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Podcast Transcript – Giles Paley-Phillips

Giles Paley-Phillips

Giles Paley-Phillips on the Humourology Podcast

– Even if you are having a difficult time and it’s a difficult moment, there is a way that you can release, like you said, that release, have that moment of whether it’s being kind, maybe it’s sharing a funny story, an anecdote, a joke, that there are these moments that actually allow us to break that chain of distress.

– Welcome to “The Humourology Podcast” with me, Paul Boross, and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment, who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of The Humourology Podcast is an award-winning author. And one half of the team behind The Blank Podcast. His book, “The Fearsome Beastie,” was awarded the People’s Book Prize, The Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award, Busy Baby Gold Award, and the US Foreword National Literary Award. His award winning podcast, “Blank,” asks well-known guests what they do when their mind goes blank. His work uses humour and humility to help humanity hold it all together. His most recent book, also called, “Blank,” compiles a compendium of compelling conversations that provide counsel for creating clarity and calm in the most calamitous moments. On Twitter, a medium not known for its consistent caring, he is considered the king of being kind. Giles Paley-Phillips, welcome to “The Humourology Podcast.”

– Hi Paul, It’s lovely to see you. Thanks for having me on.

– Oh, it’s absolutely my pleasure. And it’s lovely to have somebody who’s got such positivity on the podcast. You are relentlessly positive and kind on social media. Do you think it’s difficult to be both comedic and kind?

– I don’t think it’s difficult. I think, I guess a lot of the time, I guess we see comedy as a way of poking fun at things. And I mean, I think as a species, we should learn to sort of be able to take jokes ourselves, take that on and take kind of little pokes and prods at ourselves and the way we do things. And I think actually as a nation, the UK, we’re not too bad at that, we’re not too bad at seeing the fun and silliness in life. But I think it’s important to be, I mean, obviously on a medium like Twitter, for example, it’s very difficult because there’s a lot of anger around and particularly when we get into things like politics or football for example, is another thing. And those two things have kind of become a bit intertwined the way that tribalism has kind of come into football, from football rather into things like politics and everyday life. And we’ve sort of seen that, and there’s a lack of nuance now, particularly on social media. And so you’re either in one tribe or another, so that makes it a much more difficult playing field for comedy, I think sometimes. Because, obviously people take things to heart a little bit more. But I think, yeah, it’s so important for us all to be able to have a sense of humour. I think that’s got to be our first thing is to not take ourselves too seriously in life.

– Yeah, I mean, well, that’s what the whole Humourology Project is all about is actually being able to laugh at things. ‘Cause from a psychological point of view, if you can laugh at things, it diminishes the way you feel about them. You’ve had quite a well documented, quite tough times in your life. I hope you don’t mind me starting with this, when you were young, losing your mother at six years old, I mean as a six year old, can humour actually come into the healing process?

– Yeah, it certainly can. I mean, I remember even the morning my mum passed away, I remember coming downstairs and my dad telling us, telling me and my brother that she’d passed away, and in the kitchen. So in our family, my dad’s mom, my maternal grandmother was hilarious often not on purpose, but she was just very funny. Always doing things kind of haphazardly or wrong, she was quite eccentric. He was from Northumberland, Durham in particular, a little village will Crook. And I think like humour and being slightly silly and laughing a lot was a big part of the culture there. And it sort of seeped into our lives a lot. But anyway, even that day, like even that morning, when we found out these dreadful news, she was clattering away in the kitchen. I think she was breaking stuff, stuff would break on the floor, she was trying to make people breakfast, burning toast, and just this kind of like cacophony of just classic things that she would do. And that kind of, sort of thing, guys, what’s Nan doing in the kitchen? You sort of get this clang of news, that you’ve lost your parent and then there’s this clang of a saucepan falling on the floor. Just kind of broke up that awful dreadful news that we had. So yeah, and she’s been, she was a prominent part of my youth of finding things funny and us again, us slightly poking fun at her a lot of time. I mean, she had dreadful wind all the time, which as a child, is a wonderful, wonderful comical thing.

– A gift.

– Exactly, yeah. But she would find that funny as well. Funnily enough, I saw someone had tagged me in a post recently of someone who’s desperately trying to get to the loo and skirting across this room and just farting all the way across the room as they’re sort of darting towards the toilet. And it just reminded me of her totally. I showed it to my wife, I said this is what my Nan was like, just belly laughing, trying not to shit herself, basically.

– I mean, but it’s an extraordinary release because I mean, we talk about, I mean, I’ve interviewed people who’ve been in war zones, people who’ve been under real stress and trauma and the loss of a parent has to be the greatest trauma there possibly can be. And the fact that you recognise that laughter was some kind of a route out of there is amazing even at that young age.

