British Comedy Awards 2011…and Armando Iannucci

It was nice to see Armando Iannucci take the Writers Guild Award at the British Comedy Awards this week. Iannucci, a Scot with a Italian father is in fact much more than a writer….as a producer, director and indeed performer he leads a time of writers and actors……Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, Chris Morris and David Schneider among them. Shows like “Brass Eye”, “The Alan Partridge Show”., “Friday Night Armistice” and the brilliant political satire “The Thick Of It” have his stamp.

There always seems to be a lot of nepotism in TV Comedy. Margaret Thatcher broke up the monopoly of BBC and ITV and now it is much more common for independent production companies to sell ideas, formats to (notably) BBC. This has effectively meant that these production companies use their own crew and cast, which leads I think to the likes of Tiger Aspect and Hat Trick Productions and Iannucci using their own stock company.

I’d question now if these production companies have a monopoly. Checking the family ties between TV comedy shows is interesting.

Yet there was something in Iannucci’s acceptance speech which resonated. He said that basically…… the family, at school, at university and at work he liked….LAUGHING. He enjoyed being with people that are laughing.

Maybe I have always felt this way myself. More likely……growing older liberates me from the tyranny of the work place or allows me to appreciate that only a handful of issues are really serious. The majority of “issues” are actually things at which we should laugh.

I don’t usually like award shows. But last night there was a recognisable feeling that there wasa new comedy hierarchy. Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican were among those who took awards. Indeed Miranda has retained her Comedy Actress award and has added to her standing. There was a feeling that the torch was being passed on. That the people at whom we had laughed at in the 1990s, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Rowan Atkinson had gone into a kind of semi-retirement of sorts.

Twenty years ago, Comedy was heralded as the new Rock and Roll. Maybe it is all about Fashion and Trends rather than something more meaningful. Certainly I remember 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s comedy and I think the “new” comedians and shows are absorbed into the mainstream or fall by the wayside.

In a way Stand-Up Comedy is something that most comedians only seem comfortable with for a while. No less than the way in which 1920s and 1930s acts could travel around Britain’s music halls (vaudeville) doing the ten minute or twenty minute act (depending on their place on the bill) there is only so many times a 21st century headliner like Michael McIntyre can do the sell-out stadium tour with DVD for the Christmas market. At best that can only work on four occasions…with some TV work in between. Sooner or later, the audience finds it ……….just more of the same.

Ultimately the modern comedian needs to diversify. Rowan Atkinson is now a movie star. Stephen Fry hosts panel shows like QI (itself with a rota of comedians to fill the four other chairs) and make documentaries on Language, Depression and the United States. Ben Miller appears in comedy drama such as “Murder in Paradise”, while his comedy partner Alexander Armstrong hosts “Pointless”, a quiz show. Lee Mack is versatile enough to be a stand-up, an actor in sit-com “Not Going Out” and a regular panellist on “Would I Lie To You?” and so on……

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