Home Forums Ganymede & Titan Forum HOW TO GET INTO BRITISH COMEDY by a total idiot

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  • #2939
    Phil
    Participant

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/gateways-to-geekery-contemporary-british-sitcoms,24247/

    I love The Onion, yes, we all do…but I’m particularly a fan of The AV Club, where the minds behind the funny-funny get together to recommend books, games, DVDs, and so on. The opinion pieces are typically pretty good, and even though I almost never agree with their ultimate assessments, I really enjoy reading them.

    The above link, however, is written by the only AV Club author that I can unapologetically describe as dead weight. She’s a sneering, self-important, chronically-confused, nasty idiot. And I say that because I’ve spent enough time with her writing that I’m genuinely disappointed in myself.

    This PARTICULAR article, I confess, doesn’t seem to be as sneering as usual so I figured I’d post it up here without feeling too bad about it. And as I trust the judgment of every single poster here (barring performingmonkey) over hers, by all means refine her recommendations.

    #92723
    Ridley
    Participant

    “You’re American, what do you think of it?”

    I would have thought it would make more sense to start from something more traditional like Only Fools and Horses, One Foot in the Grave or… erm… Vicar of Dibley.

    And I’m not sure Spaced is any more approachable than The Mighty Boosh.

    #92724
    Dave
    Participant

    >And I?m not sure Spaced is any more approachable than The Mighty Boosh

    Well, most of the pop culture references in Spaced are from American films, whereas watching Boosh could leave you thinking you’d missed references to something that doesn’t actually exist.

    You know that feeling when you watch an American show and something you’ve never heard of gets a big reaction. An audience laugh uproariously at a mention of “David Brinkley” or something. You probably don’t care enough to google him so you sit back safe in the knowledge he is probably quite wrinkley.

    We are steeped in Americana, there are all sorts of things we are aware of without realising it. Whether it’s yellow schoolbuses, eating takeout from those cardboard things or seeing every single episode of St Elsewhere. I assume that in the USA you have to go out of your way to find British stuff. You have to want to enjoy it.

    That’s how Boosh might seem for the unitiated.

    Phil, are you looking for recommendations?

    #92725
    Ridley
    Participant

    Well, most of the pop culture references in Spaced are from American films, whereas watching Boosh could leave you thinking you?d missed references to something that doesn?t actually exist.

    I suppose, but the Spaced references are usually pretty subtle though.

    #92727
    Blisschick
    Participant

    >I assume that in the USA you have to go out of your way to find British stuff. You have to want to enjoy it.

    Yes and no.

    I think it has more to do with what kind of television you like to watch and when. At least it was for me. It started when I was a kid with late-night viewing of Monty Python and Doctor Who, then expanded when I was older with Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, and Keeping Up Appearances being shown on PBS late night. And if you have a redneck step-father that likes bawdy humor, you get to watch Benny Hill (whether we wanted to or not). PBS was the main channel that exposed me to much of British television, but depending on where you lived in the ’80’s, some of the larger cities’ major network stations, along with a few independents, would run shows from Britain late night, I’m assuming because they didn’t think that anyone who keeps normal hours would be interested in watching them. Most smaller cities and rural areas didn’t even bother showing them and probably still don’t.

    #92728
    Seb Patrick
    Keymaster

    >I suppose, but the Spaced references are usually pretty subtle though.

    The thing about the Spaced references, though, is that while there are a lot of them, it’s not always important to know exactly WHAT’S being referenced. It’s not about going “hur hur hur, we’ve seen all these films, aren’t we cool?” The film references are a narrative device to reflect the fact that these people are of the generation who define their lives by cultural touchstones. The precise nature of the references isn’t as important as recognising that “Yes, I do these things as well”, whether it’s with the same specifics or not. It’s exactly the same with Scott Pilgrim’s videogameness.

    @Blisschick : You’re still referring to specific circumstances, though. The point Dave was making was that elements US culture are far more deeply ingrained in UK culture than vice versa. And we mean wide, mass-market, mainstream UK culture. Our pop culture is incredibly Americanised.

    #92729
    Blisschick
    Participant

    True, I see your point (and Dave’s). You do have to go out of your way over here to educate yourself to a degree. Beyond entertainment, celebrities, and the occasional newsworthy item, I don’t think many people know a whole lot about anything over there. I’m sure if it weren’t for the various friends and family who have either lived there or came over to live here, I’d probably have very little knowledge of cultural references.

    #92744
    Danny Stephenson
    Keymaster

    It?s exactly the same with Scott Pilgrim?s videogameness.

    And yet I have still not got these yet. What a fucking tool I am.

    #92750
    Phil
    Participant

    The thing about the Spaced references, though, is that while there are a lot of them, it?s not always important to know exactly WHAT?S being referenced. It?s not about going ?hur hur hur, we?ve seen all these films, aren?t we cool?? The film references are a narrative device

    Thank you, darling. This is exactly right, and exactly what sets it apart from the equally reference-heavy Family Guy. In Spaced, you almost (underline almost) never need to be specifically familiar with the “source” material, because the reference will function either as:

    a) a narrative device
    b) a telling character detail
    c) a damn good joke on its own

    Whereas Family Guy can only really fall back on C (and, I have to admit, is only interested in falling back on C), and even then it tends to rely more on a pre-existing knowledge of the source material. I respect that that’s a choice on the part of the writers, and it’s their right to make that choice. But as the years go by and these reference points vanish, those particular jokes will become rather pointless. Spaced (as well as classic Simpsons), on the other hand, integrated the references so well that it’s never jarring when you suddenly don’t recognize something.

