Comedy & Television in the UK
19th July 2021
What’s the state of UK Comedy at the moment? At a time when there have never been more outlets for productions of all sorts, can the UK industry compete? Aquilanta asked three of the country’s top Comedy talent: Julie Fernandez, Laurence Clark and Doc Butler.
JF: I didn’t realise how much I hadn’t laughed and for how long until I watched Johnny Vegas recently doing his glamping series and The Kominsky Method on Netflix. Laughter, true belly-aching laughter, is so good for the soul and I wished we had more comedy on TV and in the movies especially as we have lived through these difficult times. The thing about laughter is that it is so individual; I remember watching the movie Snatch with my brother, Rab (we are both from London), with some South African friends. My brother and I were giggling all the way through, our friends stony-faced. There seems to be so much darkness in TV and movies of late and I hope that changes soon as we need to be uplifted and what better way of doing that than by laughing with people rather than at people. As for who does it best on which side of the pond, I’d say that the US has us on that front but then they do commission a lot more than we do. Let’s change that and get back to what we do so very well here in the UK and make stuff that makes people laugh and smile - let’s not forget we made Only Fools and Horses and you can’t get much better than that!
LC: At the moment, as a disabled comedian and screenwriter, it seems there has never been a better time to be working in television. Partly driven by the Diamond Reports which reveal the extent to which disabled talent is still missing both in front of and behind the camera, broadcasters and production companies are proactively including us like never before. Disabled comics like Rosie Jones and Tim Renkow have their own series, every series of Live at the Apollo now seems to feature at least one disabled comic and even panel shows are waking up and starting to include us. In the last six months, I’ve completed both the BBC Writersroom Writers’ Access Group and the prestigious 4screenwriting scheme in what seems like a concerted effort to address the lack of disabled screenwriters in the industry. The organisation I chair, DANC, is inundated with approaches from broadcasters and production companies wanting to work with us to remove barriers for disabled talent. There really has never been a better time!
DB: I remember seeing in an interview with John Cleese where he described the importance of humour to the British psyche: “A [Brit] would rather be known as being bad in bed than not being funny”. I can’t think of a clearer analogy for the cultural importance of comedy in the UK. It is the friend-maker, clash-breaker, ego-shaker, and confidence-faker that unites us all. Building Bailey bridges across the seemingly eternal regional, political and class divides that contribute to our national identity. Our Imperial history brings pride to some and shame to others, but we can all agree that overall, we are probably the funniest nation on the planet. We are not a rebellious, revolutionary, or war-like people because we have the amazing talent to defuse through our ability to laugh at ourselves and each other. From Charlie Chaplin to Stan Laurel to the Goons onto Monty Python. From Fawlty Towers through to The Young Ones then Black Adder. Vic & Bob to Partridge onward to the worlds of Spaced and The Office. Arriving at Fleabag and Chewing Gum. These are part of a heritage we can be proud of. I hope as we progress into the next decade that British television continues to take risks with fresh talent. Many millennials and younger don’t get much opportunity so seek refuge in the global streaming sites. If Comedy is one of our greatest institutions, then we should protect its elements of valour. Probably cut down on the tiresome panel show roulette. That would be a good start.