The Miller’s Tale

We headed up to Crispinus‘ college to see Doctor, er Sir Jonathan Miller Thursday night. How much of a comedy geek am I? Well, here I am getting my program for Beyond the Fringe signed by the good doctor. He joked about the description of him in the program, then 27 years old. It was a fantastic evening of laughter and thoughtful analysis. Miller has always been quite the raconteur, and his wealth of experiences and polymathic interests has made sure that he has an enormous cache of anecdotes for any occasion.

He does a good impression of his former co-hort Peter Cook (my idol) and used his piece “Sitting on the Bench” (which you can find 3 minutes 50 seconds into this clip) to delve into some of the reasons that he found both Henri Bergson’s and Sigmund Freud’s theories of comedy insufficient.
In the course of the discussion, Miller also did great impressions of his other co-hort, Dudley Moore (but not Alan Bennett), as well as Goons Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, using their comedy for fodder in the argument about the nature of humor. In this talk, Miller wanted to bring out the pleasurable aspect of humor and explain its appeal. While he may not have come to any definite conclusions, the journey was a lot of fun and the crowd enthusiastically devoured all the stories and jokes, many of which were no doubt new to them.

There are two more events — with luck, we will be able to attend them, too. I’m glad I worked up the courage on the first night to get the program signed: I would have chickened out later. It’s quite an artifact — funny little tie-ins in the ads, from North Thames Gas to the official tailor, Dougie Millings & Son mentioning the title, as well as ads for then current productions: Chita Rivera and Peter Marshall in Bye Bye Birdie at Her Majesty’s Theatre and Christie’s The Mousetrap, then only in its “10th Imperishable Year!” of keeping new productions from the West End. Playgoers are commanded “Now you must see Kenneth Williams in One Over the Eight” which had been written by an undergraduate Peter Cook, and which they promise is “snappy and gay” (well, it is Kenneth Williams).

Now I have to go read up on Erving Goffman and John Austin, whom Miller mentioned and intrigued me enough to want to find out more.

Thanks to Gene for the photos!


  1. Crispinus says:

    He gets points from me for being a living legend, and for being very, very funny.Points off, though, for over explaining everything: (“This draws our attention to….” “Our attention is drawn to….”) And for taking about thirty minutes to answer two questions.That said, I’ll be back Monday night!

  2. K. A. Laity says:

    Hee hee — I’d call that BBC presenter’s syndrome. Part of what makes me want to club Simon Schama not to death so much as to a reasonable state of reconsideration of his verbal habits. But planning to come back? Good — and Monday’s a panel, so I suspect there will be less “explanation.”The important thing is that one of those two questions was mine.Very very funny buys a lot of latitude from me. Add close ties to Peter Cook and well, I have little desire for criticism. He really does do a spot-on PC impression.

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