Ian Wolf

Gigglebox Weekly #38 – The Comedy of Top Gear

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Gigglebox Weekly With Ian Wolf

This week we start the column with a Tweet.

@ianwolf: how about a gigglebox article on how Top Gear has lost its humour by trying to be funny? Genuine ask, not sarcasm.

Well, seeing as how the only new comedy on TV this week was The Mad Bad Ad Show – a programme that would most likely have Bill Hicks spinning in his grave – I thought I might as well.

First of all, I should point out that I know virtually nothing about cars, and that I can’t drive (I’ve failed my practical test three times). However, I must confess that I do watch Top Gear for the same reason most people watch it – to see Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May behave like the bunch of idiots that they really are.

No-one cares about the cars; you just want to laugh at them, and the key word there is at, never with.

I don’t agree with the vast majority of what the Top Gear trio say. I believe in man-made climate change, I have no problems with Mexicans either. However, judging by the content, I would say that what they appear to be doing is a sort of Ricky Gervais / Jimmy Carr style of post-ironic cringing kind of humour. Namely, making jokes that would seem to be offensive on the outside, but are actually not meant to be taken seriously.

The problem is, of course, that Clarkson, Hammond and May are not comedians. Most of them do appear on comedy shows (Clarkson and May have both appeared on Have I Got News for You and Clarkson regularly pops up on QI) but humour and wit is not their strong suit. As a result many people take their jokes at face value.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is not so much the fact that their humour appears to be right-wing, but the fact that the vast majority of the comedy circuit is left-wing. No comedian today in their right mind would admit to liking David Cameron. It would be professional suicide. Look at the late Bob Monkhouse. He once came out in support of Margaret Thatcher, which really didn’t help him back in the 1980s during the wave of alternative comedy…

I think, however, I have a solution to Top Gear’s comedy problems.

Like I said, the show is much better when the presenters are mocking themselves, not others. I therefore think that rather instead of mocking a nationality, the drivers of some particular make of car, or some other group, they should be really, REALLY offensive about themselves and their own background.

I propose that they should stop being like Gervais and Carr, instead going for the full Sadowitz. I propose equal opportunities offending: mocking everyone, including themselves (bar the swearing of course, what with this being a pre-watershed show).

How often do you hear Clarkson making shocking remarks about the people of Doncaster, smokers, of Sunday Times journalists? Never. It would be a refreshing change to see him taking the mickey out of himself for once. The same is true for Hammond with Birmingham and May with Bristol. They might as well give it a go.

After all, who’s going to complain – apart from the people who complain about Top Gear all the time anyway?