British Comedy: Keeping it in the Family

With the recent untimely death of Rik Mayall occurring on the same day that I went to a Spaced themed pub quiz, last week involved many conversations about British comedy, and for me that included talking about the cultural significance it’s had on my life. Growing up, I was surrounded by a healthy diet of homegrown comedy, filtering its way into my everyday vernacular and inciting fits of giggles at many an inappropriate moment. 

Three of our team of five – we came third in the Spaced pub quiz!

My stepdad influenced my sense of humour through a steady introduction to all things funny. I have clear memories as a child in the car with him, listening to Alan Partridge cassette tapes (it was that or ABBA Gold in my mum’s car – either work for me!), and his constant reference to Dingly Dell, the mystical pixie land referred to in one obscure Monty Python sketch. We couldn’t (and still can’t) watch Mastermind without referring to Ronnie Corbett, or University Challenge without reminding ourselves of The Young Ones. And let’s try to forget the time he imitated Eric Morecombe’s sneaky drinking sketch with a full bottle of Jack Daniels at my little sister’s 18th birthday party! British comedy has infiltrated it’s way into the very fabric of our family, with quotes and lines being bandied around without a second thought. They never need a proper reference; we all know exactly what show it’s been lifted from. 

And that’s just how it all started. Since I was a teenager, comedians have been like rock stars for me; I’ve waited outside gigs to meet them and been to DVD signings and Q&As. I still adore the older comedies that my stepdad introduced me to, but there are a few shows that summarise my young adult years; shows that me and my friends would watch entire series of in one sitting, or be able to recite word for word. These are the shows that I can always go back to and never get tired of them, and Channel 4 dominate their creation. Brilliant and ascerbicly witty comedies like Black Books and Green Wing; shows that commented on the real world like Brass Eye; and timeless observational genius like Spaced. Even comedy dramas like Teachers continue to strike a chord with me, and they play a huge part in my life even now. 

For a long time there wasn’t a comedy that touched these, all of which came out between the mid 90s and early 00s. Panel shows took over on TV, and cracking American comedies like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia were smashing away at the UK’s feable attempts. There does seem to be a resurgence to some extent, although I don’t watch much TV anymore so I’m not really up to date. I do know that the fantastic Friday Night Dinner is returning, and I fully welcome a comedy that doesn’t just involve teenagers doing gross things or humiliating members of the public. 

Comedy is so inherently British; we are well known for our unique style of humour – those dry, sarcastic, surreal laughs that baffle parts of the world but reduces me to a quivering wreck in search of the nearest loo. Long may we continue not mentioning the war, kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse and drinking plenty of Bolly, sweetie darling!