Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Motörhead

Here’s something “interesting” I’ve just been thinking about. What is it that links the following three quotes together?

“Why don’t you listen to something really classical, like Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Motörhead?” (Rimmer, Balance of Power)

“Good evening. Here is the news on Friday, the 27th of Geldof.” (Newsreader, Better than Life)

“Everyone can remember how they lost their virginity. It’s one of those things … like everyone can remember where they were when Cliff Richard was shot. Or when the first woman landed on Pluto. Or when they installed the gigantic toupee over the earth to cover the gap in the ozone layer. It’s just one of those things you always remember.” (Lister, Marooned)

Got it? All these lines rely on how people in the future have a different perspective on today’s culture. It’s exactly the same as Hippies occasionally did as well, but the other way around, as that show was set in the past. For instance, there’s a bit between Alex and Ray, where they talk about how Mick Jagger will probably regret his hair-raising days when he gets older. “I bet he’ll be really embarassed about the whole thing…”

Now, there’s two things to note here. Firstly – there just aren’t that many of these jokes in Red Dwarf, compared to how often there is a chance to do this kind of thing. Secondly – and I await for someone to prove me wrong – but I think the level of this jokes went down severely throughout the show’s run. The best example I can think of is with Casablanca. In Better Than Life, it’s used as an example of the above joke:

RIMMER: Look, Casablanca! They’ve remade Casablanca!
LISTER: Philistines. I mean how can you re-make Casablanca? The one starring Myra Dinglebat and Peter Beardsley was definitive.
HOLLY: I saw that one. Knockout. “Of all the space bars on all the worlds you had to rematerialise in mine.”

Wheras in Camille, it’s the original that Kryten and Camille watch in the cinema, and reference throughout the entire show. And this applies to most references in Red Dwarf, especially in the later series. In general, references are just what they are – references. The Flintstones isn’t used as a silly joke about what season 56 was like – the Wilma stuff could easily have turned up in Men Behaving Badly. Captain Oates is mentioned on his own terms, with the story we all know now – we don’t find out some silly story about what really happened to him. Even Marilyn Monroe is used as a straightforward fantasy figure.

So why is this? It seems like an obvious kind of joke for Red Dwarf to do; they can be extremely amusing, and done in the right way, can also do TEH COMMENTS ON MODERN SOCIETY as well. Why the reticence, especially in later series?

There is the argument that references date the show; and certainly, references to “Peter Beardsley” are rather more incongrous than references to Casablanca. One of those will be talked about 100 years from now, and one won’t. But still, you could make jokes like that about things that people will still know about 300 years from now; and in general, it’s something the show didn’t do that much in the first place, and then moved away from completely.

I think there’s two reasons for this. Firstly, a joke like like that can be very funny… but doesn’t actually tell you much about the characters. The Captain Oates stuff with Rimmer is used to show his outlook on the situation. Using the story we all know about Oates to justify him not being switched off is an interesting character moment. Now, a silly joke about what really happened to Captain Oates is just that – a silly joke. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good silly joke, but if you can do some character stuff at the same time, then it’s even more satisfying. This applies even if you do a joke in this way to somehow comment on modern society – it’s still a joke that’s somewhat removed from the characters.

But then, Red Dwarf isn’t 30 minutes of pure character jokes – there’s plenty of stuff in the show that doesn’t have a huge amount of resonance on a character level. There’s room for a few jokes that aren’t explicitly character-based. I think there’s possibly a more important reason – and that is, by making that kind of joke, you’re actually eroding the reality of the show. I’ve often said that Red Dwarf doesn’t really break the fourth wall; there are isolated incidents (“Last week on Red Dwarf…”, for instance, or Cat looking straight down the barrel of the lens in Parallel Universe), but they are few and far between. With a show like Red Dwarf – set in an unreal situation, with characters that you want to get to know as characters, not simply devices – it’s important to make their situation feel real. A comedy set in space with a laugh track it may be, but for those 30 minutes, you really need to believe what’s happening.

What the kind of joke I mention above does is force you to acknowlege the unreality of the situation. The joke relies on the incongruity of what the characters are saying, and what you know now. In other words, it relies on the acknowlegement of you sitting at home being real, and what’s happening on TV being imaginary. Perhaps if you do that too often… the carefully-constructed artifice of the show comes crashing down.

