That's Not Funny...

It's becoming a bit of a feature on this blog that I spend most of the first half of each new entry apologising for my tardiness in coming up with a new blog post. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but after my last entry, which read pretty much like a suicide note, I did get some people advising me to take a holiday, or failing that, treat myself to a KitKat Chunky with peanut butter. In the event, I did both. I feel much better for it, but as we know, these things can't last forever. I can destroy a KitKat in less than four seconds.

So as I'm coming to the end of my jollies, what's new in the world of Stan? It's been a productive break. The Sad Club is well into draft two, which is a place I'd never imagined it would be, and on my off days, I've been working on another project which I'll keep secret for now. It's another novel, a much shorter one which I'm looking to have 1500 words a chapter. It's vaguely plotted in my head, but I'm letting it meander. Because it's on such a low simmer, I don't have any plans for it, but I will say that it's been fun to cheat on my opus. With your attention focussed on one full-length thing, it can get boring as hell, so doing something snappy with a totally different style of writing helps keep things fresh and exciting. I'd also like to state, for the record, that real-life cheating is probably not as fun and you shouldn't do it. Not unless you're going to write about it as well.

The other thing that's boring as hell is reading blogs where the author just tells you what they've done with their work-in-progress, so I'm going to stop now and try and grab your interest. This will be difficult, because I guarantee none of you would like to see me flash my breasts in a cheap attempt at publicity. So I'm going to tickle your interest, oh-so-gently, by talking about comedy and shit. Not scatalogical humour, I'm happy to say; I was trying to sound cool, but I've also realised it concerns a comedy widely regarded to be shit.

You may have seen on the grown-ups news that Mrs Brown's Boys has been voted the best British sitcom of the twenty-first century by readers of the Radio Times, and this has caused many people to lose their collective shit (too much shit in this blog; there's a tagline for the compendium). Never mind that we're only sixteen years into the century, and this time a hundred years ago they could never have imagined Only Fools and Horses, or Father Ted, or Friends, at least not when they were chuckling over a rehashed Sheridan farce. It's yet another indication of the dumbing down of British society, when the funniest thing is a man in drag saying 'fuck', at a not-removed-enough distance from when the Monty Python team did it.

This article's not really about Peter Kay, but he's dead popular so there's a chance someone might be directed to this page in about three years through a Google search. Any port in a storm.

Cards on the table, I dislike Mrs Brown's Boys. I've never seen a full episode, but what I have seen gives me the right to state I don't want to see any more of it. However, this doesn't mean it's a) not funny, b) lacking in value, and c) any less worthy of being in the canon alongside The Office, Phoenix Nights or The Thick of It, all of which I adore. All it means is that I don't find it funny. This isn't some woolly, liberal ironic gritted-teeth congratulations. It's just a fact. Loads of people, too many for me, howl at it.

This leads me to wonder what it is that makes a comedy successful and popular. I'm no expert - if I was, I wouldn't be grousing about having a sitcom rejected by the BBC - but I've seen many commentators have their two pen'north about this poll over the past week or so, and none of them can put their finger on why shows like Mrs Brown's Boys confound the critical barrages and come out on top. It's quite amusing to see how blue in the face they get in the space of a 1500 word limit.

I can say this for Brendan O'Carroll, the titular Mrs Brown and creator of the show: he works fantastically hard at it. You see, when you watch a sitcom - a good one, one that makes you laugh like a drain - it seems so easy. If you watch it enough, closely enough to pull the scene apart, you can see why it is that Del Boy falls through the bar or why David Brent does his funny dance. But when you first see it, you can't even see the pencil lines where the basic movements happen. Brilliant comedy does that - the writer will direct your attention elsewhere while ensuring you see everything you need to. But try it for yourself. Come on, come up with a gag. Right now. 

Not easy, is it? In fact, setting up a joke in act one to bear fruit in act three is fucking near-impossible to get right. And Mrs Brown's Boys might be crude and obvious to me, but I respect the hard work that goes into it. Ditto Citizen Khan, Miranda, My Family, Outnumbered, none of which I can bear.

You can never tell what will satisfy both critic and audience. Most people will say it can't be done, that critically-lauded stuff doesn't really count because you have to think about the joke, which defeats the object of laughing. I remember at university, someone directed me to 'A Modest Proposal' by Jonathan Swift, in which he advocates solving famine by cannibalism. I was guaranteed it would be hilarious. It wasn't. It was a great piece of writing, and extremely satirical, but it didn't have the belly laugh of someone being called a stupid pindick, which probably would have done the job for me. Ditto Shakespeare; people who sit in the Globe and laugh at Twelfth Night aren't laughing at a sixteen-century joke where Malvolio almost says c***, they're laughing at the point they know a joke is supposed to be.

But it's wrong to suggest thoughtful comedy can't be immediate and fulfilling. Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, for example, is in my opinion one of the finest comedy shows ever, both for the immediate gag of the character's lack of self-awareness and the meta-gag of it being a shonky, low-budget horror from the 1980s. It has multiple layers of humour, all of which are immediately accessible without having to know who was Prime Minister at the time. To my bewilderment, most people I'm friends with don't have a clue what it's supposed to be.

Still, that's comedy. It's a subjective thing. You can argue until you're blue in the face, pick a scene apart until you kill it, but you won't stop a fan laughing at it. I can take or leave a fart joke, or when someone falls into a puddle (you know which sitcom I mean, and yeah, can't stand that one either), but then neither of them tickle the funny-bone just right. But when it's done right, I can get on either train without knowing why. That's the way it goes. It's innate, and you can't change your instinct.

Me, I like a good pun. A play on words is just the ticket. And anybody who says otherwise, well...they're just exeunt.


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