Comedy as commentary

I watch and listen to a lot of comedy and it’s struck me for a while how at its best it can be better than any expert social commentary or analysis.

I think it was an interview with Graham Linehan where he talked about how characters need to be trapped in a sit com — otherwise why would they be there? This gives you the comedy staples like families (Outnumbered), schools (Bad Education), hospitals (Green Wing), prisons (Porridge) but with hindsight the best comedies tend to be about people trapped in things in decline.

Fawlty Towers was about the breakdown of class, Dad’s Army about the fading of the war time generation, Father Ted about the waning influence of the Catholic church. They’re all things that people can laugh about because the institutions they portrayed no longer have the power they once did.

More recently a lot of comedy has been about organisations and the working life they create — things like The Office, The IT Crowd or more recently W1A — which comes as no surprise. Most of the population works in organisations that are pretty hilarious.

But the other theme is politics, and particularly political parties — with the Thick of It the most high profile. It tells us that the power has gone from them. While those shows are very funny to watch, it’s a sad state of affairs. Good for the comedy writers but worrying for the rest of us.

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