“Book of quotations? Aye, Book of pish mair like YAASSSSS” – Anon (actually Jacob Toner)

Burnistoun is a Scottish sketch comedy show that often appeals to the Scottish experience. Written by Iain Connell and Robert Florence, two men deeply involved in the Scottish sketch comedy scene, it is both absurd, surreal and hilariously grounded. By attempting to relay the Scottish, particularly Glaswegian, experience it presents an interesting example to be discussed in the context of the “middlebrow” as described by Cardiff (Hunt 2013). The idea of comedy, which is above the lower less educated crass comedy, imbued with a kind of educated “knowingness” (Hunt 2013), but separated from high class extremely educated comedy can be linked to the Book of Quotations sketch.


In the sketch a man having been tasked with collecting witty remarks has inserted several of his own observations and remarks under the guise of Anon., which he defends by explaining that they are exactly “what a guy would fire out with”.  The sketch works well within this description of middlebrow comedy, the sketch makes several illusions to masters of wit, is presented in an “everyday” (Hunt 2013, 23) co-opting Glaswegian working class slang and has elements of cult as it feels separate from the mainstream in its particularly Scottish understanding of wit as “patter”.


The question this example presents however is exactly what the audience is laughing at. Middlebrow comedy would suggest that this example is placing itself above the lesser educated, yet the jokes made co-opt the language of those the comedy is supposedly above by this definition. Yet equally the jokes do not feel like they are laughing down on this less educated from of comedy, more laughing alongside it, understanding it’s inappropriateness yet aligning us with its rebellion as Anon. leaves the room with a resounding cry of “YAS” and pumping his fist in the air.






Hunt, Leon. 2013. “From alternative to cult: Mapping post-alternative comedy.” In Cult British TV comedy: from Reeves and Mortimer to Psychoville, by Leon Hunt, 1-35. Manchester: Manchester University Press.



One comment

  1. An interesting example of the potentially hierarchical nature of comedy. Burnistoun could be thought of as alternative comedy simply for its Scottishness, representing a challenge to London based centralised comedy. Its use of colloquial language polices the boundaries of the show, we wither get it or are alienated by it. Perhaps we are laughing at those who are excluded by their ‘middlebrow-ness.’

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