    Phil, are you looking for recommendations?

    Not actively, but this site (and the people I’ve met because of it) have given me a wealth of great material to seek out over the years, so I’m never opposed to some.

    I was just interested in the reaction people would have to the article.

    #92753
    ChrisM
    Participant

    I thought the article was quite well written. (Although I felt a bit irritated at her reference of Simon Pegg and not Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes) as co-writer of Spaced, but no doubt his is the more familiar face to an American audience.) And I like quite a lot of the shows she suggested.

    I partly agree with Ridley though, if you’re going with ‘typical British humor’* I’d suggest the more traditional British shows like Only Fools, etc. Not because they’re better shows (I’ve come to love more surreal or alternative stuff just as much), just a better entrance into British humor as a genre.

    That being said, there is nothing wrong with throwing someone in the deep end with something completely different to what they have seen before. It depends a lot on a) the person (i.e. do they get a kick out of new experiences or would the shock value turn them off. Are they easily offended) and b) if one is trying to get them into British humor as a whole, or just something funny. Lets face it, I think Monty Python is rather extreme (I never took to it, although I liked the odd sketch here and there, and I like the films) yet it found great popularity on the other side of the pond. British comedy can be extremely variable.

    I’ve contradicted myself a bit there. But anyway, in short it doesn’t really matter. Either play it safe with traditional shows or show them something more edgy and surreal, but if you’re going to do the latter makes sure they see it in the context that it is an extreme example and doesn’t speak for the majority of British humor.

    *if there is such a thing, there is quite a range…

    #92786
    Tarka Dal
    Participant

    British humor?

    #92793
    Dave
    Participant

    >British humor?

    It needs a U.

    Brutish humor?

    #92795
    hummingbird
    Participant

    It seems to me that the reason shows like Python, Benny Hill, etc were big in the US is because they played to a certain perception of British stereotypes, and that the audience (or the TV execs) are mostly still unwilling or unable to see past those expected roles.

    #92797
    pfm
    Participant

    How to get into British comedy? It helps if you’re a Footlights fop, or you have ties with someone who is. Then there’s the ‘northern’ way of doing it, grafting on the circuit for years, hopefully you’ll get noticed if you’re good. That’s as far as comedians are concerned. For writers, again it’s about who you know, or how much badgering you’re willing to do over a long period of time.

    Gervais/Merchant’s Office is more about laughing (and crying) at the awkwardness of reality. The US Office is like a mainstream, safer version of that (though I still love the heck out of it). I wouldn’t say the original Office is a good place to start to get into British comedy. You want a sitcom (they always call The Office a sitcom but it’s not, it’s a mocku-comedy-drama-mentary) like Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Fawlty, Father Ted (yes, Irish written and acted), One Foot In The Grave etc.

    #92798
    Blisschick
    Participant

    What hummingbird said.

    #92800
    Dave
    Participant

    Benny Hill, Comedy Ambassador. Who’d have thought it?

    #92801
    Tarka Dal
    Participant

    Porridge.

    I don’t think it ever quite gets the recognition it deserves. Ronnie Barker the best comedy actor of all-time?

    #92802
    JamesTC
    Participant

    Ronnie Barker? I will go for Open all Hours.

    #92803
    Tarka Dal
    Participant

    The thing about Benny Hill. For all the obvious stuff people associate with him, he also had a certain charisma and an ability to churn out laughs. Not all his material was non-PC and not all his gags involved women’s breasts.

    #92804
    Carlito
    Participant

    David Jason gets my vote for greatest (non-comedian) comedy performer of all time.

    #92805
    Carlito
    Participant

    Although, he is clearly hugely influenced by his mentor Barker.

    #92819
    Blisschick
    Participant

    >The thing about Benny Hill. For all the obvious stuff people associate with him, he also had a certain charisma and an ability to churn out laughs.

    Personally, I never found him very funny. I just thought he looked like Winston Churchill.

    #92822
    locusceruleus
    Participant

    >I don?t think it ever quite gets the recognition it deserves. Ronnie Barker the best comedy actor of all-time?

    I’d say so. Richard Beckinsale was superb in Porridge too. Can’t help but wonder what he’d have gone on to do.

    #92847

    I really liked Porridge when one of my local PBS stations was showing it. (They showed Up All Hours as well, but like a fool I overlooked it.) I think they also showed Are You Being Served?, which I’ve also enjoyed. Strangely, I’m pretty sure this is the same PBS station that showed On The Up, a soul-smotheringly tedious half-hour of alleged humor featuring Denis Waterman. But hey, three out of four isn’t too bad for a PBS station.

