I recently watched “Sherlock” and the always wonderful Mark Gatiss reminded me once again of the one favourite thing of a number of things that I am absolutely certain about. I am usually not one to give Top 10-lists in a particular order when it comes to anything but ask me about my favourite Comedy Series and the answer is 8 out of 10 times clear: The League of Gentlemen.
What follows is a very long, very dull ode to the best comedy-series of all times, the individual Gentlemen and my first aspirations as a writer. Seriously, it’s dull and nothing more than the self-indulged babble of a wannabe-writer whenever they reminiscent about their heroes. So…to prevent you all from roughly 30 pages of boredom, let’s just cut it here, just skip this entry and you won’t regret it. Everyone else who is apparently mad, enjoy the entry.
But watch the show, it’s so amazing. Plus, Joby Talbot does the soundtrack and he is amazing. Everyone involved with this show is amazing.
You’re mine, now…
It’s not like I started liking humor at some point, I mean, most people like jokes and funny things, so there was no real magical epiphany when the sunlight suddenly shone through a crack in the ceiling above my head and made me believe in the almighty foot of Monty Python.
BUT I did have a somewhat magical moment when I realized that writing comedy is something that I am fairly good at and the interest to see how good comedy is being written can be pretty much accredited to the League of Gentlemen and please don’t confuse them with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen because although I figure that some LoG-members appreciate this comic, it is something completely different.
This is neither The League of Gentlemen, nor the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but wizard Allan Moore who created the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – I hope, I have confused you enough, you may continue.
I wanted to become a writer since I can write, and no, this is no grand exaggeration, I wanted to be a forklift-driver when I was three years old (our kindergarten visited a warehouse once because that is what kindergartens did in the GDR) and when I was six I wanted to be a writer. That’s basically all for my aspirations throughout life. Well, that and spending a couple of months in Alaska just to see whether I go mad during this one month of darkness but that’s for another blog entry.
By the way, the Gents came up with a lot of their characters by playing around with cotton balls and tape to change their faces. It makes for one hell of a Halloween-costume.
Anyways, for a very long time I tried to write all kinds of genres. Some gangster-pulp-fiction stuff, fantasy, some dreary drama and even some horror – although I still wait for the moment where I can think of a truly unique and scary villain – but nothing really kept my interest for more than a few weeks (horror would have if I would have been able to think of a truly unique and scary villain). And then The League of Gentlemen came along and I knew that this was what I wanted to write: well, not necessarily a comedy series but maybe a novel that was able to be incredibly funny but gory as well. And so I did write it. I never finished that novel, admitted, but I still plan to and so far, it’s been one of my earliest efforts that actually had a proper story-line, fledged-out characters and even an ending.
Well, what did you expect? That I wrote a bestselling novel and will reveal by the end of this entry that I am JK Rowling ? Tough shit, this is real life, people! Ok, back to business.
I guess, seeing a series like this, and listening to the commentary and making-of-specials on the LoG-DVDs over and over again was a huge inspirational boost. The Gents gave great tips on how to create an environment for ideas, and for the first time, I felt like I could relate, even though I didn’t have a writing partner (something I was incredibly envious of and still am). I might still work on my first complete novel (and not just the first draft – my desk is full of first drafts) but at least I have those ideas, I even have one pilot-episode to a dystopian sitcom and a nearly complete first season of a very bad sitcom about my experiences as an exchange student. And maybe, one day, I will actually have something that I can proudly show off.
Just imagine that the tortoise is a metaphor for my dreams of being a published writer…yeah.
It wasn’t love at first sight, though. I had developed a weird nocturnal lifestyle during my last year at school (I was still young enough to be able to do that without dying every morning) and saw one of the last episodes (“Beauty, and the Beast”) of the last LoG-season. Up to this point, I had no idea that a man dressed as a woman could be funny not because of the dress but because of the situation that character was in and/or how the character was portrayed. In Germany, a man dressed as a woman is funny because har har har it’s a man in a dress and – to be fair – most American and European comedies work the same way which…after you’re about 12 years old, starts to get a little less funny each time Carnival comes around. So when I saw this episode – amidst one of the more context-reliant-seasons of the series – I didn’t get it. I thought it was weird and off-putting and simply grotesque. I hated it.
