Twitter launches 140-character festival as Ofcom probes Comic Relief sketch

Can't get to Edinburgh? Kilkenny just that bit too far away? Never fear.

This week's comedy news

The cable channel Comedy Central is teaming up with Twitter to launch the first 140-character comedy festival. The festival will commence on 29 April and run for five days, featuring a host of comedy names tweeting jokes and posting six second videos using Twitter's new video app Vine. Next Monday, Twitter will stream the only live #ComedyFest event, a panel discussion featuring Mel Brooks and Judd Apatow. The New York Times has more on the story, including the lowdown on a new app Comedy Central is developing to help users discover their favourite new comedians.

Back in the world of real festivals, veteran Anglo-American standup Rich Hall has won the Barry award at the Melbourne comedy festival, as reported by the Guardian's Matt Trueman. Lee Nelson, geezer alter ego of comic Simon Brodkin, announced his candidacy for the vacant parliamentary seat of South Shields, then hours later – having satisfied his hunger for publicity – withdrew. Police are asking for assistance in tracing a fraudster who has repeatedly posed as comedian Peter Kay's brother. Peter Stead's most recent scam involved taking money for non-existent charity gigs. And the character comic Marcel Lucont (real name Alexis Dubus), is auctioning tickets to his 2013 Edinburgh fringe show, Chortle reports. Lucky winners will be invited to select the time and venue of his performance, and choose from a menu of available material.

In the bigger league, this week brings news that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has become a funnyman, with a comical turn on the country's leading satirical TV show. Ali G, aka Sacha Baron Cohen, has been named for the first time on the Sunday Times' soul-sapping Rich List. The Borat star is, it says, "worth" £68m. And sozzled Irish standup Dylan Moran has announced his first north American tour.

Finally, in telly matters, the Comic Relief sketch featuring Rowan Atkinson as the Archbishop of Canterbury is to be investigated by the regulator Ofcom, after the BBC received more than 2,000 complaints. Sitcom fans can celebrate the good news that sketch troupe Pappy's are edging ever closer to our screens – and, perhaps, the nation's hearts – as per a Metro report on the upcoming Badults, while Carla (Bread) Lane is threatening to write her first new sitcom for 17 years. Ian McKellen has been discussing his new comedy show about an ageing gay couple (co-starring Derek Jacobi). Vicious, says McKellen, will be "fairly traditional [like] The Golden Girls or I Love Lucy … In the past, gay characters in sitcoms have been figures of fun. They were funny because they were gay. But I like the fact that these characters are funny because of the people they are. That's a real advance."

Oh, and the US sitcom Friends isn't – you hear me, isn't – coming back...

Best of the Guardian's comedy coverage

• "This cinema hasn't had the biggest take-up audience-wise." – Can standup work in cinemas? I check out the movie Comedy Store: Raw and Uncut.

• "To be a comedian in the US without a podcast is increasingly to be an oddity" – Diane Shipley on Marc Maron and the boom in (particularly American) comedy podcasts.

• "I want to make it quite clear to you both I refuse to have a bomb in my trousers" – from the archive, Jimmy Perry remembers Dad's Army star Arthur Lowe.

• "I feel there's an obligation to make [comedy] that bit more interesting …" Bill Bailey interviewed by Simon Hattenstone in Weekend magazine.

• It's been asked before and it'll be asked again: have panel shows had their day? Rhik Samadder reviews the genre, and it's most prominent examples.

Controversy of the week

The big news story of last week was the Boston bombings – and where news goes, comedy is sure to stampede after. Or beforehand, in the case of US animated sitcom Family Guy, which found itself accused of plotting the bombings. Clips of a recent episode of the show, Turban Cowboy, were edited together and posted online to depict parallels with the Boston marathon attack. The Fox network subsequently pulled the episode from its website, and the show's creator Seth MacFarlane tweeted a statement: "The edited Family Guy clip currently circulating is abhorrent. The event was a crime and a tragedy, and my thoughts are with the victims."

No space left on the moral high ground for standup Paul Mooney, who was forced to cancel a show the day after his own remarks on the Boston bombings led to boos and walk-outs at a New York club. "Paul Mooney last night at Levity Live said white people in Boston deserved what they got," said Twitter user @CPipcinski, "and [it was] OK to lose a few limbs … and as long as no blacks got hurt." Mooney is best known as a guest star on Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show and as a former writer for Richard Pryor. The Levity Live club cancelled Mooney's scheduled Sunday evening performance after 20 audience members bailed on his controversial Saturday night gig.

Best of our readers' comments

You can rely on a column about the talents – or otherwise – of Ben Elton to spark a lively debate. When Stuart Heritage pondered Elton's new "shamelessly broad, deliberately lowest-common-denominator" sitcom The Wright Way, our readers were swift to join the fray. The key question: did Elton go bad, or was he always bad? Wasn't he the man, asked pictou, who made Blackadder funny?

It was Elton who was brought in to 'refresh' Blackadder for the second series after the Atkinson/Curtis-penned series one. Series two, three and four are genuine landmarks in British comedy, while The Black Adder [ie, series one] really wasn't. The lead character in series one was a weasel and a wimp, with Baldrick as the brains. The way Edmund developed from series two onwards wasn't simply a comedic evolution – this was brilliant, bravura, almost 'back to square one' writing. Elton was hugely influential in the delivery of his transformation.

Not everyone agreed – including Crubellier:

I used to believe this, too [s/he writes] until I saw the pilot for The Black Adder, which was produced well before Elton was brought in, and in which the character of Edmund is all but identical to the version seen in Blackadder II: a conniving, cunning bastard with a number of chips on his shoulder rather than a flat-out buffoon, and his relationship with Percy and Baldrick is essentially as it would be in subsequent series. Much of what is traditionally ascribed to Elton's involvement was very clearly already in place before the first series was even commissioned.

For most of us, though, Elton's early-career work is to be cherished; and his midlife loss of mojo remains a bit of a mystery. Thanks, then, to claudiecat, for explaining it in unanswerable terms:

What happened to Ben Elton? He moved to Perth. While I love my home town and wouldn't live anywhere else, it is not remotely conducive to humour.

Powered by article was written by Brian Logan, for on Tuesday 23rd April 2013 16.43 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Howard Lake