Monday, October 13, 2008

Oh, Go On Them

Shamelessly ignoring Phil's wise advice, here's a thread on Andrew Anthony.

A couple of points (and a packet of crisps) before I turn it over to you. Didn't it used to be a cliche that "liberals" hated themselves - and their country, and their culture, and so on. (Isn't this point with the whole "Islamofascist lover" thing?) But what does AA say apart from "we're crap really"? It did seem delightfully ironic to me (but then, I'm British) that after Nick's pro-HBO rant 'Little Britain USA' now features its alka-seltzer like fizzing ident.

Having given the world Richard Pryor, the United States can justly claim to be the home of modern confessional comedy.


Couldn't we also say, Having given the world Henry Kissinger, the United States can justly claim to be the home of evil empires? Sadly, this is how AA has always thought. He's not good at complexity; give him a single data point and he assumes everything else is going to be identical.

I've been hoping for a Decent attack on 'Harry and Paul' which actually is the funniest thing on tv just now. The one where Tony Blair got a job in the City was wonderfully mean. I'm sure there will be complaints about Nelson Mandela tipping Margaret Thatcher off a cliff and the Americans in the cafe sketch was pure splendidness. OK three points.

Note AA's extensive research: he saw a funny video on Harry's Place. Speaking of whom, David T had AA bang to rights (posted last night). OK, you won't follow the link, so here's the vid. Britische comedy, as the ads used to almost say.



From the comments:

One of the disadvantages of living in the States–maybe Reggie [Perrin] will eventually make it across the pond


What? An American decrying US humor? And two comments later:

He went over 25 years ago - you mistreated him.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085076/

46 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Didn't it used to be a cliche that "liberals" hated themselves - and their country, and their culture, and so on. (Isn't this point with the whole "Islamofascist lover" thing?) But what does AA say apart from "we're crap really"?'

The biggest criticisms of the UK seem to come from the right - populists like Gaunt, Clarkson and Littlejohn are seething with a hatred for their home country that they then present as patriotism.

Anthony (and Cohen) are simply following that pattern.

10/13/2008 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

The biggest criticisms of the UK seem to come from the right - populists like Gaunt, Clarkson and Littlejohn are seething with a hatred for their home country that they then present as patriotism.

Oh yes, it's always a point worth making. Also see "people who spend all their time complaining about the culture of complaint".

10/13/2008 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Indeed. But this is why the Reginald Perrin video is so funny.

10/13/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

The other thing AA invariably does is invent some straw men, one of which is usually something anti-american, such as the following:

some other widely propagated comic fictions: that we have a God-given talent for satire, that our irony is unique, that we are masters of self-deprecation and that our sense of humour is more sophisticated than any other nation's, particular that of America.

does anyone honestly believe any of that? In any case, AA's stance is equally myopic - anything by the British that's good is a one-off (despite giving three examples from within the last 10 years) whereas american comedies, and comedians, are inherently better, based on a list of 7 examples from within the last 20 years (and one of which, entourage, is a comic drama).

This is going slightly off topic, but still...

You could feel her pushing gently against the barriers of political correctness that American comics such as Silverman and Chris Rock long ago crashed through.

Chris Rock has his moments but a large portion of his act is the tedious sex-and-war-of-the-sexes-based material that AA is so contemptuous of. As for Silverman, she has her moments, but she seems to be largely famous for a single joke, repeated ad nauseam in interviews, about being raped by a doctor; otherwise she seem to generally be popular for her youtube highlights reel, much like Chris Rock - her TV series was terrible. I do agree with AA that a lot of stand-up is lazy, but Rock and Ailverman are just as guilty of that.

and again, AA seems to have forgotten that Britain still does topical, up to date satire very well. I wonder why he doesn't mention the names Chris Morris and Armando Ianucci?

The thing reminds me of that Aaro piece in which he said that British TV is inferior to its US counterpart because we exported 'location, location, location' and imported The Wire. It's the laziest kind of journalism to say UK = bad, USA = good; when it's the other way round the same writers get incredibly upset. Equally lazy, as i said elsewhere, is AA's concept of what political correctness is...

10/13/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

There's probably a post to be made on how the pro-American Decent Left really don't seem to actually have much experience of the place.

On America: The vast majority American sitcoms are completely formulaic, signal every joke in advance, are unfunny and take no risks whatsoever. The vast majority of American comedians do exactly the kind of lame jokes he complains about from British comedians.

Oh, and has he seen Sarah Silverman's act? And if you want taboo busting - well there's Jerry Sadowitz...

