Poking Fun At Themselves.

2 Jan 2004
Essential to the band's comic timing, as this second extract from an essay on the funny heart of U2 by Bill Flanagan reveals.

This second of two exclusive extracts is taken from the newly published 'U2 The Best of Propaganda'.

When U2 became the biggest band in the world in the eighties, somehow, for many people, they also became one of the most serious. ZOO TV and the nineties U2

shattered that image. Propaganda, the band's official magazine, commissioned Flanagan, then editor of Musician - and on the road with the band in the process of writing his own acclaimed book 'U2 At The End Of The World' - to explore how far the image of a band can depart from the reality!


"We need you to do some drumming," Bono answers. Larry says, "Call my manager."

"We sent a letter to Mr Paul McGuinness," Edge says, "requesting your services to play some drums."

"It's the song we were playing last night," Bono says. "Apparently you did a tremendous job but the rest of us ..."

Adam says, "Amazingly enough YOU were fine."

"We face a problem we have faced in the past," Bono explains. "The song has no chorus."

"Aha!" Larry says.

'Generally', continues Flanagan, 'Adam is the quickest with a quip, which may be part of why Adam has a looser image than the other three. Bono's humour is missed by those who assume that everything he says has the weight of philosophy behind it - and miss his gift for leg-pulling at an Olympic level. Edge's jokes are so deadpan that they fly over some heads. Larry probably has the biggest obstacle to overcome in getting his wit across, because Larry's humour usually comes out in the classic Ralph Kramden slow-burn of the straightman whose patience has been stretched past the breaking point by the nuts around him. Larry phoned me after reading my book in manuscript and said, "You make it look like I'm angry all the time." I said "That's silly, Larry, I do not." He said, "Let me read you a list of some of your descriptions of me: 'Larry fumes, Larry burns, Larry shouts, Larry sneers, Larry comes in boiling, Larry says angrily, Larry's pissed, Larry got upset, Larry was mad ..."

I had to admit Larry had a point. What I had not considered and I dare say what even other band members who read the book might not have noticed - is that if you know Larry you know that his 'This is the last straw' persona is a running joke. But objective readers would not realize this; they'd just figure Larry was always in a bad mood. Heck, one time - toward the end of the Zoo TV tour - Larry greeted me by saying, "Three more weeks of seeing your ugly face!" Of course he was joking (Wasn't he?).

There is one other reason why U2 have gotten an undeserved reputation as Serious Men. While they are not stuffy, they are very kind. Most humour pokes fun at someone or something. U2 can do hilarious riffs on any number of silly people they encounter in their professional lives. Between Bono's impressions, Edge's one-liners, and Adam's bon mots, they skewer a wide range of showbiz hustlers and sleazy hypocrites. But while U2 are happy to publicly poke fun at themselves and their own vanities (to their detriment if journalists don't get the joke), they are very sensitive about hurting the feelings of even a deserved target with an offhand crack on TV or in a magazine.

My deal with U2 was that I'd let them read my book about them before publication so that they could correct, object or argue - but I had full control of what I decided to keep or change. There are probably things in the book that are annoying to the band members, moments they were sorry I was around to record. I wondered how hard they would lobby me to change those bits. To my surprise none of them asked for any of that to be cut. Adam said, "Well there's some things in there that I'm sorry you wrote but I understood the groundrules so fair enough." What Adam did ask me to change was a funny joke he made at the expense of someone who is not famous. Bono was the same way - he was very concerned with hurting the feelings of people who might have been a little bit silly, or behaved in a way that invited teasing, but felt did not deserve to be mocked in print. That became the pattern for Edge, Larry and Paul McGuinness too. They didn't mind what I said about them - they wanted to spare the feelings of others. If that meant that their own wit might not come through, that was to them a fair trade.

I didn't always agree to the changes U2 wanted - in some places I left their wise-guy jokes at the expense of silly people. But I thought it was remarkable that they were so willing to publicly kid themselves and so bothered by the thought of publicly teasing someone else. I realized then that as great as their sense of humour is, their sense of humanity is even better.

Buy 'U2 The Best of Propaganda'. here.


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