– Yeah, yeah, and obviously, I guess those are the sorts of things. Also, those are the kinds of memories that stick with you a little bit, to a certain extent. You kind of think of those humorous moments. And sometimes you try and seek them out in your mind, like, sort of to think, I would think back to like all those difficult days, leading to my mother’s death, she had leukaemia, she was ill for a long time. I mean, again, she was always upbeat and tried to be as, yeah, I guess for us as a family, tried to be as upbeat and as positive as she could even up until she passed away. And she was ill for three years with very intense leukaemia. But always tried to put on a smile and have a brave face. And I think now, again, that sort of seeped into I guess, a lot of what I try and put out now as well, model with my social media presence is that. Even if you are having a difficult time and it’s a difficult moment, there is a way that you can release, like you said, that release, have that moment of, whether it’s through being kind, maybe it’s sharing a funny story, an anecdote, a joke, there are these moments that actually allow us to break that chain of distress that you’re going through and think about the world. And it’s very much a part of the human condition, isn’t it? To find these moments that give us that release.

– Well, absolutely. And I mean, I know that you’re very helpful to the hundreds of thousands people around the world who are going through difficult times of depression and grief and all those things. Do you think you can help not just post something happening to people, but by giving people resilience by using humour or attitude or kindness or whatever we term it as?

– Yeah, absolutely. I think even if you’re in the eye of the storm of that moment, wherever you’re going through, I think that is really important to dig into those feelings and those, I think like with regards to kindness, I think, there’s that sort of philosophical sort of question is whether is there a moment of kindness or an act of kindness that isn’t selfish in some way? Because you know what we do when we’re kind, or we’re nice or we’re positive or we say something funny, wherever it might be, being humorous as well. We’re getting something out of that as ourselves to a certain extent, but that’s a good thing, that is good, that’s great. Because I think if you’re going through a difficult time and if I’m feeling down or anxious or anything, I sort of lean into those sorts of things because they often make me feel better, they lift my mood. And I think obviously if you’re doing that for someone else, it’s lifting their mood as well. So you have this kind of, you’re both having these moments where you’re, you’re feeling lifted or empowered or inspired, whatever it might be. And I think that’s really, really vital. So I think, yeah, there is something to be said for that, definitely. So I think, yeah, it’s really important to lean into those things, those moments and try to utilise them for yourself as well as other people.

– Yeah, I think that’s really wise, it’s a symbiotic process. And also there’s a saying in psychology, that if you want anybody to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. And so you are the living embodiment of somebody who is going and staying in a positive state and taking people with you. And I think that’s a model that actually other people can copy. ‘Cause we all know those people, I was recently talking about this with Jo Brand, The Dementors, who come and suck your energy. And actually Jo came up with a wonderful term, which was a Humour Hoover.

– Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

– But you are the antithesis of that. You are actually just concentrating, and I know it must be difficult to do it all the time, on giving positive energy, giving healing energy to people. How do you do that? And how can people learn to do that more?

– Like I said, think there’s something ingrained in me. I think that’s come from, I guess a lot of it’s to do with gratitude, I feel very grateful to be here. I’ve had some very difficult moments along the way, and obviously I’ve had a lot of loss in my life, I lost my father as well in my twenties, early twenties. And so, I’ve had a lot of loss, parental loss, and just difficult moments along the way. And I just feel really grateful to still be here. I feel grateful for every day, waking up and being in this world. And yes, there’s not every day that doesn’t come without its challenges, but at the same time that level of gratitude allows me, I think, or certainly gives me the power to sort of push some of that stuff back out into the world, and like you say, model it. I mean, it’s really hard to, particularly with social media, we’ve obviously we’ve alluded to that a little bit, but you go on social media and I used to get sucked into whatever, it might be doom scrolling, or it might be just getting into a debate with someone and when you get angry about something, and there’s nothing wrong with speaking out about particular things that are going on in the world that you don’t agree with. But for me, I think sometimes, like you said about energies, you use up so much energies on those things, that actually that energy could be used in modelling a different kind of behaviour, a different way of approaching conversation, a different way of approaching people, and connecting with them on a different level. And being able to model kindness, compassion, empathy. I think are things that a lot of us have forgotten to do, and maybe it’s harder sometimes on social media. I think it’s probably easier to do that in real life. For example this morning, I went to the shop and the lady dropped her shopping and I went and helped her. That’s an instinctive thing, but I think, particularly online, that’s more difficult to do. I’ve been ridiculed in the past by people on social media for attempting to create a different environment. Because some people do want to use those platforms to vent and rage. But I think also, those platforms are there to have connection with one another, to connect, and that’s probably why they were invented to a certain degree, it is social. I think I put a post out recently, it’s social media, not anti-social media.

– Oh beautiful.

– Because it’s supposed to be for connecting with people, having conversations, learning more about ourselves and the world through that connection. And I think unfortunately, that has been eroded slightly. So if I can, in some way, my some small way, I can create a community that I’m involved with, that are doing something more positive and lighthearted and kind, then that’s become a bit of a, I suppose, it’s weirdly become a bit of a mission.

– So what makes you laugh Giles?

