I love the dark English sense of humour, but for a writer it can prove fatal.
Humour writing rarely wins awards, and can act as a deterrent to selling stories or novels. There’s a traditional attitude to film and book writing that says you can say or do anything if you say it seriously enough. And so we have films like the brilliant ‘Inception’ which, when you look at it in the cold light of day, was straight-faced gibberish, and TV shows praised for their realism like ‘The Killing’, which was incredibly compelling but as realistic as ‘Hot Fuzz’.
Keep a straight face when you write it, and you’ll be rewarded. There are some truly dreadful thrillers around that act with such square-jawed machismo they almost force you to believe them. When this is done well done well, you get Lee Child’s enjoyable Jack Reacher stories, which are testosterone fantasies and none the worse for that.
‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ series is weighted down with descriptions of chairs and coats and streets to give it gravitas. But if you look at the stories, they’re utterly fanciful. Personally I find this kind of writing mundane, but clearly some readers love the mise-en-scene as much as the plotting.
Comedy can be revealing when written well, as we’ve seen from ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ through to ‘The Inbetweeners’. In comedy shows of the nineties and noughties, ironic pop cultural referencing took the place of real wit. ‘The League of Gentlemen’ changed that by being neither realistic nor ironic. ‘Psychoville has taken it a step further by mixing complex plotting with grand guignol, and is far better (and darker) than the diluted horror-lite of the show ‘Ghost Stories’.
Most fascinating was the ‘Psychoville’ episode shot in a single take that referenced ‘Rope’ without ironising it. The piece stood on its own as a two-handed play, both terrifying and funny. When humour is this strange it no longer needs topicality – as Monty Python so ably demonstrated.
Here’s the Superman dance from Psychoville’s mother-and-son serial killers.