Mark Bedford on the Humourology Podcast
– If we can laugh at our flaws then it makes us, in front of other people, it makes us more approachable, maybe warmer, you know, to laugh at yourself and to laugh at the things that you’ve done wrong or that you’ve messed up or whatever. Yeah, because everyone has been in that situation. You’re just reaffirming how everyone feels on occasion.
– 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 subscribe, like, and leave a comment wherever you get your podcasts. Our guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast is a much admired musician, composer and graphic artist who may have had more hits than he’s had hot dinners. He’s a founder member of the legendary and much loved band, Madness, who after 40 years at the top are still energising and exciting stadium-sized audiences around the world with their extravagant and exhilarating mix of music that spans ska to pop. With over 30 hit records in the UK alone, the band’s videos showcase their anarchic love of comedy and entertainment which cemented them in the psyche of music lovers worldwide. As a brilliant and groundbreaking bass player, he adds the big bottom to myriads of music that make your memories. Mark Bedford, welcome to the Humourology Podcast.
– Hi Paul, thank you. Thanks for inviting me.
– So, what is it about funny people that the audience loves so much?
– They like, I mean, funny people, I mean ’cause laughter serves a social function basically I think, it’s, you know, they say that laughter is more about relationships than humour. So, you’re immediately, when you’re cracking a gag or you’re laughing, you’re actually inviting people to come with you along the way. And I think Alain de Botton said that it turns people from being an idiot into a lovable idiot and a slightly more complex person. So, yeah, anyone who can make people laugh or share their humour are always invited in. I think it’s, I mean it also has a very basic function because it kind of signals corporation as well laughter between people and if you get that cooperation of people on your side, invariably you form a better relationship and maybe in context of business, you can get things done maybe a bit more.
– I love Alain de Botton and I thought using that quote was amazing right at the start. With your band, Madness, did you intrinsically understand that humour was going to be a differentiating factor in making you stand out essentially?
– Yeah, I think so. And I think we used it firstly because we came from an era where there were fantastic comics, always on television, always monolithic that everyone gathered round the television to watch Tommy Cooper, Morecambe & Wise, one of my favourites, Dave Allen, who I loved. He was a sort of darker humour. And we come from not only loving music, but the band comes from also having a really good knowledge actually and loving comedy. So, it was no surprise that we could actually, you know, sort of funnel this into what we were doing.
– You mentioned Dave Allen there who’s also a favourite of mine and for younger listeners, he was an Irish comic who actually was mainstream, but also alternative before there was a word for alternative. Who else makes you laugh?
– I like the dark humour of Dave Allen, for example. Humour that is what you call gallows humour or black humour, you can call it as well, which is very prevalent within bands because there’s always a joke in bands that if something’s going wrong, bands normally say, well, at least the Titanic had a good band on it. So, when something’s going wrong that’s the kind of humour that normally comes out. I’m a big fan of quite absurd or what I suppose they call surrealist humour. I mean, I suppose Monty Python is the classic example of that and also probably more contemporary, Reeves and Mortimer, you know, Vic and Bob are absolutely fantastic. Their humour’s brilliant. It’s very, very playful which I really, really like. And then possibly a third category, you’d call play on words. I love when people mangle the language and play on words. If you think of the two Ronnies, you know, have you any ham and eggs, I think, you know, things like that where you’re playing with language. They’re the kind of areas that really, really make me laugh.
– You talked about the band having or bands and musicians, which is where I come from as well having gallows humour and that’s very sort of doctors tend to have that. There’s certain professions that have it. Is it, can you sort of recall any kind of funny stories where the gallows humour has come into play with the band?
– Well, bands, yeah. Bands are invariably thrown together and if you’re a concern as a band, you invariably go out and play gigs and you invariably spend a lot of time with one another. So, you develop a team humour almost to get you out. With musicians, normally difficult situations or situations which aren’t going well or you’ve, for example, you’ve travelled sort of like 500 miles on a shipping container sort of ferry overnight only to get to the gig and find that there’s no PA there, you know, I mean it does happen. But then you use that kind of dark humour to really pull yourself together and try and get through the situation. And I’ll give you a bit of a story. We had done a TV show in Europe. We’d done it with a very, at the time, very, very famous pop star in the UK who I can name or I won’t know, but he did wear a pirate gear. Let’s put it that way. And we had a great time on the TV show in Germany. We came back on the same flight. We sat next to one another. We chatted to him, you know, really great. Your career’s going well, fantastic. So, we get to Heathrow. We get out of customs passport control. Stiff Records have sent us a clapped out Ford transit van with a sliding door on the side. The thing is belching smoke, so we pile in all seven of us tour manager luggage sitting on top of one another. It’s such a bad van. It barely makes it past the perimeter of the airport. And as we’re just pulling out at the airport, the side door falls off and we leave it behind in the distance. So, in the classic comedy way, we pull up the van or get out and start running to go and pick up the sliding door from the hard shoulder. As we’re doing this we’re all standing there holding the sliding door and there goes the 1980s, very famous pop star in a stretch Bentley as he goes by. The look he gives us is absolutely priceless, and we just of course start like raising two fingers and everything like that, and just start laughing. And, you know, it’s situations like that where you’re in adversity, but you see the absurdity of it at the same time and you all laugh about it and you’ll all get over it instead of getting angry guy, why is he in a huge limo and look at us in this really crappy van. That’s what you do and, you know, it’s actually interesting that with musicians, their van is their office actually. If you have a business, if you go in parallel with business, their van is the office ’cause so much goes on in bands, you know, doing all sorts of stuff so.
