Laugh your way through Blue Monday with our cultural survival guide

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Telegraph reporters
·6 min read
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Marc Platt and Katherine Sergava in a 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma! - Getty
Marc Platt and Katherine Sergava in a 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma! - Getty

Discover how funny the French are - seriously

Call My Agent (on Netflix now)

The French have not been revered for their comedy on this side of the Channel since the days of Georges Feydeau, but Fanny Herrero's sublime hit series, set in a chic but hyper-stressed Parisian talent agency, is a fleet-footed delight. The fourth and final instalment lands on Netflix this Thursday, so now is the perfect time to indulge in the perfectly tousled lives of Andrea, Mathias, Gabriel and Arlette, as they lurch from one A-list disaster to the next. There's a good reason that the stars - Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci, Jean Reno and Jean Dujardin among them - have queued up for guest roles. C'est hilarant.

C'est hilarant: Call My Agent - Netflix
C'est hilarant: Call My Agent - Netflix

Giggle your way down memory lane

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue? (boxsets on Audible)

Could there be a more perfect radio comedy for these times than I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue? Especially the vintage episodes from the Eighties and Nineties, which are available to stream in box sets from Audible, each one an exquisite gem of silliness and escapism. Humphrey Lyttelton as the perennially grumpy host reflects how many of us feel about 2021, too. Try the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue Treasury Collection, which includes an in-depth history of Mornington Crescent, as well as the last ever episode featuring the great Willie Rushton.

Laugh along with a film superstar

Anthony Hopkins on Twitter (twitter.com/anthonyhopkins)

For sheer blasts of deranged joy, there’s little on the internet to compete with Anthony Hopkins’s Twitter feed. The legendary actor was introduced to the platform in 2016 by, of all people, Mark Wahlberg, his co-star in Transformers: The Last Knight. The charm began with Hopkins’s baffled reaction to the prospect of reaching 20 million followers one day (“is it?”) and has rarely stopped since, with delightful interludes of painting and accomplished piano playing, overseen by his bemused cat Niblo. But every so often, he just sticks on a samba and pulls gremlin faces for half a minute. It can’t fail to lift your mood.

Sing along with her Her Majesty

Oklahoma! (YouTube/Spotify)

One of the Queen’s favourite musicals, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! offers a failsafe immunisation jab against mid-winter bleakness, the anthemic (literally -- it’s the state song) title-track is like a call to go forth and multiply amid nature’s bounty. Bestowing blessing on a newly-wed couple, and heralding the birth of ‘a brand new state’, its locomotive energy, swelling virile chorus and ecstatic “Ayipioeeay!”s bottle optimism in sonic form.

Check out the funniest, shortest sitcom you’ve never heard of

The Maria Bamford Show (on YouTube)

This 2007-8 web-series in four-minute episodes is one of the funniest sitcoms out there. Telling the semi-autobiographical story of a breakdown that sees her move back to her parents’ home in Minnesota, Bamford – a brilliant vocal mimic, who went on to star in Netflix’s Lady Dynamite – plays every single character, except for her elderly pet pug (who plays herself, natch). Filmed alone in her home, it’s lockdown comedy avant la lettre.

Maria Bamford
Maria Bamford

Hunker down with some modern Austen

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (available on Telegraph Books)

The late, great Lurie, the Pulitzer-winning American novelist who died last December, specialised in tart but kind comedies of manners which didn’t shy away from life’s problems, but made you laugh along the way. Try Foreign Affairs, where a dotty American academic makes a life-changing trip to London, for humour and heart.

Look! High art gets in on the joke

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Look Mickey” (1961)

Fine art isn’t, frankly, known for providing a laugh a minute: time-honoured subjects such as the Massacre of the Innocents don’t really get people rolling in the aisles. But this is, in part, why Pop Art – brash, joyful, sassy, pyrotechnically colourful – caused such a sensation when it emerged in the Sixties. And Lichtenstein’s earliest Pop painting, “Look Mickey” (1961), based upon an illustration from a Disney children’s book, even features a delightfully infantile gag, as Donald Duck, out fishing on a jetty with Mickey Mouse, unwittingly hooks his own backside. Snigger.

Hit the high notes - or die trying

The “hits” of Florence Foster Jenkins (YouTube/Spotify)

Jenkins (1868-1944) was a New York socialite who simply could not sing, at all. What made her famous was that everyone in the known universe was painfully aware of the latter shortcoming – except for her. It’s a story which was of course told in a 2016 biopic starring Meryl Streep, but you should really head to her original recordings, which are hard to beat, not least her signature piece, Mozart’s The Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute. She completely, magnificently, heroically obliterates it.

Laugh along with a film superstar - part two

Pretend It’s a City (on Netflix now)

Nobody laughs like Martin Scorsese. The Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street director has one of the heartiest, most nourishing chuckles around – and in his new Netflix series, Pretend It’s a City (out now), it bubbles up through the soundscape at least once every couple of minutes. A series of wry conversations between the filmmaker and the Jewish humorist Fran Lebowitz about New York City life, the show blissfully soothes two lockdown-inflamed itches at once: to be somewhere new, and to unwind with old friends.

Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It's A City - Netflix
Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It's A City - Netflix

Even cannibalism can be funny...

Don Juan by Lord Byron (available on Telegraph Books and Audible)

Forget Bridgerton, this is the Regency romp you really need. Byron’s swashbuckling spoof-epic has everything. Sex! War! Pirates! Cannibalism! Jokes about how rubbish Wordsworth is! What makes it such a hoot is the poet’s gift for funny rhymes. (“Oh ye lords of ladies intellectual!/ Inform us truly, have they not henpecked you all?”) The audiobook read by Jonathan Keeble, available through Audible, allows for extra chuckles.

… And so can His Dark Materials

Kieran Hodgson (his Character ‘Comedian’ channel is on YouTube)

Comedian Hodgson’s DIY spoof YouTube version of The Crown made him an overnight star. He’s since done The Undoing, Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. All are gold, nailing each actor’s mannerisms so you can never take them seriously again. Our current favourite is His Dark Materials, replete with dementors instead of spectres, new witch Rita Skita, and Ruth Wilson over-enunciating to terrifying levels. Funnier with each viewing.

Never mind Blue Monday, try a cheerier tune

True Faith - New Order

Blue Monday was the title New Order gave to their most famous song - but for a transcendent track by the same band, there’s always True Faith, their rapturous 1987 club favourite. From the skittery opening beats, it’s a spine-tingling invitation to euphoria: “I get this feeling I’m in motion / A sudden sense of liberty”, sings Bernard Sumner... Light at the end of the tunnel? This is the anthem for it.

Compiled by Chris Bennion, Dominic Cavendish, Robbie Collin, Serena Davies, Mark Monahan, Tim Robey, Charlotte Runcie, Tristram Fane Saunders, Alastair Sooke and Louis Wise