Tag Archives: analysis

427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show

traffic.libsyn.com/teacherluke/427-british-comedy-limmy-s-show.mp3An episode analysing more British comedy, this time focusing on a couple of sketches from Limmy’s Show, an award-winning TV comedy produced by BBC Scotland. See below for transcriptions, notes and videos.

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Introduction

I was vaguely planning to go through a sort of history of British comedy in chronological order, over a series of episodes, but I just feel like doing an episode today about a series called Limmy’s Show because I’ve been enjoying it recently.

In this episode you’ll get

  • Listening (obviously) but this one’s going to be a little tricky because you’ll be listening to a couple of sketches that might be hard to understand for various reasons.
  • Culture. Since this is comedy, there’s a lot of unspoken meaning which you might not notice. Humour is well-known for being one of the most difficult things to pick up on in another language, which is precisely why it’s a good idea for me to go through some comedy with you on the podcast. Of course, you might not get it. You might not find it funny. That’s fine. What I find enjoyable might leave you completely cold. That could be a question of taste, but it could be a question of cultural context. In fact, in my experience of being a teacher, I’ve noticed many cases of my students just not getting comedy when it’s shown to them. Even stuff that’s considered by the majority of people to be funny, just doesn’t work with learners of English. It’s not until you get to a proficient level of English that you start to notice the unspoken humour or subtlety of a piece of comedy in English. This is because it requires really advanced English skills to notice the nuances that make something amusing, but also because of the difference in mindset or cultural context. You simply might not find it funny just because of cultural conventions. This is why some people disparagingly refer to “British comedy” as being weird, unfunny, very surreal or conceptual. It’s not really that intellectual, it’s just subtle and I think we have a broad scope for comedy. Anyway, I’m not going to get bogged down in trying to explain British comedy, it’s better to just show it to you and try to help you understand it as best I can. But the point I was trying to make is that I want to try and close the gap between what I understand and enjoy about a comedy sketch, and what you might understand and enjoy about it. So, hopefully I can bridge a cultural gap as well as a linguistic gap by doing this sort of episode.
  • Vocabulary – there’s is some good, meaty vocab in the sketches we’re going to hear, from several different registers. You’ll hear some slightly formal spoken English from an executive level business man talking to the police, and some informal English with slang, spoken in a dialect. There will be vocabulary.
  • Accent – the sketches we’re going to study are all set in the Glasgow area of Scotland, so you’ll be hearing some English spoken with Glasgow accents – some quite mild and some really strong.
  • Amusement. Who knows, as well as all this English practice, you might also simply enjoy the sketches! I hope so.

What is Limmy’s Show?

Limmy’s Show is a sketch show which was broadcast on the BBC in Scotland a few years ago. A lot of the sketches from the show are on YouTube and in fact that’s where I’ve seen all of it.

Limmy’s Show is written and directed by a guy from Glasgow called Brian Limond. I think he got his show after getting quite well known from doing a podcast and some YouTube videos. He also did performances at the Edinburgh Festival. Basically, he got a sort of cult following on the internet and that led to him getting his own TV sketch show on BBC Scotland. The thing is, his show was never broadcast in England, only on TV in Scotland, which is a pity for the English because it’s a really good show.

Buy Limmy’s Show on DVD here

I guess that the Scottishness is a large part of the appeal of the show. I think it has a lot to do with it. All the characters in the sketches are Scottish and speak mostly with Glaswegian accents, and the scenes all take place in and around Glasgow.

The sketches feature different characters, mostly played by Limmy. He plays a range of characters from different social backgrounds.

The sketches are often quite surreal, bizarre or dark. Often they feature characters with weird behaviour, or Limmy talking directly to the camera about an aspect of life that he’s noticed. Some sketches just make me think, or just confuse me a bit – but in a good way.
Sometimes they’re laugh out loud funny, sometimes just amusing and sometimes just a bit curious in the way they present quite odd observations about everyday life. Some sketches are a bit disturbing, and others are even a bit sad. All in all, Limmy’s Show is original and refreshingly unconventional, as well as being funny.

It’s worth mentioning again the significance of the accents you’ll hear in Limmy’s Show. As I said, they’re all Scottish, specifically Glaswegian. Some of the characters speak with very heavy Glaswegian accents, and I think that’s part of the appeal to be honest. You don’t often hear those accents on TV. Sometimes they’re difficult to understand if you don’t come from there. Even people from the UK, like people from London struggle to understand the show sometimes, especially when certain characters are talking. There are loads of comments on YouTube from foreigners around the world, including native English speakers in America, saying that they can’t understand anything. Some people on YouTube request transcriptions because they can’t understand the sketches and you can see that other people have written out full transcriptions to the sketches in the comment section on YouTube, and there are loads of other comments from people saying “Oh, thanks so much, I never could have understood this without the transcript!”

So, you get the idea that this is going to be some proper Glaswegian English that you’re going to hear.
For me, that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. I love the accent. It’s awesome. I love hearing the particularities of the way these characters pronounce words and phrase their sentences. In a way it becomes more expressive and characterful, to the extent that the accent and speech pattern is a large part of what makes the sketches so fascinating and enjoyable.

So, let’s enjoy listening to Glaswegian English here.

I’ve got a few sketches I want to deal with, from a couple of characters. I’d like to go through loads of these sketches but I can’t do them all. So, I’ve picked out just a couple of ones that I like and that feature slightly different accents and characters, showing a bit of diversity in the way they speak.

Mr Mulvaney

We’ll start with a sketch featuring a character called Mr Mulvaney, who is an executive level business man from Glasgow.

Here’s how we’re going to do it.

