It seems we all enjoy stories about the Inarticulate Male. On TV they’re never women, who might be clumsy (‘Miranda’) or venal (‘Nighty Night’), but are never incoherent. Males, particularly funny ones, have a long history of being annoying and hard to understand, from British TV shows featuring forgetful, confusing Harry Worth and Charlie Drake’s ‘The Worker’ (‘I want to be a lady ’cause I ain’t had much luck as a man’), to Norman Wisdom’s gurning, defiantly working class disrupter.
It goes back further, to John Steinbeck’s man-child Lemmy in ‘Of Mice and Men’, and to Jerry Lewis, shrill and demented to the point of imbecility. Lewis and Wisdom share mannerisms that remind one of Frankenstein, uncoordinated and barely able to communicate, forced to allow feelings out with explosive force.
To these should be added Count Arthur Strong, who is more deranged and forgetful version of Arthur Bryant, without the intellect or sentimentality. Steve Delaney has made it his life’s work to create a realistic character who is a fully rounded, believable person. Count Arthur shares certain characteristics with other British anti-heroes, including some of the delusional pomposity of David Brent in ‘The Office’ and Hancock’s cynical failed actor.
The dysfunctional male also surfaces in the creations of comics Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan, indeed in almost every character they play, although I find them less bearable as we are required to laugh at them without finding much that’s redeemable, so that all we end up feeling is pity and embarrassment.
To this long list we can now add a ne plus ultra of timeless inarticulacy in Stath, from ‘Stath Lets Flats’, an incoherent English-as-second-language Greek Cypriot letting agent played by Fleabag’s Jamie Demetriou, whose real-life sister appears as his slightly more articulate but even less bright sibling (she also turns up in the superb ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ spin-off series).
Demetriou draws on his own background (especially his father, who once made a £15 bet that the name of the ship in ‘Titanic’ was the Mary Rose), allowing his character to reach Basil Fawlty levels of incompetence. In one episode he attends a mindfulness session which quickly exposes everyone else’s bigotry and hatred, thus forcing us onto his side. And therein lies the trick; the awful, muddled, inarticulate man we’d go out of our way to avoid becomes a hero by virtue of his innocence, a purblind Don Quixote in a world of dull cynics – and so we are aligned with his optimistic worldview.
But in a time when the most extreme examples of the Male Inarticulate hold public office, from the borderline mentally-ill Trump to sinister fantasist Boris Johnson and terrified weakling Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps comic creations like Stath and Count Arthur can be seen as benign well-meaning role models.