– What makes me laugh? Oh, loads of stuff. Oh, goodness. Probably I laugh the most when I’m with old friends, I would say, probably. I’ve got a friend called Dave who was around yesterday to watch the football with me, obviously we’re recording this after England played in the Euros, and we just laughed all the way through. We were just sort of saying stupid things, saying silly things, remembering old times. I mean, talking about people we went to school with and how certain players look like our friends from the 1990s. Just very silly conversations. And I, yeah, particularly with old school friends, I think often also those people know you the best, don’t they? So, you have these long, if you’re lucky to have friendships that have had some longevity to them, I think those are often the most funny moments when you spend time with those people.

– Yeah, when I was watching the same game with Ainsley and he was on the podcast recently, and we did exactly the same, we went to school together. And were you laughing at Harry Maguire hair as well?

– We laughed at Harry Maguire hair, yes. And what Dave and I have started doing as well is when the camera pans to the coaching staff and they’re talking to each other, we start doing voices for them. So we go, well you’ve you got to slip in down there, all right, and then no, no, not you, not you, no him, him, so we started doing like, making up voices for Gareth Southgate, giving instructions to the players that were about to come on. So yeah, very silly, but yeah, I always feel much better and uplifted after I’ve had an afternoon with Dave.

– Isn’t it, you see, I think silliness is underrated because that childish behaviour, it’s funny when Ainsley and I are together, his kids who are now grown up, go, you are like two children. And my answer is always, thank you.

– Yes, yes, absolutely. I mean, I’ve got to, yeah, funnily enough, I’ve got two boys, 14 and 12, so one is in the teenage years, the other one is. And I am super silly with them. I mean, constantly, I always sing songs when I walk my eldest, still walk him to school and I sing songs to him about, generally things about toilets or poo, even, you know. And what’s great is that he gets quite annoyed by it. And now obviously that spurs me on to do it even more, as any good father would do. So, yeah, those things are also, yeah. I think like when your kids are starting to say, oh my goodness, you’re like so annoying and irritating. And actually those things make me offload something. I giggle away when I’m coming up with stupid songs.

– It’s one of the only, I’m the father of a 20 year old, and it’s one of the only joys left you still have left.

– Yes, absolutely.

– So tell me a true, funny story about something that’s happened to you, Giles.

– Well, again, I was thinking about this and I was thinking, well, most of my funny stories do involve my friend, Dave, and it would be on my stag night. And I think we’d gone to the dogs in, in Hove, the greyhound racing to watch and have a meal. And got quite, they got quite, I don’t drink, but they got quite drunk. And Dave, we couldn’t find him anywhere. He’d gone missing. This isn’t unusual as well. He’s got a bit of reputation for doing this, and it’s kind of like, everyone’s looking for him. That whole party, there’s about 30 of us, all looking for Dave, suddenly out of nowhere, we hear this noise and like a superhero, we see Dave in a, he picked up one of those, like a shopping trolley, and he was, now I should caveat this with the car park that we were in, we’ve been waiting for him, had quite a long slant on it. And it was quite big, very big, actually, all we could see was this sort of far off image of a shopping trolley coming further and further towards us. And then we can see Dave riding on the shopping trolley, without any, like, with no control, he’s going, he must have been going about 30 miles an hour, which is pretty fast on shopping trolley, and out of nowhere, literally out of nowhere, a rose bush appeared and like, you know those Velcro walls, people used to have fun with. He hit it head first, and his body flipped up and literally he was stuck on it, upside down , on the rose bush, and all you could hear was this, ow. And he’s stuck on it. And I’ll never forget that. And all of us absolutely pissing ourselves, laughing at him. And it took us quite some times to get him down, he was stuck in that rose bush-

– Because you were laughing too hard.

– Well exactly, exactly, we left him there for quite a while. And then when we eventually did prize him out, he was quite quite sore. But yeah, that was a moment, literally, when I read that question, I thought that is the moment that pops into my head.

– Wonderful, and for those of you listening, rather than watching this and everything, your whole face lit up just at the memory. And I always say to people that the mind can’t tell the difference between something that’s real and something that’s vividly imagined. So the one thing you are in control of is your mind and going to things that really, really anchor and trigger those responses, where you go, because I don’t know how you feel about this, but I’d be very interested to find out, that actually we do have a choice of where to put our attention and our energy, and you put it towards gratitude, but you might as well put it towards a great memory of something that made you laugh, feel great, as opposed to concentrating on something, we’ve all had memories that are miserable, what do you feel?

– Yeah, no, absolutely. I think, it is within us to make a positive change in our lives. Kindness and gratitude and happiness and positivity, all the things we’ve kind of been alluding to and talking about those are within us and we have the power to think those things, to remember those things, to empower those things in ourselves and to react in a certain way as well. And it’s all within us. We have to give ourselves those moments and actually think to ourselves, do I want to be happy today? Do I want to be positive today? Do I want to put my energy into good things today? Or do I want to put them into bad? And I think, if we were given a choice, if you suddenly woke up and said, oh, do you want to be in a good mood today, or do you want to be in a bad mood today? We obviously would choose the good mood, wouldn’t we? So I think we can make that choice within ourselves. There will be tests along the way, and in any normal day, there are little tests, but it’s how you handle each of those tests and how you lead yourself through them. And I think we can always do it in a positive way. I think there’s always an option to be positive or kind, or tackle something with humour. I think there is always that within us.

