We all love Joanna Lumley. But her monologue at last night’s BAFTA awards just goes to show that even those of us who usually know how to draw a laugh out of any room can still get it all horribly wrong.
Jokes are awkward things because they aren’t universally funny. The reaction to the same joke told in the same way in the same venue can vary from night to night.
We harp on about ‘relevance’ – and nowhere is this more crucial than in judging whether your humour is the right one for that audience on that night. It’s a call that can, at best, make you the act of the night or, at worst, just the subject of disappointed head-shaking and awkward looks.
In character as Patsy, Lumley is used to delivering a stream of abrasive one liners to great effect. But a sit com is probably the best example of ‘the right place and the right time’.
An awards show in an environment of extreme political correctness calls for a different approach altogether. In that light, jokes about the (Klu Klux) Klan Film Festival was never going to work. Although it’s a clever pun.
Her dig at Richard E Grant fell completely flat too. Not because it wasn’t witty, but because audiences at award ceremonies generally like a speaker to be self-deprecating rather than picking on others in the room.
And when your speech is bombing, making jokes about bad speeches and jokes – as she did last night – doesn’t work either.
There’s no doubt that the speech failed. But not many of the jokes were awful. It was a great example of a bad start, followed by an inappropriate reference or two. Which is when the audience decides it won’t look good to laugh. And the tumbleweed starts to drift across the stage.
Which all goes to show that the best of us can have a bad day, but when we put the audience first and start well, bad days can generally be avoided!