National Joke: Popular Comedy and English Cultural Identity by Andy Medhurst

By Andy Medhurst

Comedy is essential to how the English see themselves. This booklet considers that proposition via a chain of case stories of renowned English comedies and comedians within the 20th century, starting from the keep it up motion pictures to the paintings of Mike Leigh and modern sitcoms akin to The Royle family members, and from George Formby to Alan Bennett and Roy 'Chubby' Brown. bearing on comedian traditions to questions of sophistication, gender, sexuality and geography, a countrywide shaggy dog story appears to be like at how comedy is a cultural thermometer, taking the temperature of its occasions. It asks why vulgarity has continuously overjoyed English audiences, why camp is one of these robust thread in English humour, why class influences what we chuckle at and why comedy has been so ignored in such a lot theoretical writing approximately cultural id. half heritage and half polemic, it argues that the English urgently have to think about who they're, who they've been and who they may develop into, and insists that comedy deals a very illuminating position for venture these reflections.

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He notes with particular approval ‘diaspora identities … creolised, syncretised, hybridised and chronically impure … mutable forms that can redefine the idea of culture through a reconciliation with movement and complex, dynamic variation’ (129–30). This may at first glance sound like cosmopolitanism, but if so it is significantly distinct from that souvenir-happy branch of the cosmopolitan tendency in which the already privileged raid the less well-placed in search of consumable exotica.

Readers seeking useful introductions and contributions to the broader debates will find much of interest in Balakrishnan (1996); Cubitt (1998); Easthope (1999); Gillis (1994); Ignatieff (1993); Manzo (1996); Nairn (1997); Smith (1991) and Stychin (1998). My aim here is to give brief consideration to some key questions in order to underpin what later chapters will have to say about comedies and Englishnesses. Those questions are these: what does it mean to call the nation an imagined community? Have national sites become increasingly irrelevant in an era of globalisation?

A Union Jack is not an uncomplicated sign, and its already complex implications can be further complexified by changing contexts. It can be waved to punctuate the shouts of ‘rights for whites’ at a neo-fascist rally, turned into shorts to encase the groin and backside of a stereotypical lager lout, sit rolled up in the conservatory of some politically dubious neighbours who live in the street next to mine, be draped around a black British medal-winning athlete in international competitions, adorn Noel Gallagher’s guitar as part of the mid-1990s Britpop sensibility, barely cover the torso of the Spice Girls ‘girl power’ propagandist Geri Halliwell, flutter on the top of amusement arcades on Brighton seafront, squat like a spider in the corner of the flags of some Commonwealth countries, bloom in multitudinous hands at the climax of that annual orgy of queasy middlebrow jingoism The Last Night of the Proms, or be consumed by flames in the Sankofa Film Collective’s moving and angry meditation on British racism, Territories (one of the films cited by Paul Willemen in his observations on the differences between British specificity and British nationalism).

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