– Is everyone potentially funny or are some people humourless?

– I don’t think anyone’s humourless. Well, I’d like to think that no one’s humourless. I think we all have potential, I think even the most sour of pusses would find something funny. So I think, I don’t know, I don’t really think that you can be humourless. I think there are people, I mean, you sort of spoke earlier about these sort of Humour Hoovers or Humour Sponges, I suppose, people that could soak up your humour will take it away from you in some way. But I think, yeah, I think we’ve all got the potential for humour. We’ve all got potential to do something funny, to say something funny or find something funny. So, no, I think there is, it think there is a potential for everybody to have humour of some sort.

– Do you think that potential is, ’cause you said, you caveated it with find something funny, so everybody can find something funny. Do you think everybody can potentially make other people laugh or?

– Again, I suppose in some circumstances it might be unintentional, unintentionally making someone laugh. Now, look, I’ve got some neighbours up the road, they won’t be listening to this.

– Hold on, hold on, we’re quite a big podcast, we’re quite big around your manor.

– Well apologies to them now if they are listening because I’m going to be a bit mean, no. They do seem very, funnily enough, I said the other day, I didn’t say they were humourless, I remember saying to my, they’re very dower that couple, they’re a bit older, they don’t like people parking outside their house, they’ve got big thing about people parking outside their house. They’ve even put like little wooden trunks of trees to stop people parking. So there’s this real like agenda against parking. And I thought there must be something inertly in them that is really, there’s no humanity there, they got this real, they seem very staunch, and very, when I see them, they don’t look happy, they don’t look happy. But the other day I saw the couple together, and they were having a little laugh together. And I thought, well, look, they must, he’s obviously said something funny to his wife, and she’s found it funny. And I thought, do you know what, they’re just the same as us. They just got a different view of the world, but they still find things funny. There’s still a humour within them, there’s still something nice about them. It’s just that I haven’t been able to tap into that yet, but there’s something there. So as much as I sort of think, well, they’re so miserable those two up the road, there’s something in there for them that they find funny. So I want to get to know them a bit more, ’cause I want to know if there is something funny there or not, but certainly something tickled them. And I thought, well, okay, I have to have a rethink about the couple up the road.

– Well, that sounds really interesting because I mean, I was thinking all the way through, when you were talking about that, I was thinking, I wonder if Giles is like me and finds those people a challenge, and then at the end you went, I want to see if I can actually connect with them. And I think that comes down to an attitude, an attitude of like, rather than going, those are miserable sods and they’re done. You kind of go, I mean, I keep wanting to go on and look, can I find the humanity and the humour in there? And do you feel that drive, that passion to do that?

– I do, I think, and especially, I guess in some ways, even more so, because there is a challenge there, ’cause you think, oh, they are miserable sods up the road, but yeah, so there is a more of like, I want to find out, I want to find out if they are really miserable, if they do hate all the neighbours and everyone else in the whole of the town I live in. Because I don’t think they do, and I think they just go their own way, and they’ve got their own thoughts about, they’ve obviously had some parking issues in the past. There is clearly a thing on parking. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t go home and watch “Fawlty Towers” and love it. So yes, I think it would be a challenge to find out and to get to know them a bit better and then maybe rethink my initial thought about them, which was a slightly more derogatory or slightly more kind of downbeat sort of view of how they are.

– Well, it’s very interesting because again, that comes down to attitude and this is all about how humour can change things in the world. But I was interviewing Dr. Richard Bandler who developed the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming. And he said something which stuck with me, he said it to me many, many years ago. He said, the meaning of your communication is the response you get. And so it’s incumbent on us to go, we can’t go, they are always miserable those people, surely it’s down to us to find the way in?

– Yes, yeah, absolutely. And that’s how, yeah, of course. And I think that is how we make true connections with people is finding our way in and finding where we sit with one another, what have we got in common? ‘Cause we’ve all got something in common.

– Yes.

– We’ve all got something. So as much as you might have lots of things that you don’t agree on with another person, there will be a common ground somewhere, and it’s finding that and approaching it, like you say, in the right way.

– Yeah, and taking the responsibility, that it’s my fault if they haven’t connected with me, rather than… What would the world be like without humour?

