Opinion: What Goes Up Must Come Down – Is Proper ‘Sketch Comedy’ Dead?
Before I launch into this attack, one should understand that I am not simply stating facts, hence the word ‘opinion’ at the beginning of the title. As a man who enjoys the pleasures of television comedy, I have recently found myself looking through the YouTube archives for ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ and the other sketch shows submitted by the determined nerds of video posting, leading me to pose the above question: is proper ‘sketch comedy’ dead?
Back in the day (clichéd, I know), we had the likes of ‘Monty Python’, ‘The Two Ronnies’, ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’, ‘The Fast Show’, etc. I still laugh watching my favourite sketch, ‘Tricky Linguistics’, in which Stephen Fry plays an overexcited, articulate master of English, where his exuberant and complex style confounds Hugh Laurie (who plays the ‘host’ in this sketch). The use of well-spoken English without the need to discuss the ‘taboo’ allows this type of comedy to confront and break a different boundary; we, the audience, are not idiots. And if we don’t understand, that’s fine. We are aware of the intentions of Fry’s character in this skit and it becomes even funnier if we know what he’s saying. And the relentlessly funny machine of ‘the sketch’ continued to operate.
Onwards and upwards; sketch comedy continued to rise, its predecessors also including the likes of ‘Monty Python’ (I shan’t write about this; it could be a very long article otherwise. Besides, there’s already A Peek at Python ) and ‘The Two Ronnies’ were juggernauts of the art. ‘The Fast Show’ came along, producing more great comedy moments such as the painter who screams ‘black’, or even ‘Unlucky Alf’, the man who personifies Sod’s Law. It was shortly after that sketch comedy began to run on empty. Although ‘Bo Selecta!’ was funny to a certain degree, it recycled the same jokes too many times and by the end of it, I would have punched Francis’ Michael Jackson impression so hard, it would never tell me to ‘sha’mon’ again. Soon, reusable jokes would be the craze and dark times certainly loomed ahead.
‘Yeah I know’. Even writing it sends an unfunny chill down my spine. And to make matters worse, most tracksuit-wearing, yob-enforcing, Burberry laden, Reebok sporting chavs do bad impressions of Matt Lucas’ pining voice, which just makes this sort of spewing of cheap jokes more annoying. The discharge of humourless repetition is not only in this particular sketch of ‘Little Britain’, but it’s in much of the show. Emily Howard’s ‘I’m a lady’ nonsense was a frequent feature of the show, met by ‘oh crap, not this again’ groans by my peers and I. So how did they decide to top this? What sugarless icing did they apply to this very tasteless cake? They got Matt Lucas to dress as a lady too and put a moustache on ‘him/her’ (groan). Oh, could the transvestite nature of this character be more ludicrous? Yes. They made him/her slip into a deep voice by mistake. The jokes were not particularly funny to start with so maybe if they had just been characters in one or two sketches, the jokes wouldn’t have worn any thinner than Richard Keys’ lips. But it’s inclusion in every episode made it so cheap. So gut-wrenchingly cheap.
The mountainous terrain of rip-roaring comedy has since waned into little hills of slight chuckles; the odd appearance of something good to laugh at has become a rare sight. ‘Armstrong & Miller’ boasts of a few good sketches amongst a litter of adequate/slightly below-par funniness. Of late, the only real diamond in the rough is ‘That Mitchell & Webb Look’, which has taken the winning formula of mainly producing different sketches every time (apart from a select few such as ‘Sir Digby Chicken Caesar’ which is used a number of times) and actually being creative. It’s perhaps the only saving grace of sketch shows since the golden oldies. So it seems that although sketch comedy isn’t quite dead, it’s just so rare to find. And to think that a few decades ago, people were engulfed in ‘Fry and Laurie’ snappiness, ‘Monty Python’ groundbreaking humour and the comedy of ‘The Two Ronnies’. I have unfortunately not had that particular privilege due to the blatant issue of ‘not being born yet/being too young’. But I wait tentatively, baited breath and all, in the hope we’ll enter another phase of sketch show brilliance soon.
Mohammed Adnan also has a blog. You can find it here.