And it’s partly that artifice that makes Red Dwarf work so well.

Tags:

45 Responses to Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Motörhead

Jump to bottom

  1. So do you think the drop in the frequency of these jokes possibly reflects the Comedy Police’s increasing skill in creating a fully realized universe for their characters (and the viewer) to inhabit? Or d’you think it’s something else?

    Also:

    >The joke relies on the incongrinuity

    Might wanna fix that.

  2. G&T Admin

    So do you think the drop in the frequency of these jokes possibly reflects the Comedy Police?s increasing skill in creating a fully realized universe for their characters (and the viewer) to inhabit? Or d?you think it?s something else?

    I think that’s very much part of it, yeah. I think that the kind of jokes I mention really do almost break the fourth wall – you could almost have them turn and wink to camera at some points. As the series developed, they started relying on their own universe as its own entity rather more.

    But there was never *loads* of these kinds of jokes anyway, which I find interesting. It’s such an obvious thing to do with a SF comedy – it’s a very obvious source of amusing jokes. They certainly did some of them… but not as many as you’d expect. It’s clear they were interested in proper universe-building right from the very beginning. And too many of those jokes would seriously start fucking up the reality of the show.

    The joke relies on the incongrinuity

    Might wanna fix that.

    Done. Ta.

  3. Am I right in thinking there was a trend of characters getting history WRONG as well? Rimmer thinking the bloke that discovered America was the “man in the dirty mac”. I can’t recall any other instances of this happening during the show’s run, but it may be that the creators were experimenting with the idea of history becoming blurred along the way, like a kind of Chinese whispers down the centuries – an idea they may have adandoned or I just made up in my own HEAD.

  4. G&T Admin

    Yeah. I nearly mentioned that, but… erm, didn’t.

    The history blurring stuff is something that doesn’t feel quite so fourth-wall breaking, as you’re right – it feels *natural* that the history blurring thing could happen. Also, Rimmer and Lister are quite thick, so they might just be getting it wrong.

  5. Also, Rimmer and Lister are quite thick, so they might just be getting it wrong.

    Not much of a joke, though, just getting facts wrong.

    …but for those 30 minutes, you really need to believe what?s happening.

    On a completely unrelated note, when I was ten I thought they actually filmed the show in outer space. I was a “special” child.

  6. G&T Admin

    Not much of a joke, though, just getting facts wrong.

    Oh, I don’t know. Thick characters have been a mainstay of sitcom ever since they were invented…

    I think the “dirty mac” line is almost certainly Rimmer just being stupid. It’s not plausible that that’s a history blurring thing, as it’s far too silly. I’m sure there *have* been history blurring jokes in Dwarf, though.

  7. There’s also ‘Wilfred’ Shakespeare in Waiting for God.

    I really hate Lister finding the join-the-dots “really hard” in VIII. Yeah, he’s never been the brightest button, but was he ever really meant to be *that* thick before?

  8. Totally agree. They changed the characters whenever they wanted for the sake of a so-called “joke” for those latter series. Although Lister does spell Thursday with an F, but that could just be dyslexia.

  9. G&T Admin

    Don’t forget “What’s an iguana?” in The End, of course.

    I think the join-the-dots joke is *very* dodgy from a character point of view, and doesn’t make a lot of sense – but I do still find it funny. It’s Craig’s wide-eyed performance, I think.

  10. > I really hate Lister finding the join-the-dots ?really hard? in VIII. Yeah, he?s never been the brightest button, but was he ever really meant to be *that* thick before?

    The reason this was in was that they were trying to recreate the bunk scenes and so ‘regressed’ Lister a bit. (also, this is from VIII so it shouldn’t really be taken seriously)

    > Don?t forget ?What?s an iguana?? in The End, of course.

    Surely a contender for one of the worst lines in all eight series’, mostly due to the way Craig delivers it and there’s no laugh, but it’s also a stupid line as I’m sure Rob and Doug would now admit.