– Goodness, what would the world be like without humour? I mean, I think it’s funny, isn’t it? Because obviously the last 18 months, we’ve been in a very difficult, challenging time in the world with the pandemic. And I guess we’ve kind of leaned on humour and comedy and watching TV and creative fields a lot, not just humour and comedy, but there’s not been a lot of comedy out. We haven’t been able to go and see live comedy for example. And I think that’s been, and obviously it’s been a terrifying time as well. So it does feel like in a certain respect, we’ve lost humour to a certain degree, although we’ve been able to watch it on telly and all that kind of stuff. But I think because we’ve had this intensity of feeling and we’ve been fearful and scared that, perhaps, we’ve lost some of that in the last year. We’ve kind of experienced it to a certain extent, maybe, that’s my feeling anyway. And that’s been incredibly difficult, I think, for us to deal with as a society.

– In the war or in different wars, people got a spirit. Do you think that’s what’s lacking at the moment is that that spirit or does it go through ebbs and flows whereby the spirit, ’cause I remember at the start of lockdowns in the UK, everybody was sharing memes and stuff and then it sort of tailed off and everybody just got a bit tired of it and it was…

– Yeah, I think it probably has ebbed and flowed a little bit for sure. And I think, yeah, there have been moments and obviously, I work with a comedian on the podcast I do, “Blank,” and Jim, I know has slightly changed the way he does things, obviously, there’s been a lot more online shows and all that kind of stuff. But just for the sake of the question was, it was just that feeling that, maybe, we have lived in a world without humour for a little bit because everyone’s been so challenged and scared and upset and fearful about what the future holds. So it feels like, maybe some of that sort of stuff has sort of has ebbed away a little bit. I’d agree that we have probably gone in cycles and there’s been better times and I think we’re coming out of that a little bit now. And we feel the sun’s out, that makes a difference. We live in a country, in the UK, which has a lot of rain. So again, I think there’s something to be said for that, with regards to what our moods. But in answer to your question, a world without humour, I think would be a very desperate and desolate place. It’d probably like “Mad Max” where people would be just going around on big vehicles, slaying each other with studded clothing on. I think it would be like this sort of weird apocalypse, a world without humour, that’s how I kind of see it. Or would everything turn grey? I mean, I’m just thinking in my head now we’d all look like the Spitting Image of John Major, the colour would sort of drip away from our faces and we’d all end up eating peas every night. I don’t know. I think it would be a very desperately sad situation if we had no humour in the world.

– It’s a dystopian/Orwellian kind of image that you’ve created.

– Yeah, yeah. That’s what first springs to mind when I think of a world without humour, for sure. Yeah, I think “1984” was probably a good, definitely a good way of looking at it, I think. That kind of idea of short speak and not being able to, going to the factory every day and yeah, making language shorter and yeah, I dunno. Yeah, I think Orwellian is probably where we’re at if we have no humour,

– Do you find yourself funny?

– Not generally, but now and again, I’ll say whoa, I think that was quite funny what I just said. I mean, I find myself funny when I’m annoying my children, but I think that’s just relishing, how far I can take it with regards to yeah, how upset I can make them move regards to my little songs and stuff and just generally kind of annoying them a bit. So I guess in those moments, I do end up laughing at myself a little bit.

– For your children, are you like Joe Pasquale? I know a song that’ll get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nerves.

– Yeah, a little bit, a little bit. It’s my youngest that gets the brunt more really, ’cause when when I walk him to school, I’m always kind of, and he’s like, can you stop? He’s just like, can you stop? And I’m like, well, let’s do one more, let’s do one more about toilet. It’s quite toilet based my humour. So yeah, I think, yeah, I don’t know. There are moments when do giggle at myself. And I’m happy for it to be poked fun out for sure. I’m not precious.

– Oh, so I mean, we touched on it earlier, but the ability to laugh at yourself and be laughed at is important as well, isn’t it? Is that for mental health, is that, do you think that that’s crucial for good mental health, that we are able to laugh at ourselves and also have fun poked at us by people around us?

– Yeah, I think, I mean, obviously they’re always lines that you have to be careful not to cross with some people. And I know, we can all be sensitive about certain things can’t we about ourselves, for sure. But at the same time, yes, if given the right environment, given the right people you’re with, if you know that person well, I think that makes it easier. Now, I realise that sometimes you might be at a comedy gig for example, and somebody might get picked out and picked on. And then you’ve got to know again, that it’s not necessarily personal to you, but it’s part of an act, it’s part of a performance. And again, I’ve heard various stories from people saying that they’ve done that at comedy shows. I mean, the acts have, and that’s gone wrong, and people do take it to heart and can be offended by what’s said and that’s happened. But I think you need to, again, you need to sort of check in with yourself and think, well, okay, I’m being used as a tool in this situation and that’s not necessarily like a personal dig at me as me.

– If I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you include in it Giles?

– Oh, this is a tricky question, a business case. Any particular sector we’re looking at?

– Well, no, just, what our purpose here Giles is. Well, we’ve got to go to HR and the CEO and get some money out of them to make humour relevant to their workplace. How do we sell it to them? What’s going to be better?

