Scottish comedy is on a real high at the moment after years where barely a smile was raised, at least in terms of TV. Second series for Limmy’s Show!, Burnistoun and the still underrated Gary Tank Commander proved that their initial successes were not flukes and that things are on the up. These shows have been matched on the radio where there have been great series such as Fags, Mags and Bags, The Bob Servant E-mails, Mordrin McDonald: 21st Century Wizard and A.L. Kennedy’s Laverock Findo Speaks.
This renaissance is reflected on Scotland’s stages and in comedy venues. Some of the UK’s best stand ups, and some of the most popular (rarely the same thing I tend to find), are from north of the Border. I think this is partly down to the success of the Glasgow Comedy Festival (see Funny How?: Glasgow Comedy Festival…) which tends to have a better balance of home and international acts than Edinburgh’s Fringe and the growth of comedy nights in pubs and clubs cannot be overlooked. You can find someone to laugh at/with every night of the week. Personal recommendations include Susan Calman, Miles Jupp, Des Dillon, Bruce Morton and the hardy perennial who is Phil Kay.
But it is Limmy’s Show! and Burnistoun which are the two big comedy hits of the Spring. Scotland has a strong history of sketch based comedy. Laugh I Nearly Paid My License Fee, Naked Video, Absolutely and Chewin’ the Fat; these are the shows that Limmy and Burnistoun’s Robert Florence and Iain Connell are following. Absolutely is the closest in terms of sensibility as all three play with realism and surrealism and challenge peoples’ ideas of what is funny.
Limmy takes this further than most, and it is no surprise that his show splits opinion into lovers and haters. He often uses visual techniques to create a dream like feel to many of his sketches, and a uniting trait in all his characters, including that of Limmy himself, are that they are paranoid and uneasy about life, a feeling which is transmitted to the audience. It is the comedy of cruelty to an extent, but viewer’s of Limmy’s Show! are not just made to feel uncomfortable, but also unsettled. Thomas Hobbes described laughter as “nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or wit our own formerly” (well it was the 15th century), but Limmy takes this further by not only asking us to laugh at unfortunate incidents or grotesque characters. He points a finger at his audience to say ‘that could happen to you’. Limmy’s Show! is at times as poignant as it is funny. This first clip is a terrific example of this, followed by one of his greatest creations, the ‘Ravenesque’ Falconhoof:
The boys from Burnistoun have, in the space of two series, managed to create a world that is very familiar, but also completely unreal. There sense of absurdity is not as dark as Limmy’s, although there is black comedy there. Spoon fights in pants, Reginald P. Bartholomew Esquire the Breville toaster, and Jolly Boy John’s wee chocolate bananas all had me in stitches and that was just in episode one. You can catch the current series on iplayer by going to Burnistoun_Series_2 but if you want a taste of what they do here is what is fast becoming their ‘Dead Parrot Sketch’, the ‘Elevator Voice Recognition’ sketch from Series 1:
Not all recent Scottish shows have been successful. Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights appeared to be deliberately unwatchable and the less said about last years Happy Holidays the better, but the BBC Comedy Unit in particular has come on for a lot of stick over the years, some of it much deserved. This recent upturn in fortune hints at a better things to come.