Smart humour: The late Victor Borge was not only a brilliant pianist, he was as charming as he was funny. Photo: SUPPLIED

From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 12 September

September 12, 2021 BY

Comedy is serious busy, and hard work; especially if the audience does not respond in the way you anticipated. I have a penchant for stories against myself.

THE entertainment reporter, Peter Ford, has been a friend and colleague for many years. We worked together, first, at Channel Ten when he was the Melbourne producer for Good Morning Australia. He, too, has a wicked send of humour, and often times uses me as the butt of some very funny banter.

Hester Ford, America’s oldest woman, died aged 116. Peter, who was talking to a radio station in Perth, and was feeling slightly bored with the conversation, was heard to say, “She went to school with Roland Rocchiccioli.”  Troublingly, the presenter believed Peter, who added, for my benefit, “I have to say, in fairness to Roland, he was the year behind her!”

When asked my age he said, “I have no idea, but was doing the interviews on the red carpet at the opening of the Pyramids!”  On another occasion he said, “I’m fairly certain Roland knew Jesus, personally!”

When I suggested my impecunity might force me to hang-out a red light, he said, unabashedly, “Don’t be ridiculous! Why would you try and sell something you can’t even give away?”

However, it is not always at my own expense. Sometimes the opportunity it too great to resist. A colleague appeared on the television. I made no mention; however, when she asked what I thought I commented how awful she looked, “What are talking about?” she said, indignantly. “They sent me a make-up girl!”  Without missing a beat, I replied: “Really! What was her name? Helen Keller?”

When she told me an artist friend wanted to paint her for the Archibald, I asked, “Has he seen you lately?” We both laughed, a lot, at that riposte.

The Golden Girls was a brilliant international television series. It is the type of comedy – mostly observational or language driven – which I think is the most effective, and the funniest.  Of the four actresses, only Betty White is still with us. Rue McClanahan had impeccable comedy timing, as did Estelle Geddes and Bea Arthur, who could hold an effective deadpan pause like no-one I know.  However, McClanahan was my preference. It has been classified as savage, but clever might be a better description.

When first I started-out in the theatre, drawing-room comedies we de rigueur. For the most part, they were brittle pieces with straightforward plots, beautiful clothes, and some funny dialogue. When Eliza Dolittle, in the musical, My Fair Lady, shouted at Ascot, “Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin’ arse!”, theatre audiences roared with laughter. Such dialogue was used sparingly, and always with effect.

Watching the late Bob Hope at work was a masterclass. His control of the audience was exceptional. He knew exactly the right moment to top his own laugh. It can be difficult to build on a laugh but he did it with seeming ease.

However, even masters sometimes have moments of aberration. Hope performed at the Melbourne Arts Centre the show and the show was hugely successful. The curtain call applause was thunderous but he did not tell a final joke. He came off, disappointed, and said to me, “I have just had a blank. I could not think of another joke.”

For my money, the cleverest of them all was the late Victor Borge. Spending days with him in Melbourne was a rare treat. He was naturally funny; a brilliant, classically trained pianist with an intellectual, absurdist sense of humour. The combination of the two was lethal, and international. Danish by birth, he used the idiosyncrasies of the English language to create some of the funniest banter, ever.

The late Dave Allen; the incomparably brilliant Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller; and the truly clever Adam Hills, are exponents of the art.

However, comedy is subjective!

Roland can be heard with Brett Macdonald each Monday at 10.45am on Radio 3BA and contacted via [email protected].

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