During the 1980s there was an extremely popular television comedy show here in the UK called ‘Hi-de-Hi!‘ For the uninitiated it was set in a fictitious 1950s holiday camp and written by the same team that wrote Dad’s Army. There were two camp comedians played by Paul Shane (sadly now deceased) and Jeffrey Holland. Paul’s character (Ted Bovis) was the older more experience comedian while Jeffrey’s (Spike) was the young apprentice. I mention all this only because I recall Ted regularly telling his pupil that in comedy “timing is everything”. It is only now, some 30 years later, that I have really begun to appreciate how the really great comics use timing to such a great effect.
I first started to really notice the part timing plays in comedy when I listened to the late great Humphrey Littleton chairing the Radio 4 show ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue‘. He would regularly pause before delivering a punchline just to get a laugh from the audience who thought they knew what he was going to say. Then he would finish the joke more often than not sounding as though he didn’t really understand why it was so funny!
Today I saw, for the second time, the episode from the last series of The Big Bang Theory (not everyone’s cup of tea I know) where Bob Newhart plays the part of Professor Proton.
At the age of 83 he isn’t given a huge number of lines but those he does have are delivered with the timing and expression you would expect from the comic genius that he is. I would love to quote some of them here but reading them on a blog would not do them justice and I would urge you, if you can, to watch the episode for yourself.
I read two things about Bob’s part as Professor Proton today: apparently he won an much deserved first Emmy Award for his appearance and, more importantly perhaps, he has revived the role for the latest series current being shown on E4. I’m looking forward to seeing how he has been written back into the show and keenly await his dry, perfectly timed delivery of the lines.