.

The funniest TV programme 

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

I will disappoint you. One can call it a paradox, but I can’t recall any Russian TV program I would think of as ‘the funniest.’ On the other hand, I am not an expert as I don’t watch such shows. 

I have enough fun of various kinds in my life off the blue screen.

Sure, we’ve got plenty of humouristic programming of various quality and formats on Russian TV. For example, there’s a megapopular ‘Comedy Club’ talk show on the TNT channel featuring famous nationwide comedians like Pavel Volya, Vladimir Svetlakov, and Garik Martirosyan. There’s even a whole TV channel called ‘Humour TV.’ I admit I’ve never watched it. 

There is a comedy show called ‘KVN,’ a Russian acronym for the ‘Club of funnies and wittiest’ (or something like that in back translation). This one dates back to Soviet times. Various student teams are competing with each other, with an ultimate winner at the end of each season. Plenty of Russian comedians, including those from today’s ‘Comedy Club’, have initially come from this show. 

Late Night Urgant
Late Night Urgant

But wait… as I was writing this blog, I recalled a show I could have called the funniest TV program.  ‘Late Night Urgant’ is named after Ivan Urgant, another famous Russian comedian and a talented guy. I think his show is ‘The David Letterman’s show’ franchise or similar type of late-night shows. However, the TV anchor’s personality means a lot for the show’s success, and Ivan Urgant is such a guy. 

Oh, wait… it doesn’t exist anymore. The show was cancelled on the First Channel in February 2022. Do you know why? 

Ivan Urgant condemned the war in Ukraine on social media. Then, his show went off the air for some reason, and he moved to Israel with his family. Next, he was declared a ‘foreign agent’; this is how Putin’s state brands anyone opposing it and has, at least partially, funding from abroad. In Ivan Urgant’s case, he’s done plenty of shows outside of Russia. 

Well, now the whole story looks funny, doesn’t it? 

America’s Funniest TV Show

Photograph of Dean Lewis

What’s funny is a matter of taste… but only to a point. Some TV shows are cultural icons. In the US, I Love Lucy & the Andy Griffith show are examples of television shows that are well past their “sell-by-date” but remain truly beloved. By today’s taste, Lucy and Barney use physical comedy in a way that would never win America’s Got Talent but I’m sure these shows will live on for years.

Before I mention my favorite, I thought I would remind you of a show I thought was funny but I didn’t pick: Whose Line is It Anyway? There were versions in the US and UK that featured some of the same cast members. I’m thinking of Colin Mochrie & Ryan Stiles. When these two were on fire, it was some of the funniest TV I have ever seen. When it failed, it was simply Lucy slapstick without the funny. Absolutely genius television – sometimes.

My favorite TV comedy would have to be Big Bang Theory. Remember what I said about comedy being subjective – (“What’s funny is a matter of taste”)? This show certainly qualifies; from the opening theme song, the show asks the viewer to be well read and to damn well be up on modern culture with a focus on science fiction. Smart, funny and with little time for mouth breathers, the Big Bang Theory is my favorite comedy TV show. 

At first, I thought I would describe the show but you know what? It doesn’t matter. Our readership is truly international. My mind goes to Sergey. I have had the real privilege to spend several months in Russia over time. Some Western stereotypes about Russia are true: like Russians don’t smile. It’s not that they have no sense of humour, they…..damn, I can’t tell you why. I guess I’ve spent enough time in Moscow to say that I know them but not enough to say that I understand them. 

So, do they have comedy on Channel One? Sure, especially the old movies. American humor is occasionally cruel – man falls off a pig and breaks his leg. British humor is more slapstick, Mr. Bean needs a Kleenex. Russian humor is close but still different, bumbling goofball gets into high jinks.  

Given politics in the world at this moment, there is a great deal of which someone with my accent could accuse Russia, but there is no doubt their comedy is much kinder. In Soviet Poncho, the bad boys don’t skip school. Major Hollywood studios always make two trailers for every movie. The one for an American audience features more violence and biting jokes and the one for Europe, including Russia, is kinder and gentler. It turns out that your sense of humor says a great deal about who you are and where you’re from.