10/13/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/13/2008 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OC: quite. They never mention that Hugh Laurie is now the fifth highest-paid US actor (for 'House') or that the Office translated successfully to the US (with the Daily Show's Steve Carrell in the Gervais part), or that the Simpons is an omnivorous cultural hoover.

Not that everything I see on YouTube these days has been written by Stock, Aiken, and Waterman. (Blimey, he can dance too! and with a lesbian in a peace t-shirt!) Julie Walters held her own in "Mama Mia!" against Meryl Streep and the woman from Cybil and the blokes were all British.

Sorry, corrected grammar.

10/13/2008 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Jimmy was wonderful wasn't he?

I remember Reggie Perrin when I was a child and I loved it even then.

This stuff about the superiority of American comedy is horseshit but it is a consistent theme of much Decentism.

Does anybody seriously think that US television is superior to the British version.

10/13/2008 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Note that AA could have brought this one off as a basically decent (small "d") second-rate thumbsucker about comedy - say Catherine Bennett standard - but he had to convert it into comedy Decent territory by inserting a bad faith attack on Germaine Greer for opposing torture into his last paragraph.

British TV is inferior to its US counterpart because we exported 'location, location, location' and imported The Wire.

Aaro, meet terms of trade. Terms of trade, meet Aaro...

10/13/2008 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

AA could have brought this one off as a basically decent (small "d") second-rate thumbsucker about comedy

if he hadn't ended up using the stereotypical 'US > UK' argument he might have had a point - far too many supposedly world-class standups use tired cliches, rely on the scatological and sexual for cheap laughs, etc. But that's not limited to UK standup comedy; as I said, Chris Rock's act is chock-full of age-old material on marriage, the incompatibility of the sexes, etc. The Secret Policeman's Ball, a charity event which got universally bad reviews, is poor evidence; it's far too easy to counter it, just as it's too easy to counter his ridiculous lists of 'US abundance of talent vs rare instances of good UK talent'.

As you say Alex the bit on Greer is indeed in bad faith. AA is to a certain extent satirising himself...

10/13/2008 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm fairly sure that by Chris Rock he's just thinking of the "niggas" routine, which is indeed very good and taboo-busting, but doesn't really do that job that Mr Andrews expects of it.

10/13/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger BenSix said...

I do agree with AA that a lot of stand-up is lazy, but Rock and Ailverman are just as guilty of that.

Ach, Silverman and Rock are overrated. Doug Stanhope and Emo Phillips are far funnier.

Then again, the Americans have Will and Grace...Britain wins.

Oh, and has he seen Sarah Silverman's act? And if you want taboo busting - well there's Jerry Sadowitz...

And he mentioned Peter Cook so he must have heard of Derek and Clive.

10/13/2008 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger BenSix said...

I love political correctness, though. It pisses everbody off.

10/13/2008 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Emo Phillips was brilliant. I didn't realise that he was still around.

Gerry Sadowitz is fantastic. And transgressive? I love this story. Deborah Orr disses Johnny Vegas: Even the gross Gerry Sadowitz (at the same theatre) kept his abuse verbal, when he asked a girl in the audience: "Can I smell your feet?" and retorted to her negative reply, "Then it must be your c***."

I avoid stand-up. I heckle, you'll be surprised to hear.

I don't know about taboo-busting though. I'm with the fellow Norman Geras disagreed with recently who thought there was no such thing as free speech. You know, Orwell's original introduction to 'Animal Farm' and all that. "Freedom, if it means anything, is telling people what they don't want to hear." Ricky Gervais reading 'Genesis' is hilarious, but preaching to the converted (ie me). I don't think anyone has transgressed since Voltaire really. Hunter Thompson, whose bio was reviewed lukewarmly, moistly applauded even, by Christopher Hitchens in the Sunday Times, at least came close.

10/13/2008 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I actually think that the classic British sitcoms are better and more satisfying that the best the Americans have to offer.

There great thing about comedies like Reggie Perrin, the Office and even Fool and Horses is that they are infused with pathos. That's something US humour doesn't really do.

British humour is also full of frustrated social climbing which can be very funny. Many of the classic sitcom characters - Rigsby, Harold Steptoe, Hancock, Basil Fawlty, Del Boy all have pretensions to being better than they are. We find that funny and I think that is because our national tendency to be self-deprecating makes us see such pretension as ridiculous.

That kind of humour doesn't work so well in the States because its not aspirational enough.

The US humour that AA namechecks is slick, professional and well written but I find it a bit superficial and empty.

