Rob Gilroy

Is comedy dead?

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The other day I was scrawling though my Twitter feed looking for something to read.

I ignored the boring stuff – news, current affairs, e-petitions – skipped past the personal rubbish – who reads other people’s blogs, anyway – and landed on an interesting Guardian piece about romantic comedies. It was written by Tess Morris.

Tess writes romantic comedies, including the recent Man Up with Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, so she of all people should know what she’s on about. If you can’t be bothered clicking the link, let me break it down for you.

In the wake of Man Up’s release, journalists constantly asked Morris the same question: ‘is the romcom dead?’ I don’t want to spoil things for you, but her answer was ‘no’.

The romcom is not dead, nor has it ever been away. Instead, the romcom has continued to evolve; changing the way we perceive it in order to keep the genre fresh and surprising. Whether they be Bridesmaids, Crazy Stupid Love or Silver Linings Playbook, romcoms continue to move with the times and – despite what journalists think – they’re very much alive.

I agree with Tess Morris, which is a good thing as I bloody love a romcom. But the article actually led me to consider something else – which other genres do the press routinely denounced as dead?

In movies there are very few. But in television: every other week somebody’s sounding the death knell for the sketch show. If not that then it’s sitcoms and their inability to capture audiences anymore, and that’s before we discuss the influx of ‘will Jeremy Corbyn resurrect satire?’ articles we’ve seen recently.

I suddenly realised that only comedy – whether on film or TV – is seen as finite in its lifespan. Now, I’m no expert but to me comedy is everywhere and its lasting effects couldn’t be more obvious.

Yes, some styles have their moment in the sun then make way for the new batch, but it isn’t long before the cycle comes back round and the revolving door of hilarity resets. Sky Arts are currently showing several exclusively commissioned silent comedies, while other channels are still desperate to find that new studio sitcom.

Yet, no one ever asks if the police procedural is dead. No one questions the longevity of soaps, or dramas. I’ve yet to see anyone eulogise game shows – and after Tipping Point they probably should. So what is it about comedy?

I get that comedy audiences are incredibly vocal in their criticism. If a show is bad, you only need to look at comedy forums to find a seething mass of people who feel they’ve been overlooked. (You’ll find me at ‘funnyguyz80085’.) Likewise, the second they announce a new flat-share sitcom it’s greeted with as much warmth as a herpes outbreak at a Chinese Whisper Convention.

That said, when a show does well, it’s often the same passionate people who propel it to wider success. But that still doesn’t account for critics who stare at comedy’s twitching body to see if they can call time, like some sort of coroner on retention at the TV Times.

If you ask me, and by reading this you sort of are, I think a big problem is that comedy is still seen as an inferior genre. You can see this prejudice when a comedian ‘graduates’ to a dramatic role, or – as Ms Morris points out – when a comedy is lavished with awards, it suddenly takes on the appearance of an esoteric melodrama; comedy being too unpalatable for serious-minded cinema goers. However successful a comedy is, that’s all it is – a comedy.

Whether they admit it or not, the people who talk about film and TV see comedy as a fumble round the back of the Social Club – quick, easy and unmemorable. And yet, forgive me if I’m wrong, but when you think back to those films and programmes that punctuate important moments in your life, comedy seems to be at the top of that list.

Whether you remember crying with laughter at the Blazing Saddles campfire scene, or tearing up at When Harry Met Sally, snorting coffee as Basil Fawlty goose-steps his way through the dining room, or beaming with pride at The Music Box – comedy is not fleeting. Comedy lasts.

It’s about time TV and film critics reviewed their approach to comedy. Despite what they may think, audiences love it – and so long as it continues to evolve – it will last.

Like any romance, it may come and go – but it’s never gone.