u3a - Comedy and Humour

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I have run a successful comedy group for approximately six years now, having started with access limited to audiotapes and CDs, moving on to projecting DVDs on to a wall screen, and now having available for projection all that the internet has to offer.

One question which has proved somewhat contentious is this: should Comedy and Humour, as a subject, be listed under Wellbeing, or as one of the Arts? Both have their plus points, for studies have shown that the act of laughing is good for us, releasing serotonin, whilst people who laugh a lot tend to be sought after and liked by others (unless, of course, they have a really irritating laugh - e.g. Jimmy Carr). However, my personal feeling has long been that those with an interest in learning
more about comedy are far less likely to look under the heading of ‘Wellbeing’. In addition, the skill-set required for comedy readily transfers itself to other areas of what could broadly be termed ‘the Arts’ - writing, presenting etc. You will note too that 'Comedy and Humour' is not listed under ‘Pastimes’, suggesting the absence of a ‘performance’ element - and that is certainly true of my particular group, though there may be budding performers out there.

I have loved comedy for so long as I can remember; it started with The Beano, and then progressed to Mad magazine (the American edition only - authenticity counts!). Both of these contained the irreverence that I love - as did, for example, Not only…but also, and Round the Horne. At one point I owned a large number of paperback collections by various Mad humorists - I rather wish I still had them! When I started work in London the possibility of being in the audience for TV and radio recordings opened up, at first in a small way, increasing when London’s Time Out started to carry ads for recordings (I left London in 1994, but imagine that tickets are now made available through social media and websites such as Chortle and British Comedy Guide). I was fleetingly visible in the audience for the brilliant Channel 4 sketch show Who Dares Wins…, and also for the panel show The Brain Drain, hosted by Jimmy Mulville. Now I attend gigs in and around Nottingham, visit the Leicester and Nottingham Comedy Festivals, and attend some excellent Edinburgh Festival preview shows, arranged for Sunday afternoons in Derby in July.

How can I be of help to you?

Well, whilst I do not pretend to be a competent critic or analyst of comedy I do have extensive knowledge of the subject, acquired from books (script collections, biographies etc) and recordings of all kinds. I am also familiar with such ‘tricks of the trade’ as ‘call-backs’ and ‘reveals’. I may be able to lead you to material that you are not familiar with and to give advice on how to set up and run your group (so far as this last is concerned, there is no single right way to do this, it will depend on the tastes, wishes and interests of the group). Individual groups will all have their own approach; I know of ones where the main feature is a discussion of the work of various comedians, another where the activity consists of agreeing upon a local gig to visit, and then making the arrangements to meet there. It is up to
the individual group leader, together with the other members, to decide on which approach to use. I have over the years had a variety of people attending my sessions as ‘regulars’, so am quite used to being flexible in my approach - which extended into the Covid lockdown, necessitating a change in format. 

I was recently approached, as Subject Adviser, by a u3a member who had seen my listing on the Subject Advisers’ page of TAM; he was fascinated by the thought of a Comedy and Humour group and puzzled as to how it could work. We exchanged e-mails, and I directed him to my [original] Entry on this site. It turned out that he had been a member of an amateur sketch troupe, and had appeared at the Leicester Comedy Festival! He is now thinking of setting up an interest group in his local u3a. One of his comments to me had been: what a wonderful idea! 

I shall conclude by simply saying this: had there not been a Subject Adviser I would probably not have started up my own group.

Geoff Futcher
Comedy and Humour Subject Adviser

Futcher