– So, do you think that in adversity humour actually comes out and levels things off?
– Yeah, I think so because I think laughter particularly it’s, you know, I think philosophers would say, laughter is a mechanism that just keeps you from despair a lot of the time, you know, so that you, you know, most of the time you think everything’s going wrong in the world, but actually laughing just stops you sort of teetering over the edge a lot of the time.
– Why does every musician in the world quote “Spinal Tap” and is obsessed with “Spinal Tap”? Now you and I are both that way. Is it because it actually highlights all those things that musicians understand and know?
– Yeah, it’s an incredibly, it’s funny, but it’s incredibly accurate. A lot of the situations that the “Spinal Tap” get themselves into, and I was very lucky to see the first, the preview showing in Notting Hill when it first came out with a lot of other musicians, and I could tell you, it was split down the middle. 50% thought it was real and 50% sort of yeah, thought it was kind of comedy, you know, because if, they’d all been in those situations and it’s regularly quoted, musicians always quote “Spinal Tap” wherever they are in any situation. It’s a fantastic film. It really is. And as I say, humour is truth, you know, it was humorous truth but only faster I think someone said.
– Well, actually there’s one quote, which is, humorous is tragedy plus time. And that, and I suppose everybody because there’s a huge, anybody out there who’s listening who hasn’t watched “Spinal Tap”, please it is the greatest film ever made if you’re a musician. But it also hits on so many truths and that’s why I’m interested to talk to about is the truth behind it. Do things become funnier when there is an essence of truth?
– Always I think always because I think we relate to it even more, you know, that if something’s gone wrong or if, you know, you’re in a group of people and you’re working and if something goes wrong and you can always reminisce about it a lot, and if you can reminisce and laugh about it, then you’re in a better place I think, you know. So that truth, you know, the truthfulness of situation coming through with humour, I think is always so much better, you know, and actually puts people in a much better place. And I always say, I think it’s always an antidote to anger. A lot of the time, if you get wound up or really angry about something, if you can laugh about it finally, then you’re probably in a better place I would say.
– Well, that’s interesting because the whole humourology ethos and podcast is around how it can change for the better all kinds of business situations and somebody who’s played at Buckingham palace, who’s played in the biggest stadiums in the world and the biggest festivals, you’ve been under real pressure. Do you think that, you just said that humour burst that bubble of pressure. Can you talk a bit more about that.
– When you get up on stage in front of a lot of people I think it’s the biggest conjuring trick going because I don’t know what people think when they’re watching you, but we’re not any different, we’re just actually controlling it a lot better I think. I think when, as you know from performing, a lot of it is about the position you put yourself in to say that you can actually go and do it and maybe the difference is that some people never make that leap who want to perform, but can never quite get them in the right place to actually go and do it, you know. And it’s also a learned thing. It’s something that you learn. The more you do, you probably get better at it.
– So, that goes for every aspect of the music business, the entertainment business, but probably ’cause you’ve worked in the other business in graphics and things, do you think that’s true across the board or is it specific in music?
– If you can relax and maybe laugh about certain things, it puts people in, you know, it kind of relaxes the people who you’re asking, you know, and I think that’s, yeah, it’s a good skill to have. I think maybe we’ll get onto this. I mean, there’s a line that you have to walk I think, you know, because you don’t want to be, because sometimes laughter you can laugh at someone which is never really fantastic. So, I mean there’s a distinction there, but yeah, I think it’s the same and I think people who do different jobs or whatever, if they are going to have to talk to a large group of people and maybe some people they don’t know, then as we always say breaking the ice is probably quite a good thing because there will be a shared experience that you can tap into which puts people at ease I think.
– That’s very interesting actually that whole thing about the shared experience ’cause when I’m working with people and I’m advising, you know, CEOs or whatever, I say it’s much more important to listen because all good connection and humour from connection comes out of listening. And it’s the understanding that really it’s hard to do a gag. You can’t go into a meeting or go, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to do this gag when I walk in the room. It never really works, does it? You have to feel what’s going on.
– Yeah, absolutely. You have to feel your way in, and I think one interesting thing that you’re touching on there about laughter and about humour, if it’s a real, it really does balance up power, and I think if you’re in a position of power, I think it’s a very good skill to have is to listen and allow people who, you know, that maybe that either work for you or, yeah, or you’re kind of maybe more say a senior position, but it’s to listen and let them laugh and let them make jokes ’cause it really does balance things up and people again feel that there’s a kinship more between one another. I think it’s quite an important point there.
– I like the word kinship. I think that’s really the thing because I think that’s what humour does, is it drags people together and go, oh, from a psychological aspect, we like people like us and automatically if you share a sense of humour, you are automatically in the tribe, aren’t you?
– Yeah, yeah, yeah, and as I said, it signals a cooperation, you know, it signals that you’re in agreement, you know, which is very, very important. Yeah, amongst groups of people, I think that’s what we do. And as I say, it’s almost a survival tactic I think in a way, you know. If you’re kind of brought into that group and you’re joined together by humour, it starts to create a fantastic bond I think, you know?
