Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Shtick That Makes It Tick

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Shtick That Makes It Tick

Article excerpt


IT'S ironic that OJ Simpson (the man who apparently turned his wife into a human Pez dispenser) has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer.

And as evidence of that, let me cite the moment when chief prosecutor Marcia Clark said, "Mr Simpson, I suggest that you committed this crime with malice and aforethought", and OJ really did reply (I have the transcript framed) "That's not true, I done it alone".

But he's clearly not as dumb as he often appears because, after the trial, when he attempted to rehabilitate himself with the media and a deeply sceptical public, did he agree to give his first interview to one of the veteran interrogators of US broadcasting, such as Larry King or Tom Brokaw?

No, instead he headed straight for England and appeared on Tonight with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, the only TV programme in history to carry the permanent onscreen warning "Danger: Presenters Suffering from Delusions of Adequacy."

Time has moved on, but while Richard and Judy's career has spiralled downwards to Channel 4 (on the way to their final resting place on QVC), OJ jokes have never quite disappeared. For writers on late-night US talk shows, his past transgression has achieved a sort of comedic immortality, and only a few weeks ago I remember hearing one of the NBC hosts (Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien) reworking the gag about a telegram that OJ supposedly received from Michael Jackson during the trial ("Don't worry if you go down - I'll look after the kids").

The notorious incident when a former President splashed out on a frock for his girlfriend also lives on in the collective memory, which is why CBS's Late Night with David Letterman (shown here on ITV2) could include an updated joke about "scientists cloning Bill Clinton from a blue dress". That's what our Prime Minister likes to call "traditional values in a modern setting", as was a reference to the 69th birthday of the long-gone Elvis Presley: "As always, Elvis celebrated at home quietly with family and friends."

Letterman's longevity on US television has been due to his ability to blend topical material with the perennial obsessions of American society, and that combination was in evidence throughout Friday night's opening monologue.

Jokes about the day's weather ("It was so cold that Diana Ross refused to step out of her vehicle") gave way to a gentle dig at the Republicans (always a safe bet for a New York audience), and there was also an obligatory sideswipe at Saddam, because he's riding high once again as Public Enemy Number One (after briefly being displaced by Osama bin Laden), and soon we'll be dropping bombs on him and his evil people, who are apparently armed with deadly loaves of bread.

His opening stand-up routine then continued in the sitting position, with his world-famous Top Ten List, and a sharply observed selection of "New and Improved" products for 2003. …

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