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  • Louis Jeck Prestidge

What makes me laugh?

I'm thinking of the period after the Young Ones and before The Office. The most subversive period for British Television. Perhaps. Ok maybe I'm bias here but I do think the 90s was an interesting period for programming. Take Channel 4, (thankfully Nadine Dorries did'nt) produced an eclectic bunch of shows that include the likes of Brass Eye, Spaced, Father Ted, The Day Today, Drop the Dead Donkey to name a few. It was a time when alternative comedy made its way into the mainstream. The Young Ones was the original in terms of politically minded, left leaning comedy. But the problem with The Young Ones is that it wasn't particularly funny. Comedy during the 90s was able to explore and break boundaries whilst retaining well worn comedy tropes and an old fashioned sense of nostalgia. Take Father Ted, although it established politically incorrect characters and near the knuckle scenes involving cultural stereotypes, it also knew exactly what it was (a sitcom) and never flew too far from its nest. British comedy in essence comes from inbuilt cultural assumptions on class, gender and race. Another great show One Foot in the Grave (1990-2000) went furthest in subverting the comedy tradition. One particular story line ended in the suicide of an older lady. Her legs are seen dangling from the bay window of their house as Victor and Margaret look on in horror. Dare we laugh. Another scene in which may or may not be frowned upon by todays standards involves an innocent misunderstanding in which Victor Meldrew drives past someone he believes to be the gay brother of Patrick his former neighbour. We the audience know its Patrick but Victor doesn't. Patrick walks rather gingerly as he recently had a cork removed from his bottom, as its pouring down he is also carrying his wife's umbrella. Victor, being rather shallow and quite simple, believes this man to be of a certain type by way of his elaborate and deliberate manner (the audience knows its because of his recent procedure). He winds down the window and gives him a vhs tape of hardcore pornography that had accidently found its way into his bag after a trip to the corner-shop. Of course Victor thought it would naturally belong to a gay man. The tape itself had been purchased out of another misunderstanding, Victor had been looking for some popcorn, the shop keeper had heard Cop porn. This storyline could only exist in a British sitcom. This scene in OFITG is funny because its straight out of the 1970s, its essentially recycled material. The humour comes from our expectations of the characters. It works so that we never get too invested in the characters on screen but at the same time we want to like them because of their antiquated beliefs.

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