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April 18, 2009

“Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.”
Posted by Patrick at 09:33 PM *

Probability being what it is, the chances are great that there exists more than one Making Light reader who:

(1) follows the wildly popular Twitter feed of Stephen Fry, and

(2) has never seen The Greatest Fry-And-Laurie Sketch In The History Of All Great Things Ever.

Making Light: we live to serve.

(Thanks to Soren de Selby for introducing us to Fry & Laurie, and Cogitamus for reminding us of this particular bit.)

Comments on "Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.":
#1 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 10:20 PM:

Whosh--I never heard or saw that before. My gawd, sir, you have so defined--I say, I say--defined language so as it never has to be defined again.
It is indeed nappies and panzers and cobwebs and everything you say.'

And yet, and yet, you have not even touched upon
the soul's depth charge, the light brigade of truth, then inevitable iterations of the mindless hordes taking a toilet plunger to our ears.

Well done. Well done. And I say again, well done.


#2 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 10:39 PM:

Have you seen "QI", which is a panel quiz show Fry runs?

Utterly wonderful.

#3 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 11:19 PM:

It's hard to believe that that's that same actor who plays the cranky American Dr. House.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 11:43 PM:

Beth Friedman @ 3... You should have seen Laurie as that very caustic MI6 spy in British TV show Spooks (MI5 in the USA).

#5 ::: Godfree ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 11:43 PM:

Count me as a regular Making Light reader who satisfies both the criteria. Thank you for your service!

#6 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 11:45 PM:

Depth charge of the light brigade?

My hovercraft is full of eels.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 11:52 PM:

Applause, Jane, applause!

#8 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:03 AM:

You've just made my day! I sat down for a sulk, having just done the woodworking equivalent of knitting two front right hand sides in an impossible (or at least wildly annoying and difficult) to unravel wool, to find myself bestirred by the dulcet tones of fry and laurie, salving my wounds.

#9 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:10 AM:

What are the odds that I would turn out to fall into neither of those categories?

I had seen that bit before, though I'd forgotten it. It's a good question he raises: would Hitlerian rhetoric have been effective in English? and some kind of answer might be interesting.

Hello, we're talking about old boots.

#10 ::: Charles Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:37 AM:

@9 it's an interesting question, but I suspect culture has as much an impact as language itself.

Back when Olbermann was first firing up his strident denunciations of Bush, the Australian alt-journalism newsletter Crikey (much recommended) published a link to one such rant in which they praised his delivery and composition of rabble-rousing speech-making. Then they followed up with "Of course such a thing could never work here. The techniques that resonate so well in American would sound in our accent like a complete wanker."

#11 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 01:03 AM:

Grant Morrison once tried to make the case that Hitler must've learned how to do what he did from the English, but it's generally agreed he didn't succeed.

Gee, thanks, Patrick. I was going to try to get some work done tonight. Instead I'm tumbling down a Fry and Laurie rabbit-hole of YouTubery.

#12 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 02:46 AM:

Count me as one who neither follows Fry's Twitter feed nor has ever seen that before. That's amazing.


#13 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 02:56 AM:

I prefer spoon bending. Or the first two minutes of "Michael Jackson".

#14 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 03:02 AM:

A couple months ago I rented all four runs of A Bit of Fry and Laurie. The fourth wasn't as good as the first three, but all of them are well worth watching.

They both make appearances in Blackadder as well.

#15 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 03:39 AM:

No otters in that clip, but I expect he got round to them later.

#16 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 04:13 AM:

I love both Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, but I found the series less than satisfying for many reasons. That sketch typifies one of them: I think it was less funny than it could have been because they were making fun of too many things at once. Fry's artificially precious manner got in the way of the verbal humour and vice versa, and the only real laugh I got from it was when Laurie undercut all the posturing with that brilliantly economical look at the camera and then away. He is the better actor of the two, as Fry is (I think) the better writer.

But thank you for showing it to me again and enabling me to recover these thoughts from oblivion.

#17 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 04:59 AM:

I kind of agree with Zander.

As for the "English Hitler" thing, there's a lot of examples for succesful English-language demagogery. Usually not in RP, but how many people speak that anyway?

