Wednesday, March 26, 2008
British Comedy: A Question of Class
It was a shame to see Sandra Piddock of Plymouth narrowly fail in her gallant attempt to become the new UK Mastermind. Sandra's specialist subject in the Grand Final on Easter Monday was Jimmy Perry and David Croft's wonderful comedy series 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum', which regular readers will know is one of my all time favourites. By choosing the subject however, Sandra had to put up with some rather patronising treatment. In my tv guide the TV critic claims 'I'm sorry Sandra Piddock, knowing a lot about It Ain't Half Hot Mum doesn't make you brainy- it just means you didn't get out much in the 1970s'.
Worse still was the attitude of Mastermind compere John Humphrys. When discussing the comedies of Perry and Croft, Humphrys asked Sandra Piddock 'Aren't they rather simplistic?' Well, John, if you're looking for simplistic comedy, what about a certain BBC series in which a running joke is a woman vomiting when she hears the word 'black'? But, oops, we can't accuse Little Britain of being 'simplistic' because it's written and performed by public school-educated university graduates. In the same way we can't accuse the humour of Borat (aka Sacha Baron-Cohen, Haberdasher's Aske's; Cambridge University), of being 'simplistic' either. No, the humour of Lucas, Walliams and Baron Cohen might appear lavatorial and simplistic to the untrained eye, but it is in fact incredibly sophisticated, ironic, satirical, in fact all three men are total geniuses..!(not).
I've written before of the dreadful snobbery which exists when it comes to comedy in Britain today- and how BBC comedy output is now dominated by middle-class public school/university educated writers- Mitchell and Webb being the last clones to roll off the production line. For today's public school/university educated comedians the two priorities are:
1. to shock the audience; 2. to sneer at the oiks.
Making us laugh comes a very poor third.
Long Live Jimmy Perry and David Croft. And Galton and Simpson. And Esmonde and Larbey. And Clement and Le Frenais. And Johnny Speight. The sad and truly shocking thing is that none of those great comedy writers would ever get commissioned by today's BBC.