– It’s interesting, I mean, you don’t have to name any names, but have you seen of course, I’d love you to, but have you seen, because one of the things that our listeners may not know is that the tension in bands and, you know, the euphemism of musical differences, have you seen the thing whereby that people don’t get on, which they often don’t in bands, based on actually having different senses of humour and that splits the band up? Have you ever seen that happen?
– Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, I won’t name people directly, but again, there are a few quite famous people who have sold a lot of records that it doesn’t equate to their humour really. Let’s put it that way. I mean, probably being quite polite putting it that way. But you’re absolutely right. Yeah, tension, yeah, you could say it might the difference in personality as opposed to humour. But humour is such a huge part of personality and there are bands you just, yeah, you can just tell that there’s a tension there and they can’t release that valve and releasing the valve is normally by laughing or humour, and yeah, it’s yeah, it must be quite a miserable place for people sometimes I think.
– Well, you and I were having a conversation a little while ago about a very, in the 80s, a very, very famous American singer who was extraordinarily talented and beautiful and great. And all of us spent a lot of time in green rooms waiting for something to happen, and I was in there with bands, big stellar bands, and we were all backstage, and this guy just didn’t have a sense of humour about himself and all that did was create the atmosphere where, and we can say it’s a podcast where every other band was taking the pace and it suddenly drove a wedge between him and us.
– We all bonded more, the more. Now that’s more the cruel side of humour in some aspects. But you started to touch on that, you know, how humour can be used because it can be and musicians can be sharp tongued.
– Yeah, particularly if there’s a drink involved.
– Hold on, what you’re saying is some musicians drink, do they?
– I’ve heard, I mean, I don’t myself, but I’ve heard. In all my years of doing this, I’ve actually heard that people do like a drink occasionally, yeah.
– Well, that’s an exclusive for the show.
– Let’s stop now ’cause we’re ahead I can tell you.
– Do you think that everyone is funny or do some people completely lack that funny bone?
– Yeah, I think people do. I think people have their own feeling about what humour is and about what humour should be. Although I was told quite a sobering thing by friend of mine is Danish and her grandmother reached a 100 years old who came out with very deep piece of philosophy and said, I’ve never laughed very much because when I was born there was nothing very much to laugh about. So, that was quite, I mean, that was great. I thought, okay, well, that’s maybe why then some people don’t laugh.
– Well, but you say that, you know, the second World War, my father, God rest his soul was 17 and thrown into the second World War and he said that the thing that kept him going was what you started with, was the gallows humour about their situation. They were stationed outside Dresden, had spent three months going in and out and that was horrific to just one night, well, to 36 hours just to see it levelled. And he always said, you know, well you have to laugh or else you’d cry because it’s so deep.
– I mean, they do say if you can find a laugh in the most, yeah, in the darkest of situations, then, you know, that really is something and that really does show a hell of a lot of strength. But it’s true. Some people’s experience obviously is, yeah, kind of either cattails their humour or makes them think that they can’t really laugh about things as much, you know.
– Well, no. Well, I think the important thing for me there is they think about themselves. I mean, when you think of some of, I mean, some of the comics I’ve known over the years, I’ve had very dark pasts, but they’ve used it. I mean, it’s on record that Billy Connolly suffered sexual abuse by his father when he was young. But he still found life funny and still managed to make the world laugh. So, how much of humour is attitude rather than aptitude?
– Oh, I think it is attitude, yeah, quite a lot. I think sometimes you, you know, there obviously intellectual comedians. There comedians who’ve used their intellect to make you laugh, but there are people who are just plain funny, you know, who are just funny people. Maybe don’t know why or don’t know how, but they’re just funny. I think that’s, yeah, there’s a definite distinction there, you know, but it just shows you what a very big, broad church humour is, you know, because it just, it fits everyone in any different way. I saw if it’s not too obscure, I saw some Russian ballet once and I was, you know, there was the prima ballerina and there was the male lead and they were fantastic and they were brilliant dancers, but my eyes kept going to a really old guy who was playing the part of an old king or something, and he, my eyes were being drawn to him because I thought, God he’s in nearly everything this bloke. He’s about 70 years old but he’s actually nearly part of every scene. And then I realised his job was to move the action along. So, he would almost be gesturing like, you know, like he was kind of dancing, but it was his gestures, like literally making your eyes kind of go and follow the action, you know, it’s quite interesting that he used it in the arts that way, you know, that you’ve got this guy, my job is, I can’t leap up in the air anymore and I can’t kind of like lift women above my head and spin them round but I can actually say to you, this is where we’re going, and actually it actually links quite nicely to music because there are people in bands whose job it is and funnily enough, particularly bass players. Our job is to hold up the big pointy finger to say, this is where we’re going now within a song, you know, because we bridged the melody and the rhythm and our job as bass players is to hold up, you know, the road signs that say, okay, we’re going to the chorus now, and then, okay, now we’re going to take it down a little bit, and now we’re going to go back to the chorus again. And that’s your sort of fundamental job as a bass player. So, you are the finger pointing, this is the way to go. Humour equivalent of .
– That’s really interesting, the sign poster essentially. But I’m really interested in the whole thing about you see humourology isn’t just about, you know, here’s how to, you know, tell a gag at a party for your boss, here’s how to tell a gag on somthing. It’s more about the psychology of humour and what you touched on there what’s really interesting is find your place and you will be loved to finding your place and your place in the humour hierarchy doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be the gagster.
