Recently the Daily Mail ran an article about the state of British comedy, and I don’t want to panic anybody but it wasn’t totally favourable. Rather Christopher Hart finds it “puerile” and has been left asking: “What has happened to British comedy? The sheer unfunniness of much of it is beyond depressing.”
What inspired this despair at British comedy today was ITV’s ill-received The Nightly Show, a show that inspired a host of articles asking why British TV doesn’t seem to have an equivalent to the American late night shows. Forgetting that what we excel at is longstanding panel shows on TV and radio – which, in turn, can’t replicated to the same standard across the pond, as discovered by Marc Maron when he hosted the shortlived American version of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
In Christopher Hart’s defence he does focus on some TV comedy I’m not wild about myself. However, he ignores some of the incredible current British comedy talent on the scene, for instance Chewing Gum doesn’t get a look in, nor does Catastrophe, Fleabag or Pls Like. So a large body of comedy being made and performed in this country goes unexamined.
Whilst I share his distaste for humour that focuses on sexual violence I think it’s interesting to examine how political correctness is being interpreted during this period of simultaneous backlash against and desire for political correctness. For instance masturbation and paedophile jokes seem to be popular with open mic males right now, why? I think this is their clumsy approach to PC material, because with wanking they’re the butt of the joke and with paedophilia… well, who likes a paedophile? However I have yet to see anyone trotting these jokes out do well with them. So eventually discerningly silent audiences will encourage them to drop these jokes and they simply don’t make it to TV or radio.
Instead we’re taken on a tour of The Good Old Days (lest we forget, this is the Daily Mail we’re reading here) where comedy came from suffering, Till Death Do Us Part writer Jimmy Speight was “barefoot poor” as a child, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who wrote Hancock and Steptoe, met “in a sanatorium when both were suffering from TB. Not in a BBC ‘Comedy Writers Workshop’, with skinny lattes laid on for free.” and Dad’s Army’s David Croft and Jimmy Perry, were war veterans. “That great, uncomplaining and quietly heroic generation valued a good laugh above all, and they would have been baffled at what passes for comedy today. What with the witlessness of The Nightly Show, the cruelty of Inside Number Nine, or the crude, loud-mouthed sweariness of Mrs Brown’s Boys, it seems we really have lost sight of the joke.”
It seems for good comedy writers what we need is a bloody good war so potential comedy writers can network during combat. Or for TB to come make a blistering back, maybe the surging antibiotic resistance could hurry up because I want some bloody good hacking laughs.
Coincidentally BBC Radio 4 Extra has a new series on air called The Comedy Controllers in which Jimmy Mulville, John Lloyd, Beryl Vertue and Paul Jackson discuss their careers in comedy and how it has changed over the years. If you’re a bit of a comedy geek I recommend this show – it features entire episodes of classic comedy and you know what? Some of it doesn’t stand up. You know what else? That’s okay. This is the thing with British comedy, it never stands still. That’s why we can look back to specific eras of comedy and note changes and reactions.
So don’t despair at comedy today, we are seeing some great British talent in comedy right now and to prove it, on 20th April, we’re hosting a Best of British night on the R.S Hispaniola with the wonderfully funny Thanyia Moore, Sophie Henderson, Harriet Braine, Lauren Pattison, Cath Rice, Lindsey Santoro and Sarah Callaghan.