Weird, dark, and awkward: The best British comedy shows

Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry in Snuff Box
Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry in Snuff Box

The first time I saw an episode of Monty Python on television I was hooked on British comedy. As a teenager in the mid-80's I loved watching The Young Ones on MTV. And now, the last 10 years has been a golden age of British comedy. What follows is not a comprehensive list of every British comedy show -- just a selection of shows that I've watched or re-watched over the last decade. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments. I've loosely organized the list by genre, or by groups of actors who've worked together on multiple shows.

 

Matt Berry, Richard Ayoade, and The Mighty Boosh

Snuff Box

Snuff Box [Amazon | Netflix] - Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher play two hangmen who spend most of their time in a lounge drinking whiskey. The show is interspersed with Python-esque sketches. Snuff Box is only six episodes, and aired once on BBC 3 back in 2006. A DVD was released in 2011, and the show recently became available for streaming on Netflix.  You might recognize Matt Berry as the big boss Douglas Reynholm on the IT Crowd. Both Berry and Fulcher also appeared on The Mighty Boosh.

  • Garth Marenghi's Darkplace [Amazon | YouTube] - A hilarious faux 80's haunted hospital drama starring Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade.
  • Man to Man with Dean Learner [YouTube] - A spin-off of Darkplace, Man to Man is a talk show that's a must see for Richard Ayoade fans.
  • AD/BC: A Rock Opera [Amazon] - A 30-minute 70's style rock opera show from 2004 starring Matt Berry, Julian Barratt, and Richard Ayoade. Noel Fielding and Rich Fulcher have bit parts, too.
  • Toast of London [YouTube] - Matt Berry plays Steven Toast, an eccentric failed actor.
The Mighty Boosh

The Mighty Boosh [Amazon | Netflix] - Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt are out there. The show also features Rich Fulcher, who Noel once described as "the weirdest person I've ever met."

  • Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy [YouTube] - A British Pee Wee's Playhouse set in the 70's on a bunch of psychedelic drugs. Surreal and bizarre.
  • The 2011 offbeat comedy The Bunny and the Bull [Amazon | Netflix] was directed by Paul King, who also directed The Mighty Boosh.
  • Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh was in the 1996 show Asylum alongside Simon Pegg. This show is a bit difficult to track down.
The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd [Amazon | Netflix] - Yes, the infamous "have you tried turning it off and on again" show. Written by Graham Linehan (Father Ted, Black Books), and featuring Richard Ayoade, and Matt Berry.

 

The Legacy of Monty Python

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Monty Python's Flying Circus [Amazon | Netflix] - The movies are fantastic, but the Flying Circus is what originally got me going on British comedy. The box set is indispensable.

The Young Ones

The Young Ones [Amazon | Netflix] - As a teenager, The Young Ones left a lasting impression on me. 30 years later and it's still weird and funny.

  • Bottom [Amazon | Netflix] - Can't get enough? Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson of The Young Ones are bickering roommates in Bottom.
Little Britain

Little Britain [Amazon | Netflix] - Matt Lucas and David Walliams are two strange lads who play almost all of characters in this fun sketch comedy. Some bits are better than others, but when it's good it's fantastic.

  • Come Fly with Me [Amazon | Netflix] The lads play just about every character in this airport comedy. More hit and miss than Little Britain.
The League of Gentlemen

The League of Gentlemen [Amazon | Netflix] - What if you crossed Little Britain with Delicatessen [Amazon | Netflix]? This is a local show for local people. Definitely the darker side of British Comedy.

  • Psychoville [Amazon] - If you're a League of Gentlemen fan, you'll probably like Psychoville.
 

Simon Pegg, Dylan Moran & Friends

Black Books

Black Books [Amazon | Netflix] - Clerks [Amazon | Netflix] may be the ultimate movie about working retail in the U.S., but thankfully there's Black Books for the U.K. Dylan Moran is perfect as the grouchy, nihilistic book store owner, and Bill Bailey is his wacky foil. Simon Pegg's bit role as the chain bookstore manager is hilarious.

Spaced

Spaced [Amazon | Netflix] - Simon Pegg stars in this roommate comedy that's laced with cultural references, weirdness, and inside jokes.

  • Green Wing [Amazon] - More of a dramedy - I know British comedy fans on both sides of the fence about this show.
  • There are 2 or 3 wonderful, full length Dylan Moran standup shows on YouTube
  • A Film with Me In It [Amazon | Netflix] - Dylan Moran stars in this dark comedy where everyone keeps freakishly dying.
  • Burke and Hare [Amazon | Netflix] - I suppose selling cadavers for science counts as dark comedy. Starring Simon Pegg.
 

Awkwardness: The cringe humour of The Office UK, and Mitchell and Webb

The Office UK

The Office UK [Amazon | Netflix] - Ricky Gervais is an acquired taste for some, and funny beyond belief to others. This depends on how comfortable you are being uncomfortable.

Peep Show

Peep Show [Amazon | Netflix] - If you enjoyed cringing your way through the awkwardness of The Office, Mitchell and Webb will test your cringe reflexes to the limit.

