Closing on October 13th, Tiger Aspect, one of Britain’s leading production companies and strong-arm of Endomol, has advertised a vacancy for a runner in their comedy department. On top of the usual cover letter and CV, the application requires 500 words on “the best and worst comedy programming, and if appropriate, make suggestions for how the productions could be improved.”
Of course, I’m unwilling to give them all my billion dollar ideas at this point, so they’ll have to make-do with this instead. This is not unusual of companies to ask this kind of task from potential applicants, however it would be nice if this kind of stuff received some sort of feedback. I have received plenty of copy and paste emails saying ‘we are sorry but due to the large volume and high quality of applications for this position, we regret to inform you (that you suck – sic). One might prelude to the idea that they’re probably sitting on a shed load of original material from a single job posting.
In any case, see below my interpretation of this particular task.
The best comedies aren’t necessarily funny all the time. They can even be morbidly depressing. But they need to make you do more than just exhale slightly harder through your nostrils. From a production perspective, the best TV comedies are those that you can sell on in years to come to repeat channels like Dave, Comedy Central or Gold. Some examples of these could be The Vicar of Dibley, Dad’s Army, Blackadder, or even the most internationally world famous Mr. Bean. These are productions with shelf life that are often miniature reflections upon respective points of history and society. Ideally they carry a well scripted, non-linear narrative leaning more on the dynamics of characters rather than the actual storyline. This means viewers don’t have to catch up countless hours if they miss the start of the season and can be easily viewed multiple times especially after hours of pointless channel flicking and finally picking a safe classic.
Comedic conventions allow a certain licence to pry at gender, racial stereotypes, age, sexuality and even disabilities. Normally this can be achieved tastefully and usually at the expense of the provocateur although in some, mostly retrospective cases this hasn’t always been the case. Love Thy Neighbour is a classic example of a comedy that should never have been so readily embraced yet at the time people found it hilarious. Technically, in the same vein, this convention might include the occasional lurid humour from Family Guy or South Park, although perhaps one should not be too hasty. Even without hindsight, contemporary comedies like Two and a Half Men could be criticised through lack of any substance and through a lack of understanding its audience. Without any real target audience, some companies appear to blindly leap into production for the sake of being funny, only to be vigorously impaled on poor reviews, social media and even meta humour. The worst of these are convoluted productions that try too hard such as Norbit, Big Moma’s House, or American Pie 17. Thankfully truly bad comedies tend to be axed organically with their failure resulting in dismal production returns, disgracing the respective company that produced it.
Rowan Atkinson personified a particular brand of iconic British comedy that he has grown and developed over time yet they still remain relevant. A more conceited effort should be focused on developing programs around the actors who have the potential to embody contemporary social dynamics. Regarding Mr. Bean in even higher regard, the program can be spotted airing in run-down diners en route to Kazakhstan or in hotel foyers in Ulaanbataar. This is because it is entirely universal, playing on physical comedy much more visually than leaning on a dialog-centric script. In this sense, it is perhaps the most successful comedy of all time, bridging all manners of national, economical, linguistic and sociological gaps all over the world.