  • I’ll just play the sketch to you first without a lot of explanation.
  • Simply listen and try to follow what’s going on. If you don’t find it funny, then no bother.
  • Just try to work out what’s going on. I’ll give you a little bit of detail at the start.
  • Afterwards I’ll explain what happened and talk about why I think it’s funny.
  • Then I’ll go through it in more detail, pausing after each bit, explaining vocabulary, accent differences and repeating what he says.
  • You can find the videos on my site if you want to watch them again.
  • So that’s the process.

Mr Mulvaney – Creme Egg

The scene
Mr Mulvaney is sitting in his modern looking office. He’s the director of the company. It looks very corporate. He’s in a suit and has grey hair. The company logo shows that this is the Mulvaney Group – it must be a large corporation. Mulvaney looks serious. His office building is open plan, with glass partitions between each section, so Mulvaney is alone in his room but he can see outside into the rest of the floor through the glass walls.

He calls his secretary to order a taxi for later. It’s all businesslike and serious. Then he sees a couple of police in uniform enter the building and talk to someone on reception. At this point, Mr Mulvaney panics!

A summary of the whole sketch

An executive business man overreacts when he sees the police in his office building and assumes they have come to question him about a crime he has committed. It looks like he’s committed a very serious crime, like a murder, and he frantically tries to work out his story by having an imaginary conversation with the police. On his own he practises telling his story as convincingly as possible, even adding authentic sounding questions from the police. It turns out that he hasn’t done anything very serious. He’s just stolen a chocolate bar from a shop, but he’s acting as if it’s a capital offense. In the end we realise that the police aren’t even looking for him and we don’t really know why he’s doing the things he’s doing. He could in fact be suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.

What I find funny about it this sketch

  • The fact that he’s a high-powered business man who is involved in petty theft is sort of funny because of the contrast between his high status and the low status nature of the crime.
  • There’s a contrast between the serious way he is acting and the pettiness of the crimes he’s committed.
  • Comedy sometimes comes from the reveal of something previously hidden. These scenes reveal something about his personality and what he’s done – he’s the managing director of the company, a very serious role, but his life is on the edge of spinning out of control, like in some kind of thriller.
  • The performance. Limmy’s performance is really funny. He switches between different attitudes quickly: calm controlled businesslike manner, the panic and fear of being caught by the police, him getting a grip on himself, playing the part of the police officer very convincingly, him acting all indignant and shocked when the police suggest that he might have committed the crime, protesting his innocence, the relief of getting away with it, the determination to stop this kind of crazy behaviour and make sure it never happens again.
  • Playing with TV conventions. This is the sort of thing we have seen many times in TV shows, books and films. There are loads of thrillers in which someone in a high status position has committed a crime and when the police come to ask questions they act cooperative and yet completely innocent, while silently panicking on the inside. Every other murder mystery has a character like that in it. This time it’s played for laughs because the crime is not serious at all – it’s just a stolen chocolate bar or something.

Mr Mulvaney – In The Car

Mr Mulvaney – Fire Alarm

Part 2 coming soon…

With analysis of a completely different sketch by Limmy.

Other episodes about British comedy from the archive

 

371. In Conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool (PART 2: Film Analysis / Hidden Meanings / Stanley Kubrick / Conspiracy Theory)

This is part 2 of my conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool, who makes documentaries about films and publishes them himself on his website Collative Learning. If you haven’t heard part 1 yet, you should check that out before listening to part 2. In this conversation we talk about Rob’s approach to film analysis, hidden meanings in films, the work of Stanley Kubrick and the conspiracy theory about the moon landing. More details below.

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Click here to visit Rob Ager’s website collativelearning.com

In part 1 we talked about Liverpool and what it’s really like to live there. Then we talked about how he developed his approach to film analysis. In part 2 we talk about films in more detail, including some of the films which struck a chord with him when he was younger, and films which have inspired him to make his analysis videos. We focus on the work of Stanley Kubrick, a filmmaker whose work has really fascinated Rob over the years. We also discuss the idea that directors add hidden messages into their work, and how this is sometimes interpreted wrongly by viewers and critics. We also discuss the so-called conspiracy theory about Stanley Kubrick and the moon landing, and whether there are hidden messages about this in the film The Shining.

Links & Videos

Rob’s website www.collativelearning.com

Some interesting videos from Rob’s YouTube channel


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370. In Conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool (PART 1: Life in Liverpool / Interest in Film Analysis)

Today on the podcast I’m talking to Rob Ager from Liverpool, who is probably best known for his film analysis videos on YouTube in which he discusses classic Hollywood thrillers, sci-fi and action movies in quite astonishing levels of detail, often focusing on deep psychological and political themes and hidden messages that most viewers probably wouldn’t even notice. His videos are carefully constructed documentaries, made for educational purposes and all of them feature a voice-over commentary by Rob in which he analyses the film and gives his observations.

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Click here to visit Rob Ager’s website collatedlearning.com

I think I first came across Rob’s work on YouTube about 5 or 6 years ago. Sometimes I start watching YouTube and I get sucked into a kind of YouTube worm hole. That’s where you start watching one video, and that leads you to watch another one and then another one and eventually you find yourself watching something really fascinating and unexpected and that you wouldn’t normally have come across. I think that’s what happened with Rob’s videos. I think I first came across a short documentary he made about a horror movie called The Thing by John Carpenter, which is one of my favourite films. It’s really scary, tense and well directed, and it has a terrifying monster in it. Also it has a complicated story line which creates an eerie sense of paranoia that invites the viewer to speculate on who is or who isn’t a monster. It was really interesting to listen to Rob talking about The Thing in so much detail and it made me think about the movie in ways that I hadn’t considered before.

Then after that I kept noticing other videos by Rob and I would always watch them with interest. He has videos about The Matrix, Star Wars, The Shining, Alien and more.