10/13/2008 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Bubby, I'll sort of agree with you. About the pathos: yes. But there's pathos in The Simpsons too. (OK, there's everything in the Simpsons.)

Also: Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld. Oh and "Curb Your Enthusiasm". They're all about social climbing. Niles is frustrated with Maris. (He social-climbed and didn't like the result.) Their dad (John Mahoney from Blackpool) was more real than the successful sons were.

I'm really ambivalent about characters thinking they are "being better than they are". That's a "cut the tall poppies down" attitude. I like Oscar Wilde's "we are all in the gutter, but some of us are dreaming of the stars." (I came to this after Star Trek and Carl Sagan so my idea of 'the stars' is not Oscar's.)

The really good sitcom character is a person. I've had my own Normblog profile where I nominated Jason Alexander to play me in the movie. George had a compartment in his desk where he could sleep during the day; I identify with that. And the thing where he was disabled and they played '9 to 5' when he was on the escalator. George doesn't have pretensions to being better than he is. There is no better. He's just greedy.

OK, after a moment's thought, US tv may supply a 'better' character. But he's not rich (if you throw out the back story about his family being so important that T'Pau turned down a Federation post) and he's not American. And he's frustrated (if you throw out the one where Joan Collins says "Even when he doesn't say it [Captain], he says it"). Funnily enough, there's a brainy and unemotional (but emotionally literate) character (who appeals to women) standing for President this time. He's not a science officer, he doesn't have a nerve grip or telepathy, but his ears stick out. This is co-incidence rather than providence.

10/13/2008 08:29:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Also: Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld. Oh and "Your Enthusiasm". They're all about social climbing. Niles is frustrated with Maris.

I think this is partly true but it doesn't have the bite because they are, in the main, fairly high status to begin with. Except George of course. Frasier is a wonderful character because he's got that amazing mix of pretentiousness, neuroticism and pomposity. And he's a dreadful snob.

The Americans just don't see class in the same way we do. Both Fawlty and Rigsby are toe-curlingly obsequiousness towards those who they see as being one rung up the social ladder from them. There's a marvelous episode of Rising Damp where Rigsby gets taken for a ride by a smooth talking Henry McGee.

10/13/2008 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Frasier and Niles' dad was a cop. He wasn't bookish (his wife, their mother, was). True, he wasn't dirt poor. He was unionised and fairly well paid. But high status? No. Very clearly not. The Crane's exposure to culture was in public (state) school - and through their mother. Frasier is a snob - because he is both socially awkward and cleverer than everyone else. (If he were merely the latter, he' be Tom Sawyer. If were just the former, he'd be Boo Radley.)

There's a lot of good observation in Frasier. In some ways it's an updated Steptoe. But the dad loves his sons and he's not a dickhead. He wants them to do well. He's just realistic about their characters. Of course, his well-being (having a private carer, Daphne), is tied up in Frasiers' income.

10/13/2008 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

The nadir of Decent Comedy Criticism was the widely linked article suggesting that a comedian at the Edinburgh festival had been telling unironic anti-semitic jokes to hoots and cheers from the audience, including one shout of "throw them in the oven!".

The comic in question, Steve Hughes, was actually making the point that treating Cowboys and Indians as a suitable game for kids might not be appropriate given the violence and killing involved in its real-world equivalent, and that a game called Nazis and Jews would not be treated with similar indulgence. This might be a facile point, it might not be very funny, but he clearly wasn't saying that 'Nazis and Jews' should in fact be played unironically by kids, and if he were, the Edinburgh audience certainly wouldn't have responded positively to the idea.

10/13/2008 10:29:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Of course you are right - Frasier's dad wasn't high status he was working class. Many of the laughs came from the obvious tension between his son's effete high culture tastes and his dad's more down to earth ways. I mean that lazy boy was so clearly an affront to everything that Frasier stood for aesthetically.

There's definitely something in the Steptoe and Son similarity though to be fair Frasier is literate, cultured and educated whilst poor Harold merely aspires to those qualities. Albert is a marvellous character though -truly grotesque.

I still think Perrin's up there with the best British sitcoms. It deals with so many very human issues, a lot of it is very dark and its full of wonderful charcters like Jimmy and CJ, the world's greatest exponent of the mangled metaphor.

