Inside Number 9: Why Do The British Love Dark Comedy?

Our love for dark, twisted humour is something unique to our national make-up in Britain. Here's 5 reasons we, as a nation, prefer the black stuff...
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Comedy is a funny thing. There’s the obvious kind – a yellow hued half-wit, an angry hotelier, a group of caffeine addicted Friends, a toddler hell bent on taking over the world. But then there’s the dark stuff. On a cheese board it would be the stilton; lovingly tailored, but too strong for the majority. You know it’s wrong, but you can’t resist having another slice. Like all good stilton, dark comedy is best when British.

In the debauch realms of dark comedy there are none greater than Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, creators of League of Gentlemen, Psychoville and now Inside Number 9, an ode to Tales of the Unexpected but a piece of television brilliance in its own right.

With the series finale in the bag, Inside Number 9 is going down a treat. The combined force of Shearsmith and Pemberton’s classic twisted humour with a top-notch cast of oddball characters has met with critical acclaim and set us off on the darkest of trips down the memory lane of comedy. So, in typical episodic fashion, why is that we are so good at dark comedy?

We like to take people down a peg or two.

Celebrities and politicians, take heed: you might be the newest addition to the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, but let that head get too inflated and you’ll be seeing the sharp end of the comedy stick.

Dark comedies like Brass Eye have made a pretty good job of humiliating and satirising public figures. Who can forget the heartfelt pleas from Bernard Manning and Noel Edmonds to stop the horrors of Cake? There’s a political message in there somewhere, but really we all just want to see desperate celebrities cling on to the spotlight only to end up with 3rd degree burns.

(See also Monkey Dust and Black Mirror.)

Everyone loves a good moan.

In a nation of cynics, Victor Meldrew is king. Forget the innocent misunderstandings and minute embarrassments of Technicolor American sit-coms, the One Foot in The Grave legend’s incessant moaning and cloudy outlook is a true reminder of what it is to be British. You spend your life looking forward to retirement, and when it finally comes it’s just one ball-ache after another. If you can’t laugh at that, then what’s the point?

(See also Peep Show)

It’s our way of letting loose without the consequences.

Think of dark comedy as an equivalent to the weekend. You trudge your way through the week on best behaviour, and then at some point on a Friday evening your wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly office persona is smacked in the face by the weekend and transforms into a beer swigging, table dancing maniac.

Enter Eddie and Richie, the crude, disgusting, chaotic and alarmingly violent stars of Bottom with a strangely desirable disregard for life that you’d take up in a minute if it wasn’t for your need to pay for the boring things in life – like rent, food and electricity.

(See also The Young Ones and Spaced)

It’s fuel for the imagination.

In a country where the sky’s default colour setting is grey and small talk rarely ventures beyond weather-chat, exercise for the imagination is essential. Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace is the perfect example. Part mockumentary, part B-movie, it might be senseless but - like a dark comedy acid trip – it’s also packed full of wonderfully absurd imagination. Why stick to being sensible when the outright ridiculous is so much more fun?

(See also The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and The Mighty Boosh)

We are a country of eccentrics.

Before reality TV served up helpings of naïve oddballs for us to feast on, comedy was the nearest we could get to peeking into the bizarre world of the British eccentric. Simon Cowell would surely have a field day if The X Factor took their auditions to Royston Vasey, the fictional town of League of Gentlemen where behind closed doors, everyone has a secret. It’s a celebration of the truly strange and a reason to feel better about your own defective personality.

(See also Psychoville and Wedding Belles)