As an overdue tribute to the late Robin Williams, who I am sure we can agree was one of the best, I’d like to share my view on how comedy has gone, in my eyes at least, “off-the-boil” over the years. As any fan of comedy will tell you, its all about the subtleties, the great lines and for any stage performer worth their salt timing… sorry, timing. If that is the case however, what has happened to comedy over the years?
Please start by forgiving the imminent nostalgia, but if we look back at some of the greats of comedy: Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper, or right back to Spike Milligan and perhaps also to funny-actors like Ronnie Barker, Rowan Atkinson or Robin Williams himself (who like many mastered both stage and screen) we see timeless characters, performances and stand-up. All these performers had one thing in common: intelligence. That is not to say that comedians of the 21st century are unintelligent, far from it, but fourteen years into the new millennium and things have changed. It seems ok to swear relentlessly on stage or in a sitcom, to make offensive references to people or groups without scruples, which frankly aren’t big or clever, yes Frankie Boyle I’m looking at you… And being a young person in the 21st century these things make me laugh as much as the next guy, but its not the same as the old stuff, is it? I’m sure others know the feeling. The moment I heard Ronnie Barker say, “no, fork-handles. Handles for forks” for the first time, it was special, but now when I turn on the TV and hear someone say “Rebecca Adlington’s face is like looking into the back of a spoon”, its all very tongue in cheek.
Maybe comedy just reflects the culture in which it is set, and that it is just a 21st century trait to be on the boundary of humour and offensive. Porridge pokes fun at authority and life in a world full of politics, characteristics that are shared also with The Thick of It, yet they couldn’t be more different to watch. The Thick of It remains my favourite series of all time, however programmes like Porridge never seemed as crude as post-modern comedy, where it’s ok to be openly, almost bluntly, racist or homophobic as long as it is self-deprecating. It all seems so commercial, with many comedians churning out the same catch-all humour so that you end up hearing the same points repeated again and again by different comedians, particularly on topical shows. There’s a reason Michael McIntyre is the most successful comedian today, it is because he appeals to everyone – much like comedians of years gone by. There will always be some people though, who would openly say he is not funny, and would rather listen to someone quirkier. This is not a bad thing, nevertheless it reveals that like everything else nowadays, there has to be something for everyone.
It is bold as a young person to take the stance that everything “was better in the good old days”. Of course I look back at the likes of and Laurel & Hardy and Hancock’s Half Hour and I think “what is this?” Yet both have gone down as successful comedy items. It can be easy to look back and romanticise about how things used to be, but frankly some of it just isn’t funny anymore; seriously, anything in black and white is a no. Times move on and so with it do the people that make us laugh about those times, but perhaps the big question is “has comedy moved in the right direction? Or is it just following the trends society has set?” Comedy is something to be enjoyed together, but also at your own pace and lets just hope people continue to enjoy it for the right reasons. As Robin Williams once asked ‘Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves?’