to watch shit comedy.
I was tired, I was vulnerable, I sat down and ended up watching a Ricky Gervais comedy: Life’s too Short.
Even during Gervais’ heights of the Office I was not really a fan, yes I could recognise it was good but it was a form of humour I never really liked. As a child I found ‘Some Mothers do have em’ embarrassing, sure some of the slapstick and stunts were excellent but on the whole I wanted Frank Spencer to come out on top just the once. The character David Brent was embarrassing to watch for different reasons but unlike Frank nearly managed to redeem himself and it was that failure that was funny.
Warwick Davis’ alter ego is selfish and crass, caring only for himself he is just a prick. And that, along with dwarf ‘jokes’ is what this comedy is about. Some critics find it funny, laugh out loud comedy, but I fail to find the funny side. The gags are laboured and dragged-out to the point of beating the viewer into submission, the comic techniques of timing, story telling and subtle twists are absent. Delivering gag after gag is a challenge, delivering good comedy is a skill that should be celebrated as true high art form.
If I knew what made great comedy I would be writing or performing it. I know what it isn’t: it is not ridicule based on sex or race or height, but ridicule of beliefs and ideas can be funny especially when we laugh at our own stupidity. Gervais has made a point of saying his ridicule of dwarfs, people in wheelchairs, celebrities, his own fans and ‘mongs’ is ironic, he is getting us to laugh at our prejudices; I am not convinced.
Great comedy is not just shock value; sadly there is too much racism, sexism, prejudice to find it shocking, but hearing my mother talk about anal sex probably would cause me to giggle. Comedy, just like modern art, has to break ground: it is not so much that it has to be constantly original rather it has to be contemporary. Of course there will always be a fan base for the classics and I have only just watched Life of Brian again, but we watch for a different reason which is more to do with comfort and familiarity.
We tend to assume that talent and genius is enduring, that it will continue to amaze as the decades pass, but the reality is more temporary. Numerous performers show promise, the exciting first album, in the case of music, followed by the classic and then the third difficult album. Some slip into oblivion, some re-invent themselves and those ahead of their time can make a comeback but I feel it is the fans who allow a performer to continue well past their best by date and it they who do a dis-service to the art they wish to preserve.
This post is not about Ricky Gervais any more than it is about Roy Chubby Brown or Jim Davidson but he represents, in comedy terms, Mummy Bates with the fans acting like Norman. Weirdly the loyal fan base of Gervais are incredibly defensive, the comedian Richard Herring who is actively involved in SCOPE questioned Gervais’ use of ‘mong’ and then was confronted with a barrage of comment from Ricky’s fan base. Read comments that feature the topic of Gervais and there are normal opinions, that in recent years have progressively reflected the comic’s critical decline, and fans who have just wet themselves with laughter. It is almost religious and these awe struck fans have even caused Jeremy Clarkson to be publicly envious and complain that his fan base doesn’t go off into cyberspace to attack his critics.
The fan base is the interesting element, it is they who get the joke when all around them fail to see the funny side. They are the ones that allow a public body like the BBC to commission another season of tired comedy. And sadly they are the ones who take the alleged ironic use of ‘mong’ and use as the insult we spent years trying to eliminate. Quite what their psycological make-up is, is somewhat a mystery to me, some of it may be parasocial interaction where the celeb appears to directly talk to the viewer and therefore build up a ‘connection’. and perhaps it was the Office that triggered this with David Brent doing his now ubiquitous ‘look to camera’ raise eyebrows etc a technique now re-used in Life’s too Short. [this blog explores some of the fan issues]
Gervais treats his fans as loyal followers, his comment on twitter about the ‘mong’ criticism was “Dear fans. Don’t give the haters any attention. Those people aren’t really offended by the things I say – they are offended by my success.” It doesn’t require much viewing of the man, whether it is a passing interview, his stand-up, Comic Relief , Golden Globes, the news about the Golden Globes etc etc etc to see the man is obsessed with his own celebrity but one where he portrays his fans as little better than scum. It’s a strange relationship where he tests the loyalty of his fans, whether it be insults or progressively more expensive tickets for stand-up and now the pretty rubbish television with the Life’s to Short sitcom.
A shocking child who constantly tests his doting parents would indicate a deeply insecure personality and no big surprise but then again it could be the genius of the man stretching the boundaries of comedy! Yes, OK it is unlikely but it would make a really good plot for a mockumentary!
Great, even good comedy is a rarity and perhaps the t.v. should spare us of too much comedy, more is less sometimes.