Breaking Into the Boy’s Club – Lydia Hoffman

British humour is known for being rather unlike American humour, with Brits being renowned for their self-deprecating sarcasm that contrasts against the brassy physical comedy back in the States. There are plenty of examples, with the American reincarnation of “The Office” proving to be a defining piece of evidence in how a show can completely change when adapted by a room of writers with completely different cultural contexts for humour. One of the most iconic demonstrations of British humour would be the establishment of Monty Python, a troupe of comedians who made a name for themselves in 1969 with their sketch show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Despite the acclaim, critics have noted that Monty Python’s humour now feels dated and speaks to a bygone era. In Ian Wilkie’s writing on Pythonesque humour, he notes that the troupe’s observations are often through the male gaze, and further notes that the comedy is laden with lazy stereotypes; Monty Python’s reputation as a boy’s club is a hindrance and a limiting factor to their relevance today (Wilkie 2019, 218).

While many of the television programs and films referenced in this week’s readings undoubtedly impacted the British Alt-Comedy sphere, the scholars notably focused on male-driven comedies and praised them for their distinctly edgy humour. The Comedy Store was a jumping-off point for many young comedians hoping to go on to perform stand-up gigs, sitcoms, and specials, but the acts were overwhelmingly made up of men. However, I would like to use the rest of my blog post to highlight a female comedienne who exemplifies edgy British humour at its best without entertaining reductive misogynistic tropes: Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Nothing screams self-deprecation like Waller-Bridge’s now-infamous breaking of the fourth wall in her show “Fleabag,” which presents her as the awkward, flawed-yet-charming, and unreliable narrator. Further, her writing on “Killing Eve” shows her skill for creating dynamic female characters that are equal parts witty and terrifying. Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her female peers in the industry are proof that scholars need to widen their tent when considering the canon of British Alt-Comedy. The humour of stereotypes can remain in the past when the contemporaries are producing work that is as funny as the classics while omitting the content that causes understandable controversy.



Ian Wilkie (2019) Very silly party politics: surrealism and satire in the ‘Pythonesque’, Comedy Studies, 10:2, 213-223, DOI: 10.1080/2040610X.2019.1623506

One comment

  1. I feel like comedians are leaning less into stereotype to create comedy- or at least those comedians are finding more success. Comedians such as Waller-Bridge, John Mulaney, and Bo Burnham create humour through painting experiences in a universal, intimate, comedic way.

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