Sometimes I find his comments to be a bit too specific, like he is perhaps over-analysing the films, but then again I think this is what’s great about movies – that everyone can interpret them in any way they want – and that a film might mean one thing to you, but mean a completely different thing to someone else. Even the director of the film might have a very specific message in the movie, that most of us don’t even notice. I think most modern film makers understand these ideas and they often leave their movies open to interpretation. Think, for example about the ending of Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio – what does it really mean? We’re supposed to imagine and discuss our own interpretations of it, and I think it’s one of the strengths of the film and one of the reasons it is so popular. Everyone can leave the movie with their own theory on what it was about and what had happened at the end. Rob Ager takes this principle – that there are multiple readings of a movie – and really runs with it in his documentaries, suggesting that many of these great films that we love could in fact be about political events in the real world, our deep desires and psychological motivations or even about hidden power structures.

Another interesting thing for me is that Rob comes from Liverpool. He’s a scouser (that’s the word for people who come from Liverpool) and he speaks with a scouse accent, which really reminds me of the people I used to meet, talk to and work with when I lived in Liverpool years ago. The Liverpool accent is really distinctive, and I always want to feature different British accents on this podcast, so on this one you’ve got the chance to get used to listening to a scouse accent, or Liverpool accent.

Also, I think Liverpool is a fascinating city and not enough people know about it. Most people know The Beatles or Liverpool and Everton football clubs, but there’s more to Liverpool than that. I’m hoping that Rob will tell me a few things about what it’s really like to live and grow up in this important English city.

His website – CollativeLearning.com reveals all sorts of interesting things – like that fact that Rob is a filmmaker himself and he is very prolific with his analysis videos. He has loads of documentaries which you can download from the website. What becomes clear after reading and watching his work is that Rob is a very observant and articulate person with a great interest in film, but he is also knowledgeable about a wide range of academic theories and he incorporates ideas from psychology, sociology and philosophy in his film analysis. All of that reminds me a lot of the things I read and wrote about while doing my Media & Cultural Studies degree at university in Liverpool. What’s also notable about Rob though is that he has received no formal academic education or training in all of these subjects – he’s completely self-educated.

I’ve never spoken to Rob before, and I’m recording this introduction before our interview, which is due to start in just a few moments. I’ve got no idea how the conversation will go or what directions our conversation will take but I really hope it’s an insightful and engaging listening experience and that Rob and I get on with each other. I suggest that you listen out for differences between my standard Southern British RP accent and Rob’s accent, and let’s see what kind of vocabulary emerges from our talk.

Alright, it’s time to speak to Rob now. So, here we go.

*Conversations starts (after I remembered to press ‘record’ on my device)*

Links & Videos

Rob’s website www.collativelearning.com

Some interesting videos from Rob’s YouTube channel

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363. Muhammad Ali & The Rumble in the Jungle

This is a special episode about Muhammad Ali and the story of one of his most famous fights, “The Rumble in the Jungle”. In the episode you’ll hear me give a biography of Ali and then I go into lots of descriptive detail about the fight, exploring exactly what happened in and out of the ring and why he is now considered not only one of the greatest boxers but one of the most outstanding people of recent times. The episode is almost 100% transcribed. See below for details.

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It is a cool Wednesday morning here in Paris as I record this episode. Again I’m talking about sport on the podcast today. This time it’s the sport of boxing as I talk about arguably the greatest boxer we’ve ever had, and in fact one of the greatest people of the last 50 years or so – Muhammad Ali. I’ve got a lot to say about the man, so I suspect this could be another long episode of the podcast! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a lot of my episodes are long these days. Now, most of you seem to be fine with that, which is cool. I’ll say that with these episodes you are getting a tremendous amount of English exposure and that is one of the key ingredients in gaining proper English with a wide range of vocabulary and accurate listening skills, which really helps your English in other areas such as your own speaking. You can learn a lot from episodes like this, even if I’m not explicitly teaching language to you. I recommend that you listen closely, get into the story, pay attention and be curious about what’s going to happen next, while noticing the language I’m using to describe the events of Ali’s life and the specific details of his fights. Pay attention to every word, while getting drawn into the story of one of the most extraordinary people of recent years. Look out for not only language for describing the narrative of Ali’s life story but also the specific descriptions of boxing, which will include some complex language to describe body position, movement and technique. I’ve planned this episode quite carefully and took some time to do it. You’ll see almost every word of this transcribed on my website. I strongly recommend that you go and check it out. You could read along with me, or use the script to help you learn English in lots of ways. Alright, that’s my pep talk about learning English with this episode, let’s now get stuck into this subject.

We lost another great person this year,  Muhammad Ali. Since Ali died I’ve had quite a lot of messages from listeners saying to me, “Luke, talk about Muhammad Ali!” OK! I would absolutely love to talk about this subject! I am a big fan of Ali, especially his boxing. It’s one of my favourite topics. I’ve never talked about this on the podcast before, but I do have an interest in boxing and martial arts in general and particularly in several fights involving Ali so I am more than happy to talk about this in a special podcast episode to celebrate the life of The People’s Champion, the one and only Muhammed Ali, who truly was The Greatest.

And yes I do consider boxing as a martial art. I think it is a discipline and even though there are rules to boxing that you don’t have in other martial arts, I think true fighters understand that boxing can still be considered a martial art.

On the subject of fighting – I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in war, doesn’t believe in violence and generally doesn’t like fighting, but I am interested in boxing. I think it is a discipline and it’s a remarkably complex sport which, at the highest level, involves incredible levels of technique, strategy and skill. It’s also a huge mental challenge as well as a physical one.

I would try doing it and I’ve often thought about doing it, but I just know what would happen. I’d go down to the gym and have a go at the punching bags and get into the techniques and the sparring, but as soon as I got into a genuine fight situation all it would take is one punch on my nose and I’d say “OK, stop – stop! That’s enough!” So instead I’m far more comfortable talking about it, reading about it and studying fights on video than actually getting punched in the face myself.

