Watching an old episode of the IT Crowd the other day sent me down an internet worm hole wondering whether Chris Morris’s old Blue Jam radio shows were available online. No joy on the BBC website or on iTunes but it didn’t take long to find them preserved by fans in incredibly high definition. I’ve been listening back to them over the past few days.
Blue Jam was originally on Radio 1 between 1997–99 Â when I was at university. It blew my mind when I first heard it and I’m still surprised it was aired. I used to come home from the pub and lie on the sofa listening to it on an old analogue Technics tuner that was one of the things I spent my student loan on as soon as it cleared the bank account.
The show was a mixture of eclectic but excellent laid back music and incredibly dark comedy sketches written by Morris. Some of the production techniques would still stand out as futuristic on radio today.Â At the time none of the actors were particularly well know but listening now it’s a who’s who of comedy voices: Julia Davis (Nighty Night), Mark Heap (Green Wing, Spaced), Kevin Eldon (Elvenquest) and many more.Â Nobody will say whether the last episode of the first series was cut short because Radio 1 took it off air or because Morris wanted it to look like they had — I think that probably means it was the latter. But there are so many shocking sequences that perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s not one of the shows on constant repeat on Radio 4 Extra these days.
Morris is an incredibly complicated character and most people in the know would rank him in the top few influences on modern comedy — mainly for his most controversial stuff like Brass Eye. But the controversy is a bit of a red herring — his true influence is that he did things nobody has ever done before in comedy. Blue Jam hid away in the middle of the night not because it was explicit or rude but because of the spooky effect of listening to it late at night. You pretty much had to listen to it alone.
Listening back in the last few days has cheered me up about theÂ possibilities of media.Â Blue Jam was British comedy experimentation at its best — making you laugh and question everything all at the same time.