  11. Got it? All these lines rely on how people in the future have a different perspective on today?s culture.

    It’s interesting to compare it to Futurama’s approach to those sort of jokes about the present. Often, they were along the lines of how little things changed (will change? Had changed?) in the next 1000 years: hence the gags about slow internet connection speeds, and “computers may be twice as powerful as in 1973…” And of course, rather than making up loads of year-3000-era celebrities, they just implied the ones that are around today will be kept alive as heads in jars. Yes, that’s an excuse for them to use guest stars, but it’s the equivalent of, say, Red Dwarf making a joke about a real footballer rather than a fictional zero-gee footballer.

    No doubt someone will point out numerous examples of the opposite kind of joke, where they make fun of the ignorance of the 20th and 21st century. Though the only ones I can think of off the top of my head are the line about scientists raising the speed of light, and Fry’s exploration of the universe (featuring such mundane acrtivities as blowing up planets and riding dinosaurs in a petting zoo). The fact I can’t think of many more is obviously a sign haven’t watched enough Futurama recently. :)

  12. I’ve always found the contempary referencing a hugely endearing part of the early shows. Who among us can hear mention of Casablanca without wanting to mention Peter Beardsley, has seen an image of Winnie the Pooh without muttering “He’s refusing a blindfold” or spent a lazy sunday afternoon imagining ways to shoot Cliff Richard.

    Whilst they are pretty silly throwaway gags the do seem to serve a useful purpose. Think if you are a viewer tuning in for the first time. Half-hour of character gags might have your avid regular dwarf junkie splitting his sides but to the unitiated these are essential in-jokes and likely to lead to apathy or even resentment. Breaking things up with jokes that skew reality (with a contempary reference) offer a more user-friendly hook. The viewer might not yet appreciate the character subtleties but that silly gag about Cliff Richard bieng shot. They know who he is. Ha. It made them laugh. That one daft one-liner not only pops the increasing balloon of apathy/resentment. It indexes itself and the response under ‘Red Dwarf’ in our mental filing systems. Perhaps that one-laugh is enough to have someone watch anothe episode. Only this time they’re more familiar with the characters and more appreciative of the character humour.

    It’s got to be a problem for any future-based show. People talk about other people, those notable or outside of the circle. You’ve then got the issue of either contempary references which as previously said if used too often makes the show feel ‘unreal’ but then what’s the alternative? Harry Beadlebumm?

    A non-episode sketch which ties in with all this is the Children in Need sketch from the time of series 8. It has skewed future gags (the stuff about Terry Wogan), contempary referencing (telefones and Channel 5) and even has Chloe reading out the CIN phone number and YET it’s written in such a way as to preserve the 4th wall. Plus just for completeness sake it has a character gag about Lister’s guitar thrown in for good measure.

  13. G&T Admin

    In other words: Joe Klumpp is nowhere *near* as funny as Kevin Keegan…

    Yeah, I agree that it’s a problem, especially for a comedy. The same thing happened with Mugs Murphy – they wanted to create a fictional cartoon character… but in the end realised that stuff like the Flintstones was better for audience identification.

    Still, it’s interesting that contemporary references happened less and less as the series went on.

  14. The Joe Klump thing really annoyed me, actually. It actually made the joke not funny!

    “What’s the worst book ever written? Oh, it’s an imaginary book by a bloke you’ve never heard of that doesn’t exist. Oh.”

    With Keegan, it worked, because we could imagine Kevin Keegan (or indeed any ex-footballer of his ilk) writing a book called Football : It’s A Funny Old Game, and we could imagine exactly what it would be like.

    Douglas Adams had the whole “worst thing (in this case poetry) ever written” idea in Hitchhikers, too; and in his case, it was also by someone that didn’t exist. Yet it was funny because of the way it was presented. The gag in IWCD, with the Keegan reference removed, just isn’t.

    Oh, and interestingly, here’s a contemporary reference from as late as series VIII, that actually stands out more because it’s such an obviously anachronistic and contemporary one : “You’ve never seen QPR play away from home, then?”

  15. Footie. Footie. Footie.

    The QPR one really does stand out. It also makes little sense given we’ve been educated on Zero-Gee Football and suddenly here’s a reference to contempary association football. It’s not unprecedented though, “This is worse than playing away at Leeds” has Series VII at it too.