It’s worth mentioning that boxing is a controversial sport and there are arguments to say it should be banned or controlled. That’s a complex argument and I understand that the point of the game is to try to hit the your competitor but I think that as long as the sport is properly regulated and the boxers themselves know exactly what they’re doing, then I think it’s up to them. If they are happy to do it and to take the risks then fair enough. There’s a lot to be gained for young people taking up the sport. I think it can give people a focus, discipline and also it’s a way of earning money as a professional. Many of the people who take up boxing come from difficult backgrounds and going to boxing rings to fight is better than fighting on the street and getting involved in other kinds of trouble.

I’ve always been aware of Muhammad Ali. I just remember footage of him on TV. He often appeared on British television and my parents talked about this from time to time. Such a big personality is quite hard to avoid. My interest in Ali as a boxer is mainly as a result of two things. The first is a great documentary called “When We Were Kings”. This is a feature film about Ali’s fight with George Foreman in 1974, which I’m going to talk about in a bit. When I worked at the HMV music and video store in Liverpool for a year “When We Were Kings” was on repeat every day for a week or two. You know the way they play movies in the store, on the big screens. I used to work on the specialist music and computer games counter and the screen was around the corner. I couldn’t see it, but the audio track from the movie was played through the speakers above my head, all day long. I heard the audio from that movie about 5 times a day, but couldn’t see the screen. I just listened to people describing the fight and heard Ali talking, over and over, while I was working.

The other reason I’m interested in Ali’s boxing is a book called “The Fight” by Norman Mailer. That particular book is an incredibly intense account of the same fight featured in the movie I just mentioned. The central chapter of the book is a blow by blow account of the whole 8 rounds, but the book also describes the entire story around the fight including the personal and cultural context. Norman Mailer describes his meetings with Ali and his entourage, the atmosphere of the fight and more. It’s so well written. It’s subjective, personal journalism, which for me brings the subject alive so much, and it’s tremendously evocative of the atmosphere and emotion of the fight. I’ve read it lots of times and it never gets boring to me. I recommend both the film and the book. The book can be a bit tricky to read at first because Mailer writes in a fairly complex and very descriptive style, but this really helps during his descriptions of the fight.

These days I like to watch footage of Ali fighting and watch interviews with him. YouTube is an incredible resource because most of the big moments in Ali’s career can be found there, including his biggest fights and interviews.

For this episode, I’m just going to focus mainly on the aspects of this story that I know the best and that’s really Ali’s boxing. I think if you really want to know about all the other details of Ali’s life story and all the facts and figures – names, dates, places etc then you can just check Wikipedia. What I want to do is celebrate this amazing person who we lost this year, by just telling you what I know and mostly that is related to his boxing and particularly his fight against George Foreman in 1974, which is the subject of that film and book that I enjoy so much.

So now I’m going to try and string together all the thoughts and feelings I have about this incredible guy, while also trying to tell you what I hope will be a captivating and amazing true story.

So let’s go!

Muhammad Ali – His Life

Ali was many things: An Olympic gold medal winning sportsman, a boxer, a poet, a comedian, a philanthropist, a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war, a campaigner for civil rights, a holder of controversial views on race relations, a member of the muslim brotherhood of Elijah Muhammed, a sufferer of Parkinson’s disease and one of the most inspirational and charismatic people of the 20th century. Muhammed Ali was one of those special people who don’t come along very often and who will be remembered for a long long time.

Basic life story – Main events up to the 1974 fight with George Foreman.
He was born in Louisville Kentucky in 1942, and named “Cassius Clay”. Apparently he learned to box when he was 12 in order to get revenge on some kids who stole his bike, and apparently he was talented and continued to do it. Clay went on to become a successful amateur boxer and won at the age of 18 won an Olympic gold medal for boxing in 1960 and then went on to become the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood – a group of black Americans who followed the preachings of Elijah Muhammad. The group he belonged to sought to gain equal rights for black people in the USA. Part of their vision was a segregated USA in which the blacks were given the freedom to set up their own nation. This was quite an extreme position – segregation, but it came out of the sense that blacks had no faith in white America since centuries earlier they had been forced to leave their land and come to the USA as slaves. Their wish was to be allowed to live and prosper with equal status in the country, but alongside white communities, not part of them. In 1964 (I think) he changed his name from Cassius Clay (which he said was a slave name given to his ancestors by slave masters) to Muhammad Ali. Although his views on segregation as a solution to the inequalities in society are now considered radical and extreme, he expressed his ideas so eloquently and with such grace, charm and humour that it was hard not to listen respectfully to what he had to say. In fact, he comes across in his interviews and discussions as a very thoughtful and respectful person, even if I disagree with some of the views that he expressed at the time. Listening to him speak was fascinating and he was clearly very intelligent. Ali was an amazing role model for many black American people who were struggling against prejudice and inequality on a daily basis in the USA and he was very much a symbol of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

In 1967 the USA was at war in Vietnam and like thousands of young men in the States he was drafted into the military, but Ali refused to fight, becoming a conscientious objector on religious grounds. He was arrested on draft evasion charges and this caused him to be suspended from boxing for 3-4 years as a punishment for refusing to fight. He was also stripped of all his heavyweight titles. They were taken away from him. He was also banned from travelling to foreign countries to box, because he refused to go to Vietnam to kill for his country. In hindsight, Ali’s argument is hard to disagree with in my opinion. Here’s what he had to say on the matter.

In the first part of this Ali sounds like he’s slurring his words a bit. I think that’s because the interview was done later, when symptoms of Parkinson’s were beginning to show. The second part of the interview is from a debate he had with students.

The first part of that his point is: Why should I go to another part of the world and murder people who’ve never done anything against me. They never called me nigger, they never enslaved me, raped my people, set dogs on me, lynched me. My struggle is against white oppressors at home who I have to defend myself against, not some Vietnamese in another country.

