The News Quiz

by Harry on February 24, 2009

Some years ago a considerably younger friend tried to explain the (to me, and, I’m glad to say, to CB, elusive) appeal of Friends: “Look, its seeing people having the kind of life you’d like yourself — a group of nice, attractive friends, witty, never really stressed, who care for each other and seem to enjoy their relationships. Its like you and The News Quiz: you wish that you were surrounded by a bunch of unattractive middle-aged people who still belong in the world as it was before the Miners’ Strike was lost, and make old-people jokes. You’d like that life, with an old Tory who doesn’t fit in (AC was still alive), the odd young person to make you glad you’re not young, and a occasional cricket-loving Trotskyist ex-punk to make you feel like you belong” (actually, I made up the bit in italics). The analysis was plausible enough that I refrained from pointing out the disanalogies — like that the News Quiz team is composed of real people, who are genuinely witty, genuinely friends, and do it all for a transport allowance and the price of the cup of tea and the slice of genoa cake I’ve no doubt they have on the train. I also refrained from pointing out that its a good job we’ve known each other since she was 8, or I’d be unnerved by her insight into my character.

Anyway I was reminded of this by hearing The News Quiz, which was bloody brilliant this week. I was thrilled that Shappi Khorsandi was on because, contrary to my friend’s comment, I like young people (though I am glad I’m not one) and Khorsandi seems like a rising star; but right at the beginning the cricket-loving Trotskyist ex-punk stole the show. Listen here.



ejh 02.24.09 at 4:03 pm

The characters in Friends are witty?

(Mind you, I could probably never watch for long enough to know, I usually started trying to eat my own arm before the first hysterics from the studio audience.)


Harry 02.24.09 at 4:09 pm

I’ve italicised “genuinely” twice, to make it clearer that while I bought the analysis, I couldn’t go along with the attribution of wittiness. Note, though, that on “I’ve never seen Star Wars” the other day, Brigstocke managed to convince Barry Cryer to watch an episode of Friends and he liked it.


richard 02.24.09 at 4:18 pm

Cryer was probably reacting to the oral sex gags, which are surprisingly frequent and direct.


Cian 02.24.09 at 4:20 pm

Its also available as a podcast.


Harry 02.24.09 at 4:21 pm

You think I know how to deal with a podcast? After all that.


Brian Weatherson 02.24.09 at 4:28 pm

At least in the U.S., the podcast is the “Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4”, for those trying to look for it on iTunes.


lindsey 02.24.09 at 4:56 pm

Did you ever watch the Manny episode I gave you?? It was the one I thought you’d actually like. And I don’t watch Friends because I want to be them. I watch it occasionally and feel better that I’m not them…


Lars 02.24.09 at 5:12 pm

One of the main characters on Friends was a woman in her early twenties who lived in a spacious two-bedroom apartment in New York City, which she paid for from her wages as a coffee shop waitress.

Most episodes of the X Files were more realistic than that.


Russell Arben Fox 02.24.09 at 5:26 pm

The best comment I’ve ever seen or heard about Friends was from an episode of the much-better NBC sitcom NewsRadio, during a dream sequence when Khandi Alexander’s character, newscaster Catherine Duke, retreats to the studio lounge and talks for a while with an African-American co-worker about how she had had a terrible dream the night before, about how she was a newscaster on a radio show staffed entirely, besides herself, by young annoying white people. Her co-worker commiserates, and then disappears as Catherine is awoken from her dream by hordes of actual–all white–co-workers coming in to use the actual lounge. As Catherine looks at her working reality with horror, one of the new arrivals turns to her and says, “Hey Catherine, did you watch Friends last night?” Cut to commercial break.


alkali 02.24.09 at 5:42 pm

Truly, comedy is easy, and anyone can write or perform it.


Ginger Yellow 02.24.09 at 9:04 pm

Look, its seeing people having the kind of life you’d like yourself—a group of nice, attractive friends, witty, never really stressed, who care for each other and seem to enjoy their relationships.

