Comedy in the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared web series

The final episode of the web series, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, has been released amongst much anticipation, rounding up a four year project. The six episodes parody children’s television, but quickly twist the initial impression, with the shorts rapidly turning odd, surreal and very dark.

There’s a vast array of fan theories aiming to explain the storylines, which I must admit are incredibly addictive once you’ve started digging. The videos are filled with clues to the meaning, some obvious, others more discreet being hidden in the background. The most popular theory is that the creators, Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, are making a comment on the controlling influence of the media on society.

I’m going to refrain from discussing the theory as I’d just be parroting other bloggers, but what I do want to look at is the comedy in these videos. If you like the surreal then these videos are a much watch. They’re the sort of thing Noel Fielding would conjure up and I admire the artists behind the project for not holding back with their creativity, which, as the theme of the first episode, may be something that the artists have experienced restrictions on in the past. Thanks to YouTube however, the creators have full control.

There’s three main characters; Red Guy, Yellow Guy and Duck. Duck’s squeaky voice is intrinsically funny and by contrasting it with Red Guy’s monotone pitch and Yellow’s typical dumb kid persona, every line is becomes funny.

Songs are a major part of each episode, helping to create the upbeat and seemingly safe childhood nostalgia. The songs are all catchy and will certainly induce stares if you unknowingly start muttering them in public.The juxtaposition with the songs exaggerate the harrowing scenes that appear late in each episode, and will make you laugh purely at how bizarre a situation it is.

The production is superb, there’s no distraction by poor quality. Each episode has a ‘teacher’, represented by an inanimate object that comes to life. Be it a tap dancing steak that can’t pronounce the word ‘organs’, or a butterfly mistaken for a little baby pigeon, the unique characters could seemingly be part of any mainstream children’s show.

Deeper into the series, episodes become packed with Easter eggs in the background. Some of these contribute subtly to the overall meaning of the narrative, but many are just neat little call backs which crack a smile. They’re videos made for repeated viewing, allowing new discoveries even upon the third or fourth watch. That’s when you realise how catchy the songs really are.

Episodes three and five are the most prolific in terms of comedy. They contain a few jokes, albeit it strange ones. The creators I think focussed more on making the steak character in episode five funny, with mispronunciation, the stupidity of his lesson and the bullying of the main characters. As for episode three, the inappropriate line by the sexually aggressive dog forced me to pause the video to break down laughing.

By reading and watching many of the fan theories, my favourite being by YouTube Explained, I believe that the messages behind the videos are very grandiose, but the skill in presenting it through a simple and familiar medium cannot be underestimated. The comedy on top of that and the ability to laugh at society has drawn in the viewers. This is what great writing and screenplays do, fantastic comedy on the surface masking a deeper meaning.

Episode 1

 

As always, thanks for reading and please subscribe and share. Merci

Interview: Facebook favourite Paul Ballington

For Paul Ballington plumbing is his trade, however it’s not what the comedy singer songwriter wants to do full time. All day he fixes pipes, but when he gets home he sets up a camera and shows off his own set of pipes to his rapidly growing Facebook following. I spoke to him about his recent success, as well as the money he’s raised for charity and balancing family life with music. 

“I set my page two years ago I think, it’s grown a lot over the last six months,” says Paul ‘Ballo’ Ballington. The 38-year-old, confessing he’s an old man, has been writing songs for 20 years but only recently turning to comedy and finding success through his Facebook page.

The first comedy song I wrote was Ten Pints Of Carling and that was about three years ago I think. To be honest I wrote it by accident, I sat on my keyboard to write a serious song, which is what I used to do, and then the line ten pints of Carling popped into my head and it went from there.”

Currently Paul’s Facebook page has 29,000 followers and some of his videos have hit over a million views. His most popular, a song about boy racers, was shared widely on social media. From the off he makes his opinions known with a tidy expletive.

 

You kind of hope that you write one and it takes off a little bit and that seemed to happen with the boy racer song. Even though I got tons of abuse from boy racers, it took off and I think my page grew from something like four or five thousand to about ten thousand”

Paul insists that he’s never offensive in any of his songs. “I always avoid things like race and religion, I take the mick, just light hearted humour.”

Boy Racers, however, did get some backlash but Paul just humoured it. “I picked on a bunch of people who didn’t like the mick taken out of them. It didn’t really bother me to be honest. I thought it was quite funny more than anything, not really a problem.”

In addition to the original songs, recently Paul has been covering several of the big hits in the charts by artists such as Meghan Trainor, Shawn Mendes, Galantis and Miley Cyrus. But of course with Paul there’s a twist, changing the lyrics to his down to earth and sometimes cheeky humour. He doesn’t believe Mike Posner “took a pill in Ibiza”, but that “he took a bird for a pizza.”

 

Paul’s bouncy Yorkshire charm makes him immediately likable. Starting videos with an ebullient “Ey up” and finishing them with a theatrical “I thank you,” adds to his cheeky chappy demeanour. He admits these sign ins and outs were not a conscious decision, nevertheless, they’ve become a signature mark.

As well as the Facebook page, Paul has produced an album. Memories Of Yesterday was released last year amassing a couple of hundred downloads through itunes as well as around a hundred sales in CDs but, as Paul is posting them out, he concedes big sales are difficult. “I don’t think I’ll be making my millions doing an album but it’s done alright,” he adds.

Being his first comedy song, Paul says his favourite from the album is Ten Pints Of Carling. It’s another song, however, that has been the best received. “I think the most popular on it is When We Were Kids, I think if I was listening to it and it wasn’t my own album, I’d say When We Were Kids was my favourite.”

