The interesting thing about recent BBC Deficit Sitcoms is that they show us how the ordinary is funny, not just jokes. Jokes aren’t funny, people are. And not cartoon stereotypes, but characters as real as comedy will allow, and often more so, which is why they have been able to attract such high-grade acting talent. Roger and Val, Getting On, Grandma’s House, all comedies in the original, All’s Well That Ends Well sense. Not farces where clowns fall through open doors (‘Play it cool, Trigger.’) And all condemned in green ink as Simply Not Funny on BBC messageboards, often by the same people who complain about soundtracks and incorrect costume uniforms. People who, apparently, only laugh when someone is paid to make them laugh using a recognisable mechanism for laughter. A gag. A pre-packaged, mass-produced, easily digestible portion of junk-comedy. A formula.
In fact, most laughter in life is about life. The little things. Comedians didn’t invent laughter, as they will be the first to admit. So why should comedy rely on jokes? Especially situation comedy as merciless and true as ‘Getting On’.
Maybe it’s the time. Maybe we’re a bit less susceptible to escapism that our grandparents generation, at least where comedy is concerned. Today’s comedy writers don’t seem willing or able to roll out the sitcom equivalent of the deplorable X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. Good for them. By not being put in harness they prove that the shift away from the Mother-in-Law Gag-World is permanent, and that creativity is not merely a means of avoiding the world, but of confronting it. But most of all they produce work which is both interesting and funny, and which isn’t afraid of playing unorthodox emotional chords in the sitcom sonata. Of introducing genuinely dark themes, then puncturing, or inverting them with comedy.
Roger and Val’s bereavement would have been comedy poison ten years ago. And no American producer would still allow anyone with such a pitch into the building. And so they would have missed this incredibly delicate balancing act between tragedy and hilarity.
If only jokes are funny, we have lost our sense of humour, and part of our humanity with it. Like someone only able to eat liquified Astro-food through a tube.