10/13/2008 11:33:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

Steve Hughes, was actually making the point that treating Cowboys and Indians as a suitable game for kids might not be appropriate given the violence and killing involved in its real-world equivalent

Interestingly, Christopher Hitchens (not the Daily Mirror columnist or the American journalist of the same name; a left-wing British writer of the 1980s and 90s, who was also called Christopher Hitchens) would not necessarily agree; here he is 16 years ago writing in praise of Columbus Day (and I note, inter alia, with more than a few good words to say about the civilising effect of Islamic conquest on Europe and al-Andalus!)

10/14/2008 07:21:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

sorry, wrong link; here's the right one

10/14/2008 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger donpaskini said...

Exciting news from politicalbetting.com, Nick's written a new book, and it sounds very unique:

"Right Mike, this very night I am sending a book to the publishers which is based on the notion that the Tories will win the next election. You may not like it and I do not like it, but for the sake of its credibility you must now turn this into a Tory propaganda site and do everything you can ensure its predictions come true.
There’s a pint of bitter and a bag of nuts in it for you. Maybe two pints if sales are good.

Best,

Nick

PS After your frankly pettish reaction to your appearance in my last book, I’ve kept you out of this one. Sean Fear is in instead, as he strikes me as a tougher guy, who can take it on the chin.

by Nick Cohen October 14th, 2008 at 8:14 pm"

10/14/2008 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Right Mike, this very night I am sending a book to the publishers which is based on the notion that the Tories will win the next election.

...and which consists of a long list of the LIBERAL TRAITORS who made it happen.

But still: it's a brave, bold, contrarian theme which says much that needs to be said.

rioja kid

10/14/2008 07:30:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Good lord. From Amazon.


Waiting for the Etonians: Reporting from the Sickbed of Liberal England (Paperback)
by Nick Cohen (Author)
Price: £8.99 & eligible for Free UK delivery on orders over £15 with Super Saver Delivery. See details and conditions

10/14/2008 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

There's two coming out! The second presumable is going to be based on its Frontpage ramblings, the first is just a collection of columns.

Fourth Estate buys two from Cohen

14.10.08

Fourth Estate has bought world rights to two new books by Nick Cohen, the journalist and author of Pretty Straight Guys and What's Left?.

Editor Robin Harvie signed the deal with Natasha Fairweather at A P Watt. The first book, Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England, will be published in February 2009. It will be a collection of Cohen's writing which Harvie said will "cover Labour's love affair with the right over the last 10 years". The second book, provisionally titled Traitors, will look at the state of Britain at the end of the first decade of a new century. A release date has yet to be confirmed.

10/14/2008 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Robin Harvie signed the deal with Natasha Fairweather

Is she a friend of Nick's?

10/14/2008 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

As you know, AW tends to look rather poorly on assumptions that Nick Cohen was drunk when he wrote something; we think it's a bit of a cheap accusation.

On the other hand, to assume that he was drunk when he wrote that comment on politicalbetting.com is clearly the charitable assumption - the alternative possibility (that he is such a total cunt as to write something like that as his considered opinion) - is clearly much worse.

In the circumstances, all we can do is stick by our usual assumption - that Nick was not drunk, and is, in fact, that much of a wanker. I don't like to say this about anyone, but if we stopped taking him at his word on this, we'd never end.

10/14/2008 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger Anglonoel said...

A lot of British comedy/TV is dire, but I hate the cultural cringe so many of our media/cultural elite (including AA) have towards the US. Frankly, I think US TV comedy has largely been on a downward slope since the days of Bilko, and if someone says they like a US TV comedy programme 'because it is full of one-liners' my immediate reaction is 'so was Ronald Reagan.' When I hear that overrated smug git Ricky Gervais say there has been no decent British comedy since Stan Laurel (and let's face it Ricky- you're no Stan Laurel)and see him crawling around his American TV heroes, my patriotic ire is provoked.

I'm also expecting someone to get killed soon in the Groucho Club or similar media watering hole in a violent quarrel over whether 'The Sopranos' or 'The Wire' was The Best Television Show Ever. Frankly, I'd rather watch Shaun The Sheep.

10/14/2008 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

US TV comedy has largely been on a downward slope since the days of Bilko

Incidentally there have been myriad columns written in recent years on how the US sitcom is dead - that nothing has managed to be both popular and good since Friends, and even that was a fairly mixed bag. The fact that AA's list of great US comedy stretched all the way back to Cheers tells its own story.

10/15/2008 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

even that was a fairly mixed bag

Personally, I couldn't watch it without trying to chew my own arm off.

Not even when watching This Life did I so desperately want the entire cast to die.

10/15/2008 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

You think that was bad, did you see any of This Life +10?