A whirlwind of childhood nostalgia, When We Were kids is a toe tapping list of memories coalesced by Paul and his friends over Facebook, the idea to make it as relatable as possible. “I put a little status on Facebook saying can people list things they remember from their childhood, there was tons of stuff, obviously there was plenty that I could remember, but people just put all sorts of stuff down.”

Paul has also raised money for charity. He released a Christmas song to raise money for PACT, a charity through Sheffield’s children’s hospital which helps leukaemia sufferers, paying for them to have a day out. The song was rereleased the following year to raise money for Bluebell Wood, a hospice caring for children and young adults across South Yorkshire.

“The PACT one was the first one and it was quite successful that, raised near a thousand pounds, that was through downloads and we also set up a just giving page so people could contribute.”

Paul tries to perform his songs live in his home town of Sheffield as much as possible. “I’m starting to do it more and more, I put a couple of nights on around here, got a little local theatre that holds a couple of hundred people and I’ve sold that out a couple of times and I’ve played at the O2 academy in Sheffield.”

Balancing two young kids, his job and music, Paul is understandably too busy to perform as much as he’d like. “All this music stuff has come at the wrong time in my life. I’m more kind of bothered about the writing side of it than the actual performing. I’m just going along with it at the minute and seeing what happens.”

“I try not to have too much going on all at once, it just gets crazy.”

Asking whether his children have listened to his music Paul chuckles, replying: “Yeah they do, they really enjoy them. There’s only certain ones they’re allowed to listen to so I have to be a little bit careful.

“My little lad, he’s nine, I have played him songs and I’ve said when it gets to this word you know it’s not a word you use at school. There’s the Christmas song which is a totally clean song and the Get On Yer Bike song and yeah they love them, my little girl dances around to them and they were both in the Christmas video.”

A football fan, Paul has released a song and accompanying music video for England ahead of their European Championship campaign. I’d Love It is a classic jumpy football tune, immediately relatable for any fan.

 

Doing something you love as your job is something many people aspire to and this is no different for Paul. With no hesitation when asked about his ultimate ambition, Paul says: “It’s got to be doing this as a job, doing something in music, it’s not to be famous or anything like that it’s to make a living doing music, whether I’m in the background or I’m performing I don’t mind.

“My big ambition is to not be plumbing well I would say at 40 but that’s a bit ambitious because that’s 18 months away, but to be doing this as a day job definitely the ambition, not to be scratching about under people’s baths and bogs!”

 

Review: Tim Vine – ‘Tim Timinee Tim Timinee Tim Tim To You’

[First published on Quays News 03/10/15]

TIM VINE brought his unique brand of silly comedy to Bradford St Georges Hall last night with his new show Tim Timinee Tim Timinee Tim Tim To You.

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The entrance for a comedian is vital. They need to look confident, composed, yet energetic. Vine certainly nailed the final one, popping out of a chimney positioned on the stage dancing hilariously to his own song. He is known for his comedic songs as well as his quick puns, but in this show he displayed his talent for physical comedy as the small, charming theatre was suddenly host to a display of ridiculous dance moves that had the entire audience in stitches.

Jeremy Vine, Tim’s brother and current contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, should certainly be asking for advice. After his opening foray there wasn’t any time for rest as the self proclaimed Punslinger ploughed into a series of chimney jokes, somehow squeezing numerous puns out of this one mundane object.

His delivery, as expected, was exceptional. It was quick and precise with exquisite timing, always fronting the joke out to make the audience laugh at the silliest of gags. His effort was faultless, and the smile on his face made it appear as if he was enjoying it as much as his audience. He received not one heckle, perhaps because of his infectious charm or simply because of the speed he delivers his act, making heckles a physical impossibility.

It wasn’t just a barrage of one-liners however. Lulls in the show were sparse as Tim would burst into song, which, although always ludicrous, were sung in tune and struck a chord with the audience. His box of props, always present in his shows, contained many delights. Some homemade with cardboard and a marker pen, others such as a huge microphone hat, were created at some price, but all accompanied with a silly song or hilarious quip.

Some of his jokes felt crafted rather than written, others, I’m still trying to work out. Donning a robot mask, then knitting and dancing to techno music stumped me entirely, but at the same time it was one of the best moments of the show. There were instances where Tim fully showed off his pun writing talent, reeling off a succession of jokes about a particular subject, and always riding the laughter and applause perfectly, rarely leaving an unwelcome gap or moving on too quickly.

Halfway through the show Tim regurgitated some old material. Despite being some of his best jokes of his career, it was difficult to sit through, feeling almost like punishment for being a fan. However, creating a full show put together with incredibly short jokes, never mind remembering it all, must be a laborious task.

In his encore however, he won back his fans. Over the years Vine’s songs have amassed into a greatest hits collection, allowing him to roll them out at will, a luxury other comedians don’t have. He started with Deep, a song requiring the audience to shout deep once the microphone is pointed at them. A song named Family Holidays then followed, but what pleased the audience most was his signature pen behind the ear routine, in which Tim tries repeatedly to throw a Biro behind his ear. Tension, expectation, disappointment and finally jubilation were all created by the simple act of throwing a pen behind an ear.

Tim Vine is a silly comedian, and by the glint in his eye and enormous grin, he knows it. That’s not in any way to his detriment. Silly comedy is extremely difficult to get right, but in this show, Vine certainly got it right.

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