The Sky is the Limit

Rob Auton’s victory in Dave’s annual Funniest Joke Competition has drawn if anything more than the usual complaints. Without wishing to defend the joke in question (though it’s by no means the worst on the list), at least this time round the award has been given to a relatively obscure comedian who will benefit from the publicity. Auton’s hour, The Sky Show, is quintessentially Fringe, in the slightly old-fashioned sense of being determinedly peculiar and staged without a great deal of polish. Auton sets up his backdrop (several pieces of cloth across which is written ‘The Sky Show’) as the audience enter. The theme, such as it is, is the sky, encompassing surreal stories about a factory where the weather is made and a tatty rival to The Sun which mostly consists of photographs of the sky stuck onto pieces of paper. It’s the kind of humour that’s best thought of as a tightrope act – there is little by way of snappy material, slick stagecraft, audience interaction or big set pieces. Nor is it a piece of deliberately bad or obscure anti-comedy; there was never any sense that the show was a comment on stand-up. Rather, Auton has put the standard tropes of comedy aside in order to do something as much on his own terms as possible. It’s not always successful, but it is far more interesting than his winning joke might suggest.

As for the also-rans, one that stood out for me was Liam Williams’s, which he’s been using for a while to open his set:

It’s a fine joke, but much like the winner it’s a variant on an idea that’s been around for a while. Apparently this was a popular Victorian quip to sum up the difference between the mind and the physical universe: ‘What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind’.[i] Maybe someone should use that at the Fringe next year – there might be a prize in it…

[i] A very quick search reveals a website attributing it to Berkeley, which would obviously place it earlier still. It sounds suspiciously witty to be by of the good bishop, but I’m no expert on his work, philosophical or comic.


  1. A small point, but Berkeley was a *very* witty author, definitely one of the funniest in the philosophical canon. You probably need to see his short satirical pieces attacking the Cartesians etc to realise it though. "Alciphron" is also supposed to be funny, but I've never read it.

  2. ... which, come to think of it, we might have guessed from Pope: "Even in a bishop I can spy desert / Secker is decent, Rundel has a heart / Manners with candour are to Benson given / To Berkeley every virtue under heaven"

  3. Thank goodness someone is finally working to reclaim Berkeley's rightful place in the comedy canon... Interestingly, Berkeley is not one of the philosophers mentioned by Monty Python in their song. Obviously they hadn't done their research either.

  4. Well, do any synonyms of 'drunk' rhyme with 'Berkeley'? I do think my witty conversation is quite sparkly when I'm in my cups.