Definitions

one legged

One Leg Too Few

One Leg Too Few is a famous comedy sketch written by Peter Cook and most famously performed by Cook and Dudley Moore. It is a classic example of comedy arising from an absurd situation which the participants take entirely seriously, and a demonstration of the construction of a sketch in order to draw a laugh from the audience with almost every line. It first appeared in a Pembroke College revue, Something Borrowed, in 1960 (where it was titled Leg Too Few as the show had an alphabetical theme and the sketch appeared under the letter "L") and later the same year in the Footlights revue, Pop Goes Mrs Jessop. It appeared on the West End stage for the first time in 1961 as part of One Over the Eight, a revue starring Kenneth Williams. Its first public performance with Dudley Moore in the role of Spiggot was as part of Beyond the Fringe on April 21 1961, and Cook and Moore went on to perform the sketch most famously in their TV show Not Only... But Also. Peter Cook said that this was one of the most perfect sketches he had acted in, and that it amazed him, later in his career, that he could have created it so young.

Sketch

The sketch takes place in a casting office. Cook plays the casting agent and Moore the prospective actor, a Mr Spiggott (this name was a favourite of Cook's, and was re-used as the earthly identity of the Devil in Bedazzled). Cook begins the sketch by calling for his secretary to show the next auditioner into the office. Moore enters, hopping. His left leg is tied up behind him. Eventually, Moore comes to a stop, balanced on one leg. He is required to hold this position for most of the sketch, his difficulty in doing so occasioning much amusement from the audience (though in some performances, he has a chair to hold on to for balance). The premise of the sketch is then laid out thus:

Cook: Mr Spiggott - you are, I believe, auditioning for the part of Tarzan.
Moore: Right.
Cook: Now Mr Spiggott, I couldn't help noticing - almost at once - that you are a one-legged person.
Moore: You noticed that?
Cook: I noticed that, Mr Spiggott. When you have been in the business as long as I have, you come to notice these little things almost instinctively.

The agent goes on to point out that Tarzan is "a role which traditionally involves the use of a two-legged actor" and that it would be unusual for the part to be taken by a "unidexter", but Spiggott's enthusiasm is undimmed. Cook keeps a straight face as he explains exactly why Spiggott is unsuitable for the role.

Cook: Need I say with over much emphasis that it is in the leg division that you are deficient.
Moore: The leg division?
Cook: Yes, the leg division, Mr Spiggott. You are deficient in it to the tune of one. Your right leg, I like. I like your right leg. A lovely leg for the role. That's what I said when I saw you come in. I said, "A lovely leg for the role". I've got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is - neither have you.

Cook would often add the line 'you fall down on your left' in other versions of the sketch.

The sketch continues in a similar vein with the agent observing that at least Spiggott scores over a man with no legs at all, and that there is always a chance that no two-legged actor will apply for the role, in which case Spiggott, as a unidexter, is "just the sort of person we shall be attempting to contact telephonically". Spiggott, clearly an eternal optimist, leaves the office happy with these reassurances. (An additional comedic element in the sketch lies in another "deficiency" which is visually obvious to the audience but never so much as alluded to in the dialogue, namely that Spiggott, as portrayed by the five foot two inch Moore, is hardly the statuesque type normally associated with the role of Tarzan.)

In the Beyond the Fringe version of the sketch, a further punchline follows after Moore has left. A two-legged actor walks in normally.

Cook: Ah, good morning Mr Stanger. Now I believe you are applying for the role of Long John Silver.

References

  • Cook, William (Ed.) (2002). Tragically I was an Only Twin: The Complete Peter Cook. Century ISBN 0-7126-2398-1
  • Wilmut, Roger (Ed.) (1987). The Complete Beyond The Fringe. Mandarin ISBN 0-7493-1687-X
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