Thoughts of the Day on Comedy

Okay, here’s a review I felt I just had to write.  It’s a review for a BBC series called “The Trip”.  It was shown on TV last year, and although I watched it and loved it then… since buying it on DVD it is now fresh on the mind.  I’ve kind of given away the final score by using the word “love” in the third sentence… but that’s not important.  This review is not intended to be a suspenseful review.  It is intended to be a review that mines the soul.  For if you have read anything of my site, anything of my love of music you will know that I already believe that music and comedy are intrinsically linked.  Timing.  Rhythm.  Sheer brutal cleverness!

I have yet to write my full post for my all time comedy hero. The day I get around to writing my ‘essay’ on Tony Hancock will be a long day for you all – for I will wax lyrical.  Until then please accept this snippet of thought on comedy.  My thoughts of the day on comedy!

I found the Trip to be bloody marvellous for a number of reasons – which I could easily bullet point, but I choose to ramble.  I choose to ramble!

This is a comedy series that dwells on one of my favourite elements of comedy.  The repeating of a joke. The repeating of a joke ad infinitum.  This is a technique which looses a lot of people, and many of the haters of this series just didn’t ‘get’ the repetition.  But ignore those haters for they are stupid people.  They do not see the glory of the technique.  The Trip is a hard program to talk about without being all ‘spoilery’… but I will do my best to discuss the show in a way that will not ruin anything.  I will not repeat my “Lost – Final Episode” review error!!!

I think it’s important to know a little of the characters before watching the series.  In fact I’m actually quite surprised that the show has gone down so well around the world as I really think a lot of the comedy is quite colloquial.  This is a show about two people.  Steve Coogan is for me, the comedy genius.  I use that word infrequently, but it certainly applies here.  When he is at the top of his game he is the best in the world.  The best.  But, like Hancock before him, he is a hit and miss kind of guy.  When he’s great he’s great… and when he’s bad he’s really bad!  But for me that is what genius is all about.  A razor’s edge.  A tightrope.  These people will fall.  And they will land hard.  John Cleese, Peter Cooke, Tony Hancock, the list of these geniuses is a long one.  Hit and miss.  The same with music.  Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Elvis, Jackson etc etc.  Artists who, when they were at their best, produced the best music ever made.  And when they were at their worst stunk the place out.

Steve Coogan plays an exaggerated version of his self.  At least we guess that it’s exaggerated.  In all actuality it’s very likely that he’s closer to ‘this’ Steve Coogan than he’d like to admit.  But, in any case, he plays an actor in a career lull.  An actor who knows that he has hit dizzying heights… but just can’t grasp them any more.  An actor who has tried his hand at “cracking America” and failed.  An actor who is trying to (wait for it) – find himself. I know… yuk!

Rob Brydon also plays his exaggerated self.  An actor who lives via his impersonations of others.  There is a Peter Sellers like quality to the man.  The idea that in some ways he doesn’t quite have a personality of his own.  Rob Brydon very much plays up to the “populist-fool” and a kind of tabloid paper against Coogan’s Broadsheet.  In actual fact Brydon has been in some pretty clever stuff himself and is a fine comic actor in his own right.

So, we have these two characters slammed together in a chosen/enforced trip around the restaurants of the north of England.  The set-up is that Coogan must write restaurant reviews for a newspaper.  But in reality this story is just an excuse to throw these two lost souls together.  And the sheer brilliance of this move is that Coogan and Brydon are both impressionists.  Not painters!  I mean they both have a history of doing ‘impressions’ of celebrities for radio/TV.  And so the series becomes something of a war between the two.  Battle after battle of impressions.  One trying to out do the other.  And so enters the repetition.  Honestly, when this was first aired I remember spending a whole week having a battle with a colleague over who could do the best Michael Caine.  This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem were it not for the fact that the line we were both constantly saying was “She was only 16 years old…”.  Hmmmm.  Could be misconstrued!

The repetition does not live within a single episode.  It stretches across the series.  The same lines are said again and again.  This is like music.  You have your drumbeat and your bass line.  I know I’m sounding pretentious.  But I really do believe that the best ‘comedy’ is similar to the best music.

So… moments of genius.  Honestly… the discussion of what constituted the perfect Michael Caine had me in stitches.  And this ‘formula’ is repeated throughout the series.  Battles of Connerys, Moores, Hopkins… the list goes on.  Proper dissections of acting technique – the whole Richard Gere section is amazing.

I just loved this series.  It was funny and moving.  The moments when, for all his achievements, Coogan just wishes he could have Brydon’s charm.  Coogan’s attempts to do Brydon’s “Man in a Box” in his mirror.  The emptiness that Coogan portrays even though he is a man with money, fast cars and as many women as he wants.  These are two actors at the top of their game.  Both the improvised and scripted sections melt together and you’re left with a comedy that equals the best of the Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Only at a more relaxed pace.

I mentioned the sorrow.  And this is a really important strand of the show.  For all the ups there are all the downs.  The most poignant being the words Brydon shouts to Coogan when Coogan falls into the river when trying to navigate the stepping-stones.  There are just so many highlights: Coogan speaking at Brydon’s funeral.  The whole “Gentlemen.. to bed!” section. The discussion of what you are actually supposed to do when you sip the wine that the waiter pours for you.  I haven’t given anything away.  I’m just trying to persuade you to give this much maligned show a go.  It is the best British comedy of recent years.  I would hope that people who like my music would also like this show.

Anyway… just wait till I write about Hancock!!!  😉

Any opinions?

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