Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Funny Fortnight - 1997 and all that..

Last time I look at the what Channel 4 was doing for their Funny Fortnight, by repeating shows from their archives. As I said I was too young for some of these programmes such as Chelmsford 123 and Vic Reeves' Big Night Out.

Now my comedy had come from the BBC2 anti-news slot having seen things like Naked Video, KYTV, the repeats of The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy and also The Smell of Reeves and Mortimore. This is where I got my Vic and Bob training and by 1997, now 18, I was looking to expand my comedy horizons and go for a journey of discovery by myself. Armed with a car boot VHS, I was able to record comedy for the first time and analysis it. Yes, I was enjoying the sillyness of Shooting Stars on BBC2, but I was looking towards Channel 4 for something different and that came in the shape of Father Ted.

This was religion being pricked of its pomposity, but developing a silly sense of humour. The storylines in themselves seem almost ludicrous such as Father Dougal Maguire becoming a milkman. The lines which were delivered were honed to get the best out of them and to ramp them to a level of surrealness which added to the manic mixtures of this family which weren't actually family. By using that concete, it allowed the characters to form in their own ways. They mayhave had their individual characteristics but when they came together like any sitcom group, it allowed for them to bounce off each other. 

Maybe, I was silly to think that Father Jack saying 'Feck, Arse, Drink and Girls' was the be all and end all. The show grew on me, as the situations got sillier and the humour getting more and more like The Simpsons each week. But it put into my mind the seeds of sillyness and thinking that it need not be just like 'Whoops vicar, there goes my trousers!' But it was something new in my life, but then came some which rocked my world forever.

At that time daytime television was staid and boring, there wasn't anything different to shake it up at that point, then came along two ladies who were like the fun to the plainess of Pebble Mill. Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were like a shot in the arm to me at this time. 

Yes, to the 18 yr old me Mel and Sue were something from another planet, with their own language and way of performing and presenting took me aback. This was must see viewing, it was almost comedy/light entertainment/cooking had been involved in a love triangle and this was the result of it.  The food and cooking was a part of it, but it was the daily interviews with the guests, though more the comedy which made the programme. Having been part of the Footlights, Giedroyc and Perkins had treaded a well worn path by those before them and since by going to the Edinburgh Fringe to perform and also apart from that they had written for French and Saunders as well.

It was another step on the road to surrealism, but it seemed that Mel and Sue could not make the break though that French and Saunders had previously done. Wheither thst was down French and Saunders strong position as the leading female even double act of that time. Even after doing a quizshow for ITV in 1999, they seemed to merge into the background of comedy. Though seperatly they did seem to find their own niches with Perkins branching out on her own both presenting and performing and with Giedroyc becoming an author reflecting her experiences of her own pregnancy and giving birth, still acting and laterly becoming a presenter for radio.

It is surprising to think that the incoming Chief Executive of Channel 4 at that time was current outgoing BBC Director General Mark Thompson. He had taken on the role vacated by Michael Jackson who had moved to America to head up the USA Network. Though Thompson had be important in knowing that comedy was a key part of a channel when being controller at BBC2. Though it was Thompson later noted for the broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera, he allowed Chris Morris to make a Brass Eye special reflecting the knee jerk reaction by the media of the subject of paedophiles, it is important to remember this was the time of the now defunct News of the World's Name and Shame campaign to find paedophiles which lead to attacks on innocent people and the cause of riots. But by this one programme allowed Channel 4 to show that they still could be ground breaking still nearly twenty years after its launch, the furore may have been seen as big around that time. It was needed to reflect the furore that the press had caused itself, with this doing the job, it could be said that the reaction was justified to reveal the truth about the events many years later through the Leveson inquiry.

For all the surreal and strange comedy that Channel 4 has done, it has allowed Mark Thomas to bring his brand of humour to the screens but with it bring serious points for people to reflect on. His comedy was there to make people think about what was going on the world around them, though this allowed an off-shoot of this by him looking at a the places that the public weren't meant to know about such as places of significance to do with the Cold War and also places which were still on meant to be seen. 

This type of thinking marked Channel 4 out as wanting to try something new, but by the 21st century something new was coming, wheither for the good or the bad but it would change the humour of this country. As along came The 11 O'Clock Show launching both Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan on the nation's screen but also from this came Ricky Gervais and Sasha Baron Cohen as well, it took the idea of look at the day's news and showing it in a comical angle.

As such as Gervais and Baron Cohen much like Channel 4's comedy output comedy from 2000 onwards, it can be very much like Marmite. To be honest I have dipped in and out of it, but maybe with a new comes new shows and new comedians. Eventually shows like Peep Show will finish and be replaced, but with the Robert Popper written Friday Night Dinners for example it has got a ready made replacement. But in which way it goes, who knows...

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