– I think there’s been, I’m not sure, I don’t speak from from a place of knowledge on this particularly, but I’m sure I’ve read cases where humour and certainly kindness and compassion, used in the workplace, will help your workforce to work harder. I’m sure there probably have been trials, runs of this kind of thing, but certainly you can see in like companies and there are other companies, there are other cobblers available, but Timpson’s, for example, their CEO is very compassionate towards his staff and very kind to the public as well. If you’re unemployed.

– James Timpson, we’ll give him a shout-out.

– We will, yeah, brilliant CEO, who does lots for his staff, does lots for the community. And if you’re unemployed, you can go and get your shoes done before you go for an interview, amazing things. And what a wonderful thing, what a wonderful environment to work in, it must be to have that. And obviously lots of other businesses are following suit in that way and using compassion and kindness as part of their remit. So I think, really, look after your workers and they will look after you. So I think people will work hard if they know that they’ve got the backing of the hierarchy of the business, of the corporation, wherever it might be, in allowing them to have, I dunno, more rest, more play, and to have a fun working environment. People will want to come to work for that, surely.

– I think 100%, and I’d actually give another shout-out to Timpson’s cause I did seven series for Sky for a show called “School Of Hard Knocks,” where me, Will Greenwood, and Scott Quinnell took a group every year from different, very tough backgrounds, turned them into a rugby team in order to teach them the skills they needed to get jobs. And at the job fair we had every year, Timpson’s turned up every single year, not for glory, but just to give something back. And I think the kindness that they showed was repaid because a lot of people have been, had substance abuse, and prison records, all those things and they showed warmth, they showed love, actually. Here’s a word we haven’t used yet. It’s called “The Humourology Podcast,” but this is about, connection, it’s about love, it’s about kindness and attitude to these things. I think they’re all interconnected.

– Absolutely they are, absolutely. And another word, loyalty. You can have such a loyal workforce if you trust them to have fun at work, but they will work hard for you. I think it’s a vital path, and so that would be my sales, my sales case, my business case rather, to the hierarchy of this business that we’ve made up, what we selling, what we selling, Paul?

– We’re selling ROI, return on investment. They’re going to work harder, they’re going to stay with you longer, loyalty, and they’re going to go the extra mile for you.

– Exactly, exactly, yeah, no, I think it’s vital.

– So have you ever gotten yourself out of trouble by using humour?

– I don’t think I have, I don’t think I’m, I’m not quick off the mark enough to think of a retort or a quip to get myself out of trouble. I don’t get in trouble a lot, I have to say.

– That implies that you do get in trouble.

– That does, you’re right, I never get in trouble. I don’t know if humour more would be my go-to if I was in trouble, I’m not sure humour would be my go-to emotion or way out. I think I would probably go for full on apology and hand on heart guilt, and that would be my, begging even, but yeah, humour, that wouldn’t necessarily be my go-to, but humour is a good way of getting out of trouble for sure.

– But you see, I think good humour, if we take it as a thing is what you do, I mean, in the round, and what you’re talking about is empathy and using that level, is what I think, is all part of the process. I don’t think it is just about making gags, to be honest with you. I think it’s about lightening the mood, it’s about showing your kindness, showing that you are connected, truly connected to these people. Apologies, which you just talked about.

– Yeah, yeah, certainly. I think, sorry, Paul. I was going to say I think I’d certainly reflect on my behaviour. That would be the first thing I would probably do, reflect on my own behaviour and why I got into trouble and how it affected other people. And then let’s see if there’s a way of us working it out, so that we can feel better about it.

– I wanted to tell our listeners about your book, “152 Days,” is just one of the most, I was going to say, emotional rides I’ve ever been on. And it’s written in this really interesting style, which is half prose, half poem, I don’t really know, which must have been extraordinary to write, but it really sort of catches a nerve and it really does. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about process? And I noticed that there was little moments of humour in there that sort of sparked it off. A wonderful thing is, well, I know it’s slightly semi-autobiographical, but when the boy in the story goes to school and they laugh at the teacher and it seems to break the spell for a moment. So could you just tell us a bit more about the story, because I think it’s a wonderful book.

– Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say, I really appreciate it. Yeah, the book was a long time in gestation, really. It’s a free verse novel, so that style is called free verse. So it is poetic, it’s like prose poetry and it’s something, I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, I really wanted to write this story in that style, because it would allow me to convey the emotions more than getting bogged down in prose. So, I can describe a scene with very few lines and that was really important to keep the momentum going and to really sort of, yeah, really dig into the emotions of it. The story is semi-autobiographical, obviously we talked a bit earlier about losing my mum. So the child in the book is older than I was when I lost my mum, so he’s a teenager, but certainly a lot of the emotions and the scenarios of being a teenager, are real that are in the book. So yeah, I shared a one bedroom flat with my dad and my Nan. Obviously the Nan character is very much like the Nan I spoke about earlier, that’s her, Sarah Race her name was, and yeah, a terrible cook, just the epitome of everything you don’t think of a gran being or a Nan, she was the opposite. So, yeah. And obviously it’s about a child who’s dealing with a mother going through a terminal illness, he’s unable to see her because he’s suffering from pneumonia. So again, ironically, it came out at the beginning of March in 2020, just as we were going into first lockdown. So there’s a lot of themes there about isolation and being isolated from a loved one while they’re ill and not being able to see them. And actually it was a sort of a weird serendipity that the book came out around that time, because actually a lot of people were able to relate to it because they were going through similar scenarios because of COVID. So it was one of those weird things, but yeah, I wasn’t able to see my, I had pneumonia when I was quite young, and I wasn’t able to see my mum, visit my mum, when she was having treatment. So that that’s a big focus of the book. And yeah, and he he falls in love with a physiotherapist who’s helping him. And she sort of of shows him that there’s hope and life and love is still within his life, and going forwards, even though, you’re losing a loved one, those things, those feelings can carry on. And the humour was, yeah, it was important, and obviously the book’s very dark and there are very poignant scenes in it. But it was important to have little moments, even if it was very light humour, just little bits to just break that up a little bit, and obviously the grandmother character’s there’s big moments of her eccentricities are humorous and yeah like bits in the school and stuff. So it was really important for me to have a few bits in there just to, because otherwise it’s just relentless kind of sadness and poignant, and you kind of need to break it up sometimes with bits and and that’s the wonderful thing that we’ve talked about today, is that humour does that. When we’re going through difficult times, at different moments, humour is there to break it up, and give us a different set of feelings to have that aren’t just sadness or depression. We can have a different set of feelings.

– Yeah, it’s very poignant as well. And I think, and the book really sort of shows that in parallel, there are still funny things happening, there are still lightness moments. And I think it’s very good for everybody to read to understand that we’re all going to go through grief at some stage and I think that’s what it does, but actually you have to find the funny, even in those times. And I think the book is marvellous for that, and really, really is worth people finding out because we’re all going to go through those feelings at some stage. Well, it’s an absolute pleasure because it is a wonderful book. We’ve come to the moment in the show, Giles, which I know you can’t wait for, which is called quickfire questions.

– Okay. ♪ Quick Fire Questions. ♪

– Who’s the funniest business person or person in business who you’ve met?

– Oh goodness, who’s the funniest person in business I’ve met? Well, I used to work for WHSmith, and the area manager, who used to come around, Talking about my neighbours, this guy was the most miserable person, but he was so miserable, so uptight, so stressed all the time, that it was funny. So again, going back to that kind of, unintentional funniness, I’d never known someone so uptight in my life. And yeah, again, it was the sort of thing I never quite got in there with him to know if there was a way in to just ease some of the tension for him. But yeah, I mean, it was always batten down the hatches if the area manager was coming down, because it was funny.

– Isn’t that funny. I had this image in my head because I know exactly the kind of person you mean. When I was a young, I worked with a good friend of mine who’s sadly passed on now called Tim Graham. And we worked at the Post Office, the Paddington GPO, as it was then. And we had a boss who was the most miserable person we’d ever seen, but made us cry with laughter, and we called him Fucking Hell

– That’s perfect for this guy as well, actually.

– That’s all he ever said, “Oh fucking hell, “you took the fucking piss last year, “don’t take the fucking piss this year.” And it honestly used to make us cry with laughter, years and years later, we would still do an impression of him. So I understand that that’s a whole new concept for The Humourology Project, whereby somebody who’s that miserable, they are the funniest person you’ve ever worked with.

– He was almost like Captain Mainwaring, this sort of like very stoic as well, but hilarious. So I can’t remember his name, unfortunately, but I hope he’s happier now.

– Me too. What book makes you laugh?

– So my favourite funny book is Peter Cook’s book, “So I Was An Only Twin,” which is, it’s basically lots of scripts from Peter and Dud times and all the way to when he did those radio call-ins with Clive Anderson. He did some interviews with Clive Anderson.

– Yeah, though, he did interviews, but he did the radio stuff with Clive Bull who we had on the podcast.

– Oh, well there you go, you see, yeah. So that was, the book is just, one, it’s great ’cause it’s scripts you can just pick it up and read through, but some of the dialogue is just unbelievable. I mean, it’s just some of the funniest things I’ve ever read and obviously I’ve gone back and I’ve got an old, I know they lost, the BBC lost a lot of the footage from the early shows, ’cause because they taped over them, madness. but what’s left, I’ve obviously gone back and watched again. And I mean, the Pete and Dud stuff is just so wonderful.

– Oh, I completely agree. What film makes you laugh, Giles?

– Well, there’s loads of films actually. I mean, going back, I mean, I think one of the first comedy films I probably watched was “Life of Brian.” So always been a big Monty Python fan and that film still is just still, it’s still as fresh as it was then, brilliant, brilliant film. But funnily enough, a film that I’m very, it’s not the funniest film in the world, but my son finds it absolutely hilarious, is “Happy Gilmore,” which is the Adam Sandler movie, which is about golf. And what’s lovely is that he’s old enough to watch it now. And he’s always quoting it, all the bits with the mentor who’s had his hands eaten by a crocodile. Played by Carl Weathers beautifully. Yeah, he’s always quoting those scenes. So that’s been one recently that we’ve grown to love together. That’s always nice when you can, what I’ve I’ve loved is my youngest is really into film. So it’s been nice to be able to watch, and start to introduce him to some of the films that I’ve always found funny.