Here’s another quote:
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

Again, his actions – this time as a conscientious objector – made him a counter-culture icon and one of the most prominent voices of opposition to the Vietnam war from the beginning.

Ali appealed the decision to stop him boxing and the ban was eventually lifted in 1971 but by that time he hadn’t boxed professionally for 4 years. That’s 4 years when he was in his prime, lost. Interestingly, because the ban was imposed when he was champion, he had never lost a heavyweight title fight, so even though he didn’t have the belt he was still undefeated as a champion.

I want to talk about his famous fight in 1974 against George Foreman so I’m going to focus mainly on that in a moment.

Ali is considered to be one of the greatest boxers ever and he had an amazing record. He was also an extremely entertaining fighter. He was known mainly for his speed and his movement in the ring. He used to dance – constantly in movement, which made it extremely difficult to fight against him. Although he had some weaknesses – specifically a lack of power in his punches he made up for his faults with his amazing speed. Heavyweights aren’t usually so light on their feet or fast with their hands, but Ali was. He has been compared to Bruce Lee in the way he used movement, dancing with his feet, speed of punches, feints and counter attacks. In fact, Bruce Lee said on a number of occasions that he took a lot of influence from watching Ali boxing. Apparently Bruce Lee used to project video of Ali fighting onto a big screen and then shadow his movements, following Ali’s feet and hands. Here’s a Bruce Lee quote about Ali: “Everybody says I must fight Ali someday,” Bruce said. “I’m studying every move he makes. I’m getting to know how he thinks and moves”. Bruce Lee knew he could never win a fight against Ali “look at my hands”, he said. “That’s a little Chinese hand. he’d kill me”

Ali was not just fast at punching, but also at avoiding being punched. He seemed to be amazing at judging distance and would lean back out of the reach of oncoming punches. Looking at some videos he seemed to be unreachable. No one could touch him.

Video of Ali avoiding punches, dancing and using his reflexes.

Ali is wearing the white shorts.

One of his catch phrases was “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and it summed up his style. He was light on his feet but he could hurt with his sharp attacks.

About his speed he said:

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.” Muhammad Ali

Some of his punches were so fast they couldn’t be seen and they didn’t appear on film. For example the punch that knocked out his rival Sonny Liston in 1964 is a bit of a legend. It’s known as the anchor punch and it happened so quickly as part of a counter attack that Sonny Liston didn’t see it coming, but neither did most of the audience or the viewers of the fight on TV. It looked like Liston had suddenly just hit the deck. The fact is that the punch arrived in about 4 100ths of a second. It was a real ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment.

As well as his skills as a boxer, Ali was a hugely charismatic, lively and humorous personality and this is another one of the reasons he is so loved.

He used to write funny poems and his conduct in interviews was frequently hilarious. It seemed he was as quick with his responses as he was in the ring. I recommend you watch some of the videos on youTube of his funny moments.

Some funny moments

Ali did win the heavyweight title again in the early 70s but lost it to Joe Frazier. In fact Ali lost a couple of times in that period to his two main rivals Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. By 1974 people were saying that Ali was past his best and people wondered if he might never win another heavyweight title and would retire.

By 1974 a new challenger had arrived on the scene in the form of George Foreman, who was an extremely impressive fighter. Large, very strong and devastatingly effective. Foreman beat both of the fighters who had beaten Ali – Ken Norton and Joe Frazier, and went on to become the heavyweight champion.

Foreman was 25 and in the peak of fitness and had smashed Frazier and Norton in just a few rounds each. Ali was 32 and past his prime.

Nevertheless, Ali chose to have a go at beating Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight title. Boxing promoter Don King knew that it would be a great spectacle to put loudmouth Muhammad Ali the people’s champion against the young dangerous new champion George Foreman and managed to raise the money to pay for a huge high profile title fight between the two men, in which both fighters would be paid $5 million dollars. The only way he could raise the money was to go overseas and in the end it took place in Africa in Zaire, where the dictator president Mobutu put up the money to pay for the fight, knowing it would be good publicity for him and his country. The setting was Zaire, and the fight was called The Rumble in the Jungle.

So this is the story of the Rumble in the Jungle. This is the fight forms the basis of that book I love and that film I listened to so many times while working in the music shop. It’s a great story and it’s a true story, so here we go.

The Rumble in the Jungle

*Tenses – a lot of my descriptions of this fight are in present tenses, even though the fight took place in 1974. Present tenses are sometimes used to bring immediacy to events. It brings them into the present and increases the drama. Past tenses are usually used when you tell a story, but they do create some remoteness, so present tenses are sometimes used to bring the story into the here and now.

Round 1
Ali is the challenger so he arrives first, to great applause. The crowd loves him.
Foreman waits ages to come out. This is probably a tactic to unnerve Ali. It doesn’t seem to work.
Some people in the crowd boo Foreman as he enters the ring.
The fighters psyche each other out.
Foreman uses his physical presence.
Ali is fighting a mental battle with Foreman, using the crowd against him – encouraging them to shout “Ali bomo ye”, shouting and talking all the time at Foreman.
Foreman is silent and has complete faith in himself and his abilities.
They have their gloves put on and then there’s a moment when they stare at each other.
Moments before the bell rings Muhammad Ali has a moment of quiet prayer in his corner.
Foreman is bending over as the bell rings, showing his ass to Ali. Not much dignity or charisma there.
The bell rings.
Ali immediately is on the offensive, leaping towards Foreman.
Ali dances.
Foreman attempts to start cutting off the ring, using his (rear) right hand like a bear’s paw to deal with left jabs. This is part of his technique.
Some boxing principles.
You have a lead hand and a rear hand.
If you’re right handed, your lead is your left hand.
You don’t stand square to your opponent.
You have your left foot forward slightly and the right foot back. The left shoulder forward, and the right shoulder back a bit. The left hand is closer to your opponent, the right hand further away. This means your left hand can jab forward, from the shoulder. The punches can be fast and direct but less powerful. The right hand, the rear hand, is further away and comes across your shoulders. This means it takes longer to reach your opponent, but it carries a lot more force because it carries a lot of your body weight with it. A powerful rear hand punch can carry your whole body weight behind it if you twist your hips and shoulders behind the punch.
So the left hand for jabs, the right hand for longer punches. You rarely lead with the right hand. This is because it takes ages to arrive and the opponent can usually see it coming, and block it, leaving you exposed.
So usually boxers will do combinations of punches, leading with the left. That’s a jab with the left followed immediately by a powerful punch with the right. Punches can be aimed at the head or the body. The can come in a straight line, they can come around the side or from the bottom. Punches from underneath are called uppercuts. You can also punch over the top of someone’s defences too in some cases.
Part of Foreman’s strength was that he had an extended rear hand. He held his rear hand quite far forward in an extended defensive position. He was brilliant at using that extended rear hand (right) to neutralise the opponents leading left hand. He could block the jabs from the left or counter the jabs with the right hand sometimes, and then attack with powerful hooks from both sides.

