Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Comedy Recession

Carol Burnett said back in the 1950's that 'Comedy is tragedy plus time'. That is perhaps one of the best-known quotes about the construction of comedy, and it is an accurate observation. A quick look at some of the most popular sitcoms of all time suggests this is the case. No wonder Victor Meldrew is a misanthrope; he's had his house burnt down, been buried in the garden, had his foot encased in concrete, all before eventually being killed after being hit by a car.

However, British sitcoms are currently in crisis. The closest we get to tragedy in the modern era is cringe-worthy embarrassment. A sequence of events where the main characters find themselves in a series of ridiculous and surreal situations, causing the viewer to bury their head in their hands. For example, The Inbetweeners has four characters who all get themselves into equally awkward situations, whether it's throwing up over a child, or a clumsy attempt at losing their virginity. If we saw this in our real lives, I'm doubtful we'd be stood there' loling'.

I grew up when Richard Curtis and Ben Elton were the rulers of TV comedy. I watched Mr Bean, Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley. Smart, witty and believable characters, who have depth. However, even Ben Elton struggles to write funny in the modern climate, with the funniest thing about his last sitcom The Wright Way being the reaction on Twitter.

Graham Lineham is perhaps the current ruler of the comedy crown jewels, with his many hits such as Black Books, Father Ted and The IT Crowd. He creates numerous strong characters, who allow him to have several storylines through one episode, making it engaging.

However, my ultimate proof of us living in a dark age of comedy is Mrs Brown's Boys, Derek and anything on BBC3. I am perhaps in the minority of disliking the former, but a show which can be shown in North Korea with the title "Everything That is Wrong with Europe and The Rest of The World", is surely not something to be proud of?

And the Ricky Gervais 'comedy' creation Derek, actually fails to be funny. It's sincere and well made, with many poignant moments. Gervais tried so hard to not be offensive, that he forgot to write any actual jokes.  BBC3 is just a channel for writers to echo the same, tired stereotypes of young people talkin' lyk dis, wearing hoodies, and being high or drunk.

Humour is, of course, subjective. However, when we look back over the past five years in 20 years time, what are we going to remember as the best comedy of the time? There are no comedies to be proud of. I fail to see anything currently on TV, that will one day feature on a Channel 5 list of the 50 best sitcoms at Christmas 2035. Apart from maybe Mrs Brown's Boys. Is that really what we want for our legacy? Comedy at the moment is an unfunny tragedy. 

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