The tendency for self-depreciating humour and introspection that Fry's character mentions might be a better safeguard- it means that a) many Brits are likely to talk a lot about how deep down inside, they're the most fascist country in the world, and b) they're unlikely to be right about that.

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 06:05 AM:

That look is something that's carefully set up. He's been looking to camera and making brief comments for an audience that isn't paying attention. And they keep getting more and more inane. And then, he just can't think of anything to say.

The whole thing is loaded with humour for different sorts of audience. There's the TV Presenter out of his depth, and the sense of meaningless intellectual gabble from Fry, which is all that many would find to laugh at. Their loss. If there wasn't more we wouldn't be wondering, with Fry, about the chances of an English Hitler., and about the ability of language to modulate thinking.

(Which is not quite the same as the Saphir-Whorff hypothesis (ObSF: Babel-17).)

#19 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 06:43 AM:

I love Fry and Laurie, my favourite recurring character/sketches they had were their spies Tony and Control.

Tony and Control, lie detector

It's frequently a very cerebral and wordy sort of humour but it would fall flat without the excellent performances. I'd like to see them take on Jack Bauer and win though :D

#20 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 07:06 AM:

He is the better actor of the two, as Fry is (I think) the better writer.

Agreed, though neither is bad at either. Fry's performance in Wilde was excellent and Laurie's novel The Gun Seller was several different kinds of fun all piled up together.

Laurie is the better musician though.

#21 ::: East of Weston ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 08:41 AM:

Taking World History this semester, and had the rise of the National Socialists lecture just this week!

On German-language and fascism - between 1930 and 1935, if you add together all of the votes cast for fascist and far right parties in Europe - 96.9% were cast by German speakers. And this, apparently, ignoring the German elections after 1932 due to ballot box intimidation. Fascist dictatorship in non-German speaking countries came about either because of coup or royal appointment.

So with Hitler, the German language may have been very important.

#22 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:12 PM:

Wonderful sketch! I'd not seen that before. And perfect cap, janeyolen!

#23 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 02:28 PM:

I was first introduced to that duo in the Jeeves and Wooster series, and they have been delighting me ever since.

I don't watch House but my roommate does, so I have caught bits of it on occasion. I've had a wonderful time contrasting Bertie Wooster with Gregory House. Similarly, I was very amused when I watched Gosford Park and got Fry as the somewhat incompent Inspector, rather than the uber-confident Jeeves. And hurray for avoiding typecasting.

#24 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 05:49 PM:

Hadn't seen that sketch before, and I think that my recent addition of the BBC Radio 4 podcast of In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg to my daily commute made that sketch even more fun for me to watch.

#25 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 06:29 PM:

And another to whom it was brand new. Thank you. I'm sharing this.

#26 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 06:57 PM:

Well, that was a revelation; it's like finding out that Neil Patrick Harris also has a Broadway career.

#27 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 07:33 PM:

Paul @ 20

Mr Laurie is a very fine musician indeed, but there is evidence that Fry is no slouch himself.

I think Mr Fry is right to hide his light under a bushel - if he were to let it be more widely known that as well as being so intelligent, so talented and so funny, he was also a musician, he'd be at even more risk of being lynched for being Far Too Clever.

Laurie, on the other hand, has carefully cultivated an image of being Not As Smart As Steven, and can get away with such virtuoso displays.

#28 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 07:59 PM:

vian @ 27: Your link to evidence seems to be all broken. My only exposure to the musical Fry is the few segments of Fry & Laurie where he accompanies Laurie. It would seem from those that he carefully cultivated an image of being Not As Musical As Hugh.

#29 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 08:08 PM:

Sorry Paul - Here's a cut'n'paste version.

#30 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 02:12 AM:

I don't follow Fry's Twitter stream, but I do have an RSS subscription to his blog, and find that he has a lot of interesting things to say about modern technology and its discontents. And I am slowly working my way through his book on poetry, "The Ode Less Travelled", and learning a lot.

Fry as an actor: every so often he puts in an appearance on Bones, and it's as if a great light shone down on the program and all are lifted and ennobled*. This is no small thing in the current season, in which the show seems to have been murdered so that some quack script doctor could resurrect the corpse and claim a victory in ratings.

* By which I mean that he's so damn good at that somewhat understated brand of gentle humor that he makes everyone else seem a little better.