He combined this with his technique of cutting off the ring. This involves forcing the opponent into the corners or against the ropes by carefully and steadily stepping forwards and to the side. If the opponent attempts to move around, Foreman would sidestep, essentially trapping the opponent and reducing the space in which they can move, and with that extended right hand cutting off the leading jabs of the opponent he could basically trap the opponent in exactly the position he wanted and would then apply his brutally powerful punches to great effect. Often, just a few of these carefully placed punches would be enough to knock the opponent to the floor, or unconscious, like he did with Ken Norton.

Cutting off the ring was exactly the sort of fighting style that could work against Ali.
Ali and Foreman had never faced each other before, so nobody knew how it would go.
Unlike Ali’s fluid, fast and accurate technique. Foreman’s style was not graceful or beautiful. With his extended rear hand and his relentless side stepping and steady movement forwards, Foreman appeared like a bear or like Frankenstein’s monster, slowly but inevitably closing in on his opponent before causing untold damage with those powerful arms and huge fists. Not graceful, but devastatingly effective. This is what had destroyed the only two fighters to beat Ali previously – Ken Norton and Joe Frazier. Foreman appeared not only to beat them with ease, but smash them to pieces. Ali had lost to both these men, but Foreman had taken care of them in just a matter of minutes. He was in his prime both physically and in terms of confidence. According to Foreman, he felt invincible before the fight and was sure he would beat Ali.

This is what Ali was facing and apparently he was scared. Despite all the bravado, he must have been petrified. Watch the video of Foreman beating Norton and Frasier. He’s like an executioner. Everyone was worried that Ali couldn’t win and that he’d get hurt.

Also, Ali was past his prime. He was relatively old and had already fought his best fights. Since his ban, his legs weren’t the same as they used to be. He couldn’t dance like he used to. He was heavier than before, but he was still fast, and there were dimensions to his fighting technique that we hadn’t seen yet.

Everyone wondered what would happen, and how long it would take Foreman to close down Ali. How could Ali escape Foreman? The bell rang for the first round and Ali leapt forward to engage Foreman.

Then he did something that nobody expected.
Something so reckless and brilliant that nobody could believe what they were seeing, and it seemed to work.
He started throwing right hand leads.
A right hand lead is when a fighter leads with their rear hand, which in this case was the right hand.
This is a high risk strategy but if it works it can be very deadly.

Because the right hand has to travel much further, the other fighter has a lot more time to stop it.
However, if a right hand punch connects, it can do a lot more damage, because it carries more body weight.
Remember that Foreman’s technique was to neutralise left hand leads with his extended rear hand – his bear paw. Ali chose to completely avoid this, by leading with heavy right hand punches, taking Foreman completely by surprise.
Ali hit Foreman with 10 or 11 right hand leads. Unbelievable. What a shock! Nobody could believe it.
Some of the right hand leads connect perfectly and you can see Foreman’s head jerk back quickly from the impact. Sweat sprays off his head as the punches land.
The crowd goes wild as Ali manages to land so many right hand punches to George’s face.
Again, Ali is fast and the influence on Bruce Lee is obvious here. His right hand punches are expertly executed. He feints with the left hand and applies the right. He then feints with the right hand, and then strikes with the right. He’s playing a guessing game with Foreman – which hand is going to come next? Foreman keeps being taken by surprise by the right hand of Ali. This just was not what he expected and he keeps falling for it in the first round. At least 10 times, with a few left hands in there too. This didn’t happen with Norton, or Frasier.
This took massive amounts of guts from Ali. It was a very risky move, completely unexpected and unpredictable. Only someone like Ali – who was cocky enough, fast enough and unconventional enough, could have done this. What an extraordinary fighter.
I think Ali’s plan was to knock Foreman down in the first round in a way that nobody could have suspected.
Again and again he hits him with right hand leads.
But Foreman does not go down. The punches hit him and his face puffs up, but he’s just enraged and he continues to advance on Ali and hits him with several punishing blows which must have hurt Ali.
Foreman is incredibly powerful, and the right hand leads must have put him in a huge rage. Some of the punches he delivers to Ali look very heavy. One connecting to the left side of Ali’s head, another to his heart under Ali’s outstretched arm.
But Ali doesn’t seem affected and in fact is visibly talking to Foreman throughout this.
Wrestling – head locks, holding his left glove against Foreman’s neck, talking to him.
Apparently saying things like “Is that the best you can do George? Come on hit me with a real punch!”
The round ends.

Moments in the corner.
Ali whips up the crowd again.

