Is the “Is the Sketch Show Dead?” article dead? | Richard Herring hopes not...

Is the “Is the Sketch Show Dead?” article dead?

Richard Herring hopes not...

Back in the early Nineties, every journalist worth his (or her) salt (or pepper) was tossing off some half-thought out article, using very little actual research about whether sketch comedy, once the king (or queen) of TV and Fringe comedy was dead.

Had stand-up destroyed this moribund format? Surely it was now solely the domain of over-privileged students and even they couldn’t keep it going. The idea of two or more people doing comedy in a group rather than one person doing it on their own seemed ludicrous to all journalists and right-thinking people. It was a golden time for newspapers, everyone getting in on the act, putting the boot in and delighting that a whole medium for comedy had probably become irrelevant.

I loved reading the same basic idea expressed in slightly different ways over and over again and assumed that my delight would go on forever and that the “Is the Sketch Show Dead?” articles would be in the papers on a weekly basis until I died. All of them hedging their bets a bit, but basically saying that it had.

But then the mid to late-Nineties came along and suddenly for a little while, sketch shows had a resurgence. The Fast Show was followed by The League of Gentleman and the came Little Britain and Catherine Tate – none of them stand-uppy at all. In fact all of them were sketch shows. And their success was surely a death knell for the journalists asking ‘Is the Sketch Show Dead?’ The sketch show was clearly alive and unbelievably if anything stand-up was looking a bit unfashionable. Almost as if it’s the way you execute something rather than the medium you choose which is important. And that things go in and out of fashion, sometimes due to over exposure and sometimes just because a journalist has decided it’s time to say the opposite of what everyone else is saying.

And my heart sank because it seemed like the ‘Is the Sketch Show Dead?’ articles were doomed to oblivion. I couldn’t see anyway back for them. Sketch shows were so good now that you’d have to be an idiot (or a soothsaying genius) to suggest there might come a time when a different kind of comedy briefly found itself in vogue among the tiny group of people who think they can clumsily define the zeitgeist by focusing on some things and ignoring or not bothering to find out about others. Surely the public could never tire of the avalanche of Little Britain-esque sketch shows that were cropping up.

I feared the journalists would starve, but they are the cockroaches of the human world and they adapted and survived by asking ‘Is the studio sitcom dead?’ (they pretty much thought it was without totally committing themselves) or ‘Are women funny?’ (having to ask the question meant they clearly thought they weren’t and it’s easy to make that seem to be the case if you ignore all the women who are trying to make you laugh and concentrate on ones who have just heard they have three months to live or work as undertakers).

I was delighted that the journalists were going to be OK and weren’t going to have to do any proper work or actually go and see any comedy. But I have to say I did miss the ‘Is the Sketch Show Dead?’ articles. Sometimes I’d go back and read old ones that I kept in a scrapbook, but it wasn’t as much fun now, knowing that those hubristic scribes had been wrong to casually write-off and entire format of comedy. The sketch show wasn’t dead. It was alive. Their question was answered and in hindsight they looked like massive tools, rather than the incisive heroes (or heroines) they had once seemed to be.

But you must never give up on your dreams and though it seemed almost certain that no one would ever write an ‘Is the Sketch Show Dead?’ article again, (surely they would learn from all their fallen comrades from the past and have noticed the cyclical nature of the news), but then the green shoots began to appear again. I felt a fool myself for even imaging that the ‘Is the Sketch Show Dead?’ articles were dead. Of course they would come back round again, just as surely as after a period of time where people weren’t enjoying sketches as much or journalists were ignoring the good ones would also be reborn. It’s the circle of life.

The symbiotic relationship between sketch shows and articles about their demise ensure that the articles and the sketch shows themselves will exist until the extinction of mankind and then probably beyond that in robot form.

Is the ‘Is the sketch show dead?’ article dead?

No, it’s back.

But what about the 'Is the “is the sketch show dead?” article dead?’ article? Is that dead? I hope not, cos I plan to write another one in 13 years time when this next happens.

Richard Herring is appearing in a stand-up show (how passé – doesn’t he realise that format died out days ago now?) called We’re All Going To Die! at the Pleasance Beyond at 8pm every night of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Published: 11 Jul 2013

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