Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Role of Humor in the Beatles Phenomenon

Right after the 1964 trip to America:

Ringo: "I just loved all of it. Miami - the sun, you know. I didn't know what it meant 'til I went over there."

Reporter: "Don't you get it up in Liverpool?"

Ringo: "No, they're finished up there, you know."


During the February 1964 press conference in New York City:

Reporter: "Will you sing a song for us?"

All of them (amazingly, in unison): "We need money first."


Right after the 1964 trip to America:

Reporter: "I hear that the four of you are going to be millionaires by the end of the year."
George: "Oh, that's nice."
Reporter: "Do you have time to actually spend this money?"
George and Ringo (amazingly, in unison): "What money?"


The Beatles's sense of humor is infamous. In fact, it's said that their personalities, even more than their music, are what motivated Brian Epstein to take time away from his successful business to manage the group. George Martin was initially skeptical of the group until George Harrison answered his inquiry about whether there was anything they didn't like about the recording session by saying, "Well first off, I don't like your tie."

Liverpudlians have a reputation for having very dry senses of humor; in that sense, we shouldn't be surprised that the Beatles, good Scousers that they were, would be pretty funny guys. However, I believe their humor played a very specific role in the entire Beatles phenomenon. Certainly, it provided fun soundbytes for fans; however, it was just as much for the boys' benefit as the fans'.

As my previous post about the individual members' experiences suggested, being part of the most successful group in the world was not always easy. Everyone, including even the security guards at the hotel, and the guy delivering room service, wanted a piece of the group. During the height of Beatlemania, the group would spend hours shut up in a room doing radio interviews that involved the same inane questions over and over again.

In that context, it makes sense that the boys would use humor as a way of not only keeping themselves from getting bored, but also keeping the rest of the world at a distance. Many people who have attempted to get close to the group observed that it was often very difficult to know whether the boys trusted them, since they'd often be the victim of inside jokes or just plain ridicule, meant to keep at bay anyone who seemed threatening to the group.

Perhaps the most sinister example of a Beatle using humor to deal with the negative side of fame is John's cripple impression. As you might or might not know, the boys were often met at shows by crippled youth whose parents believed that the Beatles could somehow heal their children. As a result, the front row of the audience would be filled with disabled children. As a way of dealing with this, John would do a cripple impression. Here's just one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6INJxE49Qgk

Do you agree that the group used humor to keep the rest of the world at bay, or do you think I'm off-base? Let me know!


  1. If their objective was to keep the world at bay, I don't think they succeeded. Although I see your point.

  2. Well, they did actually manage to maintain a pretty exclusive club, especially after they stopped recording. And reporters rarely, if ever, interviewed them on the reporters' terms; it was nearly always on the band's terms.