And then there was ‘Playtime’

Jonathan Coe

  • Jacques Tati by David Bellos
    Harvill, 382 pp, £25.00, October 1999, ISBN 1 86046 651 6

Audiences in the old Northern variety halls were notoriously unforgiving. ‘I suppose he’s all right,’ a departing punter is supposed to have said of one hapless comedian, ‘if you like laughing.’ It’s a comment which, like most of the best Northern humour, throbs with multiple ironies. On one level it parodies the supposed miserabilism of its own culture; but on another, it implies just the opposite, because you cannot get the joke, or savour its rueful tang, unless you recognise the assumption on which it rests: that the need for laughter is universal and absolute.

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