Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Continuing my countdown of the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am covering the songs from numbers 10 to 6. These are

  • 10 – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  • 9 – Ballad Of A Thin Man
  • 8 – Hurricane
  • 7 – Visions Of Johanna
  • 6 – Like A Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

10. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1973)

This song has become very well known through cover versions, in particular the versions by Bob Marley and Guns ‘n’ Roses. As with most cover versions of Dylan songs, I have to say that I prefer the original (but I also know that I’m biased!). There is a simplicity and starkness to Dylan’s original, which is lost in the two more famous cover versions.  After saying that, I do think both cover versions are great, and the Guns ‘n’ Roses version is one of the few songs done by them that I like.

From the soundtrack of a violent Sam Peckinpah western, in which Dylan once again demonstrated that acting is not one of his many talents, comes this elegiac classic. It rides on a simple, repetitive chord progression and has a ridiculously swift fade out but conveys such a spirit of bittersweet farewell to life it has become one of rock’s most universal anthems.

9. Ballad Of A Thin Man (1965)

This song is believed to be a cutting criticism of an out-of-touch newspaper reporter, and was written during a period when Dylan was showing a different side to his song writing. A side in which he was laying bare his frustrations with the people who didn’t understand him, or the societal changes which he was spearheading. When he sang this song in concert during his infamous world tour of 1965-66, the anger in his voice was clear to all who listened (rather than those who were booing him for “going electric”).

It is comical to consider that Sixties Dylan is so associated with the peace and love ethos of the hippies. Over an ungainly, almost lumpen piano motif, Ballad Of A Thin Man heaps surreal scorn on some self-regarding representative of the straight world baffled by the inscrutable counter-culture. Dylan’s vocal drips contempt. “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?” He sounds like the original punk.

8. Hurricane (1976)

Is there a songwriter who can weave a story as masterfully as Dylan? The story in this song, however, is shockingly true. It tells of the incorrect conviction and imprisonment of Ruben Carter, a boxer who was also known as the Hurricane. The song is the opening track on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire, which is one of my favourite Dylan albums. A movie was later made of Carter’s life, with this as the opening song.

“Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night…” Hurricane marked a thrilling late flourish from Dylan the protest singer, moved to write by the flagrant framing of champion black boxer Ruben Carter (finally exonerated in 1985). The dramatic temperature of this forensically bitter narrative (composed with Jaques Levy) is matched by wild violin flourishes from beautiful novice Scarlet Rivera, who Dylan picked up walking in the street on the way to the recording session.

7. Visions of Johanna (1966)

This song is simply mesmerising. The opening lines “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks / When you’re trying to be so quiet” are masterful. Although I like the studio version which appears on Blonde on Blonde a lot; when I heard the acoustic version that he did in concert in May 1966 in Manchester (the famous “Royal Albert Hall” concert, with the Judas heckle), I was simply blown away by the haunting power of that live version. Bear in mind that, when he performed this in May 1966, the audience didn’t know the song at all as Blonde on Blonde had not yet been released.

“Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial.” Dylan at his most expressive and elusive, slipping in and out of the cracks of his own lyrics as he holds contrasting romantic muses in the balance. “I do know what my songs are about,” he insisted to an interviewer from Playboy magazine. “Some are about four minutes, some are about five minutes, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve.

6. Like A Rolling Stone (1965)

In Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Dylan’s greatest songs, as well as their list of the greatest songs of all time, “Like A Rolling Stone” is at number 1. The Telegraph puts it at number 6, so you will have to wait and see which songs they put above it. When released in 1965, this song was the longest song ever released as a single. It was also Dylan’s biggest chart success. He finished the set of each concert in his 1965-66 world tour with it. Sometimes, the incessant booing which accompanied the second half of the show (the “electric” half) would cease during this song, as it was such a big hit in the USA and Europe.

“That snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind” is how Bruce Springsteen recalled first hearing this at 15 years old. This thunderous six-minute rock epic marks the moment when the young protest singer emerged as something popular music had never witnessed before. The vocal is as fierce and relentless as the flowing, spitting lyric, a tale of a fallen society princess adjusting to a disorientating new reality. “How does it feeeel?” Dylan demands. Many of us are still wondering about that.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The song which I have chosen to share today is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, as it is the only one which is on Dylan’s official Vevo channel. This version is from his MTV Unplugged concert, which he did in the mid-1990s. Enjoy!

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Last week, my attention was drawn to an article entitled “Here’s Why There Ought to be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths”, which actually appeared on the alt-right website Breibart back in June 2015. Breibart is a right-wing site founded by Andrew Breibart, and the website’s current executive chairman is Stephen Bannon, who has recently been named by president-elect Donald Trump as his chief strategist in Trump’s new White House team.