Round 2
Ali’s plan to knock down Foreman in round 1 with unexpected right hand leads hasn’t worked.
Despite landing the punches – about 10 of them. Foreman is still standing and seems ok.
Ali starts to take some punishment here.
This is phase 2 of his strategy.
He stops dancing and goes to the ropes.
To everybody watching it looks like Ali is going to be slaughtered by Foreman.
It’s quite a sad sight, because Ali is not dancing. He’s retreating, letting Foreman come to him and then leaning back against the ropes as Foreman starts laying into him with huge heavy punches to the body and head.
But Ali knows what he’s doing. It’s incredibly brave of him, but it’s calculated.
Most accounts of this fight just say that Ali went to the ropes, blocked most of the punches, let the ropes take the impact and let Foreman ‘punch himself out’, which means to exhaust himself from punching.
This was part of the plan. But Ali’s technique here was more sophisticated than that.

Foreman’s heavy punches – Ali blocks them. He leans back deep into the ropes, ensuring that the ropes take a lot of the force of the punches. The punches hit Ali and the force is transferred into the ropes. Also, Foreman has to lean forwards to hit Ali’s head. Ali is so fast that he avoids or blocks many of the punches. Ali was also a master of absorbing punches.
There were many aspects to Ali’s abilities and he used them all in combination, often highlighting one technique, allowing the other technique to be a surprise. This is part of that.
In a sense, this was a trap for Foreman. It was a risky move by Ali because it involved exposing himself to a lot of punishment, but Ali used one of his techniques – avoiding punches and absorbing impacts with body movement. He was a fluid fighter who relied on speed and quick reactions to limit the effect of punches.

While it looked like Ali was shutting down – not dancing, going to the ropes, essentially letting Foreman attack him, he was using his defensive skills to lure Foreman into a trap.
Foreman had one technique. Use his right hand to prevent left jabs coming around, close off the ring, and then apply massive swinging punches and uppercuts to maximum effect. This is how he’d managed to smash Frazier and Norton.

But Ali got around Foreman’s right hand by punching under it or inside it, and by leading with his right hand, which fighters never do.
Also, when Foreman got too close, Ali would hold his neck, pushing him off balance, preventing him from being able to swing properly. He would place his left hand on the back of his neck and pull his head down. He’d put his weight on Foreman, making Foreman carry some of his weight. Over time this exhausted Foreman.
Also, because Ali kept backing away, Foreman kept moving towards Ali, which gave extra force to Ali’s jabs and counter attacks from his defensive position on the ropes. Foreman was always moving into Ali’s punches, which multiplied their damage.

Also, Ali was using all his charisma, experience and mental strength against Foreman, and was constantly talking to him, teasing him, breaking down his confidence, breaking down his self belief, bit by bit. Apparently he kept telling Foreman “You can’t punch George, you don’t punch you push! Is that the best you’ve got! I’m your master George, you ain’t nothing, you’ve met your match, you’ll see you’ve stepped into the ring with your master, you’re out of your depth George, your punches aren’t hurting me… etc”

This would have seriously affected Foreman’s state of mind, causing him to be distracted and unfocused. It would have chipped away at his confidence, sowing seeds of self-doubt that you just can’t afford to be thinking in that situation.

When you view the fight again from this point of view, you realise that Ali was in control of the fight. He used Foreman’s strengths against him and he dominated Foreman mentally.

You can see in the video the moments when Ali is teasing Foreman and shouting comments at him, and Foreman is momentarily distracted and Ali takes the opportunity to strike lighting fast punches that are carefully aimed. Foreman is almost blind to them as he keeps bearing down on Ali. Also Ali has won the support of the audience, all of whom are willing him to succeed and Foreman to fail. When two fighters are so evenly matched, the mental conditions will give you an edge. In fact I think in sport it’s all in the mind. So much of it is about having the will to succeed and the motivation – like that song Eye of the Tiger!

Foreman’s determination and single mindedness in the ring is becoming a weakness as he keeps walking towards what he thinks is a target backing away or helpless against the ropes. In fact Ali keeps popping off the ropes to apply punches to Foreman’s head. They’re not super powerful blows, but they’re accurate and Foreman is moving towards them.

However, Ali’s strategy took time and Foreman was young. He had a lot of strength and stamina. He was also full of confidence and self-belief, which took a long time for Ali to drain away and Ali had to take a great deal of punishment on the ropes over many rounds, in fact there were times when Ali was just taking punches, absorbing them, doing his best to limit their force and not managing to get many counter punches in on Foreman. It looked like Ali was being destroyed, but it was a long-term plan.

Eventually after a number of rounds of this technique – drawing Foreman in, deflecting and avoiding the punches, wrestling him off balance, constantly talking to him and breaking his nerve with comments, and managing to strike a few jabs and punches while also taking a lot of punches to the body – Foreman got tired. It’s hard to keep punching as hard as you can, while defending yourself.

As an example, just try holding a 4kg weight straight out in front of you for as long as possible. How long can you do it? I would be surprised if you managed more than 5 minutes. If you did it for 10 minutes that is very impressive. A lot of people couldn’t last two minutes. Now think of the last time you had to run for an extended period of time. I know I have a lot of runners who listen to this – but if you don’t run regularly, imagine running at top speed for about 10-15 minutes. That’s actually quite a long time at top speed, as if a bear was chasing you. You’d be knackered probably – you know the feeling, when you’ve just got no wind left in your body, you’re experiencing pain in your legs and in your chest, your lungs just can’t take in enough air quickly enough, completely out of breath. You know the feeling. It’s awful. Now imagine doing both of those things at the same time, while also defending yourself against very powerful punches from perhaps the best fighter in the world. That’s an idea of the challenge faced by both these guys.

