One of the most frustrating things for me as a feminist who is also a fan of comedy is the assumption that a lot of jokes are going to be offensive to me–essentially, that because I hold feminist views I can’t laugh about anything and especially not anything to do with feminism. To wit, the feminist version of the old light bulb joke:
Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: That’s not funny.
It’s the equivalent of that tired “I found the vegan” joke–if you’re annoyed because you’re a feminist and you feel you have a sense of humor about things and are sick of the “humorless feminist” stereotype, you’re still proving the joke’s point. But when running through people I could easily identify as feminists who are comedians, I didn’t have the easiest time coming up with many that in turn made the issues clear extremely important to them into jokes the way say…Dave Chappelle does. Sarah Silverman does a bit, Josie Long has moved towards activist-minded comedy. One very clear example rests with Ever Mainard, brought up regularly amongst internet feminists for her “Here’s My Rape” bit–not my favorite but lauded in feminists circles as (along with John Mulaney’s subway chase bit) as an example of a successful joke about rape/rape culture.
The British Comedy Awards nominations have been announced, as I learned via the intertubes from Neil over at Cook’d and Bomb’d. Neil made the following observation on Twitter:
Why can’t they have separate King or Queen of Comedy categories? Having a combined one then including 1 out of 6 women looks like tokenism.
Which got me thinking.
There are occasionalarguments for combining the actor and actress categories in the Academy Awards. It makes sense generally, they’re all doing the exact same job. It’s not–as pretty much any article on this subject is hasty to mention–like a sport where physical differences could put women at a disadvantage.
The Office left a clear mark on the US sitcom landscape–one of my the most successful US sitcoms on right now, Modern Family, continues to ape its talking head style (not that The Office invented that, but it certainly popularized it in modern American sitcoms). It has lead to a significant rise in the success and popularity of single-camera sitcoms. And it has resulted in multiple shows that aren’t afraid to go for heart, for extended periods of time with no laughs, just genuine emotion expressed between characters who have earned, through their comedy, the affection and emotional investment of their audience.
The other sitcom leaving the air this TV season is 30 Rock, the show that absolutely defined NBC as a channel willing to give a unique comedy show a chance. 30 Rock has never been a great performer ratings-wise but has been a critical darling and an award-winning machine since it started in 2006. It made Tina Fey the face of women in comedy in the US. It’s been easily one of my favorite shows for the past six years. And it has one thing a lot of other US sitcoms don’t have:
But after writing at length at least three times now about The Thick of It and its various derivatives, I think it’s time to focus a bit on other works. So let’s discuss the alternative comedy boom in UK, more specifically to two key figures in that boom, the double act Lee and Herring.
Stewart Lee stands a slight chance at being a recognizable name among comedy nerd times as the guy Marc Maron interviewed once who he now brings up basically every time he interviews another British comic. When Maron mentions his name, it’s usually followed quickly by “that guy changed my life,” referring to a part of the interview in which Lee discusses leaving comedy altogether for a period and the effect it’s had on him as a person and a performer. Lee directly refers to his former comedy partner Richard Herring as “our version of you” in the interview, and frankly given the vague similarities in their career paths, I think Herring might make for an even more interesting guest that Lee was.
Lee and Herring are both excellent on their own. Herring is a frequent podcaster–look for Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theater or Edinburgh Fringe podcasts–both men have regular newspapercolumns, Lee wrote Jerry Springer the Opera (which won four Olivier awards–these are the British Tonys), and bothmen perform extensively as stand-ups–these performances are at varying levels of accessibility to Americans but suffice it to say, there’s a fair amount of stuff on youtube as with any comedian. They are perhaps more notable to Americans for their early-90s TV work as a double act on the show Fist of Fun, which is easily comparable to our own comedy legends, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.
I have been temporarily absent from my own blog working with my former media studies professor and current person I occasionally bother for life/career advice, Brett Boessen on a post for In Media Res, a website for scholarly discussion of media amongst academics and normals. Each week they select a few people to write short posts about a subject as a means of promoting discussion amongst their commenters.
If you visit the site, you may notice that this week’s theme is politics as entertainment and if you that a further look, you’ll notice my name listed next to August 24th.
Our post centers on The Thick of It and Veep and fan reactions to the differences between them, namely Veep’s lack of a clear Malcolm Tucker equivalent. I’m pleased with it and I hope you’ll read it on Friday when it’s posted!
In vaguely related news, I continue to be some sort of king maker as Helen Zaltzman, the fourth in my British Comedy Women I Want To Be Pals With brigade, joined the other…brigadiers in appearing on International Waters, possibly my favorite podcast, not long after I namechecked her on this very blog!
The Thick of It and The Trip are both unique in that they managed to reach an American audience via adaptation to film. This is certainly a less widely used means of adaptation for a US audience but has some clear advantages.
I don’t quite have precise timing on the ABC attempt at adapting The Thick of It for American TV, but one wonders whether it or Veep for that matter would have been considered had it not been for the success of In the Loop (again: Oscar-nominated and totally robbed). The Trip didn’t get the wider release and attention that In the Loop did and is also a far stranger feat in that it contains no new material and it just basically an abridged version of the series.
There have been many attempts to translate successful British sitcoms for US audiences over the years, with variant levels of success. At least two all-American classic TV comedies, All in the Family and Sanford and Son, were based on UK series. But typically, the narrative (from an audience perspective) of the news that a show is being adapted is one mostly of concern that the adaptation will somehow “ruin” the source material. Lots of UK sitcoms get US pilots made. Some (Coupling, all of the attempted Fawlty Towers remakes) manage to get a few episodes on the air before getting cancelled. But every once in a while, the translation works.
This year, HBO debuted Veep, a satirical series about politics starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Veep is unique in that it’s more or less a US adaptation of an existing British series but is simultaneously completely different from that series.
The Thick of It, the political satire on which Veep is loosely based, recently started airing on BBC America–which is in and of itself a massive joke. BBC America, like most other basic cable channels, is averse to especially not-family-friendly content. Anyone who saw In The Loop, the Oscar-nominated (and totally robbed in my opinion) film adaptation of the show, will be familiar with central character Malcolm Tucker and the show’s penchant for creative swearing (apparently scripts are specifically sent to writer Ian Martin, the show’s “swearing consultant”).
First a bit of exciting related news: Kevin Eldon, who I mentioned in the first Outside Exposure post, is getting his own BBC 2 sketch show. It’s either a massive coincidence since he’s been a prominent figure in the UK comedy scene for years OR I am officially a King Maker.
Let’s move on to some comedians you might not know about but should.
I’m hoping to start doing weekly posts on new and good comedy videos, but as you might suspect, the internet is teeming with people making comedy stuff. Which is great–certainly everyone in the world, feel free to continue doing that! It just means I need to perfect a means of getting through such a high quantity of videos to find things I want to post about.
Since I don’t have that system worked out yet, I thought instead I’d highlight some comedy webseries/sketch groups with an existing backlog of material that I like.
America is a big exporter of entertainment–it’s probably a lot easier for someone from any other English-speaking country to list a few top-quality comedians from the US off the top of their heads than it is for someone in the US to name basically any non-American comedians.
So in the hopes of rectifying that, here are four comics from the UK any American would do well to familiarize themselves with.
There is every chance that I will do this multiple times in the future and an even greater chance that I will not do this with four people at once again. Please feel free to share any opinions as to issues with length/whatever in the comments.