My top 5 comedy moments in sitcom history
11 February 2022
Comedy Writing MA (Online) student Scott Fitzgerald shares the comedy moments that have sparked joy in his life.
As a young man (*cough* years ago), I would tape (that should give you a clue as to just how many years) my favourite comedy programmes, and I’d write ‘comedy’ on each VHS sleeve in ascending Roman numerical order, such was my obsession with the genre. So, it comes as no surprise that doing the MA Comedy Writing course at Falmouth is the first time I’ve felt truly comfortable in my own skin.
Anyway, enough of that sentimental tripe. What I am trying to emphasise is how joyous it is to laugh, and to make others do the same. One of the highlights of studying ‘professional art’ is considering the arguments of validity and perspective. A good example of this is Mr. Bean: arguably the most universally successful sketch show in history. Yet some might see it purely as a flawed human being making stupid mistakes that nobody would ever make.
“What is your favourite sitcom?” is certainly a spurious question. We comedy lovers are always on the lookout for the next thing that brightens up the stalest of mornings waiting in the rain to catch the bus to a job that pays you exactly what they value you at (which is probably almost nothing).
So here are a few of the moments that have shined the brightest to me: my top five comedy moments. Five reasons to spark debate or enamour. Sit back, grab a margarita, or what is probably more likely a cup of tea – maybe a squash – and enjoy.
1) Most unappreciated sitcom writer
Ben Elton has exerted more influence on my comedy taste than anyone else. Elton was drafted in by Richard Curtis after success on Spitting Image and The Young Ones, when the first series of Blackadder looked more like an amateur dramatics performance of Robin Hood. Elton’s sardonic wit, which walked the line perfectly between sadism and sarcasm, produced an Edmond Blackadder that was wholly despicable, yet you willed him on to be even more malicious.
Gallows humour at its finest, with a keen political eye focused on fighting for the less fortunate. From Blackadder to Blackadder II the difference is stark, and incredibly effective; characters jiggled, trading supremacy and folly until the perfect hierarchy was created that kept everyone in a dirt devil of jeopardy.
2) Modern rule breakers
This award goes to Murder in Successville. Tom Davis writes and stars in this inventive sketch meets sitcom. Each episode is a whodunnit with actors playing celebrity suspects (Marek Larwood as Boris Johnson is a favourite of mine). Davis is the inept detective Sleet, who tries to solve the case. The true brilliance comes in the form of a new, bona fide celebrity as a junior detective in every episode (Dermot O’Leary, Lorraine Kelly, and Deborah Meaden amongst others).
Led by DI Sleet through a promenade of pre-formatted but not entirely scripted sketches, they must guess who the killer is. Not only is it unique but it is funny. Tom Davis is a star; he can find improvised humour in the narrowest of comedy cul-de-sacs, with clever improv that look like careless tangents.
3) The most effective MC (Main Character)
This one is a tie in my eyes, but feel free to discuss: Geraldine Grainger and Mrs. Bucket, played by Dawn French and Patricia Routledge in The Vicar of Dibley and Keeping Up Appearances respectively. They are the beautiful creators of chaos and disarray, but characters we can still love. The vicar is kind and proactive but has faults that shine through like any other petulant, selfish, vengeful human being.
Each episode Geraldine drags it back in some sort of last-minute, righteous act, suffering for her sins regardless. Hyacinth, on the other hand, will never give up trying to be ‘better’ than she is. At times a shaft of humanity may shine through, and with this benefit of the doubt granted by the audience, Hyacinth ploughs on with purpose and blind belligerence, in faithful belief that posher is better.
4) The sitcom that had the most influence on me
This one could have so many answers; Bottom, The Young Ones, Absolutely Fabulous, Only Fools and Horses to name a few. But when the chips are down, The Office really sparked my love of sitcoms again. If you ever get a chance, scour the internet for interviews with Gervais and Merchant telling the story of how the BBC finally commissioned The Office. A little insight into the beautiful industry I hope to one day call home.
The format was not new, but they freshened it up with innovative tone, storytelling and characterisation – the natural feel that turned the screw on the characters, but also on the audience. At some point in our lives, everyone has been stuck in that job that makes us smile one day and want to quit the next. It got me into writing again and for that, I’m indebted to them.
5) The most underrated sitcom, in my humble opinion
This accolade must go to The Last Man on Earth (US). This show gets weird and epic, without seeming completely bizarre. The characters and acting are truly awesome (including the Sergeant and his deputy from The Watch, Will Forte and Mel Rodriguez). A brief synopsis: Forte’s character Phil (Tandy) Miller believes he is the last man on earth.
After traveling America stealing priceless art and artifacts, and playing ten-pin bowling with Ming vases, he finds there’s nobody else left and is just about to kill himself. A great narrative with compelling, funny characters in a world that could so easily have seemed ridiculous and unrealistic.