Does dumbing down of British comedy signal the End of Civilization as we know it?


This is a long one folks so bear with me….

After almost three years of tellyspotting, I continue to have a thought regarding a genre that I’m particularly fond of….British situation comedy. Having grown up on the likes of such classics as Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Good Neighbors, To the Manor Born, Keeping Up Appearances, Blackadder, The Office and Red Dwarf to name but a few, I started digging back into the history of the genre and began to power watch as much as I could of early days series such as Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, The Frost Report and anything involving Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to fully understand where and how it all began. All brilliant.

My thought was that when looking at where British comedy began and then what transpired over the next several decades, the quality of comedy output from the UK has suffered greatly in recent years. Before anyone jumps on the ‘it’s just the good old days syndrome mentality, it really is true. Much like the explosion of unscripted reality shows have seriously ruined the amount of quality drama in the States, quiz shows, panel shows and comedy ‘news’ shows have made a fairly significant dent into the wealth of quality comedy series coming out of the UK from all sources. I will admit there has been some movement to reinvigorate the genre in recent months which can’t help but be a good thing, but there still is the issue of being more unscripted panel, quiz or current events series than the law should allow.

Not being one that can speak first hand about this issue given that I’m not in the UK on a daily basis experiencing this pendulum swing, I could never find the words to wax eloquently about it in a coherent fashion. Thankfully, for my sanity and the sanity of others, several very creative individuals took it upon themselves recently to analyze the overall state of British comedy by offering their thoughts on its downward slide. It all started with an idea from Josh Bullock, Digital & Features Editor for Fourth & Main. Josh commissioned the genius graphic by a very talented animator, Andy Baker, to accompany the editorial by Alex Massey, who brilliantly put words to paper on the reasoning for the demise of British comedy as we know it (even though Alex has self-described his words as a ‘spittle-flecked rant‘).

Josh later explained his thought process on the creation of the graphic by saying, “…I came up with it by thinking how Alex had touched on the great comedy character creations across the decades; Fawlty, Blackadder, Partridge and Brent and thinking about the evolution of comedy. I then thought of the famous illustration of the stages of evolution in man (chimp to upright man) and thought the two ideas could come together, except inverted so that it seemed we were going smaller and backwards rather than taller and onwards. Again, brilliant.

Alex’s Demise of BBC Comedy editorial, written as part of the overall Fourth & Main editorial page, says it better than I could ever put my thoughts into words ending it with the glimmer of hope thought that all is not lost as there will be a new season of The Thick of It this Fall on the BBC. And….thankfully, there’s always BBC Radio 4.

  • If this is happening, then it’s a sad state of affairs, FOR ALL COMEDY. Comedy performers learn from any performer or performance, just as writers develop what they write, by reading and writing. I think it’s happening with all of the music, literature, films, art, and everything else being done as entertainment. What a sad time, we live in, if we don’t change this progressive trail to the scrap heap.

  • If this is happening, then it’s a sad state of affairs, FOR ALL COMEDY. Comedy performers learn from any performer or performance, just as writers develop what they write, by reading and writing. I think it’s happening with all of the music, literature, films, art, and everything else being done as entertainment. What a sad time, we live in, if we don’t change this progressive trail to the scrap heap.