– You and that analogy with the band, you know, you have a job in the band and I suppose it’s like football, you know, your job is to go and get the ball and pass it to Paul Pogba.
– But that’s, you know, I remember the Alf Ramsey story in the World Cup when Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton were trying to play a bit, you know, and to pass, you know, 40 yards and he took them both aside and literally said, ” Stop, your job is to win the ball back “and give it to Bobby Charlton.”
– That’s it.
– And that was ’cause, and Jimmy Greaves, that’s why Jimmy Greaves possibly one of the best players of his generation never made the World Cup team, did he? Because he didn’t have that, they couldn’t find a role for him because it might, you know, imbalance the rest of the team, you know. I mean music is so like that as well is as you know it’s a phrase that’s always kind of used. Yeah, you know, good bands have great players and great bands have good players that know their jobs, you know, and that’s a real truism in music, you know, everyone knows their place in what they’re doing. And I think hopefully that can transfer to the workplace as well, that everyone feels that they can actually fit in with the task they’re doing. And I think it’s maybe, it’s a great skill if you need to talk to a group of people and make them all feel like they do have a place and they know exactly what they’re doing, you know, and again, that really bonds people together I think.
– So, that’s the leadership role is like, is to make everybody aware that they’re really important to this seamless running, and you may be the guy who’s considered the life and soul of the party, but actually if John didn’t start or Mary didn’t start the laughing or didn’t create the atmosphere or thing, it wouldn’t go anywhere. I just think that the band analogy is really good for business as well. I mean, you’ve been together for over 40 years now. I know you started when you were seven, so you know. Yeah, that’s right. But that, 40 years, I mean, to get on with the same people for that length of time, and I mean, people struggle to go work with people in their office for a year.
– What’s the secret? It can involve humour, it can involve anything else. What’s the secret to getting on with people that lightness of touch for that length of time?
– I think it’s to have empathy to actually realise when you should talk to someone, when you should just leave them on their own and leave them be for a little bit, you know, picking the right time to bring up a difficult situation that you might want to talk about. And also on the other side is injecting humour into a situation so that it lightens the mood and also makes them laugh and makes them, you would hope feel that that’s why they’re doing this as well, you know. We’re all doing this because we have moments like this, you know, and it reaffirms the group, but it’s a real, I think it’s a skill. I don’t think anyone’s blessed with it. I think it’s something you learn and hopefully you learn, you know, you learn over a long period of time, you know?
– Oh, that’s interesting because I’ve had many conversations with people like Paul Merton and everything, and I tend to think that it may be the one skill that you can’t learn to be funny. You just mentioned being empathetic.
– You can learn.
– Was that instinctive with the band and in your life that the comedy was instinctive? I can’t see that any of you, I’ve known you a long time, any of you actually learnt any of that. You just got better at it, didn’t you?
– Yeah, and I think it helps with us in particular that we all came, we were all roughly the same age, so we all roughly came from the same place and we all, our influences are very, very close. So, in anything art, music, comedy, we all come from roughly the same place and maybe that gives you a shortcut maybe.
– So, bigger question, what would the world be without humour?
– I don’t know. I think we’d be the shell, become a bit of a shell really as people because it makes up such a, to laugh and to, you know, to have fun and be funny and to see funny people is such a huge part of what keeps people going.
– I couldn’t agree more, but one of the things that humourology is about, is not just about business, it’s making your life better. And I think if you can laugh more, your life is better. And I mean, I’m just astounded that Madness have been together 40 years. Now I’m sure it’s not without any kind of cross words, but there must have been a level of understanding born of humour that made it transcend to a different place.
– What’s kept us going is we have a fantastic sense of compromise. I mean, we somehow, however bad it gets, you know, and we do have our arguments, but we do manage to compromise somehow. And I, again, I think you learn that as well, but also I think that may be something, I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know if we’re similar in that respect that we maybe almost fundamentally to keep ourselves going, we need to do that. So, as much as you try and dig your heels in some, you know, that you have to give a little bit. I think it’s like in any relationship or in any group of people, you know, that you’re going to have that and it’s how you get over those stumbling blocks that keeps you going really. And as I said, hopefully you get better at it.
– Well, if you put your attention on it which is one of the things why I really wanted to interview you for this series is that I think that all successful people have the kind of attitude of humour on some level is important. I mean, I don’t think you run into very many successful people who stay successful over a long period of time who don’t have a level of self-deprecation or putting it in perspective which is what humour does.
– Yeah, because if we can laugh at our flaws, then it makes us, in front of other people, it makes us more approachable, maybe warmer, you know, to laugh at yourself and to laugh at the things that you’ve done wrong or that you’ve messed up or whatever. Yeah, it just, because everyone has been in that situation. You’re just reaffirming how everyone feels on occasion I think.
– I want to share with our listeners that we used to play football together. Why did I say play? But actually one of the tenants of our football team was that you only got invited back a second time if you were in inverted commas, a good bloke. You could have been the best, I mean, you could’ve had Maradona’s skills, but if we didn’t find you warm, humorous, funny, whatever, you would never going to be invited back.
– Why do you think that was so important to us?
– What is interesting about that is that if you take just playing park football, that’s a kind of performance because you are putting yourself out there to go and kick a ball around and, you know, and it’s shown in performance that if you’re more relaxed and you’ve had a laugh in the dressing room beforehand, and then you go out and play and you probably play with just a more relaxed attitude, so you probably do better things. And also if you know, of course, that you’re not going to be beaten with a stick at half time by the rest of the team, because you’ve missed an open goal. It does happen, I mean.