Look, I was coming of age when Friends started in the UK and I can safely say I never wanted that kind of life. Leaving aside the fact that they’re pretty much all insufferable people, one of them is a struggling, rubbish actor; another is a struggling, rubbish waitress; another is neurotic to an extent that in real life would result in years of therapy; another hates his office job; another is a paleontologist (fair enough) with a horrific love life whose strongest, longest lasting relationship is with a monkey; and the last one is a masseuse whose dad abandoned her and whose mother killed herself. On top of that, most of them seem to have no horizons beyond their apartments and their crappy careers. No, I don’t resent being made to watch it by my friends, thanks for asking.


Harry 02.24.09 at 9:24 pm

Lindsey — it is sitting in my to-be-watched pile, but that’s because I don’t want to watch it till I have my head back in the gender equality stuff, honest. Mark you, ginger yellow has just managed to make Friends sound fantastically interesting!


Another Damned Medievalist 02.24.09 at 9:37 pm

The nice thing about subscribing to the podcast is that it doesn’t disappear after seven days. It stays in your iTunes (along with all the other things I can’t keep up with — at least I manage TNQ every week it’s on.


Ginger Yellow 02.24.09 at 9:45 pm

The bad thing about the podcast is you get the Now Show as well, which is rubbish.


dsquared 02.24.09 at 10:04 pm

with regard to #11, I always thought that the theme tune summed it up:

“When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year”

then fair enough, but after ten years living through the same nightmare, I think you would be forced to conclude that you were simply hanging round with the wrong crowd of people.


belle le triste 02.24.09 at 10:30 pm

shocker: characters in sit-com not well adjusted and fail to resemble people in real life

i quite enjoyed that they were all horrible people, and the script-writers very evidently did too, some of the time — i thought it was bonkers that anyone watching considered it somehow aspirational; but i can’t think of a long-running sitcom — doomed to popularity — that didn’t come to resemble huis clos with gag lines


Ginger Yellow 02.24.09 at 10:43 pm

Yeah, their lives/personalities are not a reason to find the show unfunny in itself (Larry Sanders was one of my all time favourite sitcoms, and nearly everyone on that show was dysfunctional, horrendous or both) – it was the aspirational thing I was objecting to.


belle le triste 02.24.09 at 11:09 pm

i see (from the internet) that seth macfarlane of the never-really-funny-enough “family guy” is claiming he invented the term “the moment of shit” for the unwatchable bits when ppl in sitcoms hug away the fear, loathing and incipient insanity during the end credits: i first heard this term up from a friend at film school in london in the mid-80s, who used “the golden girls” to demonstrate the concept to me, so i know macfarlane is lying(or being lied about); my guess is it was actually invented as a technical term-of-art and self-loathing by the poor fuckers who have to WRITE mediocre sitcoms — one of the things i guess i started liking about friends was that, while it was generally pimped as wall-to-wall (aspirational) moments-of-shit, it was actually quite cruel about and towards its subjects, in a semi-subliminal way (i think bcz relatively high-end writers were playing below-radar games for their own amusement, where larry sanders and larry david were being very upfront and playing direct to the disenchanted cognoscenti): the gellers in particular are near-pathological basketcases of wannabe-WASP deracination, monica an OCD bulimic, ross the most self-absorbed passive-aggressive jerk in mainstream telly (except for david caruso obviously)

i am cynical and perverse so i found this amusing, and began enjoying it a lot — also i was grumpily in love with a close friend who was in a relationship with someone else, ad i liked seeing the pretty people goin thru the same cliched rubbish as me…


nick s 02.24.09 at 11:50 pm

Since I heard it, I can confirm that Mark Steel’s lunchtime conversation with Aggers on TMS last summer was absolutely hilarious, and I regret that the BBC didn’t put it online in some form. If anyone from TMS is reading this thread… please, would you?


novakant 02.25.09 at 12:23 am

I was thrilled that Shappi Khorsandi was on because, contrary to my friend’s comment, I like young people

I think Khorsandi is actually a thirtysomething, but thanks for making me feel better about my age – I also like it when people in their forties are referred to as “young authors”.


