Sunday Telegraph article about Banter
Heard the one about Paul McCartney's wife?
Nathalie Haynes on untoppable jokes and the comedy routine that got her pulled off the air
I would like to offer praise to the unsung heroes of a radio recording - the studio audience. I love being on radio shows, but I would be lying if I said there was any possibility of getting me into the studio if it weren't for the money - and the biscuits in the green room. Yet, every time I record a programme, there is a room full of people who don't need to be bribed to sit in front of grandstanding comedians, all vying to get the best laughs, while secretly resenting the fact that they are having to share a stage at all.
Stand-ups have stringent rules about 'capping' jokes - if someone makes a gag and you top it for a bigger laugh, it's considered poor form. If you top it, and then follow up with the words, 'Sorry, mate - didn't mean to step on your laugh,' you are a) perpetrating the worst kind of insult, and b) still pretending to be common. Please get over it. The way to prevent this is to produce an untoppable joke, a contest incontrovertibly won by Richard Herring last month (Banter, Radio 4) with an unrepeatable but brilliant gag about the riddle of the Sphinx, and Paul McCartney's monopod wife.
The studio audience sits through a 90-minute recording for a 28-minute show. They have the good grace to applaud, and occasionally even cheer, in spite of the fact that they have heard this bit eight times already. When I asked an audience member why she was giving up her evening for the audible appreciation of others, she said that she enjoyed being in on the jokes that never make it to air. The best jokes never get past the censors because they are libellous, filthy, or because someone who works in an unseen cubicle has a vendetta against us.
I once had a routine pulled on the morning of broadcast. It was about committing suicide by inhaling helium (it kills in seven minutes, which is much quicker than a car exhaust. On the downside, you appear less than dignified if rescued: suicidally depressed, but with the voice of Minnie Mouse) and 11.02am was deemed an inappropriate time to advertise a suicide method. You would think that depressives wouldn't be listening to the radio at that hour, but rather watching Cash in the Attic, while boring forks into their left thighs.
Oddly, they replaced it with a joke about my fear that when chivalrous men hold doors open for me, they will bamboozle me, open a different door, and shut me into a cupboard - and who would blame them?
As I suspected, you will not hear the Sphinx joke. That one was just for the people who showed up.