    Incidentally I own a book about football by Kevin Keegan. It;s not that bad.

  16. G&T Admin

    I don’t actually think it can be stated enough how stupid the Joe Klumpp bit is. As Seb says, it turns a joke into… well, not a joke in any way.

    I’d love to know the thought-processes behind it. Did Grant Naylor *really* think it was worth bothering changing it for the Omnibus? Well, clearly they did, or else they wouldn’t have done it, but it’s really really odd. And (like I was banging on about recently with the Kendall/Monroe change in Remastered), it seems to fundamentally misunderstand why the joke was funny in the first place. I think it’s even *worse* with the Klumpp change – the whole joke rests on the Kevin Keegan bit.

  17. Considering how long I’ve been lurking on the site (since way back when it looked something like this and was intended to focus on Simpsons Archive-style episode capsules), it’s amazing I’ve never posted in a topic here until now!

    > Breaking things up with jokes that skew reality (with a contempary reference) offer a more user-friendly hook. The viewer might not yet appreciate the character subtleties but that silly gag about Cliff Richard bieng shot. They know who he is. Ha. It made them laugh. That one daft one-liner not only pops the increasing balloon of apathy/resentment. It indexes itself and the response under ?Red Dwarf? in our mental filing systems. Perhaps that one-laugh is enough to have someone watch anothe episode.

    Perhaps it was just such a joke that stopped Patrick Stewart from calling his lawyer? :-)

    > A non-episode sketch which ties in with all this is the Children in Need sketch from the time of series 8. It has skewed future gags (the stuff about Terry Wogan), contempary referencing (telefones and Channel 5)

    There’s also the scene in the Red Dwarf Night Smeg Ups:

    “No-one can ever see this!”
    “Suggest we place it on Channel 5, sir, at the end of the 20th century.”

    (I think those were the lines!)

  18. G&T Admin

    Sorry Nick, your first post got caught by our spam filter. No idea why – Askimet is usually pretty good. I’ve published it, and deleted your second.

    As for you hanging around since those early days – that’s both weird and brilliant. I wonder how many people still here came across the site way back then?

  19. At least one “skewed history” gag comes to mind from VI – the “I was Adam, and just one thing was missing – my own Jane”. They still happened later on, just that perhaps they don’t stick in the mind as much.

  20. > from VI – the ?I was Adam, and just one thing was missing – my own Jane?.

    I think the thing is, that’s a great line and so it doesn’t matter. It’s not a reference for the sake of having a reference, it’s funny, pure and simple.

  21. I also noted an instance of this in “Inquisitor”:

    KRYTEN: Ah, Virgil’s Aeneid. Oh, the epic tale of Agamemnon’s pursuit of Helen of Troy — the most classic work by the greatest Latin poet who ever put quill to parchment!
    LISTER: Yeah, it’s the comic book version. It’s good though, man.
    Absolutely full of history.
    KRYTEN: (Reading from comic book) Zap, pow, kersplat. “Die in bed, you Trojan pig-dog.” Gnyarrg, kerpow. …I see they’ve remained faithful to the original text. I’m sure Virgil would have approved.

  22. The thing about that reference, rather than any contemporary or otherwise nature, is that it’s a complete mistake.

    To wit : the work Kryten describes is the Iliad, written by Homer a few centuries earlier. The Aeneid actually concerns itself with events after the Iliad – it’s about Aeneas, seen escaping Troy at the end of Homer’s work, making his way to Italy and founding Rome.

  23. I don?t actually think it can be stated enough how stupid the Joe Klumpp bit is. As Seb says, it turns a joke into? well, not a joke in any way.

    I?d love to know the thought-processes behind it. Did Grant Naylor *really* think it was worth bothering changing it for the Omnibus? Well, clearly they did, or else they wouldn?t have done it, but it?s really really odd. And (like I was banging on about recently with the Kendall/Monroe change in Remastered), it seems to fundamentally misunderstand why the joke was funny in the first place. I think it?s even *worse* with the Klumpp change – the whole joke rests on the Kevin Keegan bit.