  • That Mitchell and Webb Look [Amazon | Netflix] - Highly recommended sketch comedy from Mitchell and Webb with less cringing than Peep Show.
 

Further Explorations

Some additional shows that have been recommended to me that I haven't investigated yet.

  • Big Train
  • Nighty Night
  • Jam
  • Brass Eye
  • Monkey Dust
  • Human Remains
  • Rising Damp

So, Anglophiles, what other shows am I missing? I look forward to hearing about your favorite weird U.K. comedies in the comments.

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Bye, Bye Night Photography: Blowing Up the Moon

Make sure to get in as much night photography as possible during the next few months, because on July 4th, NASA will be blowing up the moon.

We have the technology. The time is now. Science can wait no longer. Children are our future.

America can, should, must, and will blow up the moon.

-- NASA

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Night photography: Trailer Trash

Trailer Trash -- by David Woerner
Trailer Trash -- by David Woerner

Photographer David Woerner has attended the Pearsonville Night Photography Workshops twice, and did some excellent work with props on his second visit. He recently sent a portfolio of images via email, and I asked if I could post this shot for your enjoyment. The old trailer full of empty King Cobra 40 ounce malt liquor bottles will be a familiar sight to those who have thoroughly explored the junkyard. The blow-up sex doll, light painting on the interior, and voyeuristic camera shadow all add up to one of the most creative and humorous shots from the workshop series.

I hope you're having a great Thanksgiving, and haven't consumed too much!

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Humor Break: East Coast Style

Have you ever been referred to as having "East Coast style?" While I'm a California native, there is some New Jersey blood in there somewhere. I certainly appreciate direct communication, and will occasionally employ the use of profanity to show that I really care. So what does "East Coast style" actually sound like? The clip below is an alternate take of an AFSCME union public service announcement where the voice over talent gives us an excellent demonstration.

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Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert Have Different Styles of Night Photography

Reifer and Paiva of "At the Junkyard"
Reifer and Paiva of "At the Junkyard"

Troy Paiva and I got some really great feedback from the photographers who attended our night photography workshop a few weeks ago. Steve Leibson thought the different viewpoints presented in the classroom were really useful, and compared our interplay to Siskel and Ebert:

Troy Paiva followed up with two versions of the same shot on Flickr: A Gene version (long exposure on film with no light painting), and a Roger version (short exposure shot on digital with colorful light painting).

Gene's Junk Wagon -- by Troy Paiva
Gene's Junk Wagon -- by Troy Paiva
Roger's Junk Wagon -- by Troy Paiva
Roger's Junk Wagon -- by Troy Paiva
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Benefit Auction: Help buy a normal lens for the New Yorker Photography Department

Obama Inauguration Ball Photos by Platon
Obama Inauguration Ball Photos by Platon

Platon became a staff photographer for the New Yorker last year, primarily shooting black and white portraits on a white seamless background. Standing in the shadow of former New Yorker staff photographer Richard Avedon has never been an easy task, especially when working in Avedon's trademarked style. While Platon's portraits of military personnel last Fall entitled Service showed a range of full length portraits along with tighter detail shots and a sprinkle of documentary work, his latest series of Portraits from the Obama Inauguration Balls in the New Yorker led to some concern amongst the staff here at the Words photography blog. We all know that times are tough for photographers, but we're worried that perhaps either Platon or the New Yorker were forced to sell off their normal and telephoto focal length lenses on eBay? All of the shots in the inauguration ball portraits show evidence of being taken with a wide angle lens.

Now if you're shooting with a 4x5 camera, and are limited to one lens, a wide angle is a great choice. With a big negative you can always crop. But for a magazine that primarily features portraits, we really recommend a normal or telephoto lens for full length work. Female subjects will really appreciate the slimming effect that a longer focal length has on their hips, and those wearing sleeveless attire will be pleased by the reduction of the dreaded "trucker arm" syndrome. No portrait sitter wants to be burdened with the feeling that their hands look really big -- so until this benefit is over, we're advising all portrait subjects of the New Yorker to keep their hands in their pockets, and to stand as parallel to the camera as humanly possible to eliminate the risk of funhouse mirror head shrinking or enlargement.

Because we want to ensure that future portrait features in the New Yorker are a bit more flattering to their subjects, we're auctioning off a limited edition of 15 prints at a very reasonable price: the Mad Mouse Rollercoaster panorama will be available for the month of Februrary in a 5x20" print for $40 + shipping. Please inquire if you would like to help the cause. If the edition of 15 prints sells out, we'll be able to use the $600 to purchase the following items for the New Yorker photography equipment room:

  • A used 150mm f/5.6 lens for 4x5 ($200-250)
  • Canon 50mm f/1.8 AF lens ($90)
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF lens $(140)
  • Bogen 055XB tripod ($160) -- raises higher than waist level, in order to not cut off portrait subjects' heads

By helping us purchase these important pieces of equipment, you'll not only be doing a big favor to the photographers who shoot for the New Yorker, you'll be doing a great service for over 1 million readers from all over the world. Won't you please purchase a print today. Thousands of future portrait subjects need your help!

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