Radio show tickles funny bones

“NEVER try to tell a joke in a restaurant,” advises Graeme Garden, “the waiter will come just before the punchline; I think they’re trained to do it.”

The former Goodie and I are chatting about this Sunday’s visit of the multi-award winning antidote to panel games, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, to the Ipswich Regent.

For fans of the BBC radio show, the ease with which this odd diversion came about won’t be out of the ordinary.

“I’m looking forward to one quite fun round, it’s a sketch really where we play waiters in a restaurant who keep interrupting at the most inopportune moments like waiters do.

“There’s another where we’re adlibbing a letter one word at a time from, say, Prince Albert to Queen Victoria then the other team do Queen Victoria’s letter in reply – but just doing alternate words between the two people so nobody quite knows where the letter’s going,” he laughs.

Graeme dreamed the idea up in the early Seventies. Following sell-out not for broadcast theatre tours in 2007, 2008 and last year it returns with a brand new Best Of; boasting the most successful rounds in the show’s 38-year history – including Mornington Crescent and One Song to the Tune of Another.

Once again it will be hosted by Jack Dee.

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“He’s made the seat his own now; he’s suitably grumpy about it all and dismissive. To be honest we thought nobody would agree to do it full-time immediately after Humphrey Lyttelton [who played the role of reluctant chairman since 1972 and died in 2008].

“We thought we’d let people have a go at it and see who bedded in most comfortably. Jack seemed very happy, we liked what he was doing and the others,” he laughs, “were sort of more busy at the time. He brings an extra dimension to the show which is really good after 38 years or whatever it is.

“Me and Barry Cryer are on one side and on the other is Tim Brooke-Taylor and on the tour it’s Jeremy Hardy who, as anyone who’s heard him sing will know what a treat is in store for him.”

I’ve caught Graeme Garden on a rare day off between tour dates and live recordings. Like the rest of us he’s a bit pre-occupied with the weather.

“We’re in the middle of the tour. It’s going very well, we’ve had sold-out audiences and seem to have pleased them quite happily,” he laughs. “The only drawback is the travelling at this time of the year.”

He says the current tour is a good introduction to the show if you’ve never heard it.

You can only imagine what the BBC thought during that initial pitch.

‘Okay everyone, here’s the idea. A panel of comedians sit at a desk behind some microphones and we record them while they’re given very silly games – thinking up silly Welsh film titles and what not – to play by the host. Thoughts?’

Graeme’s being doing it since the start and even he struggles to explain the show to newcomers.

“They [the audience] will be mystified, delighted and thoroughly entertained,” Graeme promises. “That’s all I can say, they will either not know what’s going on or enjoy what’s going on hugely – one or the other.”

The thinking behind the tours was to share the fun had by the panel and the audience at the radio shows with those unable to make the live recordings.

“It looks like pretty much what a radio recording looks like, although we do actually get out and walk about a bit, do a couple of sketches, come out and sing at microphones at the front of the stage just to show that we can. Essentially it is the radio show.”

It’s surreal nature obviously keeps the show fresh and their producer insists six new rounds are invented per series.

“We don’t do them all, but everybody has to come in with their ideas otherwise you know they’re on the naughty step,” he laughs. “And the games we’re given to do are just as silly as ever.”

With two Goodies facing off against each other, is there extra competition.

“Jack was saying the other day, after a recording, it’s not like a lot of panel games and shows where the comics are really competing – you know, Mock the Week where they’re all trying to score points off each other. It’s a supportive show.

“When somebody new comes on and they’ve not done the show before they’re always quite surprised by how non-competitive it is in real life. Of course, on the stage you make it look as if you’re competing. On the whole we share our jokes and things quite happily. We just want to make a good, funny show and please the audience.”

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue will be at the Ipswich Regent from 7.30pm on Sunday.

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