– Why are you looking at me?
– It does happen at our level. A lot of things in life are a performance in many ways. You might not be stepping on a stage, but a lot of things you do, you are kind of performing in front of people in a way. So, if you can come to that in a relaxed fashion and have a good laugh about messing up as well, then it engenders you to people straight away I think, and actually relaxes everyone else.
– I think this is like a really important point for businesses because they tend to sort of like, you know, not see the analogy there of like you’re going to get the best out of people. If you’ve shouted at somebody and go, ” Come on, just get better.” That person is going to freeze, and as a musician and as an artist, you will understand that we all need to be in what is known as flow state for, you know, sports people, musicians to give out our best, which is what I think you’ve very articulately said just then. But in business, I think there’s sometimes is too much. This is a really big pitch. It’s really important that nobody screws up and suddenly everybody’s hearing, don’t screw up.
– Yes and there’s a very large sort of like stick over their head. Yeah, exactly.
– And I think, you know, in any business if you are putting too much emphasis on the end goal, we must win this business, I think it puts so much pressure. And maybe the release of the pressure valve is the humour and going, look, we can all screw this up and then, but I’ll tell you what, we’re going to laugh about it whatever happens.
– Do you think that’s too simplistic?
– No, I don’t. I think it’s absolutely true and I’ll tell you, yeah, give you a music sort of story where I was about to go on stage with a guitarist who was filling in for someone, and we were standing at the side of the stage and I could tell he was wobbling, you know, he was just getting too nervous. He was getting almost so nervous that I was thinking he’s fingers aren’t going to move, you know, because he’s really feeling this. And I sort of said to him, you know, look, are you nervous? You must get it out. There’s no use in just sort of saying, ” No, no, I’m fine.” He said, ” Yeah, I am. ” I’m really, really nervous.” And I said to him, you know, which I think is maybe correlates to business, you know, I said, look, we’ve done the work, we’ve done the rehearsing, we’ve done the hard work, now’s the time to enjoy ourselves and we’ll go on and we’ll play. Don’t worry about making mistake. Don’t worry about it at all. We all make mistakes, you know, I’ve been playing these song for years, but I’ll make a mistake somewhere, laugh it off and just keep going and just enjoy yourself. And I think that’s the fantastic thing in business. You talk about doing a pitch. I think a lot of the time with people is I think it’s to enjoy the buildup to it is actually the thing and actually get the satisfaction. So, when you actually go and deliver a pitch, you feel like that you’ve done a lot of the hard work and that’s what you should actually be congratulated upon, and I think that kind of relaxes you to actually then go out and do that pitch because you’re starting from a position of going, well, I’ve done the hard work. It’s been fun. Look at what we’ve achieved here and now we’re just going to show people, you know, what we’ve done. So, it immediately tips the emphasis sort of like off of you to feel really nervous, you know.
– Well, and I think that’s what good leadership, which you’ve just shown that with the guy you could see who was terrified of going on, and really what people are terrified of is terrified of making mistakes, terrified of being shown up, terrified of, you know, this might be the end of my career because they make leaps, but isn’t it a job of, and I say leader, I don’t mean that’s the CEO because we’re all leaders in certain ways, to bring them along and make them feel comfortable.
– Yes, that’s absolutely right. And I think whatever you do and wherever you are and whatever you’re trying to do, none of us are immune to it. I have to give myself a good talking to on quite a few occasions. If it’s a thing that, you know, that you’re going into and you might not be a 100% sure about, but you have to talk to yourself and tell yourself exactly that, that you’ve done this for a long time and you can probably get out of the situation, you know, you can get out in a comfortable and, you know, a kind of a good way in the situation. And I think that’s, it’s how you weight these things I think. It’s how you weight these things. Don’t weight things against yourself. Try and weight them, you know, in your favour and ’cause we’re not, yeah, we’re not superhuman. No one’s super human. We all have the same foibles and the kind of strange anxieties so.
– Hold on, did you not see me play football? That sort of, that was.
– Well, that was, yeah, that was ironclad I think they called it, and I think you were, ’cause you certainly ran like it!
– I just remembered that just for our listeners, that we always chose our goalkeepers who all had glasses by the way. I’m not being rude when I say this and I hope they don’t, they weren’t the best goalkeepers in the world, but we chose them because they were nice blokes, and we once had a really, really superb goalkeeper who nobody liked and we never invited him back.
– I didn’t wear glasses either which was.
– Do you find yourself funny?
– I don’t know if I find myself funny, I just like joking about things. I like making gags. I like, I just yeah, I don’t know if I make people laugh. That’s great but I like, you know, I just like to try and be funny. I don’t know. Let’s just say, try and be funny.
– [Paul] Well, good luck with that.
– Yeah, thank you.
– Tell me when it happens.
– I’ll give you a big wink when I’m going to make a gag. Yeah, now, it’s a very difficult question. Maybe you’re funny to some people, maybe you’re just a bit of an idiot to others. I don’t know.
– Well, and you said it earlier on, but I’d just like to sort of reemphasize. Do you think it’s important to laugh at yourself? I mean, not take yourself too seriously.