    I suspect changes like that one might have been an issue of permissions, perhaps?

    I mentioned on TOS why I think Monroe might have been used in place of Kendall in Remastered. Maybe replacing Kevin Keegan’s name was a similar attempt to make the joke not rely on contemporary knowledge (and only a real zinger if the reader follows UK footy).

    While I agree the joke now is less funny (if the reader knows who Kevin Keegan is), it still funny to some extent because “Joe Klumpp” is an amusing name, as is the title of the book. The joke is now works simply within the scope of the novel, not based on contemporary references.

    I know it’s not easy to un-know something, but if we imagine those two jokes had originally been written as revised, would they have come across as funny? I think so, but for different reasons.

    Speculation aside, I would also like to know the real answer. Has anyone ever asked Rob or Doug why they changed them?

  24. G&T Admin

    It’s always difficult to imagine what something would be like if you *hadn’t* been exposed to something, admittedly. So it’s difficult for me to tell how I’d feel if I’d been exposed to the alternate versions first. And I do take your point that things can be funny for different reasons.

    With the Marilyn Monroe thing, I *can* see that the joke just-about-works instead of Felicity Kendall – I just don’t think it works nearly as well. Partly because I don’t think “Marilyn Monroe” *sounds* as funny as “Felicity Kendall” purely based on the sound and rhythm of the words – but also because I don’t think the joke works as well. Monroe is generally curvy, so the joke just about works, but it’s the *specific* stuff about the bottom with Kendall being famous for her arse that I think makes it really funny. The Monroe joke is just a bit bland by comparison.

    But as for Joe Klumpp… I honestly don’t think it works, at least for me. I don’t find the name funny in its own right at all. I suppose if you do, I can see it’d work, but not for me. Still, even if I *did* find it a funny name, a funny name isn’t as funny as the idea that Kevin Keegan wrote the worst book in the world.

    But that’s comedy. In the end, if someone finds something funny, I can’t tell them not to…

  25. One last thought, I promise: it’s the underlying situation, not understanding the inside knowledge in the punchline in both cases that ultimately make those jokes funny to me. I still laughed even though at the time I first watched the programme I hadn’t heard about the rear of the year award or knew who Kevin Keegan was.

    That all there is to remark on after a reconnaisance trip in Starbug is that they found a moon in the shape of someone’s bottom — the absolute opposite of the earnest space exploration archetype — well, I can’t help but laugh. That Holly is reading an incredibly bad book about footy, regardless of who wrote it, considering that he began with an IQ of 6000 is funny.

    Clearly the writers are very talented since jokes like those can work on more than one level, given our different understandings of them. :)

  26. > But as for Joe Klumpp? I honestly don?t think it works, at least for me.

    As Leelu suggests, it depends what you consider to be ‘the joke’. For me, the funny thing in that segment is the depiction of Holly’s mental state, the weird things going on in his mind over three million years and his obsession over a cheap, crappy book. If THAT’S the gag, the title and author are fine, they convey cheap crapness.

  27. You know you spend too much time with the G&T crowd. Bad things happen. I so wanted to reply with…

    YOU convey cheap crapness.

  28. Your MOTHER conveys cheap crapness.

  29. G&T Admin

    OK, I can see why the Joe Klumpp gag would work then – at least, theoretically. Personally, I think the name is too jarring to carry it off – it needed to either be a famous name, or a really boring one. Joe Klumpp is too distinctive – it just makes you wonder who the fuck Joe Klumpp is, rather than concentrating on the gag.

    From my point of view though, *both* changes lose what I think is the flavour that makes them *really* funny. I think that’s why I’m getting slightly confused; both jokes still work *theoretically* by analysing them, but they do remove everything that *actually* makes me laugh at them.

  30. Trouble is theorising jokes, tends to drain out the humour. Was it changed for any particular reason? As for the Monroe/Kendall gag what I didn’t like about that change was it felt, at the time, like it was an attempt to americanise distinctly british jokes. Same with the Kevin Keegan one to a degree. Joe Klumpp sounds american. Infact I assumed he probably was an american footballer of some description.

  31. > Your MOTHER?S a mother.

