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French and Saunders (1990)

French and Saunders (1990)

Asher to Ashes

I came to this quite by accident. I was looking for recent appearances by Jane Asher. There is a bit, it turns out, at the end of the “bonus” collection, where she plays herself.

But getting to that, I patiently watched this and tried to get it. No, I was trying to understand what it was and why I found it so unfunny. Conventional wisdom has it that this is a man’s world, and you can map that to certain broken institutions if you wish. But it is clear enough to me that there are specific varieties of guy humour. They do dominate, and much of it clearly eludes many women. Humour by itself is a mystery, and this even more so.

French and Saunders is humor for women, adapted to ordinary forms: skits and parody. It is very distinct in its approach. It may not be fair to extend this to all women’s humour or perspectives, but some differences are clear.

Mainstream guy humour has two noticeable elements:

  • Pain or embarrassment of “the other,” sometimes when that reflects back on various common male inadequacies. This ranges from slapstick to “dumbness” (or intoxication). This is friendly to racism, sexism and so on. The underlying assumption is that there are two perspectives: the watcher is removed from the target.
  • An obsession with logic, no matter how banal. A joke can come merely from an unexpected shift in meaning or perspective. Surprise is defined by deviation from the expected, and that is based more or less on logic.

My three experts (Lizzad, Rock, Milligan) master different recipes from these two pots.

But here we have something quite different. There is no recourse to logic, so shifts, layers and puns are out. Analogy is strong, but not as an anchor for laughs. There are not two distinct perspectives in the jokes. There is only one. These women are making fun of themselves. There is no “other.”

One form these two comics use is a seeming parody, building on common films and TeeVee shows. But the layer is not the guy layer where fun is made of how stupid the origin is. They fill the women in these parodies with making fun of the women themselves, identifying.

There is embarrassment, but it is not of the afflicted kind, but the inherited.

The whole thing is a tedious adventure that rewards.

Oh. Jane Asher, one of the four most influential women (with Yoko, Anita and Jackie) of the most influential decade? Influential not for themselves but how they worked through their men? She plays an overbearing acting teacher so that our two comics can act as themselves stewing in their inadequacies as comic actresses. The layers would be there in guy humour. Here they collapse into genetic angst.

Posted in 2011

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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