– No, absolutely yeah. You have to laugh at yourself. We’re just imperfect people. We’re completely imperfect. You speak for yourself mate Well, exactly, I thought I’d get that. You know, we go through life and we’re not perfect in any way, shape or form I think.
– But do we want people to be perfect because there’s an imperfection more enticing for everybody else. If everybody thinks, if you’re saying I’m perfect, now I want you to get up to my standards, I think it creates a barrier, doesn’t it?
– Yeah, I think so but I think unfortunately it’s a societal thing sometimes because I think we’re in an age or we’re in a, you know, a period of time particularly with social media I think where we, a lot of people feel the need to be perfect, you know, you just have to look at someone take a selfie and/or 25 selfies to get the right one, you know, because there is that need online to live a life, you know, online, you know, which kind of gives off this kind of perfect atmosphere, you know, doing everything, doing great things all the time. Looking great all the time.
– Yeah, I think it’s dangerous and it’s that whole thing about, you know, everything about my life is retouched until your thing, which I don’t think breeds warmth. Really I’ve seen CEOs who want to be the model of perfection.
– Do you think that drives a wedge between people when that happens, that people set themselves up to be? Surely that’s a setup for somebody to knock you off your pedestal, is it?
– I think it’s to what degree, I mean, if you take music, there are people who want to be technically perfect and, you know, you have to look at any, a concert pianist or a concert violinist or they spend their lives wanting to be perfect, you know. But I think it’s, but that’s a perfection in a technique and that’s a perfection in doing something within your life. Not that’s, maybe not, I think there’s a distinction of that and being, trying to be perfect or reaching perfection as a person, you know. You might say in business that if you’re a manager or you’re, whatever you’re doing in business, that you want to be perfect all the time. But I think there’s a distinction between being perfect, a technique it’s something that you’re doing and actually trying to be perfect yourself ’cause I think it’s a losing battle. You’re never going to be perfect yourself. So, I’d give that one up quite quickly and, you know, and actually show your flaws because I think it’s a lot more endearing and I think people will warm to you more. But being a musician, I completely understand the idea of being technically perfect and some people strive for that perfection.
– Well, but then you are automatically going to be disappointed because the, I mean, I get striving for it, but do you beat yourself up if you don’t actually reach that level of perfection every time?
– Well, I think then we get into the distinction, don’t we, of you as, and your technique as a musician and you as a person. I mean, if you can make the distinction between the two, then I think they can live, you know what I mean. I think, if you can shut that part off of your life, where you’re going, I want to be technically perfect, but I know I’m not a perfect person. If you can make the distinction between the two. I think it’s something that you can live with, you know.
– Do you think people laugh enough in the workplace, whether that’s as musicians or when you’re, I know you’re a top graphic designer as well, do you think there’s enough of it or is it prized enough?
– I think that’s a very good way of putting it actually, It should be prized, and it should be priced at the, and knowing when it’s prized is a real skill I think in the workplace. You know, as I said there’s moments when yeah, you should quiet, there are moments when you should be serious and there are moments where you should be funny and if you can achieve that balance, then I think it’s pretty perfect I think.
– Mark, if I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you include in it?
– The case more would be is to work on, I would take it a slightly different way. I would actually take it more about how people get along as people. I would maybe as a business case, I would actually put, if you ask me to put money aside, I would probably put money aside to let people talk about how they feel I would say. That would be my thing, I think.
– Okay, as it’s your specialist subject, I’d like to talk with the business case relative to creativity.
– You know, what elements of humour is there that we need to be more creative?
– It’s just setting up an atmosphere that puts you in that position, that allows things, you know, allows the creativity to flow, you know, if you can set a really nice atmosphere, you’ll find that you’ll be more creative. I mean, you know, it’s the old thing. If you’re, there are two ways creatively that you can work is that you can set something up, have a lot of time, really consider it, but then sometimes it doesn’t work. On the other hand, sometimes you need a deadline to really focus you and, you know, to get over that line. You need that pressure. But hopefully within that pressure, as we’ve been talking about, you’ve created an atmosphere that allows you to feel the pressure, but not let it overwhelm you, and I think any, you know, if you’re in a business and you want to put money aside for something like that, I think it’s to foster those kind of atmospheres within a business, that’s where I would put the money I think.
– And I would add into this, you know, some companies are saying the first thing we’re going to lose is any business entertainment or you’re not going to invite them for a Christmas party or do that. And I would always say, I think your return on investment is huge for those kinds of things.
– Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s that thing of going to the Christmas party and having a few drinks and dancing and wearing silly hats and, you know, and again, it’s showing your flaws maybe in a way as well, you know, and just show, and just relaxing with the people you spend a hell of a lot of time with throughout the year. I think you do get a return. You get a massive return. In Denmark, on Friday afternoons, a lot of businesses let their workers go early and what it’s taken is that you go early and you’re going to pick your kids up from school basically. And instead of saying, it’s Friday afternoon, you’ve got to stay for another hour and another hour and a 1/2, which may be invariably you’re just watching the clock tick down, when you’re not really being productive anyway ’cause you’re going, oh, it’s the weekend, I’m knackered. I just need to go, you know, go to a bar and have a drink, or I need just to go home and have some dinner. They say, leave it’s fine. Leave an hour early, but go and pick up, you know, go and do something, go pick up your kids, you know, go and see them. Go and get some nice food. Go get them shopping and it’s that attitude, which I think is very interesting, you know, is that you’re not ruling by the clock or whatever. You’re saying to people, you work very hard and really sometimes you need to make a division from hard work and actually your family, or how you see it as a person or what you like doing, you know, and there’s no guilt or shame in that. That’s exactly what you should be doing because when you come back to work on Monday and in fact, funny enough, start work earlier. They do in the UK. normally. You’ll be fresh and you’ll be ready to sort of work again and you make the workplace a very nice place to be so.
