Elitists? What do they know...

Daniel Walker criticises the critics

Elitism is a dark cloud that hovers over comedy, limiting and damaging the enjoyment of the audience.

To give a quick explanation, elitism is the belief that one thing is better than another, simply enough. That may not seem like a huge offence, but you need to look at the context. Comedy, as with music, film and literature, are all subjective to taste. How can you say Comedy A is better than Comedy B? You can prefer one to the other, obviously, but technically speaking there is nothing that makes them different in terms of quality.

We are all guilty of this, but what is massively annoying is the subgroup of elitists that honestly believe their opinion is more valuable than anyone else’s. There will be a number of them in the Chortle forums and other internet communities. They tend to justify their superiority by implying that you either are not a real fan, or know nothing about comedy, if you disagree with them. This is unforgivable as, once again, comedy is subjective.

Look no further than sketch shows. Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show, Horne and Corden, etc, have been looked at as inferior by many, including Father Ted writer Graham Lineham. Reasons for this include the use of running characters and catchphrases, but what is the problem with that? Audiences, particularly the mainstream, like recognisable characters, they like usable soundbites – it is why politicians have been using them since the birth of media – and they like to laugh without thinking about it. You may say this makes it of lesser quality, but you could not be more wrong. Good comedy is understood and enjoyed by the mass audience, simple.

Not everyone must like the same thing, but not liking this format is simply a question of taste, it isn’t because it’s a lower quality. If anything, it is the opposite. If you were to argue that comedy is not subjective, then the only thing that can quantify ‘better’ is mass opinion, sales, and viewing figures. In which case, shows like these are the best around.

Elitism is most prominent with sitcoms, with the elitist turning their noses to those that are low-brow, uninventive, or portray a culture they are not familiar/comfortable with. Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet of Crisps is case in point. Despite being vastly criticised it is in its eighth series, so someone was watching it.

There is a formula that makes a sitcom ‘good’, pompously suggested by elitists. The general rules appear to be: 1) Create believable/likeable/three-dimensional characters, 2) Create believable/interesting/unique situations and storylines, 3) Be original.

I am not going to dispute that these are some good rules, but nowhere does it mention the only rule that is essential: Be funny.

Not Going Out was hugely criticised for not building good enough characters, and not having believable situations, and also that it was a platform for Lee Mack’s stand-up material. Yet they ignore that it was laugh-a-minute stuff, and this was all that was needed for it to qualify it as good.

There’s an hypocrisy in elitism, too. Fawlty Towers is considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, yet on reflection their characters were nothing special. You have Basil Fawlty, his battleaxe wife, the foreign character who can’t speak English, and the intelligent young girl. If anything, the only rounded character in that sitcom was Polly, but even that is a stretch. Fawlty Towers was clearly a sitcom based on the laugh-a-minute formula of soundbites and fast action. If it was produced today, it would be attacked by elitists, but as it is considered a classic, it is very much left alone.

These arguments apply to stand-up as well. Mainstream comedy is mainstream for a reason, and cult comedy is cult for a reason. Neither one or the other - or anything in between - is any worse, or any better. As such, the audience should not be pressured into liking and disliking products just because the elitists would condemn them as knowing nothing about comedy if they do not follow their lead.

Let’s put an end to this ‘I-am-better-than-you’ attitude and understand that comedy is subjective. Let us all like what we want to like and dislike what we want to dislike. Thank you.

Published: 24 Apr 2009

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