#31 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 02:32 AM:

If language is a half-forgotten book of erotic memoirs, I wonder then if it has the sheen of a sea beneath an eclipsed moon; does it have the fragrance of a gibbous moon and the scent of fresh snow?
Is it bottles of wine covered with dew and otters?

#32 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 03:36 AM:

Language is jumping the shark while wearing a Body Glove the color of a wine-dark sea.

#33 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 04:02 AM:

Beth Friedman @3, It's hard to believe that that's that same actor who plays the cranky American Dr. House., and Kayjayoh @23, I don't watch House but my roommate does, so I have caught bits of it on occasion. I've had a wonderful time contrasting Bertie Wooster with Gregory House.

I haven't watched House yet because it started a while after I mostly stopped watching TV, but I remember how weird I found it when I was checking some Livejournals I read once in a while and discovered that the actor who had played Lt. George had apparently become a sex symbol on American TV.

#34 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 04:32 AM:

vian @ 29: Sorry but I didn't find that evidence very convincing. We did see Mr Fry as Jeeves sitting at a piano and we did see the piano being played, but there was a suspicious lack of angles that showed that they were indeed Mr Fry's hands doing the playing. (When we do see hands, we don't see any more of him.)

Laurie's performance in that piece could also have been faked. We did see one angle where hands that were certainly his were in contact with the piano, but sound can be edited in afterward. However, we know from his numerous performances elsewhere that Mr Laurie plays piano and guitar quite well. Alas, I don't recall seeing Mr Fry play any instrument in any way that did not appear to be edited to hide the fact that is wasn't actually him playing. I would be happy to be proven wrong and will probably soon begin rewatching all of Fry & Laurie's Bits in the hope that I am.

#35 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 04:41 AM:

A few minutes of Googlytubing later...

He does play the piano a bit in this sketch but it doesn't prove a lot.

#36 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 09:35 AM:

I am personally fond of Fry as the odious journalist Mybug in the 1995 film of Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm. Then again, that's one of my favorite movies, period--it's a terrific collection of character actors all at their best. (Ian McKellen as the fire-and-brimstone pastor of the Trembling Brethren is worth the price all by himself.)

#37 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 04:45 PM:

I like what I seen of Stephen Fry, which is relatively little. He was the voice, and lips, of the librarian in Mirrormask, and he co-starred in V For Vendetta.

For another pair of comedians, try the Australian team of Clarke and Dawe:

#38 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 01:46 AM:

Being relatively recently been introduced to the two as a team, I still have the fervor of a new convert.

I think the favorite clip I've seen is this one
( ),
which I am ashamed to say I could conceive of actually happening...

#39 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 02:30 AM:

Ah Paul, you terrible cynic - would Jeeves lie to us? Actually, wait a minute - of course he would, but only by omission, in a noble cause, and never directly or with malice.

But here is further evidence of Fry's bushel-hiding tendancies: "There's a piano in my house, and I play when no one's around - but as soon as anyone listens, my confidence goes and I lose my sense of rhythm." From _Moab is my washpot_ IIRC.

As to whether that was him in the Jeeves and Wooster clip, I still suspect it was, British Television budgets of the 90s being what they were, but he'd have to have been good and liquored (or coked) up, as he often was in those days in an attempt to overcome his social anxiety.

#40 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 02:46 AM:

On the subject of Clarke and Dawe - Mr Clarke has a website.

His piece on farnarkling remains the definitive work on the ancient sport - here's a taste:

"The word Farnarkeling is Icelandic in structure, Urdu in metre and Celtic in the intimacy of its relationship between meaning and tone."

More here:

#41 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 06:14 AM:

PNH said "Ian McKellen as the fire-and-brimstone pastor of the Trembling Brethren is worth the price all by himself."

"There is no butter in Hell,"is one of those family favorites pulled out with fervor on many an occasion.

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 11:20 AM:

Ya think?

Gone now. Thanks for the heads up heads-up.

#43 ::: pedantic Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 11:33 AM:

Since 'heads up' is a noun here, and not a command or a warning, shouldn't it be 'heads-up'? Yes, I am a member of the dash brigade and of 'postrophe posse. Why do you ask?

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 12:08 PM:

Serge @45:

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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