Women: Know Your Limits! (a comedy sketch by Harry Enfield)

“Here’s Why There Ought to be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths” is what I can only describe as a diatribe, written by Milo Yiannopoulos, and Englishman who seems to have become one of the main voices for the kind of misogynistic nonsense which many in the “contrastive right” like to spout. I don’t want to give any more attention to the utter drivel that Yiannopoulos writes in his article, but I thought I would quote just a few lines.

Even women who graduate with good degrees in science subjects often don’t use them: they switch careers in their twenties, abandoning the hard sciences. In some cases, they simply drop out of the workforce altogether. This is a disaster for the men who missed out on places, and it’s a criminal waste of public funds.

That’s why I think there ought to be a cap on the number of women enrolling in the sciences, maths, philosophy, engineering… and perhaps medicine and the law, too. It’s hugely expensive to train a doctor, but women have something like a third of the career of a man in medicine, despite having equal access to Harvard Med. Women make up the majority of medical students.

In addition to twisting statistics and misquoting feminist academics to support his theory that women are not really capable of doing science, Yiannopoulos even suggests that there should be caps on women studying law! Interestingly, Yiannopoulos himself has started and failed to complete degrees at two different universities, which I guess means that he is a bit of an expert on failure and wasting taxpayers’ money.

Anyway, there is really no way to argue logically with an imbecile like Yiannopoulos, his views are best countered by a bit of humour. So, here is a wonderful sketch by Harry Enfield – “Women: Know Your Limits!”. Enjoy!

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I first saw this about ten or more years ago, but was reminded about it last week so I thought I would share it here.


It is taken from this website here. If there are any questions you feel are missing please add in the comments section…..

Residency Application for the State of Alabama

Name: ________________ (_) Billy-Bob
(last) (_) Billy-Joe
(_) Billy-Ray
(_) Billy-Sue
(_) Billy-Mae
(_) Billy-Jack
(Check appropriate box)

Age: ____
Sex: ____ M _____ F _____ N/A
Shoe Size: ____ Left ____ Right

(_) Farmer
(_) Mechanic
(_) Hair Dresser
(_) Un-employed

Spouse’s Name:

Relationship with spouse:
(_) Sister
(_) Brother
(_) Aunt
(_) Uncle
(_) Cousin
(_) Mother
(_) Father
(_) Son
(_) Daughter
(_) Pet

Number of children living in household: ___

Number that are yours: ___

Mother’s Name:

Father’s Name: (If not sure, leave blank)

Education: 1 2 3 4 (Circle highest grade completed)

Do you (_)own or (_)rent your mobile home? (Check appropriate box)

___ Total number of vehicles you own
___ Number of vehicles that still crank
___ Number of vehicles in front yard
___ Number of vehicles in back yard
___ Number of vehicles on cement blocks

Firearms you own and where you keep them:
____ truck
____ bedroom
____ bathroom
____ kitchen
____ shed

Model and year of your pickup: _____________ 194_

Do you have a gun rack?
(_) Yes (_) No; please explain:

Newspapers/magazines you subscribe to:
(_) The National Enquirer
(_) The Globe
(_) TV Guide
(_) Soap Opera Digest
(_) Rifle and Shotgun

___ Number of times you’ve seen a UFO
___ Number of times you’ve seen Elvis
___ Number of times you’ve seen Elvis in a UFO

How often do you bathe:
(_)Not Applicable

Color of teeth:

Brand of chewing tobacco you prefer:

How far is your home from a paved road?
(_)1 mile
(_)2 miles
(_)don’t know

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I woke up on Tuesday morning to read the sad news that Tom Magliozzi, the co-host of National Public Radio’s Car Talk show, had died. I am sure most of the people reading this (all two of you) have never heard of Car Talk, but if you haven’t I strongly encourage you to do so. This is how the NBC news website carried the story of his death.

The news of Tom Magliozzi's death as reported by NBC.

The news of Tom Magliozzi’s death as reported by NBC.

I first came across Car Talk completely by accident. I moved to the United States in early September 1992 to take up a lecturing position (professorship) at the University of Toledo, and about the second Saturday morning I was there I drove in a car that I had borrowed from a colleague to a department store to get some furniture for the apartment I had just started renting. The car radio was tuned into National Public Radio (NPR), and I just happened to make the drive when Car Talk was on, its regular 9-10am slot on Toledo’s NPR affiliate station.

By the time I got to the department store, about a 15 minute drive, I was in tears of laughter. I actually stayed in the car another 15-20 minutes to hear the end of the show, and I was hooked. Pretty much every Saturday for the next 9 years of my living in the US, I tuned into their show, and when I left I was pleased to discover that I could carry on listening to it via their website cartalk.com

I am not much of a car person, but the reason I became hooked to Car Talk is that Tom and his brother and co-host Ray Magliozzi (also known as “click and clack, the tappet brothers”) are incredibly funny. They are (were) natural wits, and very few of the calls they took from listeners to help them with their car problems were dealt with without some humour creeping in. Sometimes, lots of humour crept in. But, in addition to being incredibly funny, their show was also highly informative, these guys really knew their cars. I learnt a lot about cars and diagnosing problems with my cars through listening to the show.