Tom 02.25.09 at 12:50 am

Khorsandi would be in her thirties – she was on the same course as my other half at university in Winchester. ‘Er indoors was amazed when she appeared on Mock the Week a year or so back – didn’t expect her to pop up as a rising star of comedy *at all*.


harry b 02.25.09 at 3:11 am

Yes, thirties counts as young. Hardy is 47, Steele 48, Jupitus must be late 40’s too, Hamilton 54, etc. Me, I’m only 45, but my friend who set this off is now 35 and young.


Matt 02.25.09 at 3:31 am

_thirties counts as young_
That’s very good to know! (One thing that’s better about being a philosopher than a lawyer is that while I hardly even count as a “young philosopher” for the sake of prizes and the like, and will be one for many more years, I was too old to be a “young lawyer” for the sake of prized jobs, fellowships, and the like even before I was one.)


bert 02.25.09 at 4:07 am

genuinely friends”

True. When Linda Smith died Jeremy Hardy was clearly heartbroken. Likewise Sandi Toksvig with Alan Coren. I’m sure at the time the huge interest felt intrusive to them, but it was touching to discover how deeply these people we’d laughed along with had loved each other.

By contrast though, I get the distinct impression that Mark Steel rubs Toksvig up the wrong way. But maybe I’m just confusing art with life.


harry b 02.25.09 at 2:47 pm

Yes, its hard to tell whether Toksvig is genuinely annoyed with him (as in this week’s show) or just being playful. She sounds more irritated with him when he’s on with Hardy (whom she likes). Is her banter with Hamilton for fun, or also slightly irritated? Anyway, she is fantastic, I was stunned, but delighted, when she was made chair.


dsquared 02.25.09 at 2:48 pm

I must register a dissenting vote here – I have always found Toksvig to be incredibly irritating and never even the tiniest bit funny.


harry b 02.25.09 at 2:58 pm

Well, you’re entitled to disagree…. I find her both funny and likeable on the radio, and I enjoy her mild prickliness. One aspect of her likeability, for me, is her obvious enjoyment of other people being funny (something that I also love about Barry Cryer, though he is in a different league). Another is the way she shuts people up.


Jon H 02.25.09 at 4:25 pm

“who are genuinely witty”

Maybe so, but they have an awful lot of writers on the show given the premise.


Phil 02.25.09 at 4:26 pm

She sounds more irritated with him when he’s on with Hardy (whom she likes).

Isn’t she a Lib Dem or something? I think for her Mark Steel may be the Wrong Sort of Trot, particularly as compared with Jeremy Hardy – he’s certainly a bit more shouty/snotty/hectoring than JH, and it may add up to pressing the wrong buttons. On the other hand, she may just not have got to know him. When Julian Clary first appeared on Just a Minute, Nicholas Parsons was very chilly with him – a definite “you dishonour the memory of dear Kenny with your flaunted outrageousness” vibe. I’m sure it was mostly in NP’s head – certainly he’s perfectly pleasant with him now.

(This is the time that I’d set aside for writing exam questions, and here I am writing blog comments about celebrities… aargh!)


Harry 02.25.09 at 4:29 pm

The writers only write for the chair (Toksvig at present who, unlike her predecessor Hoggart, also frequently ad-libs or at least seems to). There’s a stable of writers who routinely contribute to TNQ, TNS, etc — in any week each might have contributed just one line. (I don’t know if they take stuff that gets sent to them, as Week Ending used to.)


Harry 02.25.09 at 4:30 pm

Very very minor celebrities at least….


David Brake 02.25.09 at 4:40 pm

I am so used to thinking of CT as being American that I was bowled over to see discussion of one of my favourite radio programmes. Out of curiosity, can US listeners download the podcast or is it blocked to all but us Brits?

One of these days I must try to get down to a recording – there’s a lot of banter that just gets edited out, apparently (they should produce a New Quiz Uncut podcast!)


