Billy Connolly’s first album, called Solo Concert, in which he reimagines the crucifixion of Jesus Christ taking place in Glasgow in the 1970s. It was the first time I had heard a comedian who sounded like anyone I knew. He had an accent like ours; he was definitely a surrealist and a raconteur. He had completely come from the same background as me. So on a personal level—it made me laugh, but also there was something else going on with me with it. It kind of opened the gate for me: If guys where I come from were allowed to do this…
The Marx Brothers
I’ll pick one scene from the Marx Brothers—there’s so many. I guess it would be the stateroom scene from Night at the Opera, or maybe the doctor’s office or dentist’s office scene from A Day at the Races. The surrealism of the Marx Brothers I just loved—they would pile madness upon madness upon insanity. It used to panic me a little bit when I watched it as a kid, but I kind of liked that—it was out of control. And these were grown-ups that were behaving so slowly. I don’t know why I would be so fascinated by a Jewish vaudevillian troupe from the 1930s, but I was—I fucking loved them. I can’t understand it. So I don’t question it too much. If it works, fucking do it. That was an old Groucho Marx maxim: If it gets a laugh, leave it in—and that’s all you need to know about it. My guess is that the surreal, kind of unorthodox nature of what the Marx Brothers did sang to me as a young man. It still does, of course.
The Man With Two Brains and Young Frankenstein
Combining the movie The Man With Two Brains and Young Frankenstein, even though they weren’t made from the same guy. But I’m combining them anyway, because Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks are great friends, and because they share a sense of humor born out of these Marx Brothers guys. The Man With Two Brains and Young Frankenstein both mocked movies in a gentle way—the parodies were clever. What I think is lost a lot in parody—parody not only now, but also back in the day—with good parody, you have to be smarter that the people you’re parodying. A lot of times that’s not the fucking case. So just saying, “You suck,” that’s just stupid. To imitate someone, you have to be smarter than them. I think that’s why everybody’s having such a tough time with Obama, because he’s clearly smarter than everybody else. It’s really difficult to parody somebody who’s smarter than you. Bush was a fucking godsend, but Obama, not so easy.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Chuckles Bites the Dust
The Mary Tyler Moore Show I always loved because it’s funny. It’s the funniest American sitcom I remember seeing as a kid. I watched when I was in Scotland in the ’70s; so I was a kid when this thing was out. It was on once a week; after Top of the Pops in Britain. That was at a time when people used to gather around the TV to watch things—sort of a quaint idea now. The episode where the TV clown died (Chuckles) and they were all trying to be very serious at Chuckles’ memorial service, when Mary (I think it was) said, “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants.” It was kind of like a fart in church; it was that kind of feeling. You really mustn’t laugh, but you really can’t help it, and they did a really great job with that.
Monty Python: The Piranha Brothers
When Spiny Norman, the giant hedgehog, goes looking for the Dimsdale brothers in Monty Python. Spiny Norman was an oversize cartoon hedgehog who was looking for the notorious Dimsdale brothers (a parody of the Kray brothers in the East End in the ’60s). It was the first time I remember peeing myself laughing. I was a kid; I was kind of allowed to watch Monty Python, but I kind of wasn’t allowed to watch it. The rules were fairly lax, and we watched Spiny Norman shouting “Dimsdale!” all over the place. You kind of have to see it. It’s an exercise in surrealism, I suppose. For me, the Pythons were the Beatles and Billy Connolly was Elvis. The Pythons were the result of Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore, who were a result of Spike Mulligan, who was a result of the Goons, who was a result of the British musical acts in the 1930s. One thing leads to another, leads to another. I think comedy as an art involves the audience as a participant as much as is involves the artist.
Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore
Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore in the Not Only but Also Show they did for the BBC. A much more profane version of that show was available on their live audio album, which is just fucking hysterical. When they’re in the art gallery: “I love those paintings with the eyes that follow you around the room.” “No, Dad, that is your eyes following the painting around the room as you walk.” They’re very odd people. Peter Cooke was a friend of mine, and he was kind of a mentor for me at an early point in my career. He helped me a great deal when I was starting out. So I remember him personally with great affection.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
The dining-room scene in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are giving their interpretation of what the baby Jesus actually is. “I imagine the baby Jesus in its swaddling clothes” or “I see the baby Jesus as a deer with its antlers on fire.” It’s a great fucking scene—it’s fantastic. And clearly the actors are improvising and having a good time doing it.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Borat wrestling that nude fat guy. If you don’t laugh at that, go fuck yourself.
The Daily Beast: Humor has become more politically correct in the past 15 years. Do you feel that was a reminder that you have to go there sometimes?
I just like the wrestle with nude fat guys; that’s what it said to me. I’ll tell you what that movie did: It showcased the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen—that’s what it did for me. I just said, “This guy’s fucking brilliant.” And other than that, I really don’t analyze it, because whatever his genius is, it belongs to him; it doesn’t belong to me or anyone else. You get to enjoy it as an audience member, and I’m happy to do that. I don’t think being a comedian gives you any fucking insight into what makes people laugh, unfortunately. What criteria any comedian I’ve ever worked with—and I’ve worked with some great ones—is that it’s what makes them laugh. So clearly Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius with a sick sense of humor. So God bless him.
Team America: World Police
The unedited version of the puppet sex scene in Team America: World Police, where the puppets poo on each other. I watched that with my nephews. I remember squeaking out through shock and laughter that this was inappropriate for them to watch. That was a great fucking movie.
You’ll need to rent the DVD to see the infamous scene, but in the meantime here’s the theatrical trailer!
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
The South Park Movie: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. For the first half hour, I thought I was gonna fucking poo myself, I was laughing so much. Nobody gets it right every week, but what they do consistently is just hammer the people that need hammering, over and over again. What I love about it is that I can watch that show and go, “Fuck you,” and hate them for what they’ve done, and then 30 seconds later love it. But if there’s anything that created a new area of comedy I think these guys did it. That’s really groundbreaking. That spawned all these other things. I guess there’s The Simpsons and all that, but what they do in South Park is very vicious and very funny, and I can’t help but admire that. I think when I saw the picture of Gandhi floating by in hell I thought, “These people clearly don’t give a fuck.” I’m a fairly liberal thinking individual but when I saw that I said, “You can’t do that! That’s Gandhi!”
Craig Ferguson is an author, filmmaker, and the host of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. His memoir, American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, will be published by Harper Collins in the fall of 2009.