A few weeks later in a coincidence that nearly made me believe in fate, I saw the first episode of the first season – and I loved it to bits. It was something completely unique and different and to this day is a format I have never ever seen in any other show. It was the perfect mix of a story-driven sketch-show with an insane amount of characters that still made sense within the little universe that was “Royston Vasey” and there were so many sight-gags, puns and humorous details in the background of each scene that every time I watch this show (and I have watched it a lot), I discover something new.
There is so much that I love about this show and its many themes and stories that I won’t even bother to start listing them but I can say this much: Because I know the LoG, I will never be able to find any fun in shows like “Little Britain” because it is like a stripped down, unimaginative and especially cruel version of the LoG. See, the characters of Royston Vasey are mostly grotesque, horrific and rather unpleasant. But you somehow know that the writers love each one of them and especially in later seasons and the penultimate movie, you get to know them in a way that makes them unusually well-rounded for such a sketch-format. They are not random xxx-walks-into-a-bar-stand-ins but real characters based on people that you actually could meet in real life (well, most of them, some of the more horror-inspired ones, obviously not). One of my favourite things is seeing people in real life that remind me of Royston Vasey-characters and yes, that happens a lot.
I definitely met a few of those girls in my lifetime.
The show is a weird, twisted and cracked mirror on reality, everything is a little uglier, darker and bloodier but many story-lines are very relatable whether it is dealing with absurdities as an unemployed (been there), disappointment with your own life (been there) or simply dealing with absurd people (been there and probably been one of them).
On top of that is a giant vault of references to mystery- and horror-movies, the overall story-arcs usually deal with incredibly grand horror-themes that play out in the background and/or as opening-sketches. The series is so ghastly bloody and gory that I obviously had to fall in love sooner or later. Seriously, this might not be the best show to watch during supper.
“Special” obviously is synonymous with “horse”…this series is truly visionary.
There are punchlines and recurring gags as is common for sketch-shows but they never feel tired. There is always one way or the other where they are changed just a little or turned a bit more extreme, so they don’t have this heavy dusting of old age that some SNL-sketches have even after only their second or third repeat. Plus, because you can get emotionally invested in these characters, some of the recurring themes of their behaviour are funny in a nearly tragic way because you know what is going to happen but you are still glued to the screen. And I am actually lying here, although you might have a faint idea of what is going to happen, there are very very few moments when exactly THAT happens. Most of the time, it’s more about knowing that something is going to happen but it’s always the weirdest and/or most brilliant way to play out that certain joke. It never gets boring.
This is a minor-spoiler. I say minor, because it’s in the first episode of the first season and this was the moment I fell in love. Also: spot the tape.
Edit April 2018: I hope, you’ve seen the short and sweet return to Royston Vasey …?
The brilliance of the show – my generation’s Monty Python, maybe – and MY Monty Python definitely – also becomes clear as soon as you follow the career path of the Gentlemen after the show ended. I know that this post already is way too long to keep anyone’s interest but as everyone has stopped reading anyways, no one minds if I keep on writing. So, let’s sum up some of the projects the Gentlemen worked on individually. Hussa!
Reece Shearsmith: You might know Reece from his very tiny cameo in “Shaun of the Dead” or his other cameo in “The World’s End” or – in a much larger, greater role – from the great horror-comedy “The Cottage”. After LoG ended, Reece turned to movies and TV and has been incredibly active. Recently, he played in the surreal “A Field in England” which is one of those horror movies that make you squirm in your seat. Shearsmith is incredibly amazing with darker material (as are most of the other Gentlemen) and also formed a magical writing-team with Pemberton for the series “Psychoville” which is everything it sounds like plus clowns (it also has one of my favourite gags in the entire world in it that I can’t discuss here because of spoilers but boy, whenever I remember that, I lose it again). Reece is also weirdly into serial killers, so I have an underlying, slightly disturbing connection with him (to defend myself – and Mr. Shearsmith – the fascination with serial killers is quite common amongst comedians).
