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COMEDY - IT'S AN EDUCATION!

18/08/2016 16:55

At the end of last term both my sons, aged 16 and 18, won the General Knowledge prize for their year groups at school. "That'll be all the Radio 4 they're forced to listen to," I quipped, smugly. "They were whistling the theme tune to The Archers before they could talk!" (Yes, I hate me, too).

When it comes to our kids' education, it's been a combined effort from their school, Radio 4 Comedy and Homer Simpson.

Thanks to Homer and his circle, my kids learnt a little about a lot. When we took them to see Hamlet they already knew the plot. Similarly, Great Expectations held no surprises and they practically rolled their eyes when we slapped Spinal Tap into the DVD player.

We are not a Disney family. Talking animals have always disturbed me, the girls have inconceivable body shapes and the merchandise is way too expensive. Much better to introduce your small children to Fawlty Towers, Porridge, Dad's Army and the like (though we found It Ain't Half Hot, Mum didn't stand the test of time) and let them absorb the gags.

At a very young age, our boys were able to reference most of the great British comedies of the 70s, had made a good start on Seinfeld and knew the rules to 'Just a Minute.'

When Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show started on Radio 4, a new world opened up to them. They were totally captivated by this wonderfully eccentric, very British creation and laughed at all the right things: Arthur's hubris, his word play and the imagery of Wilf the Butcher's as a venue for his self promotion. We all loved the Count. So much so that we went to see the live show on a number of occasions and attended recordings of the radio shows.

That was the boys' introduction to live comedy and once we'd started, we couldn't stop. They were still quite young when we took them to see Lee Mack in a festival tent one summer.
"What about the language?" my mother asked worriedly.
"I'm pretty sure he'll be doing his set in English," I replied. "It's not Eddie Izzard."
I asked my then eleven year old son what the rules about 'language' were in our house.
"You don't swear at a person because that's aggressive," he said, "but it's ok to jazz up a sentence."

Couldn't agree more. It has always struck me as absurd that we might worry about the language our children hear more than we worry about what they are watching. While my kids are watching Stewart Lee deconstruct the world around them with a bit of swearing and some iconoclasm, other young people are glued to GTA, absorbing a narrative about violence and misogyny or Call of Duty, where the offering is a terrifying model of neo-imperialism and brutish masculinity.

Now the boys are older, they've heard a lot of 'language' and seen a lot of what the Daily Mail would term 'foul mouthed' comedians (the only worse kinds of comedians on the Daily Mail scale are women and Muslims, obvs), and damn them if they haven't come out of it as well informed, articulate and compassionate human beings.

They've learnt about everything that matters through comedy, from the meaning of TTIP to the workings of the NHS; the implications of austerity to the potentially disastrous consequences of sharing a bathroom with someone you love.

We've given up the traditional summer beach holiday for an annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe (almost as expensive as a fortnight in St Kitt's) and the shared experience of comedy is more precious than ever as they become independent adults with absolutely no reason to want to spend any time in our company at all. We have arrived at the point of equal exchange. Last year, the boys' recommendation for us was the exceptional James Acaster (we offered Tony Law) and this year, they introduced us to Jonathan Pie while we presented them with Kiri Pritchard-McLean.

A level results day this week, GCSE next. I guess we'd better hope that the study Kiri mentioned in her clever set proving the relationship of humour to intelligence, creativity and intentional and incidental learning, is right.

Otherwise, they're fucked.

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