PROFESSIONAL comedians have criticised Keith Chegwin for attempting to be funny. He has 36,000 followers on Twitter and, to enliven his mundane musings, he uses daft jokes.
“I got thrown out of the cinema for taking my own food. It was ages since I’d had a barbecue.”
Unfortunately, say the professionals, some of the jokes have been stolen from working comics.
Such as: “My Auntie Marge has been ill for so long we changed her name to I can’t believe she’s not better.”
Simon Evans told him: “Cheggers old chap, you are no doubt acting out of good intentions but these jokes are written by professionals. They earn their keep telling them and it’s really not on to just distribute them like this without credit.”
Cheggers responded by saying: “I couldn’t tell who’s gag I post here. They’re just pub gags.”
Such as: “Guy who owned the Odeon cinemas has died. His funeral is on Monday at 2.10, 4.20 and 8.40.”
And it’s true. They are pub gags. They become pub gags and public property as soon as some bloke in the audience of a Jimmy Carr concert texts a one-liner to his mates.
Years ago it was different. Comics would tour the variety halls with the same act for years, jealously guarding their material.
Forty years ago, when I worked in that show business town of Blackpool, fellow reporter Lennie Bennett produced a great scoop when he persuaded one comic to bang on the dressing room door of another on North Pier and threaten to thump him for stealing his gags.
Back then, plagiarism was considered a scandal and humour was protected.
Lennie made the big time himself as a comedian but, when he started, I was his roadie and we toured the northern club circuit for three years.
There was a comic’s code that you did not steal another’s material.
Then came The Comedians on TV that gobbled up acres of humour that had been nurtured by individual funnymen.
Overnight, jokes lost their exclusivity. Then came the internet and instant text messaging.
Instead of telling gags around the bar, blokes now display their mobiles.
They are spread by text to a far greater audience than 36,000. Almost instantly, they are in the public domain.
“I called the gym to see if they could teach me how to do the splits. They said how flexible are you? I said I can’t make Fridays.”
Cheggers remains unrepentant. In fact, he has advised young comedians without gags to steal them. “That’s what all the top comedians do,” he said.
Which reminded me of a cold winter’s night in the 60s when Lennie Bennett was working The Palladium (Ardwick) and his great mate Lonnie Donegan was appearing at Manchester’s top club with an act that was part skiffle, part comedy. He came up to see the early show.
I met Lonnie at the bar at the back of the converted cinema and we gazed down the long sloping room of emptiness that, at 8.30pm, contained only two couples seated at separate tables at the front.
Lennie died on his feet.
“He’s usually funnier than this,” I explained to Lonnie.
“I should think he is,” Lonnie said, with a grin. “He’s doing my act.”