Still more discourse on Little Britain

HIM: Last week it occurred to me that there was a strong Monty Python influence. That's hardly surprising, of course.


ME:Well yes and no. Pythonism was truly absurd and indulgent while being so often consciously intellectual. It also was separate from its time --such that regardless, say, of Terry Jones's later stances or Graham Chapman's activism,or of Brazil by Gilliam... it was above politics or political commentary (at least in the TV version -- The Holy Grail and Life of Brian were something else). This is in part why it survives in the imagination because it was never into current affairs. So it didn't date.

Little Britain isn't overtly a political satire but its sharp and aggressive exploration of little sequences of daily life are remarkably potent, I think.

The way it plays with such stereotypes as the only gay in the village -- Daffyd -- and Vicky Pollard, the housing estate 'type' is so ingenious that it's like the Brits are being dissected through a succession of flayed archetypes.

This sort of multi character driven comedy is out of vogue but it is the stuff that gave Barry Humphries such a satiric edge -- as he peopled his work too with characters manufactured from the grotesque like these inhabitants of Little Britain.

I'm a dedicated watcher and monitor of comedy per se -- especially on television -- and British TV has been in the doldrums in this regard for quite some time. It's interesting that the best of it such as the Kumars at Number 42 and Little Britain are crossovers from radio.

Currently I'm watching again the whole series of Black Adder --and thats' something I do at least once per year. And it amazes me how good that program was especially how well written and performed such that when you get into the blackness of the fourth and final series --- Black Adder Goes Forth -- it becomes simply one of the greatest anti war comedy satires you can come across. It is the Dr Strangelove of the small screen(find Strangelove script here).

But unlike Adder, Little Britain indulges much more in the grotesque as Kath and Kim does here (and K&K's Magda Szubanski is the queen of this sort of grotesquely rooted social satire and comedy.) and it's like this amazing free ticket to push the envelope wheretevber the fancy takes you.

Lenny Bruce's (an early US stand up comedian who was very political) thought the main war was one of words and that may have been the case in the sixties as anyone who knows his work or that of his heir,Bill Hicks , will confirm. But now, it's almost one of character -- of creating such creatures that can reflect social context as it is -- so you need this extreme operational creative mode to get anywhere near achieving that aim.

Words alone can force their creator into a sort of arrogant word game that can be simply expendable when it comes to critical thinking.-- just consider any standard stand up routine. It's discursive speak hung on nothing special,seldom a theme, and leastways a political one.

Python was never up to that. It was engineered around a sort of intellectual exercise in the absurd -- as much a play on words and improvised counterpoints.

The closest we've been exposed to this sort of stuff is probably the crowd that inhabits the Rocky Horror Picture Show or any nations free-for-all Mardigras. And Little Britain reminds me of the work of Jean-Claude van Itallie who may not mean a thing to anyone except that his plays were banned -- Motel and American Hurrah -- in Australia in the late sixties and early seventies. These occasions were the last time there was a riot on the Australian stage.

For those into the coda this is the country that Mikhail Bakhtin tries to inhabit. He attempted to analyse this grotesque parodies as festivals of the oppressed and I think he had a point.

The core grotesque thread runs -- at least in literature -- through Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Dickens, Jaroslav Hasek, etc and so often it cannot help but turn a sort of distorted mirror on the social world of the times.

..and so to Little Britain.


Note:When I was talking about the tyranny of words in stand-up I should have also mentioned Harold Pinter because as the master of the 'absurd' -- or so it was said -- he knew how oppressive words were. For many, it may seem a hard call to marry Pinter's plays with his actively aligned politics.

But while nothing much happened by Pinters' kitchen sink, the brutality of the social conditions that are employed to train and discipline all of us was explored with a very sharp ear. These weren't comedies of manners or word plays, but bona fide horror stories rooted in Kafka.

The problem is that Pinter did it so well that being Pinteresque is as passe as trying to be Pythonesque...And Little Britain is anything but passe.

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