Years ago my other half took me to see the first Harry Potter movie. It wasn’t until we arrived at the cinema that he said actually Harry Potter sold out so he’d opted for us to see Black Hawk Down instead. Consequently I was treated to a two-hour panic attack and spent the duration of the movie cursing, with my eyes closed, fingers wedged in my ears so I couldn’t see or hear the violence.
This was not unlike an incident a few years later, involving the Pepsi Max “Big One” Rollercoaster at Blackpool, (LOOK at it for Christ’s sake – I mean LOOK at it!) where I stupidly agreed to go on the ride despite being terrified by moderately high escalators and shunning dodgems because they make my glasses fall off. It was a hen-do holiday with a crowd I didn’t know so well, so it is likely that drunkenness politeness took over where sanity should have intervened.
The Big One incident resulted in my neck being in spasms of pain for two clear weeks, not from the ride itself, but from my own efforts to will my neck to ingest my own head past my eyeballs, lest I see the awful awful heights to which I was being thrown. I detest Pepsi to this day, and looking at a bottle of it makes me feel vertiginous.
I tell you this to show how I’m a gentle soul. I don’t like violence. Or plummeting. I prefer my entertainment NOT to be visceral. I had a very interesting conversation a few months back with a client from the US. Our meeting was at a gallery and we were discussing art, as you do; he was of the opinion that pieces which prompted a pure visceral reaction were in fact lazy; relying on instincts of disgust or fear to do the work. I think he had a point.
There is however an area where my stomach is strong. Stronger than many.
I am BRILLIANT and I mean BRILLIANT at watching cringe comedies.
You know, the nasty comedies where terrible things happen to or at the hands of terrible people? My eyes are wide open, my smile hungry. I soak them up where weaker men wince and skip out of the room squeaking, “HOW CAN YOU WATCH THIS? IT IS EXCRUTIATING.”
I love an unloveable antihero. I adore a vile antagonist. I revel in social cues being missed, or subverted and embarrassment descending, especially when the characters are completely oblivious, or when they just don’t give a fuckity bye. I love scripts full of spite where the dialogue painfully exposes personal shortcomings or the fragility of social constructs.
And the reason? It’s not that I love spitefulness or cruelty or stupidity. I am not a psychopath or any kind of social sadist (although I do take that mild pleasure when someone overtakes you then gets stuck at the traffic lights in front of you – that’s normal right?).
I think it is because they are cerebral as opposed to visceral. Through the use of humour, black comedies permit us to acknowledge the fact that bad behaviour, or merely being a bit of an idiot is part of our human condition. As Steve Coogan sagely opined as the character of Tommy Saxondale, “We’re all a bit of a dick, nothing to be afraid of.” That’s a minor aspect however. The characters are not people to whom we wish to aspire. Twats abound in life – this is fact. Cringe comedies perhaps offer us the chance to stare at these grotesques, then feel reassured and safe in our abhorrence.
So at this time of love, light and goodwill to all men, (not to mention TV countdowns) here’s a bracing run down of five of the best vintage cringe comedies from UK TV. N.B. these clips contain bad language and may be offensive or upsetting – and none are “safe for work” except, appropriately the one about work – The Office.
5. Alan Partridge
Fictitious TV and radio presenter who is obliviously gauche and rude to guests, colleagues, members of the public, girlfriends, children etc. He also suffers from eczema which results in his pillow resembling a flapjack and has a “rather whiffy” skin complaint on his feet. What’s not to like?
Best Quote: “DAN DAN DAN DAN.”
4. The Office
The series which showcases the exquisite ongoing humiliation suffusing the world of work and the endless tension of having to maintain professionalism whilst accepting petty authority from petty authoritarians. Child-like Brent’s attention-seeking is enabled by this parched dynamic.
BEST QUOTE: “I’ve sort of fused Flashdance with MC Hammer shit.”
3. Peep Show
A weird friendship characterised by inner dialogues, unpleasant behaviour and lying. Tawdry disappointment infuses every scene. Pure extentialism. In this pivotal scene they must conceal the remains of a dog which Jeremy accidentally killed. It’s pretty damn cringy.
BEST QUOTE: “Why did I put her in the bag? I should have thrown her like a discus.”
2. Nighty Night
This insane TV series followed Jill; essentially she’s a psychopath who is intent on stealing her neighbour’s husband and having his baby. Julia Davis at her beautiful nasty best. In this clip she tries to artificially inseminate herself by gatecrashing Don’s vasectomy.
BEST QUOTE: “Do you want a bit of Mash with that Jill?”
1. The Thick of It
Textbook satirical black comedy. So accurate it may as well be a documentary. And Malcolm Tucker. He’s Horrible. Brilliantly horrible. Too many insults from which to choose so have a selection.
BEST QUOTE: “Who was it that did your media training, Myra Hindley? It’s terrible! All these hands all over the place. You were like a sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra. It was like watching John Leslie at work.”