– Because you’ve changed the atmosphere to a lightness because you’ve done that. So that’s really the return on investment, isn’t it really? You’re getting people who are in a good humour.
– And therefore, probably being more creative, probably being more productive because you’re treating them in the right way.
– Yeah, and I think there’s, I couldn’t tell you a precise study, but I’m sure there has been studies that say that their productivity doesn’t go down by doing that, you know. In fact, in some cases it gets better ’cause they feel a lot fresher.
– It’s funny ’cause as you know, I used to be signed to Virgin Records and I had a lot to do, and, you know, I know that people are split on, you know, whether they like Richard Branson or don’t like Richard Branson, all those kinds of things. But what I thought he did especially well in the early days, and I think you remember those early days is he made everything fun. You were probably invited to some of those parties. I mean, I was whisked away for four days in Miami with members of Queen and, you know, and who you work with and people like that. And it was just, and you could say it was, as we call it in London, a jolly. But what it did is it engendered such good feelings that it kind of made everybody want Virgin Atlantic to succeed. And I think that’s, now with accountants running everything and then go, well, how can we discern that there will be a return on investment from that.
– Yeah, and I think obviously you know that big companies spend fortunes in advertising agencies, trying to make people like them, you know, trying to actually divert, you know, divert away from the fact that they wanted you to buy stuff and that’s how they make their profits, you know? Yeah, people do. I mean, he’s, yeah, I think he’s, Richard Branson, I mean, I know he’s coming from a hell of a lot of bad press recently for various reasons, but at the time it was quite refreshing, wasn’t it? He was this guy, he was having a great time. So, it was a very simple thing. He was having a great time with his company. So why don’t you come along and have a great time as well.
– It changes the atmosphere, good humour changes the atmosphere and people want to be involved in it. You know, your band Madness, I think are in the changing atmosphere game, as much as they are in the music game. They are, you know, you are offering essentially a feel good pill and you go, we’ll feel good. We’ll, you know, have fun on stage and and it will be so much so that you will go there. I mean, you’ve have had sometimes the same fans coming back for 40 years. Any business that has, you know, such loyal customers, you know, could do worse than look at the success of a really long running band like yours. What are they doing? That creates that level of loyalty.
– It’s quite remarkable how we’ve taken people with us and brought people along with us, and I don’t know if that is just, with the years passing, it reminds people of being younger and doing what they were doing at the time. That’s probably part of it as well, but also I hope and what we are seeing, of course, it’s they’re bringing their children now to enjoy it, so again, that’s fantastic, you know, because it’s something they can do together and hopefully enjoy it. I mean, maybe we can divert a little bit because it’s interesting… Madness has got down the years very sophisticated at using humour which may be humourous on the surface, but sometimes humour is used to deliver quite a dark message and we do that a lot by musically being quite up and quite fun, but lyrically being quite dark and marrying the two together. And that’s, I mean, that’s quite an interesting use of humour I think, you know, that you think on the surface things are great and fun, but there is a sort of darkness underneath, which is probably black, as I said gallows humour a lot of the time.
– Well, but also can be used and I know, you know, political with a small P points, you know, that could be, and that’s what artists do to an extent. But, you know, and it works on many levels, but I mean, that’s amazing to be able to use… I actually think humour is one of the most effective tools of pricking the bubble of hypocrisy as well.
– Yes, yeah.
– You know, I mean, what’s happening with, you know, Trump in America is I think probably the most thing that cuts him to the quick most of all is that he is a figure of fun to a lot of people and he takes himself very, very seriously. And I think the best, I think that only recently have people worked out that that’s his Achilles’ heel.
– Yes, ’cause he has no sense of humour. Not at all, none. If you were thinking about somebody who’s devoid of any sense of humour. I mean, he doesn’t really crack jokes. He can’t crack a joke. He just makes some terrible, terrible sort of statement and actually it’s laughing at people.
– Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not self-deprecating, is it?
– No, no. No, no, no.
– And whether people love Obama or they don’t love Obama, he really got it.
– On the look, I can take a joke and the world tends to laugh with those people who can take a joke.
– I mean, it’s something we haven’t talked about as much, but it comes to mind with Trump and a certain prime minister is that you can start off with this bumbling funny, you know, sort of character, oh, you know, he’s really, really, and actually it’s quite dangerous because if you’re taken in by it, if you’re taken in by these sort of like bumbling funny, but in fact, you know, under the surface they’re actually quite mean and quite vicious, you know. That’s, been a very interesting act to observe actually in this country. But you actually realise it is an act and because the British I think, ’cause it’s actually, we could probably get into talking about the British sense of humour and actually Brits, you know, quite like that kind of thing. You just have to think that someone like Eddie the Eagle, you know, who was the plucky sort of ski. What do they call those people?
– Oh, he’s a plucky loser essentially. We love a plucky loser.