    #92852
    si
    Participant

    On The Up also starred Jenna Russell, who sings the Red Dwarf theme. She can currently be seen in the new series of Minder, and SF-wise, had a small part in Chris Eccleston’s last story in Doctor Who.

    #92853
    Pete Part Three
    Participant

    Write the theme toon, sing the theme toon.

    #92854
    pfm
    Participant

    I watched the latest episode of Minder and didn’t mind it (heh, mind it, get it, I didn’t MIND Minder…oh lube yourself up). Steve Pemberton was in it, basically playing a League character (Pop with a bit of Daddy and Papa Lazarou thrown in). Shane Richie wasn’t in it that much so maybe that’s why I liked it.

    #92861

    >Write the theme toon, sing the theme toon.

    Incidentally, just out of curiosity–whose cock does Waterman have to suck to be allowed to do this? Does anyone know?

    …in the interests of fairness, it could just as easily be a clitoris he’s pleasuring, but my point stands. He’s terrible at singing.

    #92862
    Tanya Jones
    Participant

    Waterman became a National Treasure after putting in a sterling performance in The Sweeney, then went on to star in Minder, made by the same company (Euston Films, a subsidary of the colossus that was Thames Television), and designed as a vehicle for him. Wikipedia puts it thus; “The theme tune, “I Could Be So Good For You”, was written in 1979 by Patricia Waterman and Gerard Kenny and sung by Dennis Waterman. The record reached No.3 in the UK charts in November 1980 and led Waterman to tour as a singer.” (Patricia Waterman was his second wife, incidentally). So you can probably understand how Waterman sees himself as a singer, and I imagine that he’s had the singing clause in his contract ever since. The problem is, despite being a very good supporting actor in drama, he can’t carry comedy on his own, as you’ve discovered. The comedy in Minder only works because George Cole is a consummate comic actor, who Waterman can play off.

    Anyway, he’s well loved by the public over here, so he can get away with still singing the theme tune (New Tricks), despite Little Britain’s lampooning. He also appeared on stage in the West End a few years ago in My Fair Lady as Eliza’s dad, so can still sell tickets based on his vocal performance. It’s a shame he’s not in the new Minder, as despite his shortcomings, he’d still be better than the two lead actors in this version.

    #92866
    ChrisM
    Participant

    And actually his singing isn’t bad. It’s not a good as that of a ‘proper singer’ so, to speak, but his voice is okay, although his style is rather cheesy, particular the stress he puts on certain syllables and his pronunciation etc..:

    “I’ve got a good ideAH,
    Just you keep me neAH,
    I’ll be do good for yoo,
    I wanna help yuh..”
    …etc…

    (I confess I quite like the Minder song… although I’m not a Waterman fan.* Honest.)

    *I don’t dislike the guy as an actor. Seems a decent enough bloke. I don’t follow his work is what I meant.

    #92869

    Ah. That explains quite a lot; thank you ^_^ . Also, I’ve seen New Tricks too. It wasn’t terrible, at least in terms of his acting ability.

    #92871
    Ben Paddon
    Participant

    On The Up also starred Jenna Russell, who sings the Red Dwarf theme

    Which version?

    #92885
    si
    Participant

    The ones on the TV, not the ones on the dodgy CDs.

    #92897
    Tanya Jones
    Participant

    There’s something about New Tricks which irritates me, but I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s certainly not the acting, as all the cast are experienced, decent actors. I’m not actually that crazy about Waterman himself, as every time I’ve read an interview or heard a Sweeney commentary, he comes across as a bit of a tit. He did appear as the Dennis Waterman character on the Little Britain tour, though, so he’s obviously got a sense of humour.

    #92905
    John Hoare
    Participant

    [audio src="http://www.ganymede.tv/files/minder_indoors.mp3" /]

    I have nothing else to day. Except: I really like it, and you can all fuck off.

    #92909
    si
    Participant

    While we’re talking comedy, although it’s not strictly part of their weekly Dwarf updates, Dave have got an interesting article about ‘When should a sitcom end?’

    http://dave.uktv.co.uk/library/tv-blog/when-should-sitcom-stop/

    #92912
    ChrisM
    Participant

    >http://www.ganymede.tv/files/minder_indoors.mp3

    Ha! I’ve never heard that before. I liked it too.

    #92915
    ChrisM
    Participant

    >Dave have got an interesting article about ?When should a sitcom end??

    Yep, interesting stuff, although I disagree with the writer’s view on Coupling.

    Intersting little RD nugget there though:

    Luckily, Red Dwarf returns to our Dave-shaped screens in the near future, finally wrapping up the cliffhanging, humdinnering, tenterhooking mysterious conclusion to Series 8.

    Not a biggy (biggee?) maybe, but I did wonder, with the return of Holo-Rimmer if they would ignore the first two series. Of course they could sort of do both with the ‘it was an unreality bubble’ scenario…

    #92920
    Pete Part Three
    Participant

    >I have nothing else to day. Except: I really like it, and you can all fuck off.

    You surprise me. I’ve never seen an episode of Minder, but I know that song far too well from its presence on Christmas Music CDs when I was a nipper.

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