There are so many funny calls and episodes of this programme that it is difficult for me to pick some favourites. But, over the next several months I will share some of my favourite calls on this blog. In the meantime, here is a tribute that WBUR, the Boston NPR station, put together as a celebration of Car Talk. Right towards the end of this clip is an extract from one of my favourite calls, when a woman gets advice from Tom and Ray on whether she should use a cream rinse on her hair. If you don’t find this funny, you have no sense of humour 😛


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Ah, the importance of labelling the axes of graphs. I try to impress on my students how a graph without axes labels is essentially meaningless. Civilisations have collapsed for smaller transgressions. But, even worse, it can ruin relationships…..





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Towards the end of last week I was working on the glossary for my book, and had various scenes from this wonderful episode of Blackadder running through my head. In this particular episode, called Ink and Incapability, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first ever English dictionary, visits Prince George to get patronage for his new book. George is keen to ally himself with “that renowned brainbox”, as he has a (well earned) reputation for being “as thick as a whale omelette”. George is, of course, not aware that the book is a dictionary, he thinks it is a novel.


Edmund Blackadder is played by Rowan Atkinson, and Prince George by Hugh Laurie. The whole episode can be bought on-line and I highly recommend it, you will laugh until your sides hurt 🙂


Which is your favourite episode of Blackadder?

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It’s been a while since I posted any comedy, and a few weeks ago I was watching an hilarious episode of ITV2’s Celebrity Juice, which is hosted by Keith Lemon (a comedy character created and played by Leigh Francis). In this particular episode, Joey Essex fails to name any of the members of The Beatles. Joey Essex is “famous” for being, umh shall we say “less than bright” (or, as Fearne Cotton puts it, “thick as shit”), and in this short section of Celebrity Juice he shows that his reputation is well deserved.

Joey Essex … haircut crisis.


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Earlier this week it was announced that the actor Roger Lloyd Pack had died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 69. Pack was better known to millions in the Disunited Kingdom as Trigger in the comedy Only Fools and Horses, and as Owen in the comedy The Vicar of Dibley.

Roger Lloyd Pack, who died this week aged 69.

Roger Lloyd Pack, who died this week aged 69.

For those of you not familiar with DUK TV comedies, Only Fools and Horses was a hit comedy which ran from 1981 to 1991. It was probably the most popular comedy on TV in the 1980s. The plots centred around Del and Rodney Trotter, two dodgy brothers trying to make a living in (usually) less than honest ways. Pack played their friend Trigger. One of the long-standing jokes was the fact that Trigger always referred to Rodney as “Dave”. Here is a clip of Trigger being asked by Rodney why he calls him Dave.

Pack was also involved in one of the biggest comedies of the 1990s, “The Vicar of Dibley”, playing the farmer Owen. In this clip he is being introduced to the new vicar of the village.

Which is your favourite Trigger or Owen moment?

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One of my favourite programmes on TV is “Have I Got News For You”, which is a weekly programme taking a look at the week’s news by a team of, mainly, comedians and satirists. Most of the people making the news, from politicians to royalty to celebrities, are mercilessly ridiculed in this hilarious (but sometimes serious) programme, which has been running now since the early 1990s. The programme has a “quiz” format, although the scoring is very murky and the quiz element is really only a side-show. The two teams of two are captained each week by Ian Hislop (Editor of Private Eye , a political satire magazine) and Paul Merton, a comedian.


I thought I would share a couple of hilarious clips from a recent show, to give you a flavour of the nature of the programme. If you like them, many more clips can be found on YouTube. These two clips are from the same recent show, and feature the comedian Mark Steel, who is obviously not a fan of the DUK’s current Government.

In the first clip Steel comments on the recent privatisation of The Royal Mail, which he likens to selling off your grandmother.

In the second clip, towards the end of a fairly serious discussion on press freedom in the Disunited Kingdom (Ian Hislop, as Editor of Private Eye, is opposed to what he sees at this Government’s attempts to censure the Press), Mark Steel does a hilarious parody of a typical Daily Mail story (The Daily Mail, for those of you fortunate enough to have never read it, is a right-wing, Europe-bashing, immigration hating Tory propaganda tabloid newspaper which pollutes the stands here).

Which is your favourite “Have I Got News For You” episode, or who is your favourite guest on the show?

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I was recently reminded of this by a former student. Apparently I showed it in one of my Astrophysics lectures. I’m not sure what connection it had or has to astrophysics, but it is damn funny nonetheless…..



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