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Are we returning to 'safe' British comedy?

2nd November 2012

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There are many elements to British humour but typical British humour can be said to include obscenity, innuendo, absurdity, satire and frankness. Arguably British humour is – in essence – quite mean. However, it seems that old fashioned comedy, such as Miranda, a sitcom about a woman desperate to fit into society, seem to be winning awards when up against more cutting-edge shows.

Bad-taste gags do not distinguish between good and bad comedy but 'safe' humour is put in the front line whilst black humour is taking a back seat. There seems to be a lack of confidence when pushing boundaries.

Comedy writer Jason Hall says: “The bigger the audience, the safer the content, if you go to less corporate places for comedy, you will probably see edgier content”.

Some comedians do who use dark and crude British humour but maybe Miranda has been crowned queen of British comedy because television bosses avoid risks, like in the Lizzie and Sarah case. The BBC's 2010 comedy, about two housewives whose lives take a turn for the worse, was cancelled after one episode for being too racy. The programme was given an unambitious slot of 11.45pm.

While the majority of BBC programming is family-centric, Channel 4 offers more of a contrast with comedies like Fonejacker, The Inbetweeners and Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy – although the jokes are not so cutting-edge, the tone is off-the-wall. They exhibit character which demonstrates experimentation and creativity. Channel 4 seems less fearful of controversy and mixes up family-friendly content with outrageous themes.

However, some think there is focus on comedy 'attempting' to be edgy. Comedy successes during this time, Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle, both have relished in raising subjects that are deemed taboo.There were mixed reviews about Ricky Gervais's show Life's Too Short, an observational sitcom described by Gervais as being about "the life of a showbiz dwarf.” But some even consider their material to use easy targets and avoid being too political.

Commissioning so much 'safe' comedy is okay, but less so if it goes hand in hand with the persecution of edgier comedy. Jason Hall says: “Commissioning editors avoid admitting that in times of recession, people just want to have a good laugh”.

Maybe there should be a stronger focus on appealing to a more diverse crowd rather than avoiding controversy. 

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