Make 'em laugh

Last year, our family (two adults and two 16-year-olds) very much enjoyed a new British sitcom called Miranda. It is a long time since we came across something that made us all laugh out loud, even when viewed for a second or third time, but Miranda hits all the right buttons for us. It is affectionate, real (in an odd sort of way), genuinely funny and (with its extensive breaking of the fourth wall) involving.

However, although every review I read at the time admitted that the series was very funny, an oft-repeated rider was that it was “old-fashioned”. How can comedy be old-fashioned? Surely a sitcom is either funny or not funny? One of the writers of Miranda has a small article in the Guardian newspaper today:
guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/ … om-success

The good news is that a second series is starting on Monday. Such fun! :wink:

Don’t know about sitcom – never written one – but I’ve done humour/comedy/satire/whatever you want to call it for magazines, books, newspapers, computer games and movies and the one thing I know for sure is: It Ain’t Timeless.

Not just because subjects change, attitudes change and personalities get forgotten (there’s stuff in my cuttings files I look at now and think “Who the hell was THAT about?”) but because comedic techniques change. “Old-fashioned” is shorthand for, I’d imagine, the comedy track which goes set-up, delay, misprision, feed, tagline. There’d be lots of puns, mistaken identities, double-entendres and ba-boom payoffs. “Cutting edge” would be much more deadpan, no semaphoring a gag, move rapidly on from the gag itself, joke not dependent on punchline etc. (Think Nurse Jackie - pure genius).

The stuff which lasts is often not particularly comic, though it may be “comedic”. Think Steptoe & Son vs. The Good Life or Hancock’s Half Hour vs. Terry & June. Think Robin’s Nest (gawd 'elp us) or The Liver Birds vs. something funny.

What survives is a mystery, really. Aristophanes (5th cent. BC) is still funny; “Trimalchio’s Dinner” from the 2nd century “Satyricon” is like a 2,000 year old “Abigail’s Party”. But most of it slumps. Think of all those terrible Shakespearean gags. “Sowter will cry out on’t, though’t be rank as a fox”. What the hell is THAT about?

So I think maybe there’s more to it than at first sight…