Harry 02.25.09 at 5:59 pm

We can listen to it (and just about everything else on BBC Radio, though not Desert Island Discs or the Bob Dylan Theme Hour) over the iplayer for 7 days after broadcast. No TV yet. Podcasts are beyond me.

I recommend to tourists that they plan to go to a BBC recording sometime during their visit. I’ve only done it a few times (in fact the first was not a recording, but a live broadcast of In One Ear, back in 84 or 5) but its fantastic. And free.


Katherine 02.25.09 at 7:35 pm

Gosh, it’s so terribly terribly cool to hate Friends, non? I rather like it – it’s funny. Nuff said.

(And the thing about Rachel’s magical ability to pay her rent – yawn – that’s the least original (and most refuted) criticism of the lot.)


Harry 02.25.09 at 7:53 pm

It got a lot less cool when Barry Cryer said he liked it.

I’ve actually tried to like Friends (I love Frasier) but can’t (maybe Lindsey’s episode will turn me). To show that I’m not a bigot, I should add that I have liked everything I’ve seen the constituent actors in (not that much, I admit, but I saw something that Schwimmer was in, in which he seemed very good indeed, Jennifer Aniston in several things, all of which she has been excellent in, and that ditzy one whose name I forget but who I think is brilliant, especially in The Comeback, which is agonising to watch but one of the great moments of American television).


nick s 02.25.09 at 8:03 pm

I have always found Toksvig to be incredibly irritating and never even the tiniest bit funny.

Does that go right back to the sandwich quiz on Number 73?


harry b 02.25.09 at 8:11 pm

God she’s only 27 in that clip, but she already sounds 50.


ejh 02.25.09 at 8:54 pm

Gosh, it’s so terribly terribly cool to hate Friends, non?

I don’t know. I know it used to be terribly cool to like it. Now it’s not, it seems that fewer people do. But I always hated it.


c.l. ball 02.25.09 at 10:36 pm

Wow. Lot’s of anti-Friends-ites out there. In its early seasons, it was funny.

The characters did have some serious downs (failed marriages, relationships). One episode centered around the divide between Monica, Chandler, and Ross, who had well-paying jobs, and Phoebe, Rachael, and Joey, who did not. As the series explained, Monica, the chef, was living illegally in her grandmother’s rent-controlled apartment; Racheal, the waitress, joins her. (It is also made clear that Rachel and Monica & Ross come from wealthy families).

It is also worth noting that three of the characters were identifiably Jewish, not something that TV shows do often (in Seinfield, only Seinfield was Jewish; one episode bizarrely revolved around Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character being goy).


Warren Terra 02.25.09 at 10:46 pm

I absolutely adore The News Quiz, especially with Sandy Toksvig now in the chair and Jeremy Hardy as a regular guest. That said, I haven’t been a huge fan of Mark Steel’s recent contributions to the show – which is a shame, because The Mark Steel Lectures and The Mark Steel Revolution are fantastic. If you haven’t heard them, you should catch them when they next come around on BBC7.


belle le triste 02.25.09 at 11:29 pm

“the ditzy one”: i think lisa kudrow is a genuinely gifted and original comedienne; you catch her occasionally surprising herself and her friends co-stars straight out of character with an unexpected reading (of course her character is “kooky”, which gives too easy leeway in lots of ways, and which some will just be allergic to) (and she’s probably trapped in its neighbourhood forever)

david schwimmer was way the weakest link in it, poor guy — he always seems to be faking his sense of timing, and stayed way over-broad throughout the run, long after the others had learnt to keep stuff less telegraphed

i like friends despite lots of lame things about it*; it was probably at its best in the middle of its run, it’s over-pleased with itself in the first series definitely, with cutways signalling its gags like crazy

*this doesn’t signify much, i like everything


dave heasman 02.26.09 at 12:44 am

Oh Harry – “We can listen to it (and just about everything else on BBC Radio, though not Desert Island Discs or the Bob Dylan Theme Hour) ”

For Bob D –

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