– massive glasses and like really thick glasses, really shortsighted and he was mad enough to ski down a massive slope and jump off the end of it, you know.
– And he’s a folk hero in this country and he is, you know, he’s had a film made of his life, and we do like a plucky loser, but what he is doing is showing himself up and going, look, I am that and I was slightly delusional and I was that, but at least I did it.
– And no, I think it’s a really, really good point. We’ve been talking about all the positives, but have you ever had used humour that crossed the line?
– Yeah, I think as we talked about, you can be sometimes be quite sort of, you know, caustic and quite sort of, as you say, sharped tongue and sometimes you feel bad about it afterwards, you know, if you really are using humour to belittle someone and there are a lot of sharp tongued people in the music business that will go on another and even, you know, you use humour, you use that really kind of quite caustic humour in bands to make a point, you know, with the thing of belittling someone, you know, and you feel, invariably I think you feel bad about it after, but you know.
– I think that’s one of the things that people don’t always understand about humour, that it has to go near to the line and sometimes it will cross. And I mean, I’ve done it myself. I’ve used humour and then gone, that was too much.
– [Mark] Right.
– And, you know, I suppose with, I was going to say with age comes wisdom, but it hasn’t really, but you become a little bit more aware of when to push it, and now I think the only thing I’m better at is not saying it. It could get a cheap laugh, but, you know, I now stamp on it a little bit more.
– Would you say that there’s a merit system within comedy? Are comedians, are they more admired for not having to use that kind of humour or actually are the comedians going when someone’s really laying into someone in the audience? Are they going, oh, I wish I had the balls to do that, or I wish I could do that.
– I think it’s all circumstantial. I mean, in the early days when we were all playing the Comedy Store, it was about survival.
– And so, there was a comradarie of like, you know, no, you use anything to survive, and that’s what, you know, that’s why humour and comedy is the ultimate binary code. Either people laugh or they don’t laugh. You know where you are and if you get it wrong and they don’t laugh, that’s why all comedians call it dying, because it’s the closest thing you could have, you know, whereas, and maybe this is, you know, not so true, but I always found a band you could play music and having it do comedy and music. You could get away with it a little bit more because, you know, they just wouldn’t clap very hard, you know, or, you know, you know that they haven’t loved it.
– But there’s something, but a comedian, you do the set up, you do the gag. It falls on, it’s arse, then there’s just silence. And that’s, you know, that’s really, really probably the harshest critic is silence.
– Right, yeah.
– Have you ever gotten yourself out of trouble by using your humour?
– I did when I was a kid, quite a lot. I quite famously, me and some friends went to a party and we got confronted by a gang of skinheads, and by sheer humour alone, we managed to not get beaten up. So, that was quite an important lesson to learn. So, it’s that I think maybe in my earlier days humour was used to get out of the old sticky situation, I must admit.
– In business, is it survival of the fittest or survival of the funniest?
– It’s got to be a bit of both, isn’t it really? If you can marry the two together, then I think you’re winning maybe.
– We’re going to come to quickfire questions and by the way, here’s your opportunity to do the, to compose that jingle.
– Oh, that jingle you’ve always wanted for this year.
– Quickfire questions. I keep saying it, quick fire questions just in the hope that one day it will have a jingle. Quickfire questions, so we’ll get away into it. Who’s the funniest person you’ve ever met?
– Naturally, absurdly funny, it’s probably I would say.
– Right. What book makes you laugh?
– There’s a fantastic book called “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. That’s a great book.
– What film makes you laugh?
– I remember as a kid, I loved “Laurel and Hardy” and there’s that film, I had to look this up and it’s, I called it Fish fish, who’ll buy my fish. But actually it’s called “Toad in The Hole.” It’s where they are selling fish from their car and then they buy a boat and Stan Laurel gets his head stuck behind the mast and Hardy has the paintbrush stuck to his chin. Anyway, I mean that, as a kid, it absolutely made me laugh out loud. And then I suppose in later life, you mentioned “Spinal Tap” for any musician is just such a funny film, very close to the mark but very funny. And I kind of like gentle comedy in films. I like things like “Being There”, the Peter Sellers film.
– Yeah, what word makes you laugh?
– Oh, I tell you what I do. It does make me laugh. I laugh at myself ’cause I use the word irony miles too much. And the irony is I can just hear myself saying it and it makes me, should I say, stop saying it. You’re just saying it too much. So, that’d be something, you know, top of my head I think I’d probably is a weird that I have.
– What’s not funny?
– I think what we talked about. I think humour that belittles and yeah, and particularly race, you know, obviously the obvious things that have anything to do with race and I think religion as well because I think religion should be, even though religion is quite bizarre and actually should be poked on sometimes, I don’t think people should be made to feel small by the kind of religion that they have or follow.
– Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– Oh, Jesus Christ! Yeah, I suppose clever in a funny way.
– All right, we’ve come to the last part of the show where we, which I’ve called and stolen desert island gags. If you could only take one joke to a desert island, what joke would that be?
– It would be, two cannibals are sitting over a dead comedian and one says to the other, does this taste funny to you?
– It’s not a huge belly laughing joke, but it works on so many different levels and it’s like really, really, I just really love that joke.
– It’s a brilliant gag and a brilliant way to end absolutely brilliant interview. Mark Bedford, thank you very much, indeed.
– Thank you Paul.
– [Narrator] The Humorology Podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Barks. 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.