Imagine how awful This Life was (I fully agree) but throw in discussions of the Iraq War and carbon emissions.

10/15/2008 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Actually I thought that the little I could tolerate of This Life was - in some senses - outstanding TV. However, the characters were all so nauseous I had to stop watching or risk a throat rupture.

10/15/2008 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Imagine my amazement to learn that my partner watched and enjoyed the entire series. (only dsquared here knows how out of character this is..)

10/15/2008 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

of Friends or of "This Life"?

I quite liked TL.

10/15/2008 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Of TL.

10/15/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Presumably the reason the Americans have been remaking The Office and Life On Mars is because they were shit?

They could have a pop at Outlaws and The Cops and all.

10/15/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

"First rule of policing - never fuck with the middle classes"

10/15/2008 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Got to agree with Justin that the characters in This Life were awful.

Mind you the 1990s featured some quality British drama shows. Cracker and Our Friends in the North to mention just two.

I must also confess, and I'm sure this will horrify some here, that the Simpsons really leaves me cold. I just find that it thinks its much cleverer than it really is.

I finally got round round to seeing The Wire after numerous breathless recommendations from close friends. I found it OK but nothing special. Its a fairly standard police drama and despite the claims that it is ground-breaking and innovative I found it packed with cop show cliches such as the cop with a troubled home life, and the black police chief who never smiles.

And I think the Sopranos is another pile of overrated cliched tosh. Overacting, standardised Italian-American gangsters pulling De Niroesque faces - wow that's fresh.

Maybe I'm just an old cumudgeon but I don't think any American drama, in terms of innovation, can compare with the first series of Twin Peaks.

On the other hand I really rate American independent film and documentary making.

10/15/2008 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Structurally, narratively and thematically the Wire is not a fairly standard police drama. And most of the characters are not cliches. I'll give you two (McNulty is a definite weakness, and the black bald cop simply can't act), but the other characters are far more subtly depicted than anything you'll see in a standard Brit/US cops drama.

I can understand why you might be underwhelmed given all the hype if you've only seen series one (or god forbid series 5) - the series only started to hit its stride in series two, while series 3 and 4 are the two that people get excited about. Season 4 has a truly astonishing depiction of why, and how, poor black urban kids never have a chance. Neither season was really a police drama, but more a drama about institutions - not something you see very much in any medium.

10/15/2008 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Ok well I've only see three episodes of the first series so I will stick with it to see how it develops.

10/15/2008 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Bubby, you're not alone with the Simpsons: there are Americans who don't like it either.

But then, I don't agree about 'Cracker'. I thought that the first scene with him where he's lecturing and throwing books about was both cliched and simply bloody awful. It didn't really get any better.

I can't find this Nick Cohen story on politicalbetting. I even tried searching for 'frankly pettish reaction' but the first Google hit (and the only one for the whole phrase) is to this page.

10/15/2008 07:59:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I know what you mean. Some of it was cliched. The 'unconventional but gets results' crime fighter with the tragic flaw and unhappy home life. But I found Coltrane very watchable, and I think the episode with Bobby Carlyle was a belter.

Thanks for the link re: the Simspons. I really thought I was the only person on earth who wasn't a fan of the show.

10/15/2008 10:29:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

The politicalbetting comment is number 103 on this thread.

I thought that the five minutes in the second series of Cracker where Robert Carlyle killed Christopher Eccleston were about the best five minutes of television I've ever seen.

10/15/2008 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

The Simpsons went on for far, far too long: it's not surprising that it ended up looking both very tired and very fond of itself.

Another US cop show with the black police boss was Homicide: however, not only was Yaphet Kotto very good as aforesaid boss, but Andre Braugher gave what I genuinely think was the best sustained television performance ever as Pembleton.

Of course nobody saw it in the UK because for most of the time they put it on at insomnia o'clock.

I though Cracker was mostly great, not least because it was well written. It's a cliché, but true, to say that many US shows have a large team of writers and most UK shows only one or two, and that each way of doing it has its virtues. Personally, I don't think "a string of one-liners" is all that much of a virtue in a sitcom, because you end up with Friends. Or worse, that desperate show which should have led to Robert Lindsay and the others losing their Equity cards and perhaps their passports.

10/16/2008 07:29:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Or worse, that desperate show which should have led to Robert Lindsay and the others losing their Equity cards and perhaps their passports.

As bad as that show is and its truly terrible, its not anywhere near as bad as one that featured the daft one from Father Ted. That sitcom is the nadir of British post-war comedy.

10/16/2008 01:33:00 PM  

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