Family comedy *does* still exist

But maybe not where you expect, says Chris Thomas

Many people ache on about how ‘comedy isn’t what it used to be’, and that there is far too much crude humour, swearing, violence and sexiness on our screens.

Indeed, even the most mainstream of sketch shows such as The Catherine Tate Show and Little Britain divide viewers and parents alike as to what is acceptable to show a child. Hence the thousands of nostalgic ‘TV’s funniest moments’ style programmes, the one remaining outlet for that well-weathered brand of good-old-fashioned fun.

These shows serve as reminders of what got most of us hooked on comedy in the first place. It’s hard to misplace the memory of Morecambe and Wise’s ice cream van or the Tommy Cooper special where Oliver Hardy nonchalantly passes by in the background.

I love these shows, but one thing bothers me. I’ve just turned 19, these aren’t my shows, but those of my parents and grandparents. Where are my era’s equivalents? What, indeed, happened to family entertainment.

Watching these reruns now still makes me laugh, because there are so many jokes that I misunderstood as a child. I now know what grown-ups saw in them. They were, after all, aimed at adults, but with the added bonus that children could also enjoy them

But this sort of family entertainment does still exist – but in something of a reversal, you will find it on children’s TV: aimed at kids, but adults can enjoy too, even if they do have to put up with one or two fart jokes that they have to pretend not to find funny

The past two years have been an interesting time for children’s comedy. Firstly, the sketch show Sorry, I’ve Got No Head hit CBBC to great success. It seems bizarre because of the names involved. Marcus Brigstocke, James Bachman, Marek Larwood et al are all in it, and all are really funny. True comic players playing funny for kids.

More recently, an adaption of the Terry Deary Horrible History classic sported a plethora of comedians all performing rather funny and rather interesting sketches, and was smart and rather (too) engaging. We did once have a cartoon Horrible Histories, but this live-action performance stands high above. Names like Simon Farnaby and Jim Howick provide many a surprising fact and many a surprising chuckle. Howard Read’s show Little Howard’s Big Question also features a host of adult comedy talent. And finallythere is the new breed of stand-ups who perform solely for children, cultivating that early exposure to comedy in a much more creative way than one of those old clip shows.

These children’s TV comedy shows are much more interesting and diverse than a whole heap of the Saturday night light entertainment that somehow makes it on before the watershed. Its bland brand of mundane ‘talent shows’ (read ‘patronising freak shows’) with their money-spinning voting systems that should surely be lumped with its late night gambling phone-in chums, like ITV’s The Mint. Watching Anton du Beke doing his latest celebrity-saunter is just much more unpleasant than watching an intriguing and charming kid’s show; especially if Marcus Brigstocke is in it.

The death of family entertainment is an important thing; it’s a good thing. It allows comedians to branch out with what they want to do, be it exposing a society’s bigoted view, or entertaining kids. And it’s nice – and about time – to see something being given back to the kids.

Kids now have their own era of comedy, where they too can catch the comedy bug – so that in 15 years time they can write essays for Chortle about the great shows they used to watch.

Published: 5 Jul 2009

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