Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

January 22, 2010

enjoying your incompetence

One of the things I like about Just A Minute is that it can be enjoyed on different levels and played in a variety of ways.

The two skills needed for success at the game are being quick-witted and sharp enough to pick up on the mistakes of others, and being fluent enough to keep going when you're talking. Clearly not everyone is going to have both or either of those skills - I doubt I would for one!

Over the years many people have been demonstrably bad at the game. It seems to me that if that's the case you have a choice. You can think "s--t, I'm making a fool of myself here in front of a worldwide audience of millions" and try to concentrate harder - and probably end up not doing any better at all.

Or you can think "f---k it, I'll just have some fun" and decide to revel in your incompetence.

There have been several shows where guests ignored the fact that they were abysmally poor at the game and just had a hell of a lot of fun, creating very memorable shows.

I can think of four women in this category, all unlikely to get another call-up. But Thora Hird, Lorraine Chase, Elaine Stritch and Su Pollard (on TV) all created a lot of fun, all the same. Elaine in particular was terrible at the game. But her single show is Nicholas Parsons' all-time favourite and is certainly a classic, largely because of her distinctive style.

Oddly I can't think of any male one-off guests who threw caution to the wind in quite the same way.

But some players kept getting further gigs while making fun of their own inadequacies. I'm thinking of Richard Murdoch, Barry Cryer, Chris Neill, Aimi Macdonald and yes, Peter Jones - all a hell of a lot of fun and seemingly not caring all that much about their inability to get many points. Coming at the show from this sort of perspective adds variety and a different way of enjoying the show.

None of this suggests this is the only way to play the game, of course. But if I was advising any newcomer to the show I would probably suggest they not take the points too seriously. Just have fun - the listeners will pick up on that.


Anonymous Ian said...

A great post. I always enjoy reading your blog.

12:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Dean, and a very good point - some of the most memorable players of the game have perhaps not been very skilled at the actual competition aspect, but have nevertheless been very entertaining, just as there have been others who were good at scoring points but perhaps were not as entertaining to hear. Peter Jones is certainly a prime example of a panellist who wasn't much good at scoring points but who always gave excellent value, to borrow one of Nicholas' favourite phrases used to console fourth-place finishers, but there was also Kenneth Williams, whose win ratio was almost as low as Peter's (both less than 1 in 5) but who will surely ever be ranked as one of the funniest people ever to sit before the microphones on JaM. And certainly one of the things that makes Paul Merton one of the best panellists in the show's history (in my not terribly humble opinion) is that he manages to balance these two aspects, being both very skilled at scoring points and very entertaining in so doing (although it does sometimes get out of hand and lead him to completely overrun an entire episode).

Like so many panel games, JaM is really an entertainment show first and a competition second, and the competitive side serves the entertainment side by providing a structure to the proceedings. And so, as you say in the blog post, new panellists would do well to start by focusing on being funny even if they don't score many points (and even if this means they use their best material during the banter sessions between monologues), and THEN trying to focus on becoming proficient at scoring points.

2:01 am  
Anonymous koeman said...

Someone who, for me, falls into the category of not being very good at the actual game but always creating lots of fun is Steve Frost. There's a wonderful bit in one of his shows where Nicholas says something along the lines of 'Steve, you have three seconds - which is about your limit', much to the amusement of Paul Merton. It would be nice to hear him back on the show one day.

1:30 am  

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