So, Foreman got tired. He punched himself out and lost focus. Eventually his guard started to drop a bit and Ali exploited it, even though he was also exhausted. He came off the ropes and applied lots of fast, well placed punches to Foreman’s head. The end of the fight was quite beautiful in an odd way. Ali applied his excellent footwork by coming off the ropes as Foreman’s guard dropped, stepping to the side forcing Foreman to turn to his left, putting him off balance while applying a combination of punches with both hands, his jabs with the left setting up harder punches to the right, and as Ali stepped to Foreman’s right and as Foreman began to turn he lost balance and began to fall, Ali had hit him with a combination of fast punches and then Foreman began to fall while they were turning, slowly yet inevitably falling towards the ground like a huge tree that had been cut down but still hadn’t fallen, but which had no way of staying upright. The whole time Ali had another punch ready, which he held back, ready to strike, but he held it as Foreman turned, and with a strange kind of beauty, Ali just let Foreman fall to the ground without hitting him again. Foreman’s fall seemed to be in slow motion and had an inevitability to it. Ali let it happen and seemed to guide him round, letting him fall as the big man crashed to the ground.
As the old saying goes, “The harder the come, the harder they fall”.

What Ali had done was use his intelligence against Foreman. When you realise what happened in the fight, how Ali won it, you realise what an amazing achievement it was. In the end, Ali was a far more sophisticated and complex person and he outclassed Foreman. As a test of character, Ali passed with flying colours and it’s one of the reasons he is such a legendary figure today.

He demonstrated extreme strength of character, not just physical ability. He dominated Foreman and proved himself to be the greatest.

Here’s what Foreman himself had to say about the fight, and about Ali. This is from CNN, and Foreman begins by talking about how confident he was after so easily beating all his other opponents in previous fights.

He said that his whole life was devastated, and he’s not exaggerating. Apparently after this fight Foreman had a huge nervous breakdown. Essentially, the loss completely ruined his confidence to the point where he lost all sense of who he was up to that point. He described the experience as like falling into a huge black hole in which he stared death in the face. The previous George Foreman essentially died after that experience – not physically, but mentally or personally. It took him quite a lot of time to come back and piece his life together following the fight. This unstoppable fighter had been seriously shaken by the defeat. Foreman retired from boxing a few years later and over the following 15-20 years or so, he completely turned his life around, and later in the 90s I think he came back as a hugely successful business man. He became a multi millionaire by selling his patented “lean mean fat-free grilling machine” – a grill which cooks meat and drains the fat away. It’s a massive success the lean mean grilling machine. Now he’s a very self assured, charismatic and interesting man and a great public speaker. I think he became a born again Christian actually. He found god – that’s what saved him. That’s what worked for him. In fact, it’s fascinating to hear him describe his experience of having a breakdown after the fight, and then finding god. I think this is an anecdote that he has told many many times in his life.

Here he talks about being filled with hatred, feelings of paranoia, wanting revenge. Essentially his ego could not handle the defeat. He kept making excuses for the defeat, but he couldn’t avoid it and ultimately it caused a breakdown in his personality, which led to a remarkable spiritual experience in which he became a born again christian.

As for Ali, well immediately after the referee counted out Foreman and he was announced the winner, the ring was filled with people who jumped in to congratulate him. Apparently he fainted in the middle of the ring, but was resuscitated. He was the world champion again and had proved that he was truly the greatest, but he had taken serious punishment and apparently for weeks or months even he was suffering from the damage to his body. I imagine he was in extreme pain for a long time and could hardly move. Imagine being punched in the kidneys by George Foreman for 8 rounds. Ouch.

What happened next, was that an even bigger fight was set up, with even bigger stakes. At least £5million dollars to both fighters, in another international location – this time in Manilla, Philippines. This fight was arranged for the next year and was to be between Ali and Joe Frasier, the man who had previously defeated him. Frasier was Ali’s old rival, and the Thriller in Manilla became perhaps even more dramatic, dangerous and incredible than The Rumble in the Jungle. In fact, this fight was perhaps the most dangerous moment that both fighters had ever experienced. Ali described it as the closest thing to death he ever experienced, and it pushed both men right to the very limit of their lives. But that is another story for another time.

As we know, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1980s and it’s frankly very sad what we all saw happen to him. His speed was gone, his fast talking was gone. What was left of the champ was a man debilitated by his illness. It was incredibly sad to have the man taken away from us, just like it’s sad for the loved ones of anyone affected by Parkinson’s, and I know because I have several people in my family who are affected by the disease. We are still trying to find a cure or find more effective treatments for Parkinson’s and I just want to make an appeal to you at this point and ask you to please consider making a donation to Parkinson’s UK – a UK based charity which funds research and care programs for Parkinson’s sufferers. I’m sure there are also local charities for this too. Parkinson’s affects one in 500 people in the UK. There’s no cure but treatments can make a big difference to the lives of people who are affected by it. So please consider making even a small donation because Parkinson’s is no joke. Visit www.parkinsons.org.uk/ or just search for Parkinson’s charities in your area.

Muhammad Ali has raised awareness of Parkinson’s around the world so I thought it would only be appropriate to mention the charities here, which are doing great work.

By the way, we still don’t know if boxing is what caused Ali’s Parkinson’s. It’s easy to make the link, but there still isn’t conclusive evidence to suggest it is true. While boxing definitely causes brain damage to people, it’s not necessarily the cause of the disease.

Anyway, I don’t want to end this on a sad note. Ultimately Muhammad Ali was a truly great man who was bigger than boxing. He was an inspiration to many people and someone who will always be remembered. He was opinionated, articulate, charming, charismatic, skilful, unpredictable and very entertaining.

George Foreman describes Ali (min 1.20)

YOU MUST SEE ALI IN ACTION – PLEASE WATCH THESE VIDEOS!

This is an absolutely fascinating and brilliantly written analysis of Ali’s fighting techniques

Watch the entire “Rumble in the Jungle” fight here, with commentary from David Frost

Ali having an intelligent discussion on US TV in 1968

 

Some of Ali’s funny moments

Hilarious comedian Richard Pryor talks about George Foreman vs Ken Norton, and Muhammad Ali

Leave your comments. Just tell me what you think.

Thanks for listening…

Luke