Notes from West London

Broccoli, and TV Comedians

There are many comedians who appear regularly on my TV set who have never made me laugh, not once. They are, in my view, just not funny. By contrast there are many comedians and presenters who have made me laugh, so in the interests of accentuating the positive, I’ll mention a few of them: Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Ant and Dec, Claudia Winkelman, Michael McIntyre, Micky Flanagan, Reginald D Hunter. I believe that it is possible for someone who is genuinely not funny to appear on TV, in comedy shows, and to be accepted as a comedian. It happens in a similar way to how very young children get used to the taste of broccoli.

When children are first weaned (fed something other than milk) the important thing is to get them used to taking food, usually something mushy like baby rice or pureed fruit and vegetables. Most of their nutrition still comes from milk to begin with. As they get used to taking food you change the quantities and, sometime between the ages of 6 months and a year, most of their nutrition comes from food rather than milk. The flavours that you give a baby to begin with are sweet or bland: banana, pear, carrot, sweet potato, peas, butternut squash, that kind of thing. My son, when he was 5 or 6 months old, tasted both butternut squash and sweet potato before I did. I was over 40 before I tasted either vegetable. Often, when a child is being weaned, the first bitter thing they taste is broccoli. Often the child will spit it out. As a parent or carer you could be discouraged. You might say, “Well, she ate everything else, this is the first thing she’s rejected. I guess she doesn’t like broccoli”, and then give up on it. Or you might try broccoli a second time, a third time even, find that your child rejects it again, and then give up after two or three attempts.

Here’s some of the best advice we were given when weaning our son: try it five times. Leave a few days’ gap between each attempt but try out broccoli five times before giving up. By the fifth time the taste will be familiar to the child, and this familiarity will overcome their earlier resistance to it, and they will eat it.

Here’s the similarity with TV comedians. A “comedian” appears on your TV set, given a slot on a chat show maybe, or co-presenting a show on E4. They fail to make anyone watching the show laugh. They have a hard-working, influential agent, and the agent gets the “comedian” more slots on TV. The “comedian” presents a minor awards ceremony, is routinely insulted by everyone who receives an award, and again fails to make anyone laugh. The agent continues their good work and provides further exposure for their client, another slot on a chat show, a weekly column in a national newspaper, radio shows. A year later a significant number of viewers have seen, read or heard the “comedian” so many times that they assume he must be good. He wouldn’t be given that much exposure in the media if he wasn’t funny, would he? Familiarity has overcome the viewers’ initial resistance, their original recognition that he just isn’t funny. But by then it seems to be too late, and once the “comedian” has raised a million pounds for charity with some well-publicized stunt it would be churlish to keep reminding people that he’s just not funny. So, why are these people still appearing on my TV set? Broccoli.



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