    You allready are one glorious whole.

  32. >Joe Klumpp sounds american. Infact I assumed he probably was an american footballer of some description.

    There aren’t any famous American footballers by that name. Out of curiosity, I just googled the name, and you’re right it tends to be American. Beyond the name occuring in Red Dwarf, there’s a mayor of Bedford, Indiana with that name (sounds close to Bedford Falls!) and someone who’s an officer in the U.S. Army.

  33. > Joe Klumpp sounds american. Infact I assumed he probably was an american footballer of some description.

    Which, when it’s Zero-G Football, kind fits, given how that’s always been rendered more akin to American Football.

    And oh, ah, John – I DO find Joe Klumpp to be deliberately dull, flat name (Joe’s generic, ‘clump’ is just bland, whacky spelling or not). Which may, along with the name/reference itself not really being the joke, explain why I’m completely indifferent to the change and find it equally funny.

    Or not. Ho-hum.

  34. Very good point regarding Zero-G. That said you’ve had undercurrents of both in Red Dwarf. The Zero-G stuff is a development of american football, we assume. Then again comments about “playing away at Leeds”, “QPR at Home”, Peter Beardsley and Kevin Keegan are all routed in proper football. So it’s not like Keegan was a one-off out of place reference.

  35. G&T Admin

    The thing is, I actually I laugh at the Keegan reference because I love the idea that Kevin Keegan wrote the worst book in the world. Out of the *whole* of time and space… Kevin Keegan wrote the worst book in the entire universe. It’s just not as funny for me if it’s someone who never existed, even though I admit that there’s still a joke there. It’s just that it’s the Kevin Keegan stuff which elevates the joke into something *really* funny, for me.

    Anyway, regardless of all this, I’d still be interested in why Rob and Doug bothered changing it. Actually, is it still Kevin Keegan in new editions of IWCD?

  36. > You allready are one glorious whole.

    A whole, Brian, with a “W.”

  37. Bah. Play on words gags never translate well in type.

  38. I’m currently re-reading the Omnibus and the Joe Klumpp bit IS funny. The reason it’s funny is the fact that it’s a computer with an IQ of 6000 making the reference to an obvious crappy sports book. I know it’s not the same as saying “Kevin Keegan wrote a made up book and it was the worst one in the entire universe”, but really, even that’s not THAT funny. You can imagine pretty much the same thing with Joe Klumpp, and it’s funny because it’s more of a statement about Holly’s mental health, than anything else.

    I think the reason it was changed is just that it’s dated; Kevin Keegan is forgotten. If you’re going to be snipey, then you may as well do it for someone who’s worth remembering. It’d make more sense with it being David Beckham, now, but even then it’s not that funny.

    I was miffed when I first read the change, but, reading it again years later, it didn’t bother me a bit.

  39. > I?d still be interested in why Rob and Doug bothered changing it.

    Isn’t ‘It’s a dated reference that doesn’t travel outside the UK’ explanation enough?! Whather you like the change or not, the rationale was pretty clear, I would have thought.

    > Actually, is it still Kevin Keegan in new editions of IWCD?

    I don’t believe so. Omnibus only.

  40. Andrew:
    Isn?t ?It?s a dated reference that doesn?t travel outside the UK? explanation enough?! Whather you like the change or not, the rationale was pretty clear, I would have thought.

    Thing is though, to people who aren’t familiar with Kevin Keegan, is there a difference in the joke? It makes it funnier if you know who Kevin Keegan IS, but if you don’t the joke’s the same whether it’s Kevin Keegan, Joe Klumpp or Rokk Krinn.

  41. Hey. It could be an entirely different Kevin Keegan with an entirely different curly barnet.

  42. > Thing is though, to people who aren?t familiar with Kevin Keegan, is there a difference in the joke? It makes it funnier if you know who Kevin Keegan IS, but if you don?t the joke?s the same whether it?s Kevin Keegan, Joe Klumpp or Rokk Krinn.

    Hey, I wasn’t debating it’s success there – just the fairly obvious reason for making the change. Whether it was a GOOD reason or not is a judgement call…

Jump to top / Jump to 'Recent Comments'

Leave a Reply