Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Laughter On The Edge

Euclides Montes @gatulino

If, like me, you’ve welcomed with incredible excitement the news that Chris Morris’ new film
has finally made its debut in the festival circuit, or probably chuckled at one of Frankie Boyle’s frankly daring BBC-aired jokes. Or maybe found yourself bewildered by the nationwide parody response to that Ross and Brand prank call, then it probably means that, like me, you enjoy your comedy edgy, satirical and, dare we say, anarchic and reckless with an ironic heart. In other words, funniness with teeth.

You will probably also have noticed then that a backlash of sorts has been occurring over the last year or so against exactly this kind of comedy. And in its place is an increased appetite for middle-of-the-road, big stadium routines; whilst the critics of edgy comedy have been growing more vocal and becoming more influential, and this has got me thinking: are we perhaps experiencing a turning point in the comedy environment in the UK?

The signs would indeed indicate so. After all, Morris’ film hasn’t even been shown to most reviewers in the UK [at time of writing] yet the rumbles of the "film treading on the limits of what distributors and broadcasters might tolerate" are already doing the rounds. Russell Brand went straight away after Sachsgate and Ross is going now, a few months afterwards [after doing enough to salvage a much more ‘publicly-funded’ career than Brand]. And anyone who went to see one of Boyle’s warm up shows for Mock The Week will know that although he officially left the show to ‘pursue other projects’, his despair at knowing that a large part of his routine would never make the final edit probably played a pivotal role in his decision.

I understand that some will argue that rather than a shift in comedy, what this reveals is a shift in what is acceptable in television or radio [particularly on the BBC] with people more willing to complain and demand a more conservative kind of comedy. And I think they’re probably right to an extent. After all, live comedy is still going strong and catering to all tastes, with the likes of Richard Herring and Stewart Lee selling out dates throughout the country.

But what concerns me on a personal level is that if edgy comedy were to be entirely pushed off our screens and radios, it would inevitably affect the way the circuit behaves as tastes are indiscriminately shaped by whatever or whomever is being given the oxygen of publicity as the much-maligned yet incredibly successful Michael Mcintyre proves. So, I ponder again, are we really going through a game-changer in the world of comedy [at least in the UK]?

I certainly don’t know the answer to that and I doubt that anyone does for sure. But in an age when bigots are getting organised, religious extremism is on the rise and politicians keep treating us all as if we are bewildered children who’ve just experienced a magic trick, surely we want our comedy to be cutting, edgy, pushing boundaries and not gagged. The efficacy of comedy has been proven many times. From Chaplin’s Hinckle to Carlin’s Seven Words, from Pryor's riffs on race to the wave of right-on British comedians during the Thatcher era. Edgy comedy too has proven to be a successful tool when aimed at the right targets and allowed to flow. It’d be sad to see comedy toothless, without bite. Hopefully I’ll reread this ponder in a year or so and laugh at how wrong I was. Feel free to let me know what you think please.

Click here to go to first post

1 comment:

  1. For me the most frustrating thing whenever a comedian "crosses the line" and the Daily Mail starts organising its normal process of ritual public humiliation, is that there's no way that you can counter complain. I don't know a single person who objected to the Ross-Brand saga and yet as a result of a handful of people (most of whom complained off the back of the media campaign without actually having listened to the "incident"), the BBC has brought in a wholeload of guidelines that will doubtless have the effect of stifling comedic creativity.

    But, to play devil's advocate for a minute. Perhaps edgy comedy can only really be edgy and push boundaries when it's out on the edge?Frankie Boyle makes me weep with laughter, but over the last couple of years he's become a familiar prime time face and I'm not sure that that's where his brand of humour should live. In large part because the risk is he's fairly abusive (!) and if that becomes mainstream then lesser talents will begin to mimic and get it wrong without much room to call them to account.

    For instance, whilst watching the repeats of the Big Fat Quiz of the Year I was horrified at the amount of casual racism that littered the pre-prepared scripts. I realise that the Big Fat Quiz of the year is hardly "edgy comedy", but on the whole its guests have traditionally started out in the alternative comedy circuits. My point is, alternative comedy done well is amazing. Alternative comedy that becomes mainstream and stops being alternative runs the risk of being treated as carte blanche for bigotted opinions to be pushed under the guise of comedy.