I sat down yesterday to watch an episode of a TV comedy programme I used to enjoy. I wandered off from it years ago, bored by the rut it had staggered into. I understood that they were back with their original format, just not on their original channel: I was in the mood for a laugh at something silly.
Look, you’ve probably guessed that I didn’t laugh much, and that I am now about to write quite a lot of words on the subject. I’m a worrier, and I worry that I am losing my connection with humanity.
I am starting to get the distinct impression that I don’t enjoy comedy any more. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it: I’ve always been a massive comedy fan, and losing it would leave me bereft.
Can I blame comedy for not making me laugh, or would that be entirely reductive and disingenuous? Is it more of a case that I have radically changed, and that comedy is no longer tailored to my tastes?
That feels like such an old fogey thing to think: that comedy is only geared to the “youth of today”. I’m more or less the same age as a lot of the comedians who are currently making big waves for themselves, so it’s clearly a load of old shite. Am I even in the right mindset for comedy right now?
The rot set in quite a few years ago, to be honest; it’s now more a question of whether the decline is terminal or not. I stopped enjoying quizcoms. They were always my favourite form of light-hearted TV entertainment, but they were leaving a bad taste, like a gathering of ashes in my mouth. QI, Have I Got News For You, 8 Out of 10 Cats, all watched and leaving me unamused. Series links deleted.
I blamed the talent, I blamed the writing, I blamed cost-cutting, I blamed the news, I blamed each and every thing I could, refusing to point the finger back at myself. I am the common denominator here, so it can only rationally be my tastes which have changed. And on I keep searching, looking for some comedy which will make me howl in the ways I have longed to return to for so long now.
Insert name here kept me amused for a while, until it didn’t. I liked the fact that they had historians on hand to get all geeky about an historical figure or two, while the comedy flowed. Then a few of the newest episodes left me cold, and I wandered off again. Am I in a foul mood or am I sick of the way we do comedy? Has the way we do comedy even changed? It all feels so very stale to me now.
Am I just a miserable bastard? I mean, yes, I am. That’s not the question here, except that I have just asked it. In general I am, and I am content with that; in particular, am I just not in a laughing mood these days? Is the world too real at the moment for comedy to touch me? I understand that I have a lot on, and that the world is going through some stuff, but that shouldn’t stop me from laughing.
I wanted to love Hypothetical, a new comedy panel show from Dave. It had a lot of comedy talent that I usually really enjoy on it, and it was injected with a lot of genuine irreverence. But I kept falling asleep: that’s not a good fucking sign for a comedy. I persevered, but the episodes kept building up on my Sky box, slowly chipped away at when I had a moment of empathy for the people involved.
It used to be the case that the comedy programmes were the first ones to be gobbled up when they appeared on the recorder, and the rest – documentaries, travel, cooking – would gather varying quantities of dust until we were allowed the capacity to catch up. Now we largely watch anything but comedy, so much have our tastes changed. Watching out of a sense of duty will never cut it.
As I am undoubtedly getting older, and my tastes are clearly changing, is nostalgia the answer? Not so very long ago we had a good blast through some old episodes of Still Game, Black Books and Dinnerladies – all of which raised quite the usual set of giggles. If sitcoms still work, is it quizcoms?
The nature of a quiz is combat: you’re there to win. However, the nature of a comedy is that you’re there to laugh. If it’s not funny, it is not comedy; if there is no competitive element, then it is not a quiz. The quizcoms I had the greatest problems with were the ones where there was the greatest conflict between the two sides of its gestalt personality: comedy was pushing quiz out of the way.
Rather than QI being about me finding out some Quite Interesting nugget of fact, I was enduring Alan putting on a little fucking tableau of racial atrocity, purely in search of yet another dull gag.
The same applies to Have I Got News for You, with Paul’s iffy flights of fancy and Ian’s puritanical mewlings replacing any real satire. I got hooked on the series when it had real teeth in its iron jaws.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks never lost its ability to walk the tightrope, but was ultimately cancelled.
I still think it’s me. I still think I am too distracted to be amused. I’m still looking for a way to blame my almost permanent state of ennui on Brexit, and the fact that reality is far stupider than any joke at the moment. But I really do think that there is more here at play than any of that. Let me explain.
I would love to witness the birth of something NEW. We have so many great comedians on the go at the minute, and they are a delightfully diverse bunch. That is always a good sign. I would love to run through a virtual rolodex of them, and assemble them in to a crack squad: The Comedic Avengers.
They would write, either alone or in pairs; they would devise the format together, free of the dusty old formats of the 20th century; they would perform the material themselves, live or recorded.
I miss sketch comedy. It grew stale, as it always does, but it always comes back. The new platforms invest in quizcoms and stand-up: the BBC is the rightful home of sketches; it should get working.
We have new cultural tropes now, from YouTube and Facebook to Trump and Brexit: all of it is ready to be lambasted, and all of it needs some loud, brash voices to make it all seem so very silly again.