Steve Pemberton: Even though Reece is the one who appears in a thousand movies and series, for quite some time, Steve Pemberton was in everything remotely British that I watched. It’s not that he played in everything but whatever I watched, he popped up. “Blackpool”, “Hotel Babylon” and “Whitechapel” – Pemberton is a very good indicator of a good series/movie in the making (except the Mr. Bean-movie but hey, it was probably just for the money).
“Sherlock”-fans will also recognize another actor in this trailer…
As already mentioned, Pemberton also wrote “Psychoville” with Shearsmith which is its own amazing little piece of lunacy and an amazing feat after LoG because it a.) has a certain feel of Royston Vasey but b.) is its own entity.
Apparently, they are working on another series and I am still waiting for Steve to play a truly sinister and evil villain in a mystery/psychothriller because of all three (acting) Gentlemen, his evil characters were always the most convincing ones.
Edit, May 2018: The aforementioned series is called “Inside No.9” and an absolutely marvelous anthology show that I personally enjoy a lot more than any other stand-alone-episode anthology right now on the market. Every episode tackles a different story and different character in a room/place with the number 9. The series (which is already a few seasons in), has basically all genres to offer (I really love the horror themed episodes) and despite not playing with a budget as big as “Black Mirror” can afford right now, it’s a lot more versatile in its ideas.
Jeremy Dyson: The man behind the camera (Dyson has a few cameos on the series but is more of a writer for it) probably is the least famous when it comes to public appearances (although I would totally recognize him and pretend not to, just to not make him feel uncomfortable) but Jeremy is a fantastic writer who has already proven that he can jump genres with ease. His first book that I read was “Never trust a rabbit”, a collection of awesome horror/fantasy short stories that were reminiscent of the show in that they didn’t go for the easy scares and story-lines but were highly weird, like a written panopticum or a less cheesy version of the “Twilight Zone”. The second book by him that I read was the coming-of-age story “What happens now” with a very dark undertone that surprised me after reading his short stories. And some of his other books are already on my reading list. BUT, Jeremy also has co-written and produced a stage play to scare people shitless (“Ghost Stories” – I haven’t seen it but I hope that it makes its way on a DVD one day) and writes tons of scripts for the BBC, usually all creepy and supernaturally, so if you want to know what’s going on in the world of BBC-macabre, just imdb Mr. Dyson and you’ll be set for the next couple of months.
Edit April 2018: Apparently, “Ghost Stories” has made it to a movie adaption.
Mark Gatiss: Oh Mark. There is not a single interview I’ve ever read or heard or saw where he doesn’t appear to be a genuinely nice, caring and soft-spoken man with a lot of wit. It’s fitting that he is a big fan of the golden age of mystery and inventions (or the Victorian/Edwardian age as some call it) because he appears to be a very classy gentleman – only without the bigotry and ignorance, most British gentlemen of that time showed, with all the imperialism and whatnot. I find it impossible to dislike him and why would I ever want to, Mark is – as all the other Gentlemen – a driving force in British TV and has written for “Dr. Who” (he also acted in it, as did Steve Pemberton) and he co-created “Sherlock”, so yes, Mr. Gatiss is kind of a big deal.
He also wrote an Edwardian mystery book-series with hero “Lucifer Box” and has been the go-to-guy about everything “Dr. Who” and old-school horror and he wrote for some new “Hercule Poirot”-movies and created the spooky TV-series “Crooked House”. Oh, and he will be playing a part in “Game of Thrones” this year which is absolutely fantastic because along with Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark might turn into one of the shining examples of one artist who can cover numerous fandoms without being tiresome. In fact, when it comes to Britcoms, he already has covered a lot of awesome shows, from “Spaced” to the terrifyingly awesome “Nighty Night” to “Psychoville” (of course, he played in it, if I were friends with Mark Gatiss, I would write up a storm to get his talent on board of my project). One can only dream what Mark will come up with next but be assured that it will be absolutely delightful, full of mysteries and probably a little bit murder-y.
And that’s it, an entirely too long post on my favourite comedy series.
And seriously, the music is gorgeous.