I read a really inspiring blog post last week about the importance of tv comedy. Sarah at Gracefully Falling Upwards wrote about how comedy changed her life; how it helped her laugh and feel ok during a particularly dark and difficult time in her life. She says:
“Comedy was there for me when I didn’t have the words to tell anyone how I felt. Comedy was there to make me laugh on the days that I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Comedy made me feel like the world wasn’t always so dark and painful and that eventually it does get better.”
This really resonated with me. When I was little I was pretty awkward and quite lonely. I found solace in books, rather than tv. I still do. Along side trying to keep up to date with great tv shows, and finding the time to write about them for you folks, my challenge is to read 70 books this year! (You can follow my progress at GoodReads). Basically I’m going to spend so much time sitting this year I might develop DVT!
TV comedy was always there for me too. My Mum has a fantastic sense of humour, and up until fairly recently I thought she was a master joke writer. Only when I saw Morecambe and Wise, Little and Large and Les Dawson as an adult did I realise that’s where she’d gotten about 80% of her material. The Morecambe and Wise classic about the speeding ambulance (“He won’t sell much ice cream going at that speed!”) – I swear she tells that joke every time she hears one. Every time! My Mum, the trail blazer – stealing jokes even before Twitter was invented.
I didn’t have a tv in my bedroom until I was 16, so those evenings in front of the telly were always a compromise. It seems to me it was pretty rare that me or my brother won out and chose what we watched, but I’m sure if you ask my Mum or Dad they’d say the same was true for them. So we watched a lot of the slow, gentle, classic comedies, stuff that I wouldn’t watch now – Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Last of the Summer Wine, Only Fools and Horses, and Birds of a Feather. Oh God, and As Time Goes By. That was dreadful. That show was slow dull romantic sitcom about awkward pensioners. No wonder I wasn’t digging it, aged 12.
But I think this stuff is still great comedy training. It’s good to immerse yourself in comedy and learn for yourself what makes you laugh. How else do you develop a sense of humour that is genuinely your own? And given how unemotional we were as a very white, very middle class, very English household it was sensational when the comedy we watched delved into darker, more complicated subjects. Those poignant moments will stay with me forever…
When Del and Rodney get stuck in a lift in Only Fools and end up having to deal with the emotional impact of Rodney’s wife’s miscarriage, or in The Royal Family where Denise goes into labour in the bathroom. She’s so frightened but her seemingly useless father Jim is there and you really feel his love for her, and you know everything will be alright. I’ve got a lump in my throat just thinking about that scene, especially because me and my Dad watched it together. I hope he remembers it as fondly as I do, but of couse, I’ll never ask him.
Moments like those are a sucker punch. It’s comedy so you’re not expecting to have to engage like this – to really think, and feel, and empathise. The writers catch you with your defences down and even the stoniest heart can’t help but feel moved.
These shining moments of beautiful heartfelt writing are what really resonates in current sitcoms, like the excellent Modern Family and The Goldbergs. In our house we’ve figured out that there’s one poetic soul in the writing room, sticking to his guns amongst the guys who write nothing but banter and fart gags. Occasionally the producers need something truly beautiful and the call goes out for Kevin to get out his finest quill and vellum parchment and write an elegant, memorable ending to the show. Never over-the-top, never cloying, never schmaltzy, just perfect. Kevin is the dude.
From slightly hoary old sitcoms that you watch with your parents comes the excitement of revolutionary new comedy. You have to know your history to really appreciate rule breaking mayhem and moments of deep sincerity. I’m thinking of Red Dwarf, The Simpsons, The Mighty Boosh, and anything written by Armando Iannucci or the awesome Graham Linehan. And if you’ve had a bad day, coming home to 30 minutes of great tv comedy is exactly what you need – to be able to relax and laugh.