– So now we’re going to take a shift to the other side, which is what’s not funny?

– What’s not funny? Well, obviously anything that is truly offensive to minority groups, I wouldn’t find funny. It’s tricky nowadays, because I think, and I know Ricky Gervais has talked about this quite a lot extensively about that everything should be funny, everything’s open to humour, but I guess there are certain things that you shouldn’t make light of, and that’s always a fine line. And I find it’s incredibly difficult, I think for comedians to, or comedy writers to find a balance sometimes in what they’re putting out there. We’re in a rapidly changing world as well. So it’s finding that-

– Yeah, isn’t there also something, we were talking about this with Jo Brand, it’s something about, which is, is it done with the right attitude? Is it done from your standpoint, is it cruel or is it ultimately kind and just observational and isn’t it something to do with that? Should everything be allowed to be humorous, but I mean, the point that Ricky Gervais makes, of course, which is a very valid one, is that everything is funny until it’s about you, about something that you, people with beards, hold on, you’ve gone too far now.

– Yeah, and I guess we’ve got to be, you know, also, I think it’s important talking about minority comedy, that those people are allowed to talk about their experiences. And, if you’re talking about standup comedy, for example, giving the opportunities to those people to come out and do their comedy about their experiences and that they can talk about those things. And that’s probably where there needs to be a key change in giving opportunities to those comedians more so that we can have a better array of comedy out there and that we can hear from other people, but it’d be them doing the comedy as opposed to other people.

– Yeah, no, I think that’s a very valid point. What word makes you laugh?

– I mean, poo.

– I could see it coming to be honest. You played it in your head, I was reading your eye accessing cues like here comes poo.

– I know because it’s such a silly word. And going back to my songs that I compose for my son, very organically, when we walk down the road, poo rhymes have so many different things you see, it’s a very easy word to use in songs. So, yeah, that’s why I love it so much. And it just never fails to make me laugh. I mean, I say it to my children, if they’re in a bad mood, I say to them, if I say, I’m going to make you laugh, okay, and all I’m going to do is say poo, and after about the third poo or the fourth poo, they’re creasing up and they’ve forgotten all about what’s troubling them. So I think, for most people, actually, if you just went up to them and said, poo, I think they’d probably.

– I think you’re right, we’re all fairly basic. What made me laugh, what made me laugh by the way, is I love the way you described it as songs I compose. I love the grandeur of composing a song about poo.

– Well, I was trying to think of a better word, but compose seemed apt.

– I just had this mental image of you.

– Conducting a full orchestra of people.

– Wearing a tail coat and drawing out the dots. And I think it’ll go to poo at the end. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?

– Oh, funny, definitely. Yeah, definitely funny, I think.

– Maybe I should add in the word, kind, clever, kind or funny? You have to choose between those.

– Oh goodness, now that’s harder. Yeah, I guess kind would be the one, I think, yeah, if I had to choose between those two, I’ve never been bothered about being clever, I didn’t do the necessarily very well at school, I wasn’t academic. I know what I know, and that’s enough probably. And I learned along the way, the rest of the stuff that I probably need to know. So yeah. I’ve never thought, being clever has never been a big priority to me, but yeah, being kind and funny would definitely be a priority over being clever.

– Well, by the way, I think that is clever if you can live your life being kind and funny, I think you’re automatically clever at that one. And finally, Giles, Desert Island Gags. You can only take one gag with you to a desert island. What is it?

– Okay, this is the only joke I can ever remember. I’m not brilliant at really remembering jokes. But it’s what do you call an exploding monkey? A baboom! Which doesn’t quite work because I think orangutans are, no, baboons are apes, aren’t they? So it doesn’t, yeah.

– I don’t think people would get you on the technicality to be honest with you.

– My kids have brought me up on that.

– And it nearly rhymes with poo as well.

– I know, which is brilliant. A poo joke in there, but yeah, that’s the only joke I can ever remember, so yeah, but monkey is a better word than ape.

– Yeah, no, no, it is, it’s funnier ’cause it’s got a K in it.

– Yeah, exactly.

– Giles Paley-Phillip, thank you so much for your honesty, your humility and your humour, you’ve been a fantastic guest. Thank you.

– Thank you so much, Paul, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

– [Paul] “The Humourology Podcast” was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks, music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky Production.

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Ainsley Harriott | Just Add Laughter

Ainsley knows that the best businesses make their people feel like family. He suggests creating an atmosphere where people can be happy. Ainsley says that a sense of humour and humanity can make a person happy, and happy humans work harder.